Where is My Joie de Vivre?

Something is wrong. Something is really, really wrong. I could only see red on Thursday. That’s not me. So I took a little time off.

Our pastor spoke this weekend about James 1, being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. I tend to fail on the slow to speak thing but, generally, anger is not my issue. Not as an adult anyway.

Julie and I are dealing with some stuff. Over the last 8 months we have watched as our daughter was treated for cancer. One day, happy, healthy little girl. Then she had cancer. Nothing I could do.

Seemingly the next day she had a vacuum line running between two ribs causing her intense pain. Nothing I could do.

Then there were weeks of time when I was home with the other kids while Julie and our little patient lived at the hospital. And there was nothing I could do.

I was helpless as she threw up for days on end, helpless as her hair fell out, helpless during her surgery at Christmas. Compounding that, I was helpless toward the other beautiful children and scared parents we met in the hospital. A hospital for sick children. At Christmas.

We lost two kids we knew at Christmas. 7 children in the 8 months at the hospital. There was nothing I could do.

And I still had a job and livestock and bills to pay and dishes to wash and stuff to do.

And I was not dealing with it in a healthy way.

Mostly I would race through my chores then play Minecraft with the other kids. But it was all racing. It was all rush. It was all hurry. Fast food, Coca-cola, late nights, early mornings. I stopped reading. I stopped exploring. I stopped writing. I stopped doing. Because there was nothing I could do. I was trying to be a “good dad” but, really, I was just distracting myself from the pain and feeling of helplessness.

I have hit low points in my life. Lower, I hope, than most people sink to. I was not at my lowest point but I was not in a healthy place.

As I walked through that valley, that low point, I decided to maybe stop drinking so much caffeine and sugar. My blood pressure had been high and my sleep quality had been poor. This seemed like a good first step to resolve my near-constant headache. With the exit of Coca-cola, my headaches intensified for about 2 miserable weeks. Then I felt like an AA member. I could tell you the last time I drank a Coke. “My name is Chris and I am addicted to sugar and caffeine. I had my last Coke on Feb. 20, 2016.”

But I really just replaced Coke with unsweetened coffee. I had to fix that too.

I also stopped drinking alcohol. After I dropped coke I found myself drinking a beer or two every night. Maybe a glass or two of wine. That’s not an outlandish amount of alcohol for many people but it is for me. So I stopped.

And I stopped eating multiple handfuls of candy from the candy dish at work.

And Julie and I cleaned up our diet. Again.

But the things that were whispering at me before we screaming at me now. Oh. My. Gosh! It is amazing how quickly and easily I can be set off. And for no reason! I stewed for two days on a joke some idiot made during a conversation on Thursday. Fortunately, I kept my thoughts to myself but…I was not happy.

Do you remember happy? I remember happy. Happy was reading books and sharing them with you. Happy was taking pictures of growing grass and cow manure and wondering if I could make the grass or cow manure look better by changing my grazing management. Happy was raising chickens and pigs and cows and children and preserving my marriage and continuing my education and writing about it and wondering, myself, how I had time to do it all.

But that was before my daughter got cancer and there was nothing I could do but watch her suffer as the treatment continued. Watching alone, from the sidelines. Living a third or more of my life without my wife at home, the rest of the time working to ensure that she and our daughter could rest because being at the hospital is not restful. At all.

Our daughter’s treatments are behind us. It seems I was able to push all of my bags to the side while she was receiving treatment but now it is all washing over me. I should feel relieved but, really, I just feel tired. So tired. Old.

I picked up some bad habits over the last 8 months. I lost some good habits too. I stopped practicing my writing, for example.

I broke up with Coca-cola in February. In June I am going to get back together with my old friend the blog. I’m going to try anyway.

These feeling I am dealing with? The experience we have been through? That feeling of rejection and isolation a husband feels when (in his mind) his wife chooses a child over him? Substance abuse? Insomnia? High blood pressure? Depression? These things have ground me down in ways that are not always visible from the outside. All of those families I met in the hospital are dealing with this too. And nobody talks about it.

Find a way to reach out to a family in need, including the husband who is expected to be strong and not to cry and to go to work, and keep it all together and to just deal with it all like a “man”. And if you are in need, please reach out. If you don’t know who else to call, reach out to me. Believe me, I understand.

This will be a farm blog again soon. I promise.

13 thoughts on “Where is My Joie de Vivre?

