My world is flat      

There is something missing in my life. Everything feels flat. No fizz. I can’t explain it and I don’t know why I feel this way. It makes no sense.

My counsellor from the Cross Cancer Institute told me that to some degree that is what depression is. Unexplainable feelings that you can’t get over. A sense of loss. She suggested that I was experiencing low grade depression.

When I went in to see her, I started by talking about where I was with cancer recovery and in my life.  As I outlined it for her it occurred to me, as it often does, that I have a pretty good life. There is really no good reason for me to be seeing a psychologist. So, I told her I felt guilty taking up valuable time when she could be seeing someone else. (Her services are provided free to cancer patients.)

Her response was that her cancer patients often tell her that. “Do not worry” she said, “You are the type of patient we are here for.  This is just another stage of your cancer recovery.”

She explained that when she came to work with cancer patients she was all prepared to deal with trauma patients suffering through operations and radiation, chemo and full on drama.  What she has found is that most of her patients were people like me; over the physical illness essentially, but dealing with low grade depression.

She said that cancer recovery was not often the big ‘triumph of the human spirit’ story that people expect. The arch of psychological recovery is longer than the physical recovery, and it is not dramatic.

The feelings I have are not dramatic either, but they are pervasive. It’s actually more of a lack of feeling. No one would notice, except probably Linda. I don’t mope. I get around and do all the normal things and look like a success. Looking good is still important to me so I keep up with appearances. But there is something missing.

My world is flat.  Well, not flat but flatter. I am not as interested as I used to be. I have lost some of my lust for life.

Let’s deal with the “lust” part first. It’s not something we dwell on, but both Linda and I know I do not have my usual sex drive. I have the physical energy but I have lost some of my “interest”. That is a huge loss. I really should be depressed.

Will I get it back? I am sure I will. If I don’t, we will adjust, but……

Right. What do I say now? Hmmm.

My psychologist used the word ‘anhedonia’ to describe what I feel or don’t feel. The opposite of hedonism. If hedonism is the seeking pleasure and the full on embracing of life, then anhedonia is its opposite. Seems like a good word for what I am not feeling, what I call flatness.

Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. exercise, hobbies, singing, sexual activities or social interactions.

The flatness is pervasive. I can sense it in almost everything.

When I go snowboarding, I am not as driven. I get out to the ski hill later in the day. I quit earlier.  I am not as interested in improving. And don’t push myself as hard. It’s not as much fun.

I buy new books and only read the first chapter. I know that is common for lots of people but for me it’s worse than it used to be. I am interested at first, but the interest is not sustained.

I used to be a hound for finding new music and adding it to my I-tunes lists. Now, not so much. I hear new songs I like.  I add them to my I-tunes, but then I rarely go back to them and listen again. Many of you know that, for the last 15 years, every year, I burn my favourite new songs CD’s and give them to friends and relatives. Like inflicting my bad taste on them. This year I probably won’t do it. I have no interest. No new songs to reveal.

When I am out riding my mountain bike, I wonder when the magic is going to kick in again. Riding is more like work than the teenager fun it used to be.

I don’t drink alcohol any more, and I don’t miss it.  To be honest, drinking was a source of pleasure for me. That is gone. A sign of anhedonia; flatness.

Do I find this loss of joy in life debilitating? No, I am quite functional. It’s just that I don’t seem to care as much. I care, or I want to care. It’s just that I am not present. Not there. Dull.

I think that is what Linda notices. I am not present. OK, those of you who know me are going to say, “That’s not new.” I have always been absent minded. That is not what it is. It is more than being absent minded. It’s more like being absent.

Now, when I miss the thread of a conversation I am having with two or three people, I don’t take the trouble to make sure I understand so I can participate fully. I just let the others carry on knowing the conversation will go on without me. This is not how I used to operate.

I used to be full on. It’s bad enough in social situations but in business meetings it can get worse. When Linda and I are dealing with financial planners or our accountant, people like that, I notice myself just letting the conversation go. Sort of like I don’t care enough, even when I know there is money on the line and I know I really should care. It’s kind of irresponsible behaviour.

So how do I get it back?

