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A Departure for Plumcake | Manolo for the Big Girl

A Departure for Plumcake

I have a pretty great life. It’s glamorous and fun and all-around enviable.  I’m happy (pretty much) and healthy (pretty much) and I own a lot of very shiny, very expensive things, some of which are made out of snake skin.  My kid brother, on the other hand, has cancer and a scar like a giant zipper running down the entire length of his torso. The only thing made out of snake skin he owns is an actual snake, and honestly it’s not even that great of a snake. My brother has been in and out of hospitals for a year and is currently winning his fight with cancer.

Yesterday a young friend of mine lost hers.

I’m not going to tell you what it’s like to grieve or that my friend’s death affected me in a way no one could ever know. That’s just not true. We’ve all known grief and we’ll know it some more before we’re finished with this pony ride. Mine isn’t any more special or poignant than yours. Life is damn precious, precious and short. Even when it’s bad, and it’s bad a LOT, it’s still precious.

I’m not a motivational speaker when it comes to important things. Hell, my gardener doesn’t even listen to me unless I’m holding money and a lemon popsicle. I know full well that what I’m about to say –if you even read it– will most likely go one eye and out the other, never to be thought of again.

I’m fine with that. I’m just going to ask you to think.

My brother didn’t do anything to “earn” his cancer and my friend didn’t do anything to deserve hers. Cancer, like most things bigger than ourselves, is unjust.

We can’t do much to stop the random mutation of cells in our bodies but we can do something about the metaphysical cancers we put on ourselves; cancers that grow through laziness, anger, fear and our own brokenness.

Fix it.

I don’t care what it is or how you do it. Just fix it. We are all living with something inside of us that is a cancer. Lord knows I am. It could be anger or jealousy or a stinginess of spirit.  It could be something that’s as easy as a phone call or something as difficult as changing brain patterns. Maybe you started it, maybe you were left with the psychic aftermath of someone else’s bad choices. Doesn’t matter. Fix it.

And as a special aside to my friends with depression: Y’all. you are my people.  I suffered from severe depression when I was younger and I almost didn’t get older because of it. You have the toughest row to hoe and are the best liars on the planet when it comes to pretending everything is fine.  If you’re not getting proper treatment, fix it.

I know from my experience working with folks who suffer from depression that I can’t tell you you’re worth more than you think, or that people love you. Even if I could say it, you’d probably think you were the exception. You’d think there’s no way I could know how you feel, how bad you really have it. How far from redemption you really are.  Besides, even if you were worth it, you’re beyond fixing.

Bull.

You can’t hear me saying you’re worth it, but maybe you’ll hear this:

Show a little damn respect.

My brother has been in the hospital for most of the past year getting shot full of poison and he WANTS to live. He’s fighting to live.  My friend who just died wanted to live too, but she wasn’t given the choice.  You have the choice. There are therapy programs, medications, books, classes, support groups…all available for you. If money is a problem, you can email me and I will personally help you find low-cost services in your area, anywhere in the English-speaking world.

That’s about all I’ve got to say, or at least all I can say right now. Tomorrow we’ll go back to your regularly scheduled faffery. I’m much more comfortable discussing the external than the eternal, but we can’t forget about the eternal.  You can call it God, or community or the human spirit. It doesn’t matter it’s bigger than us, and if we don’t live fully into it, it doesn’t matter what shoes we’re wearing, because we’ll never be ready for the party. So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say. We’ll have a big question tomorrow and probably some hot guys and expensive shoes too,  but for right now I’ll leave you with this passage from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

Honor that, and fix it.

22 Responses to “A Departure for Plumcake”

  1. Brooke May 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm #

    Nice one, Plummie. Thanks.

  2. Christie May 26, 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    As the wife of a wonderful man that is fighting stage IV lung cancer (and, no, he doesn’t smoke) I must say this entry was written beautifully.

    If anything, this horrible, non-discriminating disease has taught me is that life IS precious. There is a difference between just existing and actually living. Its a darn shame some people learn this when its too late.

