I had to lock down my website & blog in April because I started looking for other jobs and by other jobs I mean a complete life-changing career shift. Call me Mrs. B, cuz guess what, I'm a teacher! It happened lightning fast. I signed up for, studied, and took the MTEL's in English. I gathered my transcripts and spoke to every single teacher I knew. I observed English classes at my old high school. I applied and was ignored by many public schools nearby and on a whim emailed the director of a charter school on the Cape and not even joking, a week and a half later - I got the job. When I say fast I mean fast.
So, how'd I get here. Well...after eleven years griping about cubicles and office jobs I finally started listening to my inner voice, the one who screamed at me day after day as I languished in a stale office, staring at a computer screen till my contacts dried up.
"Who cares?? This voice kept screaming. And after all the cancer nonsense it was even more evident that what I was doing day after day after day was helping zero people in this world. This all bothered me to a terrifying degree but I didn't know what to do about it. Because, you know...bills.
Until one day around my birthday I made a pros and cons list. A wants and needs list. And on it I listed what I want and need: Needs: Time. Free time. To write, be with my family. To have a goddamn break. Not 2.5 weeks vacation. Needs: To be in a more bustling, lively environment where I talk to human beings and not a screen, where the tapping of a keyboard doesn't give me nightmares and I don't have to hear the phrase, "Year-over-Year." I wanted to talk about books and reading and writing and make someone's life better, somehow. Who? Whose life could I make better? And somewhere along the line I had the idea to try becoming a teacher. It was helped along by several teacher friends and my mom.
But I also subscribe to this notion written in a letter by Hunter S. Thompson, a letter that I had taped to my cubicle wall. Every year of my life since I discovered this letter, a particular part of it nagged at me. It reached my depths. It helped me make my decision:
"The answer—and, in a sense, the tragedy of life—is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things...When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It's not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis? ... So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.....A man has to BE something; he has to matter."
And so...I'm three days in to the hardest job I've ever had. I'm already having nightmares about my lesson plans going awry. I wake up every night at 4 AM in a panicked sweat. I think constantly about my kids; especially the troubled ones. My heart hasn't stopped racing. I'm panicking 24/7 over how to fill each class period. I make significantly less money. And I've never, ever, felt more exhilarated, and I've never ever felt like I've belonged anywhere more. Most importantly, I care.
We’re coming up on 2 years since finding the nefarious lump, one year on being declared cancer-free. A lot has changed for the better, one being that I feel like I’ve kind of emerged out from under this cloud or rock or boulder or whatever you want to call it and see things much more clearly. I temper past anxieties and anger with a more measured approach, now. And I know that all sounds la-dee-da and vague, so…let me try to expand on that. Expound? Expand? Both.
I digress. It's both a good thing and a bad thing to see things so clearly, mainly because one character trait I’ll never lose is my impatience. When I see something that needs changing, I’m incredibly angsty to Change it now! Life is short! This is your life and you only get one!!!! I mean the voice is relentless. That voice makes me very much aware of how I spend my days, weeks, hours and minutes, and of course being cognizant is great - but for things like my career, which can’t change in an instant even though I’d like it to…yeah, not so much.
And of course things like my hair - you should see how many bobby pins I use to trick myself into believing I can put it up into a ponytail. Still not there yet…slowly…but surely though, it’s getting longer. Can I also add I’m SO MUCH STRONGER?? All caps because that’s how diesel my legs are. Thank you Orangetheory.
I still have no friends out here in the ‘burbs, which has been strange; I know I talk about this constantly but it was hard to make friends when your face was blown up from chemo and your wigs are ever-changing and you just don’t feel like explaining your sad little plight to strangers - so even though it’s been a few months (9? 10?) since that very last treatment, I have not gotten any more open about what I went through. It’s hard enough making brand new adult friends in the ‘burbs. A) It’s hard to say “oh, well I had cancer that first 1.5 years so I lived under a rock and thats why I have no friends in this town, hi nice to meet you will you be mine now?) and B) Possibly even harder is that we are--dun dun dun...childless in the burbs. Little did I know most people have kids - or plan to very soon - when they move to the suburbs. Coming from the Cape I guess I just didn’t really think it would be so prevalent and assumed. I have an urge to start a club called “South Shore DINKs & SINKs” but I’m not sure that would fly and honestly, I am not sure there would be many people who would fall under that criteria to even join!
I’m rambling. Long story short, it’s been a hell of a 2 years, and there are still struggles and worries and feeling like I’ve landed in an odd, foreign juncture of an odd life path that I’d never expected and sure as hell never planned on navigating. But with it has born clarity—and I’m so blessed to have that clarity. I know who I love and who I will pour my energy into. I know who saps me of energy, who consistently makes me feel not so great and so I avoid them when I’m able, and brush off what I can. And I know I have a lot more learning and living to do. And I’m incredibly thankful.
PS: I updated my professional website, as I'd love to take on more freelance work. Check it out!
"Turn up the radio...switch on the electric light" - Van The Man Morrison
Updates updates, let's see. Aside from my tiny little pony getting longer by the day (yay!) I've decided something big: I'm tapering off my anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. I take a super small dose, but I've realized I may not need it at all (not like I did a year ago and man, did I, as much as I hated to admit at the time). More on that in a minute....
