Here I am again, humbly calling out to the universe in search of meaning and answers. I’ve been searching for that a lot lately and remembered that in the past when I needed clarity the most, I’ve often discovered it between the lines and words that poured out on to the page before me. Where have I been and why did I stop blogging for nearly a year? That’s a hard one to explain.
I ended my last blog in January with these words:
“This year I promise, no matter how much fear or shame I am feeling I will continue to write. I will continue to share my challenges and successes. I will show up and share my truth so that others who are feeling the same can feel less alone in theirs. I’m going to keep shining my light, even on the days it is dim- in the hopes it lights up someone else’s darkness if only for a moment.”
As I read those words back before writing this, a wave of deep shame and guilt washed over me. One I am very familiar with feeling. Because while I have tried to continue to write music, I have not written a blog for nearly 11 months. It’s been a wonderful year filled with amazing highs, but also a year filled with incredibly challenging setbacks to overcome and an immense amount of personal growth happening behind the scenes.
In February I took the leap to start intensive psychotherapy with my transplant therapist, who I’ve been a patient of for nearly four years. This has been one of the best but most difficult things I’ve ever done. Dealing with not just complex PTSD caused by my cancer and transplant experience but also a litany of mental health challenges I’ve struggled with for most of my life has required an immense amount of energy and focus from me.
We meet 3 times a week for 45 minutes on zoom. With the cameras off, I talk about my life, my feelings, my struggles. The goal is to identify patterns of thought and behaviour that are affecting my daily life and ability to function and cope in the world. By listening to me openly talk about what’s happening in my life, how I think about things and how they’re affecting me, we can target problematic areas one at a time. My goal was to find a greater sense of confidence, positivity, understanding and forgiveness for both myself, and the world around me.
In the beginning we started by doing a deep dive in my life, my past and my psychological history. Then with a solid understanding of my foundation, we moved to freeform open discussion. At first the discussions felt more than awkward. Baring my soul to someone in this way, even someone I knew and trusted was extremely hard. I would often self-medicate with cannabis before these early sessions because of how raw and intense the sessions ended up becoming. I knew I needed to be vulnerable and open to try and gain actual insight, but opening up so much was causing me to make realizations about myself and my behaviours that were creating a lot of shame and guilt for me. I knew I needed to push through those feelings to openly communicate them to my therapist or there was no point to what we were doing, but that level of vulnerability felt overwhelming at times.
It was incredibly painful to constantly be identifying problematic behaviours, responses and cycles that had plagued me for most of my life while still feeling like I lacked the ability to get ahead of them or stop them before they started happening. It’s like I could see the train coming from a mile away and knew it was going to hit me, but I still couldn’t get off the tracks. This left me feeling incredibly helpless and powerless much of the time and It was an uncomfortable phase.
But together, slowly, I started to feel like I was making small amounts of progress. The diagnosis and treatment of my attention deficit disorder had made such a big difference for me, as did learning about the illness, and fully understanding how it had impacted my development and life overall. It allowed me to find a small space of forgiveness for myself and understand that a lot of the things that I thought were ‘wrong with me,’ weren’t actually ‘wrong’. Things like forgetting to eat or shower didn’t make me a bad person, they were just symptoms of my ADHD. Eventually we were able to make some other changes to my medication that slowly helped pull me, at least towards the opening of the very dark hole I’d been in for quite some time. But I’m still in the hole a little bit and I desperately want to get out.
One of the hardest things to explain to my therapist and to work through has been this sense of desperation that having cancer has left me with. I felt like I was never ‘good enough’ and often felt like a failure before cancer, but since cancer I feel this desperate all-consuming need to prove to everyone (and probably myself) that I am not a failure. That I am good enough. It feels inside like somehow, I failed at even having cancer because I haven’t made a good enough ‘come back,’ or because I didn’t find a deep and unrelenting sense of joy and gratitude for surviving like so many others seem to. I keep feeling this urge to redeem myself; to achieve something truly great so everyone can see that I’m not just this loser who failed at everything- music first and then somehow cancer (even though I survived and that’s really the only point).
Some of the feelings I struggle with the most are not feeling like I’m enough.
Feeling like everything about me is disgusting and horrible. Like I’m not worth loving. Not worth friendship. Not worth being seen or heard. This past year I’ve been struggling so much with my self-confidence. It’s hit a low I’ve never seen before. I just want to be happy, but I can’t seem to find happiness and it’s been so hard to try and find out why.
One of the things that I think has really been holding me and my happiness back is the urge I have to help and please everyone else but myself. I put everyone and everything in my life ahead of myself and my needs. I intrinsically believe so deeply that I am worthless that I neglect myself more severely than anyone else ever could. I automatically choose others over me. I automatically think about others before me and dismiss my own needs. I also get plagued by fear and doubt and even though it seems contradictory that’s one of the reasons I started my own business this year.