    Plumcake, you and your friend’s family will be in my thoughts.

  3. dcsurfergirl May 26, 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    I am sorry about your friend. Hope your brother gets well.

  4. Catharine May 26, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    Thank you for writing the article above. I lost mom to cancer a week ago today, and my raw thoughts are echoed in your writing. Life is indeed meant to be enjoyed, and we must rise above the petty troubles of day to day life in order to see the beauty of the world around us. If I can also be so brash as to contribute my newfound knowledge – it’s so critically important we tell people when we need something. Too many people didn’t know my mom was sick until her funeral. That left her feeling alone and vulnerable and others robbed of the ability to do something, anything to help. When we can talk about the random and terrifying way cancer strikes those close to us with no discernible reason, we can then find ways to wipe out both the physical and emotional cancers we must battle.
    Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to let you know that you’re reaching an audience that appreciates your candour. My prayers are with you, your brother, and your dear friend.

  5. spike May 26, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    “You have the choice. There are therapy programs, medications, books, classes, support groups…all available for you.”

    I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but wow- that comes off as offensive. Speaking as someone who struggles with depression, I can tell you right now how I’d read that if I was having a bad day: “If treatment isn’t working for you, it’s your fault because you’re not trying hard enough. You suck.”

    If you’ve been depressed and found an effective treatment for it, fantastic for you. However there’s an awful lot of people who haven’t found the right medication, or the right therapist, or who can’t take the medication that works for some other reason, like drug interactions or side effects. That doesn’t mean they don’t WANT to be better, or that they don’t appreciate that other people are also struggling with health issues, it just means that there’s no magic cure.

    Yeah, it’s difficult when someone you love dies or is dying of some physical disease/condition, and you watch them struggling to survive when someone else is actively looking for ways to die – but the person who is suicidal is sick too. It’s just that the symptoms of their disease might include trying to jump off a bridge instead of developing seizures or losing the ability to walk. Would you tell someone who had cancer that they just weren’t trying hard enough to get better? Why is that okay to say to someone with a mental illness?

  6. Jo May 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm #

    Spike, I’m going to hop in here and put words in Plummie’s mouth: you don’t suck. Just keep trying.

    I’m depressed. Or I was, until I got on to a drug at a dosage that makes even my shrink shudder. Now I’m okay. The trick was that I kept trying. I didn’t go out and fix my depression with support groups or meds or biofeedback–none of those things alone helped–but eventually, with a combination of support and really, really strong drugs, I got to where I am now, which is pretty happy most of the time.

    There *is* no magic cure, but you gotta keep trying. I read Plumcake’s post that way: that no matter what’s wrong with you, you just have to keep plugging until you find that thing (or those things) that work.

  7. Jennie May 27, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    Dearest Plummy, Thank you for this post, rage and all. As one of the walking wounded and on my own cocktail of happy pills (been trying find the perfect mix for years), I know of which you speak. There are so many deserving people out there struggling to survive. The worst thing is seeing someone throwing the gift of life away when someone else clings until the last moment. It is also the most selfish of acts to leave one’s friends and family in such a way. I know, I’ve been there/done that. Thanks for reminding us that no matter what, we need to keep on keeping on..

  8. Margo May 27, 2009 at 4:09 am #

    *stands up and applauds*

    And Christie, you have all the good wishes I can send.

  9. g-dog May 27, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    So sorry for the loss of your friend and your brother’s struggles. We all hope for the best for everyone.

    Though the intent was good – I agree with Spike that the message could be misinterpreted or come off too harsh. “Why are you so sad? Just get over it!”

    If people really felt that all those options were really available to them (or would work, etc.) – they would feel hope or empowered or in control – all of which are pretty antithetical to depression. If they really felt capable of helping themselves, or deserving of help, they probably would be getting help.

