Specialising in the human experience of Living with prostate cancer – warts and all

Losing and Regaining The Plot Part II

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Sometimes this is difficult

Sometimes this is difficult

Recently I was in the process of drafting a different article than the one that now appears here. At that time I was head down working on that draft when I was suddenly interrupted by some Eureka thoughts in regard to my recent emotional meltdown. Answers  to the jig saw that confounded me in my original story on losing and regaining the plot came pushing through and I could not ignore them. So here is my self-analysis for those who may be interested. I make no apologies to readers on the “poor me” syndrome that has been displayed by me as I have tried to be up front and tell it as it is. I can only hope this whole episode may reach out offering some hope to some one else who may also be battling to keep on an even keel.

Before I begin I must insist on stating the following:

I have been blessed in contacting the Queensland Cancer Council counselling service.  I have found this free service of immense value in trying to make sense of an out of character response  and series of actions that overwhelmed me recently. I am indebted to them for their professional and yet personal attention that they have offered me and continue to do so. I would urge anyone in need, either cancer patients, their friends, family and carers who require emotional support and understanding to contact them for assistance.

In one word what happened to me was GRIEF. I was experiencing un-resolved grief followed by illogical anger that was the cause of my emotional boil-over and subsequent actions. Grief is not just an emotion reserved for those who have lost a loved one, but can also be for a loss of many important things in a persons life. To understand my particular piece or pieces of grief you will have to know a bit about my life.

My wife and I have spent the past forty years sharing a love affair of salt water and boats who sail on it. I have been an avid explorer and adventurer of anything to do with just mucking around with boats. I have also been proudly employed for twenty years in the marine industry in a position where I have had the privilege of assisting people in distress, preventing maritime environmental disasters and efficiently and safely assisting in operating  ports in Queensland. I have owned and operated many boats in my life, the last one for over twenty years.

In 2009 my wife and I decided to hand my yacht of twenty years over to my daughter and her husband as I felt I could no longer manage the maintenance on it on my own. I loved that old piece of old timber and fibreglass but age had caught up with me, and unknown to me at the time, prostate cancer was likely taking hold of me. So with the assistance of my wife,  daughter my eldest grandson and a good mate of mine we sailed the boat from Mackay to her new home in Cairns Queensland. My Daughter and her husband have spent most of their spare time since 2009 fixing and updating the boat for their own use.

I had the distinction of retiring from my maritime profession three times since 2007 the final time was when I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. My work place was continually short-staffed due to the lack of qualified operators so my first two retirements were short-lived. The last retirement appears however to be permanent.

Recently I was in Cairns for an extended stay which included a planned cruise in my old boat with my daughter, her husband and family. Also an old army friend and my eldest grandson were arriving to join us. Three weeks prior to the trip were spent by me assisting my son-in-law and my daughter do some much-needed maintenance on the boat.

It is here at this point, that the start of the groundwork had began for my un-resolved grief and subsequent problems. I found it most difficult to work on deck with my stiffness, loss of balance and little strength in my legs. While kneeling on deck doing small tasks I was unable to get to my feet without assistance. When my daughter and her husband had to call it quits and go back to work for a few days I offered to stay on board and continue working on my own. They flatly refused my offer without saying why and it took me only a few seconds to realise they were in the right in rejecting my offer. I had quickly figured it out that they had understood, that for safety reasons I should not be onboard on my own. Later I was to fully realise that I also did not have the balance or strength any more that was needed to operate some of the gear on board while sailing about.

We had our trip in perfect weather and had a wonderful trip. It felt marvellous for me being back out on the water visiting reefs and islands: A truly perfect trip…………..perhaps my last?? Who can say for sure?? After the trip I travelled with my wife and my grandson up to the tablelands behind Cairns and stayed with my wifes younger sister. While we were  there  we visited various cemeteries in the search for family history stuff. It was here that in my wanderings around the graves that I became a bit philosophical while reading the headstones. I remember thinking to myself of the futility of life and the inevitability of death for all of us. This line of thinking was also to play a big part in the mixing bowl of emotions that was about to erupt for me.

I had been away for nearly two months and out of my normal routine. I had been off my new medications because of my upset schedules. I had touched base with a part of my life that used to be such a huge satisfying pastime for so many years. I had wandered and pondered through peoples identities who now lay in various fields scattered throughout the Atherton Tablelands.

I began to grieve without realising what was happening to me. I was grieving for the loss of the man I used to be. I was grieving for the loss of the promise of more fine weather sailing, the exploring and adventuring that still lay out there to be discovered. I was grieving for the loss of my occupation, the satisfaction and feeling of self-worth I received by giving it my best shot.  I grieved for the perceived futility of life in general and for all the people and their loved ones who inhabit hillsides all over the world.

My grief lay hidden inside of me unable to be expressed until I turned it into anger. Flight or flight is the accepted perceived action of a person who is stressed. Well I believe I did both on that night. I used the small disagreement with my wife as the excuse to take flight and the thoughts of suicide I had during that flight was an expression of anger. The anger was not directed toward my wife but rather to the cancer and what it had done to me. I believe my rationalisation for trying to find the courage to drive my car into a tree that night was my fight response. Doing so would have cheated the disease of further degradation of my health. After all, had not the graves on the hillsides convinced me at the time, that life was futile and death was inevitable in any case.

Thinking now in a realistic way, I can see that there are many causes that could have an impact on a person. Life is a bit of a raffle not knowing what may lie around the corner that can change a persons circumstances forever. My good fortune has been to survive long enough to have enjoyed the things that have been important to me throughout my life. Death, accidents, other chronic illnesses and any of the thousands of poor decisions I made along the way could have affected the outcome for me. I have been extremely lucky to have come so far with so many brilliant memories.

As for the graves on the hillsides. I can now see that there is a much more to these people s lives and circumstances than just names and dates on a tombstone. All of these people from the past had stories and events meaningful to them and their families and loved ones of their times.  Yes death is inevitable for everyone, but so is life……….life exists to be lived, experienced, to laugh, to cry, to love, and be loved. Yes and perhaps…………..just perhaps there is more to death than life itself.

Perhaps a re-boot could be needed

Perhaps a re-boot could be needed

There were many private unexpected tears shed by me over these thoughts as they revealed my hidden unresolved emotions. I hope I have been successful in telling my little story so that it is easily understood. I am convinced I have resolved my grief for now and just like Bilbo Baggins, I can move on and go exploring again to find new adventures and new satisfaction. Perhaps slay a dragon or two, or save a damsel in distress, who knows????

Lee aka Popeye


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