My psychologist seemed to say that the trick is to, “Not give in to giving in”. Participate as fully as I can. “Fake it till I make it.” Nurture myself back to life I guess.

And I guess I have to be patient. Let the healing happen in its own time.

I don’t want any of you to worry about me or feel concerned. It’s not going to ruin me, but I did want to acknowledge in my blog that this is happening.

I had expected to be back to normal by now. I think everyone sort of expects me to be normal now that I am recovered. Those expectations now seem to be unrealistic. Apparently, this is normal according to my psychologist. Recovery does not happen on a schedule. I am not going to be over this by exactly a year from the end of my radiation treatments. Everyone thinks they will get back to where they used to be, and that is unrealistic.

If you think of depression as coming from a sense of loss, then my low-grade depression is probably explainable. I can’t put my finger on what I have lost exactly, but I have certainly changed and I miss the me I used to be.

Maybe that explains it. I am not as engaged as I used to be, so I am not as engaging. I want to get that back.

My counsellor also pointed out the obvious. I have been through a lot of stress in the last year. Cancer, selling my business, retirement. Three high stress life events.

Yes, I can say that I conquered cancer, and I did. Yes, I can say I sold my business, and I should be proud of that. I can say I have every reason to look forward to a successful retirement. Logically that is all true, thank god, and I acknowledge it but…. parts of me are reacting is to some other truths. I lost my health. I lost my business. I didn’t really want to retire. I am feeling diminished by it all, not energized. I have lost something.

Most importantly I feel like I have lost something in my relationship with Linda. Fortunately, she is very understanding and we will get back on track. But she has been patient with me for a long time and her patience is wearing thin.

This visit to the psychologist came about because of a family fight that did not even seem to involve me. Linda and my son Mike had a huge blow up a couple of weeks ago. The yelling was worse than anything the three of us have experienced since the kids were teenagers. Both Linda and Mike were unreasonably mad at each other and it simmered for a long time. It brought out the worst in both of them.

Linda decided she would get some help. I agreed to do the same. Hence my trip to the psychologist.

Linda’s visit to her counsellor revealed that her anger is towards me. And it is justified. I have recovered but I have not adjusted. I am not carrying my weight around here. She is still the caregiver.

Linda needs a wife like her, and she certainly does not have one. I am not a helpful guy around the house. She is better at everything than I am, so she does almost everything around here. Cooking, shopping, banking, travel planning, tech work, household management, everything. I am a passenger.

When my son Mike asked me what I do around the house, I had to answer, “Not much really” Then I smiled and said, ” I have my blog to look after.  I am a blogger.” Funny, sort of, but not really.

This is may be a retirement issue. Us –  being together every day; all day long.  Her – being more competent than me at everything.  A common retirement issue, yes, but it’s compounded by Linda becoming my care giver before I retired. Our relationship was changed by the cancer experience, and not for the better.

Add this to the fact that I am not as engaged, or engaging, as I used to be. I am not as much fun to be with. That is how I used add value around here, but I have lost some of that charm.

Actually, I think a lot of this started when I was not able to talk. For three or four months, I did not talk and had to communicate by writing everything down. I got used to the silence somehow and our communication patterns changed. I lost some of my comic timing so I did not try to amuse her. We did not have as much fun together during that quiet period.  Of course, I was sick then too, so that’s no fun either. Since then we have picked it up and we still have fun, but it has diminished.

There is also the issue of Linda’s hearing. She now has hearing aids and frequently does not hear what I say. It is a bit of work for me to make sure she hears me, and for her to make sure she understands what I am saying. Sometimes we just don’t make the effort.

Linda is experiencing these three major life events just like I am. Taking care of me as a cancer patient is only one of them. Selling a business was a huge stressor. She has been a big part of that. Facing retirement is also a huge.  It’s not surprising that Linda and I have challenges.

We are also getting old. I am having some trouble adjusting to that fact of life. Illness, selling my business and retirement have compounded that concern for me. I can feel myself slowly drifting into irrelevance. Is that one of the feelings retirement brings?

Good thing we are still optimistic and energetic. Good thing we both have good life habits that will carry us forward.