But first, for anyone interested, aside from hormonal therapy (Tamoxifen and Lupron), I take some specific vitamins in my maybe inconsequential, but hopefully not, attempt at staving off that big C:
And of course I exercise my bum off at Orangetheory and will run Falmouth again with some other road races in between. The exercise is more for my head. I wish it would keep the fat from collecting around my middle and the back of my legs but no matter how many all-outs on that damn treadmill I do, that chunk just keeps on clingin' to this bod of mine.
Since finishing treatment, keeping weight off has been a killer. There's about a 10-15 pound albatross that will not go away, and I am hoping dropping the Lexapro will help with this. Sounds weird but being so even-keeled with that "edge off "- meaning almost zero anxiety - I believe, in my crazy head, makes me eat more. And thereby Calm, Hungry Nicole is fatter. Again this is a totally unfounded theory, but I believe that sometimes, when it comes to weight, nerves do you some good. Think of all the skinny people you know. What do they have in common? They're always buzzing around all nerved up and anxious and super high strung. Totally anecdotal, I know. But think about it!
In the end, other than the pounds, I deduced that the main reason I want to taper off the Lexapro? I miss crying. I miss those deep, heaving sobs from time to time. I don't miss crying at the drop of a hat, which I've always been prone to, like when someone would speak to me sternly, e.g. a cop pulling me over, or the guy across from my mom's house who yelled at me for a solid five minutes for walking the dog around his cranberry bog and "trespassing" and "what are you thinking!?" (This was a couple years ago and this then-30-year old woman-baby bawled right in the man's mean fucking face.) Aside from those instances, there have been times lately where I know deep down, there's a well of sadness that needs to erupt. It just does. It's in there, I know, logically, I should be experiencing the pain, but I just can't. And I don't like that.
So, uh, sometimes the cryfests and internal-angst-parties won't be fun but maybe this cancer thing toughened me up a little. Maybe I don't need that tiny little 5mg pill. The occasional nerves, the occasional tears, I'm hoping, will be just that. Occasional.
Alright- whoa. Surprise surprise this post serves as me getting my jumbled thoughts out in one fell swoop so, until next time. XOXO - Mustard.
Here’s a vid of my lil’ pony. Notice I’m wearing my hair UP - which I have missed, so, so much. So many straggly little locks to tame, with thousands of bobby pins, but still - it’s up!
The last month or so I’ve been writing a lot and loving my Grub Street class, as it’s gotten me excited again. I’m working on a sequel to the Hollow; it will be told from cracked out little Lauren’s point of view - basically a story of how in hell’s bells she became such a goddamn creep. Anyone who’s read the first one will be surprised that you may come to like her.
On the sweater puppy front I did have my 6-month checkup at Dana-Farber which involved one harrowing hour of uncertainty due to a hardened lump under my scar. I surprisingly hadn’t been paranoid about it at all, and mentioned it casually, but it was enough for my NP to send me right down to get a mammogram and ultrasound STAT. The urgency of that, coupled with a lady in the waiting room who got bad news (cue her running to the bathroom and crying), made the hour or so wait pretty nerve-wracking. But in the end it was what I suspected it to be: scar tissue, and I’m so thankful for DF to be so thorough (and got my first 3D mammogram! Painful but worth the peace of mind).
Um, that’s all, for now…my days have been flying by—I need to reflect more, maybe?
First I must mention: I just got a really favorable Kirkus Review! It's a little meandering in its plot summation but I'm slapping this little excerpt wherever I can:
"Barrell's admirable debut is an engaging journey into a troubled mind...a promising novel." -- Kirkus Reviews
Back to life stuff:
I'm mostly over my perennial holiday doldrums and looking forward to figuring out what to write next, dropping some ol' L-B's with Orangetheory (It's turning me into a maniac, in a good way), growing out my still-crazy mop (scroll all the way down for a visual of the latest...), and hopefully, no big deal, finding out where my little frozen embryos are located. Because literally, I don't know where they are.
I have the paperwork, I know some facility stored them for a year and that we have to pay exorbitant sums thereafter to continue storing them...but hell's bells, it's been well over a year and no one has contacted me. The conversations with the fertility oncologist we had back in May 2016 about fallopian tubes and egg retrievals remain a sad, panicked blur and fuck if I can remember what was going on; I almost didn't even go through with it!
So, Nicole, um, just call and find out? I know, I know. I have the number on my desk, it's been there since May 2017, but I can't bring myself to call. I'm aware this is quite literally a matter of life and death and that I should be concerned, but all this fertility business tires me now, as it tired me then. My baby-making abilities have fallen down my list of wants and needs considerably (not that they were ever too high in the first place), after the whole cancer thing and revisiting it makes me...yeah, tired.
And you know what? I feel a little weird about the baby-makin' thing overall anyway because I think people expect me to be sad about not being able to have kids in the near future, or maybe ever? And sorry to break it to ya, I'm not really. I'm a tad bit relieved. I don't particularly feel drawn to babies; I don't feel any pang of yearning or maternal aches. I am annoyed that this delayed/possibly-in-jeopardy baby-makin' derailment was not my choice, obviously, but truth be told, it's not lack of baby that makes me sad. It's seeing all my friends leave me in the dust.
