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Protagonist & Narrator

"We experience our life as a story, of which we are both protagonists and narrators..."

My local hospital system has apparently taken a page from St. Jude's treatment book and now we all get a "comprehensive oncology team" that includes not only the usual suspects (surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist) but physical therapy, psychology, yoga and tai chi, acupuncture, wigs, I don't even know what all else.

So now I'm in like cancer therapy.

Chip always says I internalize everything. I don't know if that's true but it is true that I don't like talking about stuff so I suppose that's literally the definition of internalizing.

When I think about my cancer diagnosis and my surgery, all I think about is logistics. What should I wear to the hospital? It has to button-up because I won't be able to lift my arms over my head. And where will my glasses be when I wake up? I'm going to need my glasses immediately if not sooner.

These plans go through surgery and into several weeks of recovery. How will I stay hydrated? I'm not going to be able to lift my regular Yeti cup but if it's a small plastic cup Chip's going to have to refill it like 30 times a day. Oh gods, am I going to be able to put my own hair in a scrunchie?? No way I spend a week in bed with my hair down around my shoulders. I'm not Scarlett fucking O'Hara.

All my thoughts go directly into lists. Menus, shopping lists, new TV shows to watch during recovery, things to do before leaving work.

The psychologist suggested I take some time in the evening - like after dinner but not right before bed when it will put a bunch of thoughts on my head right as I'm supposed to be emptying them out like clouds blowing across the blue sky of your mind. (I've been going to sleep to meditation tapes instead of television now.)

But take 20 or 30 minutes to process each evening, he suggested.

I don't even know what that means.

So I googled, "What does it mean to 'process an issue'?"

And here's what I learned:

"We experience our life as a story, of which we are both protagonists and narrators..."

Okay now we're speaking my language.

"And we make ourselves known to others in this manner too. If someone wants to genuinely get to know you, giving them a list of facts and numbers describing you will not suffice. They will want to hear your story. For human beings, processing information involves organizing it in narrative form..."

Okay then. Big green checkmark from me.

"In this framework, shocking or traumatic events damage us by disrupting our stories, mangling our established narratives of self and the world...

Oh. "Mangling." Yes.

"They do this by refusing to fit into the established narrative...


"To 'process an issue' we have to integrate the trauma into our narrative."

Sounds great. So how do I do it?

  • Develop new language with which to describe the experience and understand it.

Oh. The doc was just telling me today to quit saying they're going to chop off by boobs. "Let's use representative and accurate language," he said.

  • Assimilation uses an existing schema to understand novel information.

  • Accommodation happens when new information cannot fit our current schema, and we must adjust our schema to fit the information.


Rewrite my story then.


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