Hanging on

I’m still angry and I don’t know if I want that to change. It’s quite a leap from someone who has always tried living by stoic principle, but even Job cracked the shits.

I’m sad as well as angry. There’s no getting away from that. There’s been such a flood of emotion that it’s hard to separate the strands of my grief. Bitterness is the least of it. Guilt is fading as I come to accept that I took the only reasonable option, but there is abject grief that Rigby is gone. I miss him every moment and wonder how such a pure and decent spirit is allowed to fail. I realise that for the last 13 years I have had the closest of companions, but now I am left on my own.

I question the value and purpose of everything. Together with my cancer, my life feels dead in the water. In time my emotions will normalise, and I’m smart enough to know that in my current state it would be unwise to conclude anything, or decide on anything. My sole focus now is to get well again – then I can figure things out.

This morning I read my blog from a year ago. Things seemed so different then. I could never have imagined that cancer was coming my way, and my life had a pattern to it that was pleasant enough without being completely satisfying. I had a lot of questions, but had an unquestioned confidence in myself, body and soul. I can see myself then, and see myself in my words, and it feels very foreign now.

I always felt a kind of physical confidence. I was tallish, strong, capable. I was laconic and thoughtful, but had an easy way about myself in public interactions. Those who knew me better would encounter my intensity at times, and the fierceness that went with it occasionally. I could be so hard, but to the casual observer I was relaxed and easy-going and maybe even kind. I questioned much, but never much doubted my ability to bend things my way. I think that was true of me for many years.

I am a shadow of that man now. Physically, I’ve lost 90% of my muscle. I’ve gone almost completely grey, and my hair has become finer (and has yet to regrow in patches). I’ve aged 15 years in the last 12 months and any trace of handsomeness has gone. I’ve become an ugly old man.

I’ve lost the hearing in my right ear and walk with a limp that may become permanent. My face remains swollen, and much of it without feeling. I’m in constant pain. And I can’t open my mouth more than halfway and it’s painful to eat.

You see, much of what I was then was buttressed by my physicality. I took stairs two at a time and felt mighty. I was vain. I liked to dress well, and never doubted myself talking to a pretty stranger. I had a mind, but I also had the stature to impose it. Or so I felt.

Some of that may return to me, but I’m not holding my breath. I will get stronger. The hair will regrow. I might even get some of my hearing back. I’ll never be the same again though, and that’s what I will need to adjust to. It may be a good thing, though I remain pissed off.

Of course, vanity is such a superficial thing – but we are all made up of vanities. I suspect we adjust them as we go through life, tempering our expectations whilst trying to remain humble. Usually, the adjustments are small. It’s hard when they’re as great and as sudden as I’ve experienced. Your whole sense of self is disarrayed.

I think most of us live off the stories we tell ourselves to get by. They’re necessary fictions for an easy life, but it’s no surprise when we crave the authentic. I sensed that before, but the last 6 months have laid things bare. I need different stories; or perhaps, no stories at all.

I need to remake myself in the months ahead, assuming I get the all-clear next week. My health will improve, I’ll feel more able, and I’ll look to re-enter the mainstream. I need to take what I’ve learned to inform the new man I must become. I have to believe that there is something then worth living for. I need to hang on until then, no matter how testing it feels – especially now my greatest booster is gone.

Right now it all feels pretty raw. Everything feels exposed. Vanity and delusion, and the one thing really worth anything in my life taken from me. I have a lot to answer for and explain perhaps, but I’m still bloody angry.

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