I know the bottom, she says. I know it with my great tap root:
It is what you fear.
I do not fear it: I have been there.
Or shall I bring you the sound of poisons?
This is rain now, this big hush.
And this is the fruit of it: tin-white, like arsenic.
I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.
I have always loved Sylvia Plath and her facility with language. In retrospect, it was perhaps not the best poetry to memorize and recite as I went through diagnosis for cancer.
I have been thinking a lot about the strange incremental disconnect I’ve had from my body through all of this. I was raised super conservative religious, so I’ve always been suspicious of my body. “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” I wrote this really great poem about my physical self as this half feral pet who couldn’t be trusted. I was always more interested in cerebral, in reading, in writing, in thinking deeply and looking at things in new ways. Marya Hornbacher was my favorite author as a teen, and she has great narrative about a complicated relationship with her corporeal self. Plus, she quotes Nietzsche: “The awakened and knowing say: body I am entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body.” She also talks about this disconnect between self and body:
“You stop seeing your body as your own, as something valuable, that thing that totes you around and does your thinking and feeling for you and requires an input of energy for this favor. You begin seeing it instead as an undesirable appendage, a wart you need to remove. “I have a body, you are likely to say if you talk about embodiment at all; you don’t say, I am a body. A body is a separate entity possessable by the ‘I’; the ‘I’ and the body aren’t, as the copula would make them, grammatically indistinguishable… “
I feel that disconnect. The diagnosis of cancer, of your own body trying to kill you, will put a damper on any relationship. Naturally. I am my body, but I don’t really want to own what my body is currently doing. I am not this sick thing. I am not this unpredictably nauseated needy thing. I am not this bald fatigued thing. I did not chose to be in this body.
Chemo hasn’t even been all that bad for me. I am, of course, pretty nauseated and fatigued and miserable for a few days. Immunocal took care of most of the mouth pain/sores side effects. The drugs make everything else manageable. But I don’t recognize this self. The thought of food makes me ill. Regularly. I feel sick thinking about food. For someone who has spent 80% of the time thinking about food… this makes things I usually enjoy somewhat unpleasant. I still haven’t actually thrown up through any of this, for which I am immeasurably grateful. But I can’t tell from one day to the next what is going to sound awful to eat. Fruits, veggies, and liquids are pretty reliably ok, but anything else…. I literally cannot eat things. I have never been one of those people. Being a picky eater was the worst thing you could be in my house. Or maybe unhelpful.
I also have anxiety. I have never been an anxious person. All my life, I have been this oblivious uncaring thing. Anxiety didn’t even sound like a real thing to me, it was so foreign. My current anxiety might be hormonal from going through menopause or the physical effects of chemo. I am fight or flight all the time. My heart is POUNDING on a regular basis from NOTHING. I can’t even depend on my emotional state. I’ve always second guessed and over thought, and now I have to do it more because I cannot trust my body’s physical responses to outside stimuli. I am suspicious of everything my body does because it has gone MENTAL. And the small tears continue, my body pulling away from my mind in a widening fissure.
Of course, any therapist will tell me how this is normal and writing is a good way for me to “process my emotions” and “cope” during such an upheaval. Writing is me externalizing my emotions, further distancing myself from it so I can put it in a box and wrap it up and say “see, there are my emotions. I dealt with them. You can see exactly what I thought and felt and did.” Is that really helpful, increasing the divide between mind and body?
I am seeing a therapist, and I will try mindfulness or meditation or something. I should deal with the anxiety in some way that actually gets at the problem (ie not writing or mania or insomnia). There are medications, super addictive medications. I know (hope) that this is all short term. I will only be taking poison for the next few months. My psyche can handle the anxiety and the corporeal rift. Probably. If not, there is always…. philosophy. I think my reading list now includes the Cartesian divide. Nothing better than philosophy at placing me more firmly in the physical reality.

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