Loving

…it is not as clear as it seems

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

3 things I’d have done differently during chemotherapy

Beautiful Gemstone Collection  26396 480x320When something like breast cancer happens, it is hard to know how to approach the challenges of treatment.

Here are AT LEAST three things I’d have done differently during chemotherapy:

I’d have limited my number of scarves and wigs – I wouldn’t have purchased all those items. I spent hundreds of dollars on items I never wore.  I wish I’d have bought one inexpensive wig for special occasions, and fabrics at craft stores to make my own scarves.  Many scarves sold to cancer patients are hideous, and some are quite expensive for the quality you’ll get.  In the end, I ended up going with a couple favorites and donated the rest. Avoid the ‘pre-tied’ scarves unless you want to look like you stepped out of a “Little House on the Prairie’ episode.

I’d have avoided negative online discussion threads – Forums are scary places.  Most people, I learned, visit the threads to vent.  I read one horror story after another. None came to fruition in my own experience, but terrified me nonetheless, into the deep hours of the night when I couldn’t sleep. The vast majority of people recover and don’t post tales of victory.  They put the experience behind them and simply live their lives. No time to post.

I’d have indulged more in life’s little comforts – I’d have found peace in the company of friends, candles, soft sheets, music therapy, and services such as massage, counseling, make up classes and yoga, offered at places like the Geneva, Illinois’s Living Well Center.  These types of havens are found in locations across the country.  Generally, services are free to patients and caretakers.

A new journey…

I was in recovery from my ten -year marriage to misery, and just able to stand back up straight after the effects of my poor choice for the antidote: an inebriating, unhealthy online ‘relationship’.

I was finished with poor choices. I was ready to let go of negativity. I confidently embraced the life ahead of me.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I thank God every day that I was on the other side of these ordeals before I had to begin this new fight.  Stress can damage our systems and leave us unarmed.  It can steal our soul and destroy hope.

The National Cancer Institute tells us that that although “psychological stress alone has not been found to cause cancer…psychological stress that lasts a long time may affect a person’s overall health and ability to cope with cancer.

If I had not divorced my husband when I did, I probably never would have. I worry about those who are stuck — diagnosed before they have a chance to break free of a bad situation.

I had bad days through chemotherapy, but I could smile. I could breathe. I could rest when I needed to rest, and take care of myself however I felt best. I could focus on getting better without having to also field the insults, rejection and daily degradation of an emotionally bankrupt man.

For that I am fortunate.

In times of depair…

At any momment...

…I often think of this quote when faced with challenge.

It became my mantra through diagnosis, treatment and recovery of breast cancer.  I have not been able to find the name of the author. I wish he or she knew how much these words have meant to me. 

Words are powerful.

As excruciating as any I’d experienced…

The online relationship ending was as excruciating as any I’d experienced in my traditional break-ups.  Like most break ups, it impacted me in permanent way.  I don’t make excuses for people anymore.

It didn’t feel right when my once husband called me names and degraded my own reality.  But I made excuses for him.  I did the same with Andrew.

I remained in an unhealthy marriage for years because I didn’t trust the voice inside me.  After my electronic love fell apart, I revisited my life with my husband and saw the same red flags, waving high and with vigor…the same message coming from the depth of my soul, as throughout my time with Andrew.

I am, though, encouraged to know that stepping out of my comfort zone helped me to redefine it.  It was an emotional year or so – one that I had often wished would pass quickly or let me sleep through it.  Now I’m glad I was awake for all of it.  I no longer ignore the obvious or dodge the painful. I simply look at concerns squarely and, when necessary, definitively state: “No. This isn’t right,” and move on to my next challenge.

And there was a new challenge.

Question: How do you know when an online relationship is unhealthy?

Answer:  If this question has crossed your mind, you are in an unhealthy online relationship.  Healthy relationships feel good.  They provide us with more answers to life’s mysteries than questions.

In The Journal of Popular Culture, Anastasia Salter (2011) discusses virtual romance and sex in her article, “Virtually Yours: Desires and Fulfillment in Virtual Worlds.”  She states that “when compared with the risks of taking the physical body into a world of fantasy and desire, perhaps the ‘healthy’ choice for the separated mind and body is indulging in fantasy” (1134).  I agree with this to an extent — if you are going to dive into something racy in the spirit of fun and adventure,  as long as you are careful, it might be best to do it online.

But that doesn’t mean your emotions will be safe, and many of us know how easy it can be for our hearts to get involved though not invited.  Just as men and women sleeping together as ‘friends with benefits’ can become ugly because of unplanned attachment, so can the creative use of the letters on your keyboard.

There is nothing wrong with a desire to abandon inhibition, liberate yourself from the pain of an unfortunate life event, to explore who you are, or to add some sizzle to your nights. 

In effort to more fully respond to your question, I offer the following 10 red flags that your emotional stability might be on the line in a particular virtual ‘relationship’, creating an unhealthy situation for you:

  1. He/she prefers electronic communication to a face-to-face visit or phone call.
  2. His/her messages are often initiated after 10:00 pm.  He/she  communicates with you when all of his/her primary interests for the day have been exhausted.
  3. He/she asks for naked pictures of you.
  4. The two of you have not been on an official date.
  5. He/she does not ask about the details of your day.
  6. He/she does not answer personal questions directly, often ignoring them entirely.
  7. You don’t know his/her address or place of employment.
  8. You want to know him/her as a person; He/she clearly knows you as a sex object.
  9. You have stopped dating other men/women because you are waiting for your online interest to materialize in your life as, perhaps even as a surprise.
  10. You make excuses for him/her.