  1. Why hasn’t PTSD been identified for parents in your stage of cancer treatment. When people return from overseas they often have varying levels of it, why haven’t parents returning from the war with cancer been identified? Someone with the qualification should be at Children’s preparing parents for this.

    • Our little girl survived one kind of cancer..a serious kind of cancer. Her life was threatened. But somehow a tumor on an ankle is not as immediate or threatening as a brain tumor. So we tend to feel bad about feeling bad. If that makes sense.

      I’m sure there are resources available at the hospital. But we kind of felt like they said, “You’re done!”. They stamped our passport and sent us on our way. “Everything looks good. Come back in 3 months!”

      PTSD is a real thing in cancer families. We have read quite a bit about it. So is survivor guilt.

  2. I think we would hear the same thing said about surviving over seas duty in time of war. The “buck up, it’s over” attitude is not helpful for anyone.

  3. Yup, I was thinking PTSD as I was reading through this post. If your health benefits or insurance cover it, it might be worth getting a few appointments with a counsellor – someone outside your situation to talk to, who might be able to offer some insights, and maybe even have some tools to help you through this. You’re doing great for what you’ve been through. You will be OK eventually. You have God on your side.

  4. Exhaustion, lack of control, fear, anger…you can not separate it all out. You can not fix what caused it. You and yours have come though trama. Do not expect it to not leave you battered. Remember your foundation. Love your family. Be thankful. Rest. Eat right. You already know all this. Quit being hard on yourself. Show grace to yourself and then you can show it to others. Delete this if it is to simplistic.

    • Thanks. I don’t mean to be hard on myself. I think, really, I am just acknowledging that things are out of whack. And, based on a number of offline responses we have gotten, I have hit on something.

      We certainly are tired. But there is more. We are out of rhythm. And a number of the couples we have been in contact with say the same thing. Things just aren’t the same.

      Your list of next steps are absolutely correct but there is more. And it starts by admitting that there is a problem worth solving.

  5. Thank you so much for pouring this all out. As the wife of a quiet man, I am comforted to see that perhaps my husband has felt this way, but just doesn’t know how to express it. I’m ashamed to admit that I had resented him, because I thought he had the easy job, but I think you’ve clearly pointed out (in a way even a selfish wife can understand) that I was not the only one hurting. Your words definitely shed some light on a very dark subject. I met Julie on the 9th floor, and cried with her, though I didn’t know her. She was so sweet just to listen to me. I am so thankful to God for having allowed me to meet such a jewel on this journey. Thanks for sharing. God bless you all on your road to recovery.

    • Thank you for responding. We all understand each other on the 9th floor.

      During the most terrifying event of our lives we had to be apart. We each had to deal with things without support from the other. As a consequence, we have developed patterns that we have to break free of.

      We understand about feeling resentment. Especially when the beeping machines, excessive hydration and intrusive nurses won’t let you sleep more than 30 minutes at a stretch. You became someone else to survive that. He did too. And some of the wounds are still tender.

      I love Julie. But something was lost when I lived without her. I don’t know if we will every find what we lost. But I am willing to spend the rest of my life searching for 10 new excuses to be madly in love with her again.

      • That’s beautiful. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform”. He will give you more than 10, but deeper than you could ever imagine. This thing has wreaked havoc in our whole family, but my 4-year-old being diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor taught me one very important thing…to trust Him, because I have no control over anything, but He holds the world’s in their places.

  6. During the war in Vietnam Nam your father was stationed at a waiting wive’s base. I watched as men came home from facing death daily and tried to pick up the reins of father hood and fit back into the same position as husband that he had held when he left, sometimes a year in the past. We didn’t hear about dealing with the fallout at that time, but we saw it. Everyone deals with stress in their own way. Sometimes the special ed kids I taught showed their stresses in very unacceptable ways. Trauma is often a part of these kids lives. It is very important to deal with stress, parents and kids.

  7. I have little to add to the wonderful comments already written. I wish you Providence in the adventure of reconnecting with Julie. Mostly I want you to remember many are thinking and praying for you and your family.

    • Thanks Steve. I’m sure it shows in the chain of unconnected thoughts but I wrote this quickly Tuesday morning before Julie got out of bed. She woke up, read it, cried and shared it with some other moms from the 9th floor. That led to a whole day of some pretty serious discussion and, later, a new FB group for cancer family support. Pretty amazing impact from a few disjointed thoughts jotted down with too little editing. I wish I could share some of the comments that came from offline discussion.

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