There should be a word for the moment you know your spirit will survive a catastrophe.
Catastrophic news is like a car crash. Having had both in the last month, I am ideally situated to compare. “You must have been so scared,” everyone says. And they are surprised when I say no, you are very calm.
I once read of a man mauled by a lion who said he was only afraid when it was useful for survival. Once the lion started tossing him around, he was strangely calm. Something that comforts me when the cat brings home a mouse.
In my GP's office, once she starts delivering the news, like the moment before our car hit the jackknifed tractor trailer, I am dead calm. And dead is the word, because there was no life in it, just blank acceptance. You can't arguei; it just is. You go home and try and do something, because busyness reconnects. I make a salad.
Then because my back is throbbing, left over from the car crash, I take breakthrough meds and lie down on a hot pad, a mechanical act. And think…. I, the me I know and live in, isn't there, just an exhausted shell. It obviously isn't the time to jolly myself along and a therapeutic, good walk is physically impossible as I only limp at the moment – and the snow under a grey sky is not enticing.
So the safe place is the observer, and I retreat to it. It is interesting, because I am observing physical and psychological shock. I can't do anything to cheer myself up, because my body and brain are as if anaesthetized, yet I know it will pass. I don't recognize myself, where have I gone – and left this blank shell?
An hour later, I go to my chiropractor and then on for a massage. All part of the accident rehab. As I walk into the room, my young therapist greets me cheerfully. I don't tell her – she's young and hopeful. She doesn't need my burden.
She's carrying a mug of coffee and I say jokingly, “You shouldn't be drinking that. You should be drinking herbal tea that tastes like grass.”
She tells me of her fatigue, hypothyroid, she queries? Blood sugar? I counter. Suddenly, we are in deep conversation. I tell her about hypoglycaemia research, shades of my nutritional consultant days. And bursting through our speech, I recognize myself, strong and loving, my deep self is back. The shell falls away. I recognize the truth that to be whole one needs to be able to give and the most pernicious aspect of cancer is that it turns you from a giver into a receiver.