I should end this on a hopeful note. After I saw the psychologist, less than a week ago, I immediately started feeling better. Knowing that this ‘anhedonia’ was fairly normal for cancer patients is comforting. This is just a stage of recovery that I did not anticipate. I will recover from it too.

Writing all of this down today has been therapeutic. The whole blog experience has been therapeutic. When I get into the flow of writing, there is joy. I also really enjoy getting your responses and knowing there are people like you out there reading this.

Of course, there is also the aspect of the blog being, all me, all the time. I am kind of addicted to that. There is hedonism in this blogging. I need more of that. I need more hedonism.

Bring it on.

18 thoughts on “My world is flat      

  1. Hi John. I’m just leaving Edmonton via Integra Air. I would expect you to have some burnout and here you are with big life style changes as well. even without cancer life seems to kick you u p to te next rung–ready or not.
    Sort of like “so here you are; now what?” It’s all different . Sometimes an antedepressant can give you a kick start and save a lot of “blank,” wasted time. Ask your family doctor (psychologists can’t prescribe). You’ll
    Get back your mojo 😄

  2. You and Linda have been through so much. It would be strange if you didn’t go through some relationship issues. Your blog is so well done John, I think you have a real gift. I wish that Sandy could find something that would help him get through the day. He’s going through a very difficult time and can certainly relate to how you’re feeling. Never thought I would see the day that both Kuby brothers are struggling with depression. We would love to be there for your retirement/beat cancer celebration, but it’s not likely as Sandy would struggle with just about everything related to a party. Hopefully you and Linda with be out here soon and can spend some time with us. I know we have the wedding to look forward to, but it would be nice to spend some time with just the two of you.

    1. Thank you Rita
      I am bummeed that my brother is bummmed.
      Wish there was something I could offer,
      We are coming to BC in late May and going to the island. Will plan to spend a few days with you two.
      We have to be at Long Beach tor the first weeek in June then we are touring the island till the weedding.
      Wee either visit you before Long Beach or fter the wedding. Or both. Let’s talk.

  3. John, what you are going through with your cancer journey I cannot imagine nor can I fully empathise. Feeling flat is a tough one that I can’t say I’ve ever experienced to your degree. Sure I’ve had a few bad days, but after getting together with friends as you John, FLAT is swiftly erased from my memory…. not the same I know, but I do know friends are the best of the best (not advice, fact! I read the book).

    I know my down days don’t compare to the every day reality of “Johns new life”. I do think though that most of us can relate to your ”real life” family stories you share though. Maybe not the same same, but the same. The healing that you provide for us readers in your blog is immeasurable. Family dynamics is something we all have but don’t talk about it with many, thank you for sharing that. Know that our family is also “dynamic” at times, but we know it’s family that we cherish and love.

    Your blog takes me on a journey every time I read it. Not knowing where you’re headed and at the end, I always feel good in a humble kind of way.

    Optimistic, Energetic, Good life habits…. I’m hearing good thoughts John and I know you two have lived by those words. Those sound like F’n Riders words.

    Finger wag coming John….. “I used to be full on”…? WTF? You are full on! How do you think you beat this thing? Keep up your amazing recovery John, we’re here for you!

    See you soon.
    F’n BrYan

  4. John…..this is a good blog and a great topic of interest. My take on this is that you have survived a life threatening illness and your perspective on life has changed. Somehow, having faced death you see the world in a different way and those things that held a lot of meaning seem to be less important. The big picture tells us that all that is important is life, living, not dying but also reflecting more on what dying means. Maybe it is time to explore some of that philosophy.
    I expect that lots of the issues you are having are also, as you say, the result of spending full time hours with Linda with neither of you “going to work” a common retirement issue. You may also just need an energy boost. Accupunture and reiki are still my go to therapies for all ills. Mental or physical. Good luck with your adjustments to a new way of life.

  5. So glad you posted this piece…..your experiences are certainly not unique… identifying the lack of “zest for life” is the first step- then determining how best to solve this is the next step, and that will be by trial and error, I think. It isn’t always easy, but you’ll get there. I have to encourage Linda to ask you to participate in daily things… you take a turn at cooking dinner at least once a week, that can be a challenge and can be fun. You can be in charge of vacuuming or cleaning bathrooms…but most likely she will need to ask you, because you won’t know all the “daily things” which need to be done. I hope she joins a choir… if she loves singing – have at it! I think 24/7 is too much for anyone.. George has his own personal interests which don’t involve me, and I have my own which don’t involve him. It seems to work smoothly that way. We can’t stay 40 forever! But we can stay young at heart. Hugs sent to you both.

