Tag Archives: insomnia

13 July 2009: Insomnia

2 AM—steroid insomnia
Or insomnia of another sort of course
Statistics & mastectomy pictures
Reconstruction, Tamoxifen, Michigan
Bankruptcy, relationship, religion,
Jack the Ripper, gender/secondary sex characteristics,
the Bodleian, Haworth, Wuthering Heights,
Simone de Beauvoir, ‘writer’s block,’ the emptiness,
Mastectomy, my imaginary children
Chemo in the morning
Dr S—what to say?
The emptiness—the horror

 This is the hour when you notice clocks ticking, clocks you can’t find. Inevitably I wake him, fumbling for my glasses and bathrobe. He sits up, flustered, and says my name. I confirm. “Are you ok?” he asks. How can I possibly answer that? I will always be against this disease, afraid of my body. Will I ever be “ok” again, then?

My computer, that suggestion of connections, short circuits as per usual. I sit at the kitchen table and drink a glass of water. Consider the impossibility of Erie Pennsylvania.

 For moments I believe I could go home—sell coffee, build bookshelves, learn German. And then I imagine them dredging my body from the Thames; I am unable to cope with the slightest inconveniences of living. Why can’t I just behave like that quintessential quasi-sick-in-the-head cancer patient, celebrating sunlight and buttered toast,  ‘embracing’ the previously-ignored minutiae of existence? I’d like to believe I am too bright to be seduced by the perverse propaganda of this disease, but perhaps I am just not brave enough to live in any instance, under any circumstances.

My children are—have always been; I remember sketching their future existences as an eleven-year old—so real to me that to ever know I could not have them, could not raise them, watch them become people, I surely could not bear to live. So I continue to hope for that sake, unable to bear the consequences of the alternative. I do not want to live solely for myself. I believe I would be a good parent—God, I already love the thought of them more than my own stupid life.

I am so ashamedly cruel to wish cancer on almost everyone I see, but who, really, would not think of a stranger: better you than me?

Three AM. The unbearable certainty of going to lie beside my lover and stare fitfully into the empty space where the ceiling is. My body unable to regulate its temperature. Half-sleep somewhere near dawn, perhaps punctuated by nightmares. And the awful familiarity of what the morning has in store. It could be worse, of course—I think all the time of what could be worse. And it is precisely thinking of all that is worse in the world that undermines my faith and hope in my own insignificant recovery. Better people, younger people, people with more “promise” and “everything to live for”—what right have I to pray for my own uncertain future when a whole world of brilliant people die and have died in wars and ovens and accidents and other acts of inexplicable tragedy?

K. is haunted by the recent suicide of a former colleague from St. P’s—that college has, it seems, an extraordinary rate of tragic deaths among young alumni, or perhaps I am naïve to the preponderance of tragic young deaths in the world. First there was J, who drowned in India, then L who fell to her death in a climbing accident. Now A, on the verge of an enquiry from his employer about misuse of company resources, losing his job or perhaps prison, puts on his best suit, has an expensive meal in some London restaurant, champagne etc, then jumps eight floors.

Two weeks ago a woman jumped from the Carfax Tower. Money trouble, apparently—the headline something like CREDIT CRUNCH KILLS. And traumatizes crowds on Cornmarket Street, no doubt. How unthinkably sad and selfish.

And it troubles me, when I would so like to live.

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26 June 2009: absence

Sleepless nights and strange morning-dreams. This free-floating anxiety shot into overdrive with the nurse’s call last night: yet another meeting with the surgeon on 7 July, and nothing to be planned until after. There is always this great sickness in the pit of my stomach; there is always this oppressive fog I can’t think through. Tomorrow I’m going to Paris, yes–and all I can feel is worry and discomfort. Guilt and bitterness. What is this compulsion for Paris?

This morning I rubbed some shampoo in the coarse fuzz that’s grown over my head–what unprecedented pleasure! The smell of the shampoo and comforting enclosure of soap suds. For an instant anyway.

A part of my body is to be cut off: the meaning, at last, of “absence.”

I dreamt of Vassar. In my dreams it is always so removed from me. Inglorious disarrray, columned like the Pantheon. And always this set of stairs I cannot seem to climb.

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I never thought I’d have much in common with Philip Larkin as a 25-year-old woman.

I’ve always liked this poem, but lately there are many middles of nights in which it comes to mind and resonates like a train whistle.

Philip Larkin, “Aubade”

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
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26 March 2009: Chemo brain, pt. 2

Head-fog. Waitrose: panic. Feeling everything flaking and peeling. Not myself in my own environment — Kensington Gardens beautiful, and I barely able to register it. Getting from one side of the park to the other. Utter helplessness. Disgust with my body. If I am this disgusted by a tumor, how much moreso by the absence of a breast?

And will I lose faith in God when I finally lose my hair?

Michigan agrees I may defer for a year. Fall 2010. Unreal. Inconsequential. Will something as remote as Fall 2010 ever happen?

My mother’s mailed me ridiculous pajamas and I am wearing them in my absurdity. I can’t believe the lack of consideration with which I’ve approached all of this.

And I honestly wonder–do I deserve this?

