Things Fall Apart: Musings from Limbo

Lost in place.

…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand…

From The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats:


Well, I’d like to think some revelation was at hand. But when I’m in limbo, it’s hard to tell when the end of it might be revealed.

It’s also hard to describe limbo. By its very nature, it defies description, flouts my attempts to pin it down. After all, if I could describe it, I might not, in fact, be in it anymore.

I can tell when I’m in it, though. I don’t feel quite like myself, as though my edges were blurry. I don’t look blurry to anyone else. Outwardly, I function. I do remember to turn off the coffee pot before I leave the house, put some crunchies in the cat dish, grab my keys. I remember to show up for work, put on the parking brake before I get out of the car. The underpinnings of daily life keep me from falling off the edge of this formlessness. It reminds me a little of the immediate shock-and-awe phase I went through right after I was diagnosed, but without the adrenalin rush. A rush would be nice, actually. It would be more interesting than feeling like a cardboard cut-out of my usual self.

I guess the good news is that, if Yeats was right, then at least I range among ‘the best.’ I certainly seem to ‘lack all conviction.’ It would be nice, though, to have a little ‘passionate intensity.’ I almost wouldn’t mind having a flat-out temper tantrum, but I can’t seem to work myself up enough for one.

Sigh. This is not a new thing. When I look back, I seem to hit a limbo skid about this time every year since I finished acute treatment late in 2008. My post-cancer-treatment, mid-winter slouch. A year ago, I turned to song lyrics by Shawn Colvin to describe it:

China gets broken
And it will never be the same
Boats on the ocean
Find their way back again
I am weaving
Like a drunkard
Like a balloon up in the air
I’m needing a puncture and someone
To point me somewhere

From “Steady On”
by Shawn Colvin & J. Leventhal


I feel perhaps a little less broken this year, more glued together. I just don’t feel like the pieces are in the right place yet. Two years ago, in January of 2010, I was wrestling with acute grief over my lost self, but trying to plow through it and look ahead. My chosen song was from Cyndi Lauper, my lyric, “I wanna be the one to walk in the sun/oh, girls just wanna have fun.” The grief is not acute now, but it’s still there, like white noise. I can hear it when it’s too quiet.

The year before that, in 2009, I’d just finished acute treatment and started this blog. I’d only just “stopped freaking out on a more or less continual basis.” There was no music in my head, no poetry in my soul that January. Just a deep weariness.

So, I have felt better each year. I’m just not quite — all there yet. I don’t even know if there is an ‘all there’ there. Meanwhile, at least my cardboard cut-out self is still standing, still putting on a good front. So far, no one else seems to notice that she’s not too steady on her pins. I just need to keep her out of the wind for a while.

Here we go again.

There’s a little black spot on the sun today,
That’s my soul up there.
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
That’s my soul up there.[…]
There’s a blue whale beached by a springtime’s ebb
That’s my soul up there
There’s a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web
That’s my soul up there

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain,
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain

From “The King of Pain”
by The Police


Because I’ve lived long enough, I know that having an identity crisis is not the end of the world, although it’s quite unpleasant while it’s happening. Because I’ve been an artist long enough, I also know that fallow periods are necessary, that they do not signify emptiness. There is work going on, it’s just hidden from view. At the end of it, my cells and neurons having rearranged themselves, I will emerge, feeling less tentative, more solid, more able to meet life’s challenges, more willing to crawl out on a limb, risk myself in creativity, find myself in perspective, lose myself in laughter and friendship.

But for now, all I can do is trust — trust that the world will keep spinning on its axis, trust my faith in life, trust myself. I don’t much like it, but there are worse things than feeling rudderless. At least I’m floating and drifting, not sinking to the bottom. That’s good. Happy Limboversary to me.

And there’s always chocolate.

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 10:01 pm, filed under Art & Music, Attitude, Life & Mortality, Survivorship and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “Things Fall Apart: Musings from Limbo”

  1. There’s always, always chocolate. And blogging:)

    Thanks so much for this lovely meditation on “formlessness.” I like that description – we’ve all been there. And no, you’re not sinking at all.