    1. Great advice. I do actually have some jobs around the house, but its an unfairly short list.
      You are on the right track and we will work it out. Writing this blog was a good step. It got us talking.
      Hugs back.

  6. Took courage to write this so publicly John. But like Val I too have walked… hell I still am … walking those paths. FLAT to the point of painful some days. Susan and I have had this discussion a few times, and did again just yesterday. The feeling, lack of feeling, may be best described as living inside a gel pad??? Except without a comfort quotient, that has been replaced with… a gap. And as I warned you, you will need a “hobby” for retirement despite the biking and boarding, ’cause brother… the physical capabilities do fade and/or the efforts do not provide the same “returns”. And as Lorna mentions what she is witness too, a hollow side sets in. The chemistry has changed.

    Yup, I get that craving feeling John. It is a screaming craving for… some substance of that old “return on effort”. Instead… flat… why participate at all? But, again as Val says… “fake it til you make it” is a good practice… it is something I woke up to one day. And damn if it doesn’t provide just enough to do that again, then again… Val is so right on this one!

    And definitely… introduce markedly NEW challenges into your circuit, both mental stretches and physical changes of everything from sight, to sound as well as activity changes. The surfing thing was impressive. Now go… build you own kayak or standup paddle board! from scratch… flex like you have never flexed before.

    And cook Linda an impressive meal, from scratch. Get off your routine ass.

    — Skids

    1. Not sure abouut the courage comment. Its sort of like me to disclose my real life. I am glad Linda approved.
      Still weighing your advice Brent. I can fake and i will make it. But i won’t be building a kayak or anything. Building does not give me joy. That is your thing.
      Cooking? Maybe.

  7. John, I understand what you are feeling as I have walked down those same paths. For me it is still accompanied by “awfullizing” (my own word) any ache or odd lump, bump or strange feeling I have day to day. I worry that the cancer is back. I am glad you are going to see a councillor, something I didn’t do at the time but may still do. I do believe in the concept of “fake it till you make it” though – life has to go on. You are back home after a wonderful time in the sun, learning to surf and being away from the boredom of day to day life. It will take some creativity to make home as much fun, but Linda needs her guy back.
    I think this part of your journey needs to be included in your book because it is something a person who has “beaten” cancer may not expect. I certainly didn’t.

    1. For sure Val.
      This email will get into the book. It’s part of the recovery that others have to know about.
      Thank you.

  8. Weekly group therapy sessions are held every Thursday evening at 8:30, John. We are here to help you get the jump back!

  9. Wow! Good work John. As they say “Old age isn’t for sissies.” or something like that. But I have faith that you – and Linda – will figure it out. We just can’t imagine our lives until we are there. You arrived “there” in the darkness of cancer. My advise is to keep writing. Your insights could help a lot of men (and women). I see a lot of hollow looking men moving around our community here in Costa Rica in gray and lifeless lives while their wives embrace the community and life here. I think they didn’t figure it out and are now very lost. George, on the other hand, has so much to do that there isn’t enough time in the day – learning Spanish, hiking and helping in the development of the hiking trail, fixing things around the house and designing our new house. Finding things that give you joy is the answer. Maybe you could take an idea from Winston Churchill. Take up landscape painting.

    1. Thanks Lorna
      You are right, Linda and I will get it back. We have lots of choices for palaces to live and a joyful life.
      We are certainly always busy.
      Painting? No. Maybe writing.
      Linda could paint. I think she wants to join a choir.
      I am glad George has found a groove.

  10. More about John, just as it should be! But a much more introspective John, and this is good . What you are experiencing is just what I expected, especially regarding your retirement and 24/7 togetherness. There really can be too much of a good thing!! But awareness will be your salvation, and a joint determination to work through all the “stuff”. Much love.

    1. Right on Joyce. We had a nice walk and long talk about this blog and Linda’s challenges today. We will be OK.

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