Buried pot of shame

I accidentally lifted the lid today on a deeply buried pot of shame I’ve been carrying around with me for years since my cancer diagnosis.  It always amazes me when I realize that after all this time I’m still processing and uncovering little pockets of my treatment and recovery experience that are still shaping the person I am today.


I’ve been listening to a book on tape called ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari.  It’s an in depth look at depression, anxiety, and it’s treatments.  It offers 7 lost connections as a new way to look at how we treat these increasingly diagnosed afflictions.


And one of those connections is people. 





I would have certainly argued I was an extrovert growing up, I loved to be around people.  I loved to be with my friends, talking, helping, connecting.  Being with people added fuel to my fire and I needed that connection to feel alive.


But after I was diagnosed with cancer I noticed I began to spend more and more time by myself, and would now, most definitely, not classify myself as an extrovert.


I credited this profound change in enjoying my own company with all of the hours I had to spend by myself during the time I went through treatment.    People were busy and I was slow.  My brain was slow, so slow I couldn’t concentrate on movies or books most of the time.  So it was just me.  Spending time with me.  And I grew comfortable with that.


Today as I walked the dog, listening to this book on tape, I asked the question, I reflected on the fact that I now spend an enormous amount of time on my own.  And I wondered what led me to pull away from people?  Why is it I no longer reach out to connect with others?


Out of nowhere the answer bubbled up.  And it wasn’t the story I had been telling myself.


I am ashamed of my illness.  I am ashamed of having cancer.


Not on a conscious level.  I know I didn’t cause my cancer.  I know I am not less of a person for being diagnosed with cancer, or because I struggle with ongoing effects of treatment.


But on a much deeper level of belief comes the message: I am less of a person for getting sick. 


And then a series of memories unfolded in front of me.


I remembered how some people had to pull away from me during treatment.  They were scared of me, (hell I was scared of me), at least what I represented.  I get that.


And I remembered how after treatment finished, people wanted to know what I was going to next.  They cared about me getting better, but all I heard was ‘get over it’.


As time passed and some of my friends passed away from the disease, completely ripping my insides out, friends and family encouraged me to move on, move away, stop living in this cancer world. 


One day someone proudly told me that when their loved one started to have chemo, that’s when they began to stick up for me.  Stick up for me?  What had I done wrong??  I had done cancer wrong.  And you know if one person is saying it, then they are all saying it (says the ego).



To be fair, I’m not sure this was a completely undiscovered pot of shame, I think its contents bubble up from the depths from time to time.  But this is the first time I realised how much it had led to my increasingly isolating myself in the years that followed. 


And it led me to think – does anyone else feel this way?  Did anyone else interpret the messages of others during their treatment and recovery as code for ‘you are less than because of your disease?’



I don’t know if you asked me this a year out from treatment if I would have said yes.  I think these were tiny seeds planted during that time that I have since given soil and water to grow. 


In the years since treatment, there are 9 of them now, I have had a few pretty significant bouts of severe anxiety and I have been diagnosed with an incurable auto-immune condition.  I know these have each added fuel to the fire.


But these beliefs aren’t true.  They are self-made myths.  And I think that if they are self-made, then surely they can be self-destroyed. 


So I want to know, what do you do when you uncover a lie you have been telling yourself and holding onto for years?  How do you begin to change the story?

Kristin Paterson

Kristin PatersonComment