The problem of self-pity

~ As a forward to this rather grim and whiny little post, I should note that I am functioning perfectly well in the world for the most part. I pay my bills; I do my laundry;  my house is not in much worse shape than usual. I went to my optometrist for my yearly eye exam. I’ve started attending a weekly Qi Gong class; I’ve been out walking when the weather’s good, and out shoveling snow when it’s not.

I dealt with clearing off my car last week to find my windshield broken,  starred and spider-webbed – reported it to the police, called insurance, arranged for replacement – with no more than the smallest of hitches. It was actually nice to have a problem that money *could* solve for a change, and a reasonable amount of money at that.

I’m going to DC this month from the 19th to the 22nd to see the cherry blossoms (if they’ll be so kind as to bloom for me). I go out with friends, for coffee, or to Pho Hung for late lunch, or to play games and eat kumquats. I finished a mask I’d started before cancer, and have picked up work on another mask set aside at the same general time. I’m researching HRT options and risks; I’m talking with other women who have been thrust into chemopause to see what has and what hasn’t worked for them; I’m doing my best to find workable solutions and move forward. I manage perfectly well.


This is just below that surface, this too is true. ~

I’m not angry that I had cancer; I don’t wonder ‘why me?‘  when ‘why *not* me?‘ is just as valid a question. I’m not particularly worried about recurrence, perhaps even less than I ‘should’ be.

I’m angry that I wasn’t informed of the permanent and long-term consequences of my treatment, specifically the consequences of chemotherapy. And I grieve the cost of those consequences.

It’s as if there’s a bowl of tears in my chest, brimming full, always eager to spill. If I walk very carefully, if I keep my eyes resolutely forward, if I concentrate completely, I can carry this. Without spilling.

I never manage.

I hate this.

“People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as “dwelling on it”….

…We remind ourselves repeatedly that our own loss is nothing compared to the loss experienced (or, even worse thought, not experienced) by he or she who died; this attempt at corrective thinking serves only to plunge us deeper into the self regarding deep. (why didn’t I see that, why am I so selfish.) The very language we use when we think about self-pity betrays the deep abhorrence in which we hold it: self-pity is ‘feeling sorry for oneself’, self-pity is ‘thumb-sucking’, self-pity is ‘boo-hoo poor me’, self-pity is the condition in which those feeling sorry ‘indulge’, or even ‘wallow’.”

from ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ – Joan Didion

I know full well there is nothing that terrible here – I am relatively intact, after all; I’m not in constant rending pain (though constant discomfort is part and parcel of my life); most everything functions more or less as it should. I can walk. I’m not blind. I have two  arms, two legs, two breasts. I’m alive. What arrogance then to choose a quote from one who has watched the death of their beloved, what incredible self-centered chutzpah to compare my case with theirs!

I know this.


My life has changed, my body has changed, I am looking to the limits of that pain, finding the boundaries of change. Carrying the bowl of tears, walking across the flattened landscape.

I am generally tired and lackluster, mildly to severely depressed – this has improved with the use of Estring and, more recently, Estrace, but is still present. I find it difficult to multi-task and to stay on task; I forget names and common words (kumquats, the little orange fruits that I love are called ‘kumquats’. The word for ‘karalok‘ in English is ‘persimmon’.).

My eyes are dry – to the point where they are also irritated, to the point where the ophthalmologist recommends a regime of eye drops and lid washing.

I am having fierce hot flashes and night sweats – I haven’t slept through a night in months because of these. I am finally starting to dream again, after a few months of being too exhausted to enter REM sleep.

I’ve gained (at last weighing) 20 pounds – I who never gained weight in my life; I who consistently came back from the doctor’s with notes stating ‘you are underweight and at risk of malnourishment‘; I who have been a reliable 135 lbs the last 20 to 25 years (except when I was under stress and lost weight). This is not just vanity – though there is that,  my clothes that don’t fit, and my body that doesn’t fit – this is a profound change in my body, in the way it works.

My hair has come back steel gray and in tight chemo curls – really, this is the least of my problems, but it is yet another change, yet another thing that is *not* me. Insult on injury.

I despise this self-pity, this ‘feeling sorry for oneself‘, this ‘thumb-sucking‘, this ‘boo-hoo poor me‘; all this ‘indulgence‘ and ‘wallowing‘ – it serves no purpose, it does no good; I cannot shake the hands of time, I don’t get a ‘do-over’. I can’t go back. The damage is done, and all the whinging in the world won’t change that; all the tears and self-pity and anger avail me naught. Nothing will change this.

I know this.

And yet.

Because I am still hoping it will change, that I will find something that works, some path back to the garden, I can’t let go. Much as I fear and loathe the mire of self-pity, I can’t let go of my anger and sorrow – because letting go would be admitting that this *is* it, this is the land I’m living in, now and forever, world without end. This flattened world without joy.

There must be some way back. This cannot be it.

This is not my beautiful life.

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4 Responses to The problem of self-pity

  1. Jill W says:

    You are in my heart.


  2. dropjohn says:

    Ah, Jill – that means more to me than you know. xxx m

  3. Carina says:

    I’ve been thinking about you.
    Cancer sucks.
    Chemo sucks.

  4. dropjohn says:

    Not being fully informed – that *truly* sucks.

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