Last Friday I lost the plot.
Lately, I’ve been spending more time in the studio. I was so happy to be back home, and I’ve lots of good things coming up. Feeling energised, excited to make more work.  I show up on Instagram regularly and have started rebuilding my art career. After all, I’m in remission aren’t I? Other people would have had to go back to work their day jobs by now, or perhaps they’ve gone off on the trip of a lifetime, all safaris and ashrams. There are certainly plenty of high functioning survivors telling their uplifting stories right, left and centre. Meanwhile everyone tells me how well I look, and for the most part I feel good in my body.

But I’m knackered. Like to-the-bone knackered. I’m working too hard and sleeping too badly. My brain feels mushy most of the time. On Friday morning I woke with agonising, stress-triggered stomach cramps. Those ones where you feel repeatedly punched by a seven-foot boxer every time you try to get on your feet. But I got through the day with copious amounts of blame, shame, guilt and trying to keep my trap shut. My poor family – the amount of whinging they have to listen to. Anyway, it’s not my airtime. My poor daughter had horribly infected eczema that was debilitating and painful enough for her. She needed my care.

Can the heart and/or gut trick you into thinking things are real? How are you supposed to know whether it’s resistance or whether you need to slow down? Telling myself I’m run-down, fatigued, zero energy – am I just being lazy? Am I grieving and need more time to heal? Or finding excuses? I had begun the Artist’s Way, determined to fit in the required morning pages daily to gain momentum. I’d made myself a schedule with blocked off, protected studio time. I read War of Art. Steven Pressman says healing is just a form of resistance, as is rationalisation. Look at how Lance Armstrong battled cancer and won the Tour de France!

So by Friday night I lay in bed feeling like shit wondering if I’m just weak, pathetic, idle. Perhaps I need to push myself more. But how far? Or will that let cancer back in? (My greatest fear.) How much rest is too much? Should I be ok by now? How long does it really take or am I malingering?
I googled some questions like “How to tell if you’re lazy” and “how long after cancer should I be feeling ok?” Googling in French (the cancer information is generally better) bought me to a site that that talked about la fatigue reliée au cancer – Cancer Related Fatigue (CRF). I was gobsmacked. So it’s an actual Thing. Not a Thing anyone ever told me about though, but very real, distressing and with a combination of causes: cancer-related over expression of cytokines, emotional disturbance, existential crisis in the face of suffering and death, anemia following chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Herceptin side effects and the loss of fitness and muscle mass during treatment.

But as we are all such wonderfully varied individuals, it’s nigh on impossible to pinpoint how to relieve it. Much like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or mental illness, or any other insidious, perplexing disorder that sufferers have to try and battle through.

The more different treatments you had (I had 4) the more likely it is. Breast cancer and previous mental health issues up that likelihood and I have a trifecta. It can last a few months, or perhaps donkey’s years after treatments have ended. Weirdly, I burst into tears of relief. I’m not lazy, crazy or a confused special little snowflake. What I am is post-traumatic, vulnerable and fatigued. But I’m also brave, hopeful and resourceful and I’ll find a way to live joyful and meaningful to ME and not according to other people’s metrics for ‘success’. I will work with spoon theory. I am very lucky that French Social Security gives me Disability Benefit, allowing me this privilege.

In hindsight I think I used art as a coping mechanism. If I throw myself into projects I tell myself it’s helping me heal. I can process my emotions effectively through making art. That’s very true, but it has to be coming from the right place. Not because you’ve got the hump with yourself for not being more. More hardworking, more driven, more like The Others who have got their lives sorted. What I actually need more of is more rest, more sitting quietly with me and listening, more art when I feel capable or called to work, more writing, more doing what brings joy and certainly more gentle mercy for myself. My pace may be slow, but I will get to where I want to be in my own time.

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

The Journey | Mary Oliver