The world, Ernest Hemingway said, can kill you, regardless of how brave or gentle or good you are. If you’re lucky, though, the world just breaks you; if you’re even luckier, you can heal and come to grow strong at the broken places.
I’m unashamed to admit that the world has broken me on more than one occasion. Broken people, like broken bones, heal over time, but some bones take longer to knit back together than others; the aftermath of a traumatic event can leave your psyche as wounded as a car crash can leave your body.
There’s something they don’t tell you when you encounter something that requires you to piece your life back together. When you’re deep in the thick of whatever’s going on, the only thought you have is I have to get through this, but once you actually find yourself on the other side, all the energy you’ve been investing in pure survival is gone, and you find yourself unable to think and act as a normal human being any more.
It’s no big secret that I’m a cancer survivor, and it’s a perfect example how the world will either break you or kill you. When I finally got myself free and clear, I was definitely broken: my entire life had been destroyed, and the day after I finally found out that I was healthy again (if you can call scarred and exhausted “healthy”), I woke up and didn’t know what the hell to do with myself. It was like coming out of suspended animation, only to discover everyone you knew from your former life had moved on with their lives without you, leaving you behind.
I went back to work at the bookstore after I got my clean bill of health, but things weren’t the same – I felt empty and alone. A large number of people who I once considered my friends had mysteriously vanished with the news of my cancer diagnosis, and this abandonment by the people in my life that I thought I could count on was more devastating than any physical illness.
The experience changed the way I approached people from then on; for a long time, I couldn’t understand what I’d done to deserve being cast aside. I felt that it was a failing on my part – I must have been a bad person, that I didn’t deserve to have people that cared about me in my life, and I went forward from there, walling myself off from anyone and everyone. Part of this was because I had convinced myself that I was worthless and was therefore undeserving of any sort of friendship, though a lot of it was out of a desire to not ever be hurt again as badly as I was by my so-called friends when they left me twisting in the wind.
It took years, but things were slowly beginning to get better for me. I’d begun to open my life back up to new people – the biggest gamble I’d taken was becoming involved with the woman that has become my fiancée – and it seemed like I was finally ready to lose the cast and crutches and get on with my life: I was living on my own again after having to move back in with my parents due to my illness, I was finishing my MA in English and was looking forward to putting in my applications for a PhD program somewhere, and in the meantime I had decided to take some time off and work while I enjoyed just living together with my fiancée.
Then, the economy tanked. The universities I had applications in to all suffered cuts to their funding, dropping the number of new PhD candidates to record lows and precluding me from getting into a program. The only job I could get turned out to be a horrible inventory manager position at a major pet store chain 45 minutes away which required me to get up at 2 in the morning so I could get there before the early delivery showed up. That job lasted about two months before I had had enough of the hemophagic hours, abusive upper management, and horrible working conditions, though running over a rabbit on my way in one morning acted as a catalyst for making me leave.
A long stint of unemployment followed. No one was hiring anyone, anywhere, and I was out of work for five months before getting an even worse job as a call center rep for a cable company. Not only that, but the job was back down on Long Island, and the lease on our upstate New York apartment wasn’t up for another four months after that, so I lived during the week at my parents’ place and then spent the weekends with my fiancée, all the while dreading the end of the weekend, as it meant returning to a soul-destroying job where I was literally yelled at for ten hours a day while I daydreamed about driving off an overpass on my way home.
That job lasted nine months until I had a complete and total breakdown. I woke up one day, went into work, spent about fifteen minutes on the phone with a particularly vile customer, and walked into the bathroom where I literally huddled in a corner of a bathroom stall and tried to prevent my heart from exploding. One of my supervisors found me in the bathroom and told me to go home – I never went back.
I spent another six months out of work. My fiancée and I couldn’t afford our new Long Island apartment any more, so we relocated to an attic “apartment” in Pennsylvania, where my car breathed its last the week we moved down there. Our landlord let us coast on a promise to pay until I found a job – a work-at-home gig writing copy for websites in the UK – and it was only until then that I started crawling back up out of the horror that had been my life for the last year and a half.
Things are a lot different today. Thanks to that job (and our landlord letting us slide), I’ve been able to develop a freelance career that pays enough to allow me and my fiancée to move out of the attic into a nearby cottage on the property, find a new set of wheels, and even put some cash away for the future every week. Not only that, but I’m a published fiction author, and we’re even finally planning our wedding (keep November 11th open on your calendar, by the way).
The problem is my mind is so bent and twisted from going through all of this pain and fear that it doesn’t realize that things actually are better now; all those old feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy are still there, just bubbling away under what otherwise looks like a calm surface, and the littlest thing can make me boil over and turn me into a complete wreck. I keep myself as closed off from others as I possibly can, not trusting the motives of anyone who moves to befriend me, and while I know that doing this leaves me isolated and without friends, the fear of being abandoned yet again is so great that it’s paralyzing.
The thing is, I know this is no way to live. I’m trying to change these things about me – trying to learn to take risks again and to allow myself to trust the people around me. I’m starting to reveal more of who I am to the world again, both in person and on this blog, even though it’s the most fucking frightening thing I can think of to do. The thing is, even though it’s makes me want to run and hide, I’m going to do it anyway. Bones itch while they heal, it’s going to be a lengthy, painful, uncomfortable convalescence, and I can’t tell anyone how long my recovery is going to take, but I’m tired of being constantly afraid of everything.
Despite all the pain that I’ve had to go through and despite how much shit keeps getting thrown at me, I am too stubborn to give up. I’m not going to let the world kill me, even though I may be broken; instead I’m going to become stronger at the broken places, and one of these days I’ll be able to walk on my own again. I guess I’m just asking for a little patience until I’m ready.