Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's your buzz cut?

Today's New York Times has a beautiful article about self-image and illness, written by Dana Jennings, a blogger/writer who has prostate cancer and has gotten a buzz cut to help get through. He says:
In a time of utter vulnerability — having already weathered three months of post-diagnosis ups-and-downs — I needed the primal ferocity that a buzz cut proclaims. I needed to look like a soccer thug or an extra from “Prison Break” to help get me through surgery, the physical indignities of post-op life, and my subsequent radiation and hormone therapy. I still do. My prostate cancer and its treatment have transformed me — in body and spirit — and the buzz cut has helped me cope with those changes.
For many people, including myself, chronic illness profoundly changes who you think you are. Jennings quotes Dr. Robert Klitzman, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, who aptly says:
“The challenge with cancer is to find a new sense of self... because the narrative of yourself has been disrupted".
I think this is true of chronic illness as well. I know I have struggled immensely with my personal narrative since October, when I found out I have three inflammatory and chronic diseases (celiac disease, psoriatic arthritis, lymphocytic colitis). My childlike belief in my own invulnerability has been exchanged for a terrifying sense of my own mortality. While externally I'm talking and writing and "being" my disease, internally I cringe when I think of myself as someone who ONLY is sick. The other identities - aspiring writer, competent mom, non-profit professional, loving wife, all seem to hide behind the title "sick person".

I despaired in October, as you can tell if you read the first few posts on this blog. I wallowed. I grieved deeply for the me that I felt (and still feel) was lost.

This blog may be my buzz cut. I can't be silent. I'm writing in order to create the new me - a me who is sick, but is also many other things: a researcher, an advocate, a writer. Dana Jennings says about his true self:

I am basically a cream puff. But I like the contradiction, the tension, that the buzz cut seems to represent between my inner and outer lives.

The buzz cut is a kind of veil or, perhaps, a mask hiding my secret identities: one of which is being a cancer patient.

But to be honest, I don’t think I’m hiding anyone. We are, all of us, a bundle of apparent contradictions. Even though I’m a dreamy pragmatist, I need the guy with the glare, the shaved skull and the brutishly broad forehead to help me through the day.

I need to write to get through my day. What's your contradiction? What's your buzz cut?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny,

    Great post! For so many of us, I think the idea of being reduced down to simply "sick" is a huge fear--I know it was one that motivated me for many years, often at the expense of my health. (Hello, irony.)

    Anyway, I wanted to check out your site and thank you for commenting on A Chronic Dose. Keep on writing!