There’s no help anywhere I can see, no comfort. But in doing what I have been–ignoring. Denial’s set me plodding along this rash path already. Without choice. Entirely confined to a body which has been set in motion to destroy me. And a body swept over by drugs that attempt to destroy the cancer by destroying everything else.

“Inspirational stories” on the breast cancer websites etc. inspire me to do nothing but want to kill myself before the cancer kills me. These breastless women with cancer metastasising to bones and lungs, eating their ovaries and their eyes. Well, in the middle of it all, they say, they find the time to enjoy ice-cream and dance to Bon Jovi.

Anything could happen.
Anything could have always happened.
But I still don’t quite believe it’s actually happening.

And I’m envious of everyone walking around in their ordinary lives, not knowing with what difficulty I walk to the store and select nectarines.

And I must constantly remind myself that I don’t know, can never know, with what great difficulty they are doing the same.

And that I do not know what I will become as a result of it all–my first instinct was to believe it would be “blessed,” but more and more I fear I will either be merely bitter, or else nothing at all.

My comprehension of time is entirely skewed by the insomnia. It’s seven-thirty and I’m already exhausted, too much so to sleep. Have been awake since 3 AM. If I sleep now, I’ll wake up at 1 or 2 at best. And then be deposited onto the unmerciful day–

Tomorrow the kids & I must finish Hamlet. Assess the damages, body count.

How can I possibly ask him to watch me deteriorate like this? Upon diagnosis I felt close, connected. Now it’s as if we’ve developed alternate identities in order to plunge through the next howevermany months.

Or maybe it’s just that we’ve not become the people I hoped we be through this,

like fucking Love Story.

I’m less afraid of death than afraid of ugliness.

And all I can see stretching infinitely is my own ugliness.

And knowing I have no grace or dignity to draw on,

and no reason to be loved.

(I continue to adore PK. “I don’t even have a dentist,” I wrote to him. “Now I have an oncologist.”

“It’s a bit precocious,” he replied).

K. does not believe in an ‘”interventionist” God. Which means he does not pray for me; prays merely to accept me.

But I want all the prayers and milkshakes there are;

I want to be worth curing.

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subconscious carcinoma, toasted cheese and poetry

Favourite quotation from an early review of Emily Bronte: “There is an old saying that those who eat toasted cheese at night will dream of Lucifer. The author of Wuthering Heights has evidently eaten toasted cheese.”

I didn’t really sleep last night, because I never really do, but when I sort of half dozed off I dreamt Christina Applegate had died, despite her bilateral mastectomies.

Oh, this toasted cheese cancer-cloud of my subconscious…

Months ago I dreamt my father had some awful illness, and was so shaken I called him at work to tell him I loved him (I hardly ever spoke to him). A few weeks later I was calling him at work again, to tell him I had cancer.

Once (years ago, before cancer ever occurred to me, occurred for me) I had a strange dream that Sylvia Plath had not committed suicide, but was dying of cancer. She came to Vassar; I was supposed to be some kind of ‘runner’ for Elizabeth Bishop. I handed Plath a volume of Bishop’s poetry, which Bishop had annotated specifically for her. It made her smile.

Sylvia Plath offered me a souvenir of the experience. I wanted a charm shaped like the world. She gave me an unpaired earring.

I pilgrammaged to Plath’s grave recently. Yesterday I wrote a poem about it.









Which is newsworthy, really. To be writing poems again.

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outside interests

“Are you still finding time to do things you enjoy?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it–”
“I don’t care about anything else but getting treatment.”

A ‘conversation’ I had with my oncologist, around about the time I learned the second chemo wasn’t having any effect either.

It wasn’t strictly true. Admittedly, I was being deliberately belligerent. But I hated the patronizing. Like being able to treat yourself to an ice cream cone somehow makes up for the fact that you have a possibly fatal disease.

I wasn’t miserable during the chemotherapy. There were some very terrible days, or nights, but mostly I was–the same. (Before I had the first treatment I had a horrible nightmare where the drugs made me so disoriented I became completely incoherent. I worried the minute the needle went in my arm, I’d be taking a six month leave of absence from my recognizable self.)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the good things.  I can appreciate a sunrise or a good glass of wine. But you know what would make them all the better?

NOT having cancer.

But cancer’s my life. Ironic, no? Life and death.

I started off thinking about all this because I got a new computer about six weeks ago, and I have only two folders saved in my Internet Explorer favourites so far: “food” and “cancer.”

That’s my life. I eat, and I think about cancer. I don’t sleep, because I think about cancer.

Before, there were folders like “things to read” and “teaching resources” and “poetry” and “PhD.” You know, “outside interests.”

An unexpected side effect of cancer: it makes you boring.

I am tired of thinking about cancer. And just tired, period. I think I’ve been more persistently tired since I’ve had the surgery than I was on the chemo. I just can’t sleep. It’s the pain, but it’s also constant, insomnia-inducing anxiety of BRCA: cancer around every corner. At twenty-five I wish my passing thoughts could be things like Should I wear brown shoes, rather than Should I have my ovaries removed.

People my age do blog about shoes. And IKEA furniture and organic food. Someone I went to college with has a twitter account for her fish.

Well, forgive me, but that shit is boring too.

I guess cancer’s interesting when it isn’t you.

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