I'm more sad that in the blink of an eye, every photo and every talking point is lasered in on babies, babies, babies. While I love my friend's kids, the reality is I can't relate, and being someone who holds friendship just as high as family in terms of importance, sometimes maybe more (e.g. not having sisters makes my friends my sisters), this detachment from them as they hurtle forward in life sucks. I worry that by the time I do pop one out, their kids will be old as fuck and no one will want to come to a stupid baby shower, that my in-laws will be older and won't be able to help us, and that my mom won't be here.
But...if there's anything I've been forced to learn it's that nothing goes to plan (not that I've been a big life planner anyway) and that it's a waste of time to expect it to. So I'll make the most of this uncertain couple of years where my required meds take away any risk of getting preggo. I'm hoping to plan a big trip. I'm taking writing classes at Grub Street for 6 weeks starting next week, and I've been attending a writing group at the town library that I love with this unbearably cute 80+-year-old man named Frank who writes delightfully humorous poetry.
I'll make the best of this time focusing on what I want and what I can do, and eventually, hopefully, I'll find out where those damn eggs are?
Ohhh, I didn't forget.
Hair update 1/5/18 (13 months of growth.)
Happy it's full and thick and getting there! Just wish it'd weigh itself down, versus floofing out so wildly. Here's to more inches in '18. Inch by inch. XOXO
...I've got this emotional health thing under control I completely surprise myself and realize, no you don't, you idiot!
Last night was my work holiday party. As it approached I obsessed over what I would wear, I took two spin classes in a row to help with my muffin top (really, all it did was not allow me to sit down), and I imagined the night as my comeback tour 2017, as this glorious, triumphant affair that I should have known would end up, at the very least, not what I'd envisioned.
I'll back up to last year. It was my first holiday party at this job. I had just finished treatment. My face still had that puffed up, 'what's wrong with her' effect, and I'd bought about 8 wigs by then--all of which lost their initial luster and slid down my forehead making it very obvious I was wearing a wig. I was puffy in other areas too, from the chemo, and all around I was not on my game.
At the tail end of the work day, the girls in the office shuttled in and out of our one bathroom getting changed in the stalls, plugging hair curlers and straighteners into the outlets and drawing on their makeup. I lingered back, waiting for everyone to leave so that I could reposition my wig and draw on my eyebrows without an audience. At the party itself I tried my best to mingle, all the while incredibly self-conscious about how I looked. I thought back to earlier years, to the work parties in my 20's, where I floated to and fro from the open bar flirting, laughing, my hair long and golden-y brown, my face slim, my eyebrows in tact, and my work friends in tow.
On this night last year, this was hardly the case. I tried too hard to laugh at jokes I couldn't relate to, I fiddled with my straw a lot. At one point everyone sat down and the award ceremony began. Having been with the company only 10 months at that point, eight of which I'd been in active treatment (though still working full time), I knew I wouldn't be up for any sort of award. But one team did receive a special award that night. At one of our other stores, a group of women were recognized for sticking together through an incredibly tough time. It just so happened that 2 women suffered from breast cancer that year, and they'd all rallied together and donated time off to each other and picked up each other's slack in all areas. It was heartwarming to see them all together, especially since one of them had been my little cancer buddy throughout that year--we'd bonded over our treatments even though we hadn't known each other beforehand. Anyway, I looked on as they were celebrated, feeling happy for them but also incredibly lonely.
The nadir of that night came when on the dance floor I look over and by sheer happenstance I'm standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my cancer buddy, K, and touching her other shoulder, the other woman with breast cancer. The three of us, the cancer people, all as one. I immediately shifted away, got another drink.
So, this year's holiday party I knew would be better. I had hair, I had eyebrows, I had my health back, and I'd grown closer to my coworkers. I never did find a suitable outfit, but I did my best, and part of me, a tiny part of me, hoped--not expected--but hoped, that I'd get some recognition. For working through the hardest time of my life. For never letting my team down. For answering emails in the lobby of my oncologist. For updating the website in the parking lot of my radiation appointments.
Of course all of this still does not necessarily warrant any sort of award, but that awful tickle of hope in my chest...it was there.
They called out the awards and when they got to the marketing team, my heart dropped as my CEO described the hard work of someone on our team, and as she described her it became clearer and clearer that the person she was referring to was not me. She deserved it, too. She deserved it completely.
But something broke open in me--something deep, something unnameable, a grief that had been trapped inside of me for some time now, and I haven't stopped crying since. It's been about 18 hours. I took off work today because I couldn't face anyone. I have this curse where alone, at home, I can't cry. But in front of people? Fucking waterworks. I probably looked like I was boo-hoo jealous but it's so much more than that, and it's so isolating, and I'm still so hurt by all of what's happened the last year and a half. I'm still so hurt.
And at the same time, it felt good to cry. I must have unleashed a lot of clogged up trauma that I'd not recognized or let loose until now. Maybe now, inch by inch, I can move on a little further from where I was.