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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Isolation

In the past couple of weeks, I've come to feel isolated in several aspects of my life.

For one, there's the obvious. I no longer have a stomach. The percentage of stomach-less human beings in the world is non-zero, and for them and their shared wisdom I am thankful, but I still feel isolated from those I interact with on a daily basis-- my friends and family. While they experience stomach-less living through me, they are a degree removed. They don't directly feel the pain from eating too quickly and having food get stuck, or the discomfort and embarrassment of throwing up mucus-y gooey small-intestinal slime into the bushes in public, or the dread I feel before each meal, worrying that something won't sit right. Though all these things combined are much much better than the alternative-- dying of stomach cancer-- they are still things I need to live with. They are still the daily annoyances and inconveniences reminding me that my life at the moment is not normal.

Aside from the obvious life changes, there are the other adjustments that this roller coaster journey has forced me to make in my life. Though I very much appreciate the time to spend at home with my family in as a beautiful a place as Hawaii, I also fully experience the fact that the Hawaiian archipelago is the most geographically isolated set of islands in the world. My friends and peers are spread across the nation and around the world, many of them not here. I feel stripped of a community. My days are mostly rather solitary--watching tv, reading, playing piano, taking walks--and sometimes it starts to feel like I am living in a vacuum.

I thrive on human interactions, conversations, and shared experiences. I value every text message, g-chat, Facebook wall post, but it's not quite the same. I have been lucky to have had friends and family visit. Their visits break up the homogeneity of my days, allowing me to take a break by playing tourist for a couple of days. It gets me out and about, but it doesn't abolish the abnormality from my life. I still slow down mealtimes, throw up in a used styrofoam meal container in public out of last resort. But their visits are temporary, and before long, I resume my vacuum-like life, and they resume theirs, HDGC-free and thousands of miles away.

The hardest adjustment has been feeling isolated from my own life. Even though the decision I made in the fall to take time off for my surgery made sense, it was still a tumultuous time. I felt torn from my life as I knew it. I thought that once I had the surgery done, things would feel more at peace, problems would be solved. But in reality, I feel stuck. I am trying to resume normalcy, but I don't even know what that is anymore. I'm living at home for the longest period of time since high school, but those days are long over. I am no longer at MIT, nor do I belong there, nor does the world of my undergraduate years even still exist. My classmates and friends have since moved on to new schools, new jobs and dispersed from Boston, the last place I really considered home. During my last year at MIT, I worked hard to put in place a plan for the next years of my life-- Oxford and medical school. While I got a glimpse of my future life at Oxford during my five weeks there, I didn't get the chance to know what it feels like to live it. So that leaves me with the question, what is normal, and how do I get back there?

Thankfully, there is a time limit on my isolation. I know (hope) my eating problems will get better. I know I will be taking on a job for the summer. I know I will be moving back to Oxford and getting to live out my life there. I know I will be going to medical school eventually.

In the meantime, perhaps by sharing my experiences and feelings with you here, we can feel a little bit less isolated and a little bit more connected. Please share my journey with me here, share your comments and thoughts below.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Jen,
    I totally understand how you are feeling. I remember feeling a similar way....such a big build of emotions leading up to the surgery and the uneasy feeling of not knowing what it will be like on the other side. Then you get to the other side and wonder if you will ever feel normal again! I just hit my 6 month post surgery date yesterday. Can't believe how far I have come....my weight is stable, I am eating pretty much everything at a fairly normal pace, my energy is great and I have now been back at work for a month....life is feeling quite normal. Hang in there...it DOES get better! :-) Simone

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  2. Jen,
    I can totally relate to how you are feeling. I had my TG in December, for GIST. I remember how awful the first few months were trying to figure out what my new 'normal' was going to be. Struggling to eat like my family and friends, trying to feel comfortable in my new body. But thankfully at least the food and energy levels have gotten a lot better. Everyday is still a struggle for the 'why me?' and relating to the people around me. Reading what you wrote in this post makes me feel a lot better though, knowing I'm not the only one feeling this way. But it will get better for the both of us, I have to believe that.

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  3. Dear Jen,
    I have always said that, after my gastrectomy, my daily life went from a "10" to an "8.5". Which sucks - I used to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and never felt sick! Now I feel uncomfortable (although less often sick) about once a week. It's not fair!! I want to live a 10 every day!

    But you're right about one thing - it's better than the alternative. And it's adjustable. The support system is so important, even if people don't quite understand what it feels like. While you are the one running the marathon, just know that you have cheerleaders all along the way!

    Always remember to take it one day at a time, and one meal at a time. If I can tell you anything, I will tell you that it does get better, slowly but surely.

    And if you are still feeling isolated in a few weeks, I may just have to come to Hawaii for a vacation! :)

    Love,
    Johanna

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  4. Dear Jen,

    I know i cant' relate with you on stomach issues, but with about everything else you've listed, I feel like I can exactly identify. Almost. Life after college is weird because you no longer belong in a place that was so familiar for 4 years, and people around you are constantly moving and changing and moving to higher places. No time to think, no time to contemplate. And when you do, feel like you're wasting your time and and falling behind while the world continues without you.

    You could easily come to the conclusion that the world does not need you to function. Maybe. But i think sometimes its important for us to realize as much as we envy other people's positions in the world, other people often see the good qualities in ourselves that we cannot. You are a talented, intellectual, beautiful young woman, who has the wisdom to make decisions that will make her life better in the long run, and can take advantage of what is given on her plate. (metaphorically, anyway). You've always been a beautiful pianist, and through this blog writing, a wonderful writer. And you won many prestigious titles, awards, etc, that most people can't even dream of achieving. :)

    I am confident that some day, you will take your experiences you are currently enduring and help someone else in a similar predicament many years from now. Whether it be from med school, grad school, or somewhere higher up. And thats the big perspective that I feel that I often lack when frustrated with my current circumstances.

    Hang tight. You're at the rise of the roller coaster, but when you get going, its going to be nonstop from there. So take this slow season of your life to reflect, enjoy, and figure out your future directions. There's a season for everything in our lives, and though it may not be synced up with everyone else, its there with purpose and intent.

    Loves,
    Debs

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