Navigating Other People: A Rant

Yesterday was a bit of a kerfuffle, with part of my treatment (the Bleomycin) having to be cancelled due to worries about my lungs not working as well as they should at the moment. Boo.

For now, however, I can say that the infusion part of my second round of chemotherapy is officially over! This also means that I’m due my first scan since chemo began – and with that knowledge comes wave upon wave of scanxiety. That’s for another post another day, though.

Today I want to write about people management. No, really, stick with me.

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See, there’s plenty of information out there about how to tell others in your life that you have cancer when you first receive the news. Reams of literature on having the initial ‘Big C’ discussion with kids, with your parents, or your partner. Veritable essays of the stuff on what to say to your employer about your diagnosis.

What they don’t tell you about so much is what it’s like once you’ve settled into your new routine; when navigating the fraught intricacies of well-meaning and well-loved people in your life starts to become a part-time job.

Oh Ceri, you’re so ungrateful! At least you have people around you

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, I’m a terrible human being – but I’m not saying I’d rather be alone through this. Far from it, I’m immensely and indescribably grateful for the support of my loved ones. I wouldn’t be coping even an iota as well with this whole battle if it weren’t for them.

But bloody hell, they can be such a pain the ass. 

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Look, I enjoy nurturing relationships with interesting, astute and often strong willed (but not obstinate) individuals. My family are to blame for this, with my parents being two of the most fiercely intelligent and challenging, yet wonderfully open-minded, humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve repeated this selection pattern in the people I choose to have around me – which is all fine and dandy until you’re suddenly in a situation where they’re having to live together in close quarters or interact more regularly than usual during an immensely stressful situation.

Oh God, what have I done?

Yesterday, after a particularly tense morning of medications being muddled up, people staying in B&Bs to ‘get some space’, and the blame game reaching nearly premiership level by all involved, I decided to count how many times during the day I bit my tongue or changed my behaviour in some way to maintain the peace or soothe someone’s feelings about my own situation (meaning the decision had to be directly related to my diagnosis in some way, rather than just ‘yes that dress looks great on you‘).

Thirty seven times.

Thirty seven times that I consciously made the decision to say or act in a way that I might not have had I not been worrying about knock-on effects. Thirty seven times I decided some level of inauthenticity was probably a safer bet than being vulnerable or honest. Thirty seven times someone (and I’m talking family, partner, partner’s family, friends and even a couple of medical staff) didn’t get the whole truth from me because I just didn’t think it was worth it, and because I prioritised people management over personal transparency.

Of course, this is something we all do every day, both consciously and unconsciously. The world would be a bit of a dumpster fire if we didn’t make these kind of nuanced social decisions. I’m not arguing anything contrary.

What I am getting my knickers in a twist about that I am constantly wracked with a festering combination of guilt, frustration and resentment about the level of work I have to put in helping others navigate my current situation. The seemingly endless placating and stroking of bruised feelings, insecurities, egos and baffling juxtapositions of ‘woe is me’ and ‘this person can’t possibly do anything wrong’. How much of my currently very limited energy, emotion and willpower I’m expending on this shitty game of 4D top trumps that I’d rather be putting into oh, I don’t know, literally anything else right now. 

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Hmph.

But, instead of simply pouring out my grumblings to this blog like some 2000s era Livejournal exercise, I’ve mulled over some practical steps I can take to bring back some calm and levelheadedness.

Last night involved my getting utterly fed up and taking the reigns (imagine in your mind’s eye the ‘handover’ scenes from Super Nanny, but she’s bald, in a dressing gown and marginally less posh). It worked a treat, but really isn’t sustainable as I spent most of the evening on my feet organising, cleaning and cooking after a day of hospital and chemotherapy, and am paying the price for it today; it’s 7:32am and I am already exhausted.

No, I think the reduction in frustration will have to come mostly from challenging and changing my own inner reactions to everything going on externally. What’s that saying? You can’t control other people, you can only control the way you react to them? Something like that.

