Sometimes healing is less about what you do, but who you do it with. And remembering that even when you are sitting by yourself, it doesn't mean you are alone.
Samira Rajabi was diagnosed with a vestibular schwannoma, also known as an acoustic neuroma in 2012. She has had ten surgeries to deal with her tumor and its various side effects. She writes a blog about her life, surgeries, recovery and experiences at LivingWithHerbert.com. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies media studies. In her spare time she plays with her two pups and spends time with her husband exploring Philadelphia.
I had a professor in college, for a management class, that used to say, “it’s all about relationships.” Those exact words. He would put them in every slide show. In every class, he would tell us stories of businesses and people, building to the climax he wanted us all to join in on, the resounding conclusion and unifying slogan of the class, “IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS!” I took his message for granted, didn’t read the textbook as closely as I should have and found the final to be far more challenging than I had anticipated. I suppose my ego-driven college brain supposed that all there was to know about relationships was that “it,” whatever it in fact is, is all about them.
It’s been about a decade since I took that class. I have since fallen out of touch with a man who was one of my favorite professors and a valued friend and resource in the years after college. I am not the woman I was when I sat wide-eyed in that classroom. The years of college plagued with headaches; the experiences with good and bad people; my ongoing education and discovery of the world; and the challenges with my health among other things, have changed me. I’ve been told people don’t change — at least not fundamentally. I guess the people who can proclaim that with confidence never had to change. They never had to be different than how they started out, or maybe they did and found the weight of that to be burdensome. People are reluctant to change, yes, but they can. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve advanced my education is that so much of the world around us is constructed to look and act and seem a certain way. Our behavior is regulated by these constructs. Changing is hard. I've also discovered that relationships are hard too. That professor was right: It really is all about relationships.
I ended last week on a high note. On Friday night, two friends (one old and one new) came and sat, walked dogs and chatted with me. We laughed, we enjoyed — there was no pressure and no pretension — it was a joyous occasion of everyday life. On Saturday I knew several friends would be joining me in my home for a brunch potluck and it gave me a reason to drag myself out of bed. It gave me a reason to fight the pain. I didn’t know they'd come in coordinated T-shirts, each with a powerful statement scrawled on the back. Each friend of mine had chosen a word (or words) to describe me, and I discovered in my friends things about myself that I had long forgotten and some things I never knew could be true about me. Their show of support and strength and solidarity with me was humbling and powerful. We spent the morning laughing and catching up, like gal pals in a movie. I don’t think I’ve ever had quite so much love bestowed on me from people outside of my family as I have in recent months. I have been honored to be a part of my family and my family of choice, even in the most difficult of times, health-wise and interpersonally. It's all been a part of my ongoing discovery that “it is all about relationships.”
Photo: Samira Rajabi
As my friends left on Saturday afternoon, I felt elated and exhausted and fell asleep on the couch. I had truly enjoyed the weekend. Life felt full, it felt full of promise. I was, and I am, so grateful for those relationships. The compassion and empathy I have felt from those that have shown up for me in all ways has led to so much light that I can’t even see the darkness of the naysayers hiding in the background. I am so appreciative for that.
As anyone who has ridden a high back into the reality of their everyday diagnosis
knows that with the highs come the accompanying lows. There is a certain weight that falls on you hard when you get a diagnosis
. It hits you swiftly. It is heavy and daunting. It consumes you. On Sunday, I woke up in pain. On Monday, I woke up in pain. On Tuesday, I woke up in pain. By Wednesday I had decided to try to power through. I put on my makeup, I carefully swallowed the pills that help me feel real
again, I strapped on some heels and I went to work. I worked hard and I worked long. On Thursday, I didn’t contemplate the pain, I just got up, took some medicine and got dressed. My movements were slow and methodical. They are still are. They are the movements of someone with a diagnosis
, they are the movements of someone who measures their movements in a combination of fear and caution. They are the movements of someone who can’t quite find her grounding — not physically or emotionally. They are slow. They are systematic. They are often sloppy. Yet, they are movements. I am moving. I am trying. They are movements.
Today I was down on myself. I fell into the funk that descends on you when you throw a pity party because you are standing on the precipice of a lot of things you don’t understand yet you are forced to make decisions about. Health: Uncertain. Career: Uncertain. Future: Uncertain. Life: Uncertain. I had arbitrarily decided that I would have my PhD by the time I was 30. I had arbitrarily decided I would finish my degree “on time.” I had decided I would not squander my 20s, rather I would make something of myself. Today I felt the weight of that crashing down on me and with the weight of a diagnosis, of chronic pain, and the general panic induced by uncertainty, I broke down. I demeaned myself and saw my worth as only the sum and total of the tumor that took my hearing, my balance and my four-year plan. I saw myself as the loser with the leak and nothing to show for it. Then, one of my favorite songs came playing on the car stereo: "Timshel" by Mumford & Sons. I heard the first line: ”Cold is the water, it freezes your already cold mind …” I contemplated skipping it. This is too much. Not now, I thought. While I was contemplating, they sang on and then I heard it.
“You are not alone in this
You are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand”
You are not alone in this
. I heard it. I thought of all the people, the messages and the love. Being sick can feel lonely, but so can a lot of other things. There are two things that we need to remember, to think about and to continue to discover the meaning of. This life, it is truly all about relationships, and no matter how it feels, you are not in this alone.