I realize the title of this post sounds like some kind of inspirational, self-help aphorism (like, “There is no ‘I’ in “team” [or “cancer,” for that matter]), but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it literally. I have learned, only just recently, that, in certain important contexts, there really is no such thing as giving up. Giving up (as the old song doesn’t say) isn’t just hard to do– it’s actually impossible to do.
I was extremely surprised to learn this.
And disappointed, to be honest. And most of all, frustrated. But let me provide some context.
You see– only a couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with a whirlwind of pretty serious shit-wrinkles that suddenly made my life, frankly, harder to bear than I was able. It sucked. It was too much. It was the roughest patch of road I had experienced in 40 years, causing me to (not literally, but very much figuratively) fall apart.
And when that was happening, right in the middle of the worst of it, I thought (many times) “I don’t wanna do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how to do this, I can’t, I want it to stop.”
I desperately wanted it to stop. I needed it to stop. I COULDN’T do it. I COULD NOT bear it. I wanted to press the “off” button on the red-hot poker that was singeing me in the gut and the brain and all sorts of other sensitive spots that you really just want left alone under normal circumstances, and especially so when you already have brain cancer.
So I thought about this – how to make it stop. I just wanted to give up! Yeah that’s it– give up!
But how the fuck do you actually “give up?”
And it occurred to me in that moment that it’s actually impossible. At least in this context — in the context of extremely overbearingly painful life situations — there is no such thing as “giving up.”
I mean, if there was, what would you do?
You can’t just go lay on the floor and drool stick your hand in the air with a white tissue hanging out of it in surrender. Because that wouldn’t work. That wouldn’t change a goddamn thing. You’d still be feeling and going through all the same shit you were before you started drooling on the floor, except now you’re on the floor and your arm is getting tired from holding it up so you’re actually worse off.
And I know this all sounds really stupid, but I had just never been in this position before– the “I SIMPLY CAN NOT BEAR THIS, I JUST WANT TO STOP” position. (And I’ve even done yoga a couple of times.)
It just felt to me, in that particular moment, that there should be a way to just give up, to make it stop, to opt-the-fuck-out of the deal that was causing me so much pain. Or at least I wished there were. And I thought about it, and realized there wasn’t.
Now I’m smart enough to realize that there IS an obvious op-out solution that fully constitutes “giving up,” and which the more morbid of you have probably been waiting for me to mention, and which I’m not going to avoid just to avoid scaring you, or my mom, or whoever else is reading this.
And that giving up solution is to just fucking go kill yourself. I mean, committing suicide would certainly would seem to meet all the requirements and qualifications of a very official “giving up.” And it does.
And that thought did occur to me, but only because in running through the logic of the whole situation I realized that it was an option. It just wasn’t an option for me, because honestly even that didn’t feel like giving up.
I mean, what I was getting at– what I was hoping for– was a way to just STOP. If you’re playing in a basketball game and you’re playing terribly and your leg hurts and you want to stop, you can just walk off the court and not play anymore. If you’re reading a book and it sucks and it’s making you unhappy, you can just stop reading it.
Killing yourself, on the other hand, is the equivalent of setting fire to the entire basketball court or the book in an effort to stop participating with it. But it kinda makes you participate with it even more– just in a different way. First, it takes a bunch of work. And it’s gonna make a HUGE mess. And it’s definitely gonna piss off a whole bunch of other people. And you might not even succeed at it! You could fail at giving up! And so killing yourself doesn’t feel like giving up at all– it feels like a real pain in the ass.
It feels like you should just be able to lie down on the floor and fall asleep and have all the bad things stop. But you can’t. I was extremely disappointed to learn that life just doesn’t work like that.
So my point is this: if your life is causing you so much pain that you just don’t know what to do and you can’t possible bear it for one second more… you’re just kinda fucked, because there is no way to give up.
See? It’s true!
There is no such thing as giving up!
How’s that for inspirational!
Wait, so if you can’t give up… then what the hell can you do?
There’s only really one thing you can do, and that’s to JUST KEEP GOING.
And just see what happens.
And so that’s what I did.
And wouldn’t you know it– things got better.
I’m now about a month out from the deepest valleys of the shitwrinkle. And owing to a lot of wonderful friendship, a bit of craftiness and hard work, no small amount of spectacular luck, and the kindness, grace and generosity of some unspeakably wonderful people… I suddenly find myself back on my feet. With real solid ground to stand on. And my mom just got me a beautiful new rug for my place, so I’ve even got that to stand on!
Oh how the tides can turn, if you just keep going. And what the hell else can you do? Because clearly you can’t just stop!
So I still feel like shit, on a daily basis. My brain is such a foggy semifunctional haze that if you had to jump into it for ten seconds you’d be shocked that I can get a fork to my mouth, let alone string coherent sentences together. But I’m getting used to it! I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have a “new normal,” and this is probably it. It’s a far shittier “normal” than what I had 4 years ago– or even 1 year ago, but it still (miraculously) includes me being able to walk, and talk, and laugh, and smell roses. And with solid ground (and a nice rug!) under my feet, that ain’t so bad. That’s called a life. And I’m happy to have it.
I don’t have to stop. I don’t even want to give up. I get to keep going!
And I think I will.
Oh and yesterday I learned something that’s going to help quite a bit with this whole not-stopping-keep-on-going-thing. And that is the results of my latest MRI, which I had on Monday, under my awesome new health insurance plan (which is another major miracle).
So yeah those MRI results… I had a full scan on my brain and spine, and other than the fact that I was in the machine for two hours and it got really boring, the results… were good!
It appears that all the cancerspots™ that appeared on my last MRI in December (spots which had already looked relatively stable compared to the scan before that) are now all of three varieties: exactly the same, a little bit smaller, or just not there anymore. There’s still stuff in there that’s clearly cancer (as there has been for four years now), but the point is, the small bit of cancer that’s in there is not really doing anything.
And since my cancer (glioblastoma!) is the equivalent of a Bloodthirsty-Combination-Scorpion-Lion-Dinosaur-Octopus (B.C.S.L.D.O.), for the shit to just sit there and not do anything for months at a time is nothing less than miraculous. So something must be working– or some combination of all the various things I’ve exposed my brain to in the last few years. Either that, or my B.C.S.L.D.O. just isn’t as bloodthirsty as they normally are. Or maybe he just felt bad that I had to go through that annoying series of shitwrinkles, and felt like he should give me a break for five seconds.
And a break I have been given. Several, in fact. More than anything, I’m just so relieved that I won’t have to subject myself to any new surgeries or chemotherapies or experimental virus treatments, for at least a few months. I can keep on keepin’ on and continue getting used to my Totally Shitty New Normal That Is Perfectly OK Because I Am Still Alive And Roses Still Smell Really Good!
So I’m glad that there was no such thing as giving up.
Because it sure is nice to be around, and I can’t wait to keep it up!