  • I should try to be more patient and kinder, both to my loved ones and to myself
  • definitely need to get out of the house and into nature more frequently
  • Mindfulness and meditation have been recommended to me on several occasions and, if I can get over that cringe-inducing self-awkwardness (is that a thing?) long enough, I’d like to actually sit down and give it a go
  • I need to start trusting those around me to be able to handle it if I tell them “you’re all adults, and you shouldn’t need to come to me to help you deal with [other adult/simple issue/task]” when I don’t have the energy to be of assistance
  • The hospital, and some of my ‘badass babes’ cancer group, have recommended ongoing therapy whilst fighting cancer – it’s an emotionally turbulent time for all involved, and talking it out with an impartial professional can apparently really help

Any other suggestions from out there in the internet world? Let me know whilst I go and talk this over with a big bowl of ice cream.

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9 thoughts on “Navigating Other People: A Rant

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  1. Me again, don’t be hard on yourself, each day is a shitfest of emotions and confusion on how you and others are supposed to act, not supposed to act. Do what you feel you need to do to cope and manage, everyone is different. I cant offer a solution though Hugs to you

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  2. Argh! It’s not impossible to get angry even if you can see people’s psychology.
    If practical stuff and permission are getting on top of you, maybe inner control freak have a hurrah and set up a roster for those who have need of being useful!? But also mindfulness is similar to, not patience which sounds pappy, but dissociative ignoring everything to the exclusion of liability and of GAF; much more tenable when you’re really ill. It’s like being old: wear purple and bang some railings.
    In terms of rostering and daily management, can Macmillan nor someone from somewhere else be found to command the troops!? Close family can access support to help them deal with the sense of grief and powerlessness, and any kind of testing issues depending on the kind of cancer. Away from you.
    Alternatively, professional organisers start at around £30 per hour, see the ADPO website. They’re not cleaners or PAs but oftrn work with families and people with a variety of conditions and none, usually have their heads screwed on and could possibly have a clue what to do.
    Suppression is stressful and directly damages the body as far we know, right!? It’s not going to help your breathing.

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  3. I think sometimes some tactful honesty is required, the whole constructive criticism approach, if you dress it nicely.
    Far removed example but I’ve had a colleague really irritating me lately (the sort that interrupts mid sentence to correct grammar!), and the tongue biting hasn’t helped me or him. I’ve just taken to rebutting by saying “I don’t care” or “that’s unecessary” and just carried on with the rest of the conversation as normal, to demonstrate I am capable of being irritated without hating a person.
    Obviously your situation is a bit different! But I often find it helps to open with things like “I really appreciate you are trying to look out for me. However, when you do X, it is making me feel Y, even if that is not your intention. Can we work together and try Z?”
    Bit robotic, but sometimes that can help.

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  4. I’m much older than you and not remotely into anything spiritual but I found the app “Calm” useful. When I was feeling really panicky in hospital the breathing exercises were good I still listen to the sleep stories sometimes, they really helped to quieten my mind when it was racing away at night. BTW you looked great with pink hair.

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  5. Even though I’ve never had cancer myself (despite tons of other physical ailments) and mostly know about it through having had tons of friends and family members that had it, I can’t really say I understand what you’re going through, because I don’t first-hand know, but I do have enough knowledge of being grumpy from dealing with physical ailments and taking care of others who are unhappy from dealing with physical ailments, I do try to come to an understanding. I don’t know exactly how I can help but am open to any ideas/suggestions that people give me. I know it’s probably annoying and may even feel patronizing when we want to help, but it comes from a place of love. While the issues I have aren’t under the same umbrella at all, I do relate to the “want to be around people but don’t wan to be around people”, “every day is a challenge”, and “I need to get out more” aspects. I don’t know exactly what to send through mail because I dunno what will make it through customs but what I do know is that a handwritten letter will. I’m trying to think of what to say because I want it to be 100% sincere but not glurge-y.

    Only advice I can give is, don’t be too hard on yourself, but do whatever it takes to get your mind in a better place. Even if it’s just stuff distracting you from your current situation. I hope my comment wasn’t too rambly and made sense, haha. Anyways just remember you are amazing and I’m really honored to have you as my friend.

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  6. Oh, if only I had your guts to do the same with those around me! When reality bites, truth is the only thing: being true to yourself, partner and all those around you. Now, more than ever, they will take it from you (that’s another blog all together!), but the overriding task now is looking after you, not those around you.
    Tell them all to ‘duck off’ for a time (mis-spelt on purpose) may be the thing which alleviates the pressure, on occasions.
    Keep the faith, you’re becoming my hero.
    Jules (51-year old dyke, 2000 miles from home and family).

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