Breast Cancer Survivor Guilt and Shame And How To Combat It

woman_with_fingers_over_mouth_shameThis is one of those subjects that no one wants to talk about. Why? Because it’s tightly wrapped up in a blanket of deep shame, which means that you then have to face those things that you probably really don’t want to face.

I realised that I was experiencing it about a week after my treatment for breast cancer had finished.  I felt depressed, which was a new experience for me and I really didn’t see the point of even getting out bed.

The Surprises of Survivorship

I just felt awful. Life felt pointless and I was confused because I really didn’t even understand why. Then is struck me, I was waiting for the celebration after treatment had finished but the celebration fell a bit flat. What was I celebrating?!

Shame had popped its head up, which as a breast cancer survivor, led me to survivor guilt.  Brene Brown has been a saviour when it’s come to understanding why this hits you and how to combat it.

As Brene Brown explains it:

“Shame is when you believe you are wrong or there is something wrong with you. Guilt is when you believe you did something wrong, this is a behaviour”.

What I was able to work out, was that because I had never heard that people had experienced this feeling before, I thought that it was just me, therefore, there must be something wrong with me.

I felt that I should have been happy, that I had lived through the treatment when the doctors weren’t sure that I would.  It wasn’t that I was not grateful to be alive, because I was eternally grateful.

What the issue turned out to be was that I thought it was just me, so how could I talk to anyone about it?  What type of person would they think I was if I was feeling depressed when I should be happy to be alive?

So the veil of shame kept me silent for a little while anyway. I decided that I had to talk to someone because the feeling was only getting worse. So I cried and cried as I spoke to a girlfriend.  I wasn’t quite sure how I would find the words, but I did.  Her reaction, “you just need to get over it”  shocked me, so I decided to stay quiet once more.

I combated the feeling by focusing on work; throwing myself into everything in the hope that it would somehow go away on its own.  I also focused on setting new goals and all the actions I would take to achieve them.

Throwing Myself Into Life

My life had changed so much, along with my outlook, that the old goals really didn’t apply anymore anyway.  Setting new goals changed my mindset from focusing on what might happen (future) and what happened (past) to focusing on what was actually happening now (present).

I also found a natural therapist to work with. Her name is Natalie (her practice is kinesiology).  Working with Natalie enabled me to get out of my head (a dangerous place sometimes) and into my body. This really means that I spent more time feeling what I needed to feel and processing the emotions I needed to process.  The fear, shame and guilt bursting out like a new found oil well.

Then I Found An Angel

Natalie dragged me kicking and screaming towards vulnerability. I had always felt that vulnerability was weakness, so I fought it for as long as I could until I was tired of fighting and just gave in. I gave in and won my life back. As Brene Brown explains, vulnerability is the birthplace of everything that I wanted in my life, but was missing.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation (change) and creativity (something new).  How can you create something new if you are afraid to fail?  I wanted to create change and a new life and vulnerability was the only way this was going to happen. So, I stopped fighting and now live a life that is far better than anything I could have ever dreamed or had ever lived before.

Winning My Life Back

Now I travel the world for six to nine months each year, exploring new cultures and new places, some familiar and some not. At each step I am vulnerable to life, but embracing innovation and creativity and I finally feel free and alive. It has also enabled me to provide resources for breast cancer survivors worldwide to help them move forward and create a new life, a life that they love.

Gai Comans on bridge in Laos_small

Love Gai

PS. Over the past few months I have been interviewing breast cancer survivors about their experiences, giving them a platform to tell their story and tell you about the tools they used to help them move forward through life.  I can’t wait to share their stories with you shortly. You can register below to get the free guides as soon as they are released.

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