  10. Eva May 27, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    There are tears in my eyes as I write this. In July it will be 31 years since my brother died of a brain tumor. Many are the times when I wanted to slap the people who are physically healthy, but feel sorry for themselves (not depression, just selfishness). I have no use for those who have a life and choose to squander it. My brother wanted to live and couldn’t; don’t waste it.

  11. Kimks May 27, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Plumcake- thank you for this- You, your brother, your friend and all families and friends involved are in my thoughts and prayers. I am sorry for your loss and your continued pain.

    This past Sunday I spent the afternoon in the ER for a rather unpleasent incident that pretty much boiled down to I am overstressed and need to find a way to chill. My body, of its own accord, revolted against the months of intense stress I have been under. I am working, with some pretty heavy help and support from friends, family and doctors to find the way to relax and fix the issues that have caused my body to basically freak out. Sometimes God, or the Universe needs smack me upside the head.

    As someone who battled back from depression, it is hard to realize that hope is available and that you are worth the help. Depression is a chemical imbalance that takes alot of work to get over. Its hard work. Its difficult to accept, while your very core is telling you otherwise, that you matter to those around you, and more importantly that you matter to you. At the end of the day surviving, depression, or anyother mental illness is a struggle to constantly accept that you are worthy of goodness.

    Fix it- it is way easier to say than do, but it is not impossible. There are services, people and an army of medications that can help. There is no magic singular thing that will work for all problems on all people. Fixing it is hard work. The work is so worth it.

    Know that you are loved and valued.

  12. aliki May 27, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Reading you, having my heart reach for your brother, also for your friend, and listening to Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida” . Thank you so much, and here, take my hand and squeeze it hard.

  13. Kimks May 27, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    On ANother note-

    You never know what word or action will help a sick person get help- what some of you are sying was a harsh tone or not exactly kind to those with depression- it may just be the thing that will help someone get the help they need.

    For me, it took my mother telling me she could no longer watch me self destruct and that I needed to find help, she couldn’t watch me do it anymore- It got me to wake up to the fact that I needed and deserved help- if nothing more than to prove her wrong.

    If you have a friend with diabetes who continues to not do what they need to do to be healthy, you would do or say whatever it took to help them get the help they need. The same can be said for mental illness. Sometimes coddeling does not work. Most of us need a good, swift kick in the butt to dislodge us from destroying ourselves and fight for usourselves. At the end of the day, its a personal choice to be as healthy as possible, or to fight to get back to health- be it physical or mental health. You don’t choose mental illness or physical illness, you can choose to fight the illness.

    We don’t always wi the fight, but it is worth fighting, for ourselves and for those who love us.

  14. jen209 May 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    I went through a cancer death a couple of years ago (one of my best friends from high school died of leukemia – she was 22, as was I). It sucks, there’s no beating around that bush.

    Something that really helped me get through it, and helped me to not feel helpless, was to get involved in some of the nonprofits that help cancer patients and sponsor research. Relay for Life is a great thing to do (www.relayforlife.org) for all cancers. There are also groups that work with specific cancers. I did Team in Training with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and it was a great, therapeutic experience. I felt like I could at least raise some money and work on getting myself healthy in Amelia’s memory.

  15. jenn May 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    What a wonderful post, Plumcake. It’s true..we all have cancers that we not only endure but encourage. This is an outstanding call to self-action.

    I’m so, so sorry about your friend.

  16. Janey May 28, 2009 at 12:34 am #

    I lost the same friend Plumcake did. She was an amazing woman- human in all the best ways.

    I also have been struggling with crippling depression. I understand what Spike said. But I also understand what Plumcake said.

    Depression creates physical changes in the brain’s neural pathways. You can get stuck in a rut for a very long time until something–medication, a moving experience, a chance remark– jogs your brain enough that you can see things from a slightly different angle. Until that happens, you just need to keep going and believe that it won’t always be so bad.

    It’s so hard to articulate this stuff.

  17. Kat May 28, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    Hi. Long time listener, first time caller. Lost my stepfather last Friday morning at 8.20am after a horrific nightmare that is Alzheimer’s. I feel great empathy for your grief and for the grief of others here — it’s hard to put into words the loss.

