At lunchtime I had bad news: that my Mum had been called to the hospital to get test results from last week (this is what I have been worried about, but not talking about here lately).

My Mum’s diagnosis was what we’ve been fearing for a couple of weeks, namely breast cancer.  My pessimism prepared me for this, but it still seemed like a shock and a worry.  The doctor said it’s “very treatable” which is good, but still scary.  Living with my parents means I can take on some of the burden of cooking and housework.

I just feel wiped out by all the anxiety I had yesterday and today.  Now I just feel numb and surprisingly shocked (more on general anxiety levels below).  I know that this is “very treatable,” that my parents have lots of friends who have survived cancer, as did my paternal grandfather (in his eighties!) and my sister’s mother-in-law.  Still, it is a worry as there is always the risk of the unexpected and certainly family life will be hugely disrupted for the next six months.

***

I was just about to go for a run when my Dad said my Mum had been called back to the hospital.  I still went, because I didn’t want to give in to anxiety, but my stamina was poor probably because I was worried.  I was glad that I was able to go.  I was also able to clean the microwave for her as she requested while she was out.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too.   So the day was not totally consumed by the test results, but obviously they drowned out the more positive aspects.

I spent over an hour after dinner fiddling with my non-fiction Doctor Who to self-publish it.  I couldn’t work out how to convert a Word document to a pdf (I can’t open the zip files Lulu.com recommends, even looking up how to open zip files without WinZip online) or how to delete the page number on the last page so that it meets distribution requirements.  I tried following these instructions, but all that did was weird things to the formatting of the other pages (so far as I could tell it seemed to be fiddling with the margins of the pages so that more text pages were needed for the same content so that if page 431 was the last page initially, suddenly there would be another ten pages and I was deleting the number on the wrong page; at any rate, if I tried deleting the last page number (441 now), all the page numbers disappeared).

I don’t know why simple stuff just always goes wrong for me.  I’ve had this “knack” of having stuff spontaneously go wrong for me since I was a young child, when my birthday and Chanukah presents would invariably be broken and have to be taken back to the shop.  Sometimes I feel cursed (not that I believe in such things).  It does seem that everything I touch goes wrong sometimes (analogous to the Pauli Effect).

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the book.  It’s tempting to just abandon it, but I’ve invested goodness knows how many hours in it so that I need to keep trying, but I’m neglecting my novel, which has a chance (albeit not a very big one) of being sold commercially.

***

I decided to pause watching Star Trek Voyager for a day or two to watch Doctor Who as it’s better at cheering me up.  I decided I wanted to watch something no more than four episodes (old-style twenty-five minute episodes) long, more silly than serious and not a favourite (which would feel wasted while mood is low and concentration is poor).  I also decided on something with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.  I’m not sure why I decided on that as he’s not a particular favourite.  Perhaps he’s a reassuring presence (let’s face it, he’s the Doctor you’d want to be with in a crisis) or perhaps I just wanted to watch something in that weird zone between seriousness and camp which so much Doctor Who sits in, but especially the Doctor Who of his era.  I ended up watching episode one of The Three Doctors, but I don’t know if I will watch the rest of it tonight as I intended.  I’m just drifting downwards into an abyss of depression, anxiety, nihilistic despair and self-loathing and don’t feel able to do much to get myself out of it.  I ate junk food yesterday (ice cream) and will probably do so again today, especially as Mum bought us Cadbury’s Creme Eggs a few days ago and I haven’t eaten mine yet.  Goodbye diet.  I drank Diet Coke today too, which I normally only do on Shabbat and at Thursday shiur when the water runs out.  The caffeine probably wasn’t good with anxiety and needing to sleep soon.

***

I woke up feeling super-anxious again like yesterday.  I felt a lot better after breakfast, but the anxiety restarted once Mum got called to the hospital at midday.  After that there was a mixture of anxiety and numbness, with some despair.  I feel like I’ve messed up my life and, whether it’s my fault or not, everything I touch seems to get ruined beyond repair: writing, career, friendships, relationships, even my religious life, which shouldn’t be susceptible to such entropy without neglect or wilful destruction.

