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Positive Life Lessons that Cancer Helped me to Learn

On some social-networking site I hang out at, someone asked: “Has ANYONE managed to overcome the overwhelming tendency to do nothing instead of anything?”

I decided to take what I’ve learned from my stage 4 cancer experience, and I replied with these comments. It got a little bit popular, which is nice. I added some more thoughts to flesh it out here for this blog.


Every human is different… but maybe my experience can help.

I spent the first 22 years of my life in a family that thought that constant criticism was the way to motivate a kid.

I then wasted the next several years of my life not realizing that element had become the foundation of everything I thought or did. Like a house with a rotten foundation, I kept falling and failing. I thought I was stupid and lazy and kept angrily yelling at myself to change already.

I also fell for the old “if you keep doing this negative pattern, you must WANT to have this bad stuff in your life” bit, so I pretty much decided I was certifiably crazy too.

I had to get a serious, life-threatening illness before I could change. Forced to really think about some really deep things. I hope you can read my words and not have to almost die first to find out what I’ve learned.

I now know that I was not lazy, crazy, stupid or deliberately motivated by bad character to avoid whatever I needed to do.

I finally now know that just extremely emotionally overwhelmed, a state of mind that actually needs compassion to help a person break free and go forward.

I now know that I never WANTED to be a person who didn’t accomplish much – I was simply programmed with the constant criticism from day 0 to subconsciously pile bad vibes upon nearly anything I tried to do – thus constantly poisoning my “willpower” about anything I tried or needed to do.

I now know that the emotional core foundation of who I thought I was – all that I believed I could be – all that was based on that insidious verbal/emotional abuse I grew up with.

Like someone born and raised in a sick cult, I learned to question and judge only myself as wrong because of the fierce and violent consequences if I dared question or expressed any confusion regarding those who were raising me. If I acted freaked out or depressed, the only “logical” and obvious explanation HAD to be simply because I was a defective person. :-/

As an adult, I simply decided I was a screwup and had no clue as to why. Like a house with a really badly built foundation, I was always falling apart and falling down. Trying to be cheerful for everyone else, but could not cheer myself.

When I finally ended up too physically sick with a life-threatening illness to do anything else, I finally had to get to the point of reaching into my core self and start to rebuild that foundation.

That is EXTREMELY hard to accomplish when one’s own well-trained-by-verbal-abusers subconscious constantly says: “You don’t need any kind of positive support, you just need to get your goddamn ass in gear!”

And THAT just seems SO completely, utterly logical…

…but it’s wrong.

I know now that a person’s brain is basically two people in one skull. You got the logical part of you and the emotional part of you.

I know now that if the emotional part of you does not feel like it’s in an emotionally safe place, does not feel gently, compassionately supported from the core self on up, a state of deadly overwhelm will set in. And you will be STUCK.

I know now that overwhelm is not one’s own fault. I know now that overwhelm is NOT laziness.

I know now that being angry at oneself for not doing anything is like taking a knife and cutting oneself deeper for the crime of bleeding.

One can then blindly get caught in an expanding spiral of anger against oneself for not doing anything, which feeds the overwhelm which paralyzes, which feeds more anger against oneself for not taking action which then feeds more overwhelm, which feeds the lack of action, which then proves to yourself what a lazy ass you are…

…and from there, it feels SO much like day-in, day-out a continuing reinforcement and proof that your original emotional abusers were so right about your lack of worthiness on this planet.

I know now that the fight to become better as a successful person is not in trying to increase one’s willpower. It’s to use your logical brain to slowly overcome that negative spiral in your emotional brain.

Since the logical brain is a much smaller creature than your emotional brain, that takes a LOT of patient work of internal reprogramming.

Remind yourself it’s actually logical to stop that soul-killing emotional spiral, to stop being angry at yourself for not doing anything, to find out for yourself what constitutes and “emotionally safe place” that you can create for yourself.

The emotional brain will probably spew out a hell of a LOT of anger against the idea. That’s part of the whole “dark night of the soul” journey from my point of view.

When you can start to break the spiral and start acting from positive faith in yourself instead of your anger against your own inaction, then your ability to go forward will start to grow, like a little seedling.

Nurture that seedling bit by bit… keep asking your subconscious to quit the negative pattern… never let yourself get impatient with yourself. Keep building the new, positive foundation carefully, slowly… over hours… over days…. over months… over years…

Then the house of who-you-are can be stronger than ever as you rebuild your base foundation on positive faith in yourself. You will be able to stand up and reach higher than you ever imagined if your emotional foundation is based on forgiveness and permission about feeling overwhelmed in the first place. Work hard to break the negative spiral.

ALSO… do you have friends or relatives who tend to make insulting jokes that put themselves or other people down as their form of entertainment? Slowly back off from them. Be grateful for their good intentions regarding trying to stay connected, yet know you need a greater wisdom than what they have to offer. Don’t waste your breath trying to explain to them what you are barely beginning to understand for your own self.

Start finding positive, caring people who – by who they are – can support you in reinforcing your effort in breaking the negative spiral. If they hear you putting yourself down, they can say “dude, you are falling into that pattern again” and you remember yet again that your job is to break that pattern. And you thank them.

Eventually you won’t have to force willpower to happen. You will eventually have an inborne “COOL. LET’S GO!” energy that you can use like good, upwelling spring water. :)

I wish someone had explained this to me 20 years ago. Unfortunately, I think I was so caught up in the “dammit, get your own stupid lazy ass in gear already” negative overwhelm spiral that the advice would have flown right over my head.

I hope that at least some of this above rambling is at least halfway useful to someone out there.

That would be a nice thing to know. :)

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