My name is Courtney. I am an internal medicine physician living with malignant brain cancer. I started this blog the day I diagnosed myself with a brain tumor in Thailand in January of 2020. Honestly, the story only gets crazier from there.
The words in this blog are honest, intimate stories of my real-life journey to find happiness, joy, and compassion in a crazy and mysterious life. Even if my story seems unique at first glance, really, it is not. As humans, we are all trying to find happiness in a life we wish we had more control over.
I hope my words bring you happiness in even the smallest way. None of us need to suffer alone. Thank you for reading.
I’ve been trying to write a blog for a few days now with no luck. I kept trying to think of a hopeful, inspirational message I could share with my readers, but to be frankly honest, I have been in a bad mental place myself this week and every time I tried to write something, I felt like a fraud.
So, instead of trying to cheer others up with a falsely optimistic message, I’m going to be totally real with you. This week has been really, fucking rough.
Ok, election stress. Yes, that is part of it, and I won’t belabor that point because I’m fairly sure it’s something we are all feeling and don’t really want to talk about any more. But, the fact that so many people in this country STILL voted for a man who has expressed intensely racist, sexist, homophobic, and hurtful statements makes me feel a little sick, honestly.
What’s worse is that I know people who voted for this man. I know friends, colleagues, and extended family who voted for a man who leads a life with such opposite values of my own that it is hard for me to comprehend it all.
As a student of Buddhism, I frequently come across teachings that tell me things such as, in the practice of tolerance and compassion, one’s enemy is the best teacher. Enemy is a strong word, but it does make a memorable point. Learning to love thy neighbor regardless of differences in opinion is another way to phrase this. I’m trying, but damn it can be hard.
On top of trying to keep love and compassion in my heart for others despite utter shock and disagreement with their actions this week, I also feel my depression sneaking back up again.
Despite my hatred for stigma about mental illness, it is honestly still hard for me to publicly talk about depression because it feels vulnerable and exposing. However, I know that many of you, like me, are feeling the effects of an earlier sunset, election stress, and ongoing social isolation and are having difficulty coping with it all.
I don’t have any magical way to fix this, but I do think talking about it is important.
It is isolating to feel sad and pretend you don’t.
It is challenging to fear for the future yet try to remain grateful for the present.
It is lonely to socially distance while trying to stay connected.
It is terrifying to wait for results- election results and scan results (3 days away from my next MRI)- while trying to stay calm.
It is maddening to watch COVID surge plans going into effect at the hospital you work in while you have to work remotely from your home office bubble because you have cancer. Oh wait, maybe that one only applies to me…
All of these feelings on top of the chemical imbalance of depression, seasonal-affective disorder, anxiety, ptsd, or whatever mental health challenge currently speaks to you is A LOT for anyone to handle.
I opened The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh this morning and learned something important. Nhat Hanh tells us that “Those who are without compassion cannot see what is seen with the eyes of compassion…That more inclusive sight makes the small but crucial difference between despair and hope.”
Small but crucial difference between despair and hope. Hmm. I thought about this for a long time today and realized how spot on this idea is.
On the verge of despair this week, I reflected on the most fundamental teaching in all of Buddhism, and in most of the world’s religions, compassion.
The definition of compassion is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Or, more simply put, compassion means to “suffer with” others.
To suffer with, not alone. Today, I am suffering a bit. But, I know others are suffering too. And the simple act of suffering together and wanting this suffering to end for all of us is the difference between hope and despair.
I suffer “with” by writing, by sharing with complete and terrifying honesty.
Today, I think it’s ok to suffer. It’s ok to admit that life is overwhelming right now. It’s ok to be honest about whatever challenge you are facing. It’s ok to feel fear. But, do not suffer alone. Suffer with.
Suffer with the knowledge that you are not the only one who suffers. Suffer with the motivation to rid yourself and everyone else of suffering. Suffer with others, have compassion, and turn despair into hope.
To follow Courtney’s blog, visit her website at www.elephantlotusbraintumor.com