Salter notes: “A cyberlover is separated from the real person by the same barriers as a lover found in a supermarket romance or television drama. Cyberlovers lurk beyond the computer screen, acting out parts and offering truths that may or may not be windows to their realities” (1125).  

A healthy person doesn’t often have to doubt reality. They bask in the peace that comes with knowing exactly what they are dealing with, and the palpability of their experiences.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

This post was made in participation with the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Dear Abby (click the link to view the challenge) I have been asked this question more than once, and the above is a version of the advice I offer based on experience and research. 

Relief?

Shortly after Andrew’s declaration of love, I started to notice that the time stamp on his messages were an hour off of my own.  They used to be the same. Now, his were one hour later than mine. 

This didn’t make sense. 

About six month into our discussions, he mentioned that he might be moving from Boston.  He was originally from Indianapolis as was I.  Based on what I knew about him, Indianapolis was a logical destination. This was exciting.  There would be, I thought, no more reasons for us to not be together.  I asked him where he was moving to and, in typical ‘Andrew fashion’, he ignored me.  I hadn’t thought deeply into this until my trip to Denver. 

Up to that point, I figured the time stamp disagreement had something to do with either my computer or his — a technical issue.  However, while in Denver, I the time stamp changed by two hours, which is consistent with the time difference between Denver and Indianapolis.  My mind, it seemed, had collected pieces of information and put them together even when I wasn’t purposefully doing any critical thinking at all.

 At the Denver airport, just before my plane boarded for home, I checked the ‘properties’ of Andrew’s email’s, copying and pasting the ‘sent’ IP address into Google to see from where his last email was sent. The response was as suspected: Indianapolis. He knows I visit the area regularly.  He clearly didn’t avoid my latest invitations to Chicago due to a distance issue.  When strategically planned around traffic patterns, it is only a three and a half hour drive from Indianapolis to Chicago. 

 Andrew, it dawned on me, had moved from Boston to my parent’s backyard and never mentioned it.  On that plane ride home, hope stopped.  Its screeching halt felt like I had plunged into an icy pool of water on an uncomfortably hot summer day.

Painful relief.

That first step out the virtual door was tough, but ‘walking away’ resulted in life-altering empowerment.  I had known something wasn’t right, but kept hoping everything would somehow turn out the way I wanted.  My head was still able to function separately from my heart.  This is good to know.

Which is worse?

One evening, while exchanging emails with Andrew, I sent some sort of diatribe about the need to let go of all that represented my abusive married life.  I assumed he would ignore my musings and move straight into sex talk like he usually did.  In the months prior, Andrew had begun to ignore my ‘chit chat’ about my day, opting to send separate emails to begin spicier discussion.  To my surprise, he did respond this time.  I opened his email to find three words:  “I love you.”   He had drawn those powerful words, there in the middle of the night, like a sword suddenly drawn in a crowd for no apparent reason.  It was confusing. I stared at the screen barely able to breathe. Were his careless words pointed towards my heart?  My head? Was he mocking me?  Was he finally opening himself up to me?  My heart leapt for safety, but fell short of arriving at its destination. Instead, I lost it all together, writing back that I loved him too. 

Andrew took advantage of my vulnerable state.  He was playing games.  Is that worse than one who overtly mistreats someone?

 

I craved overt affection…

The wounds of the intense emotional abuse in my marriage made it difficult for me to identify yet another narcissist: Andrew.

The emotional pull was so incredibly strong, that concrete fact faded into the distance of my mind each time Andrew and I exchanged heated email messages in rapid fire succession, sometimes for up to six hours in a single evening.

rationalized the inexplicable and compromised my values. Whenever my mind would scream “This isn’t right!,” Andrew would end up sending a captivating message that kept my skeptical heart paralyzed, binding it in hope and desire.

Andrew would initiate an email anywhere from 10:30 pm to 12:30 am almost every night (red flag). He would type a phrase, sentence or paragraph that would describe exactly what he envisioned we were doing. I would almost immediately respond within seconds and the evening would begin. The heat was palpable; the raw vulnerability was so intense I would shake.

The mind can stir anything.  It collects images, emotions, memories and desires, and shapes them into something as concrete as the furniture in one’s living room.

Google let me down…

I searched the Internet for relief. Surely someone else was going through this, I thought.  But my Google searches came up mostly empty.  I could find nothing written by experts that could explain my plight.  I turned to blogs and discussion forums, but found few discussing a scenario exactly like mine, though some were similar.  

On one site, a woman blogged about a man in her office who would write titillating emails to her throughout the workday, but would not acknowledge the emails – or her – when they passed each other in the halls of the company building.  When she pressed the man for a date, he stopped emailing her. He made it clear he did not want anything beyond cyberspace. I also came across a woman begging someone to answer her question, “What if he emails but won’t call?”

 I understood her hope that someone would post a logical, livable answer. I was disappointed when no one did.  I needed to know that my electronic love was somehow ‘right’, even though every part of my being was telling me that it was not.

Have you ever mistakenly moved forward as your spirit tried its best to hold you back?

Trading abanonment for abandonment…

After my divorce was final, I longed for Andrew and I to become a couple, but he would not move beyond his keyboard. He never explained why — all he could give me were the black letters he typed on the blinding whiteness of our computer screens. 

He would promise to call but never did. His excuses were laughable, had I been in a position to see humor in any of them. 

Andrew wrote as if we would most certainly get together ‘soon’, but ignored all my invitations to visit me in Chicago. I began to make excuses for him.  Maybe he lost his job and had no money for travel.  Maybe time had treated him poorly and needed time to get back into shape before seeing me.  Maybe he had been seriously hurt by his last girlfriend and needed to heal. Maybe…

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