I think anxiety for me can be linked to the “Shoulds” in my life that Ashley Leia commented about yesterday.  I tend to be most anxious when I think I’m in a situation where I have to break Jewish law or do something I see as unethical, particularly where I feel the only alternative is an argument with someone I’m close to, like my parents.  The problem is that I tend to view a lot of problems as fundamentally about morals or halakhah (Jewish law), even if it arguably isn’t the case.  Or perhaps I’m sensitive to aspects of morality that maybe most people are not sensitive to.  Obviously it is the nature of Orthodox Judaism to stress rules and ethics, but other people don’t seem to feel the same tension as I do, which may be because they are more settled within the community and have less issues in conforming to it and/or are less worried about alienating outsiders by practising Judaism.  (Of course, some people are able to compartmentalise their lives and strictly keep ritual law while massively neglecting ethical teachings, as many recent scandals have shown.)

Autistic black-and-white thinking can be an issue for me here too, assuming that my perspective is correct in all particulars when it may be only partially correct or even totally incorrect.  Likewise assuming that if my perspective is correct then my proposed actions must be correct too, which may also be incorrect (cf. Greta Thunberg).

For what it’s worth (and I’m not rating my opinion as being worth very much at the moment), I think I have been slightly less Should-focused lately, in terms of letting myself do various things that I wouldn’t do in the past.  It still is hard to accept that some things do not have to be Shoulds, though.  Incidentally, I write the word with a capital S here to show how important my Shoulds seem, but really they feel like SHOULDS – hugely important and demanding attention.

10 thoughts on “Bad News, and Shoulds

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your mum. Hopefully she’ll respond very well to treatment.

    I don’t use Microsoft Word, but for the page number on the last page, try creating a section break so that page will have different formatting from the rest of the document. To convert to pdf, you should be able to “save as” and select pdf as the file type. Alternatively, you could print to pdf, or if all else fails, open the document in Google Doc and save as pdf from there.

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  2. Cancer is a terrifying word, no matter how treatable it is. That said, I have many friends and acquaintances who have survived breast cancer and are thriving now. BUT..it is still normal to worry and be scared about the diagnosis and the treatment. I will be hoping for the best!What you detail here on your blog (thank you for your openness by the way) is the extreme version of what many of us deal with: the shoulds(note mine are lower case), the anxiety, the self-doubt, and the questioning of what we’re doing, how we’re doing etc. There are things that I cope with very well, but others that send me into extreme self-recrimination. Sometimes it depends on my mood at the time. I often feel that my expectations of life are too high, such that they can never be met. Perhaps my expectations of myself as well.

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    1. Thank you for this comment.

      Yes, I think lots of people have high expectations of themselves, and it’s hard to know what to do with them, because we don’t want to become worse people, but they can be counter-productive and push us towards a passive-aggressive “I can’t do anything right” mentality.

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  3. Converting to pdf — depends which version of Word you are using. For older versions you use Save As and then choose pdf. For newer versions it is Export. Are you using a fairly recent version of Word? Are you using docx or doc? There’s a lot of useful information out there on managing large documents in Word. It can be tricky. There is also a maximum size for Word documents as well (32 mb for old version). Docx manages large files much better than doc.

    Zip files — could not see the link you posted — looks like you have to sign up to Lulu in order to proceed further. Extracting Zip files — usually you right click on the zip file and choose extract but may depend on which version of Windows you are using.

    Very sorry to hear the news about your Mum’s diagnosis — I’m glad it’s treatable. She will no doubt really need and appreciate your support as she undergoes treatment.

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  4. Oh dear. I’m so sorry to hear of your mom’s diagnosis. I am a breast cancer survivor of 12 years. I know many other survivors. I will be following and praying for your mom and your family.

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  5. I’ve been away from WordPress for a while, so I haven’t been able to keep up with your blog unfortunately. I’m so sorry to read that your mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I can’t imagine the stress and anxiety this must cause you and your whole family. I understand it’s very hard to keep your hopes up when you’ve just received such bad news, but maybe in time you’ll be able to derive some hop from the doctor’s words that it is very treatable.

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