    But I agree with Spike. I know where you’re coming from, but I don’t think “show a little damn respect” is itself a respectful way to respond to depression. Moreover, I don’t think it honors anyone’s struggle, pain, or memory to do so. We all have struggles, some more or less than others — we all could find someone in less pain and tell them to buck up. The person I love most is my partner and I would hope that if I died of a painful illness, I wouldn’t want him to respond to anyone else’s pain or illness like that.

    Again, I share your grief — it sounds like your friend was a wonderful person who was well loved. I send my best thoughts to your brother in his fight, as well. Much peace to us all.

  18. MissSpite May 28, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    I lost my lovely sister-in-law to Breast Cancer about three weeks ago. She was only 37 years old, and left behind a precious three-year-old daughter.

    Thank you for posting about your thoughts, and mine are with you as much as I’m sure the inverse is true.

  19. Linda Woods May 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    Dear Plumcake, my heartfelt condolences to your precious friend and her struggles and especially now I send my uplifting thoughts for your brother’s ongoing remission and recovery. You write from the heart and it brought tears to my eyes and I agree with absolutely everything you said. No matter how hard life gets, the one thing we can count on is change. Much of that change has to do with with the Metaphysical, our thoughts and vibrations. Many people still today do not understand how that can change our state from minute to minute, but I know its true. I’ve salvaged relationships by changing the way I think, it works, truly. I’ve made myself well from years of depression by reading, studying, learning, listening and re-training my mind to dwell on the best that life has to offer, instead of all the negatives. Because the negative stuff will always be there, on the news, radio, other people and even friends, but that doesn’t mean I have to take it in and hold onto that low vibration. Nope, now I simply refuse to allow poison in my mind the same way I wouldn’t put cocaine in my body. Depression is crap, I know it, been there, done that and I don’t believe I’ll ever go there again. It’s my choice. Thank you for a beautifully written article. Linda

  20. Christine May 29, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    Plumcake, I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and I pray for your brother, that he makes a complete recovery.

    I lost my father two weeks ago. He had had an operation, which he came through beautifully, but sadly his heart could not take the strain. I know it is hard to watch the physically ill who so want to live, and then know that there are people with perfect physical bodies with ill minds, who cannot see a future. But healing the mind can be as hard as healing the body; I have both physical health problems and chronic depression. I do not wish to die, but I have been so depressed that I have wanted it. The key to any illness, physical or mental, is to keep trying everything and anything to get better.

    There are no easy answers. Answers can come from anywhere. Once, I was suicidal and was speaking to a reverend. We were discussing if suicidal people go to Heaven. I felt that after all their suffering on earth, no God would refuse them eternal peace and happiness. But then he said “Suicide is a sin” (Protestant chaplain) and that stopped me. Nothing he had previously said had made any difference to my feeling but this comment made me decide to get treatment. Not all people are so lucky to find something that resonates so powerfully.

    God Bless.

  21. Maria May 30, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    First time post. Beautifully written; I agree with you on all points. Prayers for your brother and his continued recovery, and a prayer of thanks that he has your love and support. As for your friend, how sad. I am so very sorry.

  22. Phalene June 1, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Chiming in here as another depressed person- One of the hardest parts of it is that you’re made entirely responsible for any efforts that don’t lift the dark fog. Nobody (sane) tells a cancer patient they didn’t try hard enough, but it’s really frustrating to be told ‘buck up!’ when you’re expending a lot of mental energy trying and failing at just that.

    And yet Plumcake is understanding, warm and supportive. With her promises to find you a therapist herself if she has to, I think she’s well aware depression is a medical problem, and she’s talking about the sort of people who would get a tumor zapped in a heartbeat, but privately slog on with a mood as deadly and draining as cancer eating them up inside.

    Given the option, I’ll take my depression over cancer and be thankful, because at least I can choose to give up, unlike the numerous patients who just don’t make it.