After getting my place Nashville I was both inspired and terrified. It’s everything I want to do, it’s where I want to be. But everyone there is so talented, and I fear that my talent is not good enough. I fear that no one will like me. That I won’t have good ideas, that I don’t play guitar, that I’ll get laughed right out of a writing room or the city. The doubt I began to feel paralyzing and it got mixed up with another fear: That because I don’t make any real money from music I really am worthless. I really have failed, because I wasn’t able to turn my one true love into something that can actually support me and my family. It felt incredibly unfair that even though I had spent as much time, energy and money building my ‘music business,’ as my husband has building his HVAC business, I had failed to make anything real or tangible of it that mattered in a world where financial security matters more than almost anything.
It made me start to think that I needed to prove myself in the real money-making world somehow. That I needed to make money to be taken seriously by my husband and by society. Like somehow everyone was secretly judging me this whole time for being such a broke and unsuccessful musician. So instead of grabbing on to music with both hands and really investing my all into it (which is what I wanted to do in 2023), I put it on the back burner and started running a ‘real’ business that actually made money. Only problem was… it wasn’t making me fully happy either. Sure, I was pleased that I was making actual money, and I didn’t mind it, but I still felt hollow and empty inside most of the time. Why?
This all comes back to repeated patterns that we identify with therapy and one of the patterns I’m finally starting to see is that I regularly let the fear, doubt and the overwhelming uncertainty that working in the music industry provides get to me to the point where I give up on myself and retreat into the shadows. I give up the only thing that actually makes me happy, because somehow deep down I feel like I don’t deserve to write, produce or perform music if I’m not good enough to actually be successful with it and If I haven’t been successful with it yet in 20 years then maybe that’s telling me something (like I should give it up).
This all intertwines into another pattern that affects me regularly: The need to be perfect to feel like I’m enough.
I know realistically that no one is perfect. I am not and I never will be. But there is something inside of me that screams at all hours on high, that if I am not perfect, I am not good enough. If can’t do it perfectly I shouldn’t do it because heaven forbid someone see or hear me doing something that isn’t perfect, I might explode into a million pieces and vanish into the ether. It feels inside like because my skin is aging, because I’ve gained a few pounds I am no longer worth anyone’s time or attention.
Lately I’ve been trying to describe to people how it feels to be me. I describe it like this:
My body survived Cancer. But I Didn’t. The light I used to have feels like It has been extinguished. The joy, the happiness, the confidence I used to feel has left me. Almost everything I used to love makes no sense to me now. I have never felt this hideous. This worthless. This empty. The level of resignation is unmatched. I have no idea how to get it back. I don’t know how to feel connected to the world or to other people anymore. I keep trying. I keep going through the motions. I keep showing up three times a week and putting in the work because I can see these small incremental changes in understanding myself. I’m understanding my motivations and actions and triggers. I’m starting to be able to communicate them better, to understand myself better; to talk about what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it. To intervene before I allow feelings to become so overwhelming.
I can see the changes. But they are SO goddamned slow and so painful to pull out of the darkness and inspect and accept and correct. Analyzing myself 24/7, my thoughts and my behaviours; looking at the past and how many people I’ve hurt including myself and how many mistakes and bad decisions I made along the way that were wholly motivated by fear, by doubt. It’s a tough pill to swallow.
One of the most seemingly effective coping tools for me over the years has undoubtedly been cannabis and while I’ve been working on changing my relationship with it and have been able to cut back significantly, I haven’t been able to fully eliminate it yet. Part of me really wants to quit and has for a really long time. But the seriously wounded internal me is terrified about how to manage these overwhelming feelings and the excessive internal thought processes I’ve developed as a result, that give me little reprieve or silence in my mind.
Last week my therapist said to me during an intense discussion that he felt I would never truly find happiness if I didn’t quick using cannabis and it really struck home for me. I immediately felt judged and felt shamed about it. I’m a realist about my situation. I know that I’m an addict. I know that I’m using cannabis as a numbing agent and that ultimately If I really want to move past the root issues that I’m trying to numb I have to learn to feel and accept them. But I genuinely don’t know how. The entire conversation really rattled me and even though we were able to talk it out in our next therapy session, I still feel deeply judged and the shame I’ve been feeling has been way more intense than usual this past week. It’s had me thinking about this a lot. What if he’s right? What if I won’t be happy without it? What if other people ARE judging me? What if I’m just making excuses? What if I’m not working towards quitting fast enough?
I guess I have a lot to think about moving forward. It’s been a weird year with lots of highs and lows. Two new hips. Broken Knee. New Music. I’m reaching the end of my transplant recovery with only a couple surgeries left but it still feels like I’m a long way away from where I’m going. One thing I do know in my heart is that no matter how difficult things become I will continue to return to music because it’s what truly makes my heart at peace. I may not blog as much, but it’s mostly because I’ve rediscovered the healing power of music again and have been working on a collection of songs about my cancer and transplant experience that I hope will resonate with people out there experiencing the same difficult feelings that come with life challenges of all kinds.
I hope as we move towards 2024 that it brings you all peace and clarity. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope if you’re out there feeling similar things that you know you’re not alone. Keep up the good fight.