  2. Thanks, Jode. All sentient life did evolve, they say, from a formless blob. xxoo

  3. After posting my formless blob comment, my sidebar Google Ads came up with an ad for ‘PDF Creator.’ LOL!!

  4. I feel this formless slouching too Kathi, and I wasn’t the one of us two to be diagnosed. And I don’t really know why. Is it the dreadful weariness that overcomes me? Five years in ‘fight’ mode (not ‘fighting’ cancer, fighting everything and everybody to hold some kinds of lives together)? Some kind of ‘coming down’ from the heightened experiences of constant surgeries and doctors? Some feeling that however much I do as a carer it’s never enough, I’m never good enough? Or, really, is it a deep, bone memory of the shock and terror of the moment of diagnosis? On the whole, yes, I think so…’Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’ xx

  5. “I feel perhaps a little less broken this year, more glued together. I just don’t feel like the pieces are in the right place yet.”

    This is how I feel! I’ll be two years out from diagnosis this spring, so I’m a bit “behind” you. Some days that’s exactly how I feel – as if I’m glued together now into some new version of my former self, and I don’t mean just physically.

    And you’re right, you may be floating and drifting right now, but that beats sinking! I guess we are all “works in progress” aren’t we? Thanks for being part of my “glue.”

  6. You sure know how to describe the many states of being that come with cancer. I’ve had a few of those floating/glued-together/WTF moments lately, too. Hang in there and lean on your blogging sisters. I’ll eat some Trader Joe’s extra dark for you today!

  7. Not looking to wax poetic because, first it’s not really my thing and second, WTF does that exactly mean ANYWAY…..

    Someone once gave me a visual and it helps when I’m not consuming the bag of Hershey kisses……

    Let’s invoke Carole King for this one….. Tapestry…… Back from my I wanna be a hippie days but I’m just a few years too young…..

    Her info had zilch to do with cancer. It was marital issues LONG before my cancer dx… she likened the mess to a “hole” in the tapestry of my life. Eventually, the hole will be repaired and the knot in the fabric will just become a part of the fabric. I took that to the next level with the cancer dx. When I look at that knot, sometimes I can see it as the strongest part of the fabric, other times it actually looks pretty (in an odd sort of way and in THIS moment I can accurately describe the emotions behind that), sometimes it makes me damn sad that my perfect tapestry has such a BIG flaw because I needed to repair the hole….. and other times, it PISSES ME OFF when my eyes got anywhere NEAR that part of the tapestry…… and then, there are the times I catch a glimpse of it and I am afraid I’m going to do something to rip the thing again and have to fix yet one more hole……

    Now that I’ve finished my lecture, I may just go post this on my blog as an entry since I sure hogged up enough of your comment box!


  8. Kathi, I feel as if I should be offering some wise comments here, but you see, you distracted me..I’ve been singing along to your song choices, esp the Police – I’d nearly forgotten all about that song (amazing lyrics!).

    All I can say is that I really know what you are talking about – I’ve been here before and right now, I am going through something similar as I try to pick up the shattered pieces of my life again, after the death of my Mom and my miscarriage at christmastime. Those lines from Yeats are very apposite, esp the line “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” – this perfectly describes how I felt last October when my Mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I have felt as if the centre hasn’t been holding up all that good in my life since that day, but you know what helps me, is knowing that I am not alone in grieving and trying to find a way forward again.

    Love Marie xxx

  9. […] blog tugging at my heart-strings is The Accidental Amazon’s Musings From Limbo. I am sure many of you have visited the place described by Kathi so eloquently this week, so why […]

  10. Limboversary… I love that term! It is so befitting what happens once the dust of cancer settles.

    Floating and drifting sounds good to me. After all, that’s how people live in the islands (land of the limbo!).

  11. Renn, I’m trying to practice my backbends…!

    Oh, Marie…massive hugs to you. What would we all do without the transforming magic of music and poetry? It’s such a comfort to know, once again, that the personal is universal, and that we are not alone. It takes a few years on this earth to realize that, however, because limbo feels so darned lonely.

    Ronnie, I’ll tell you, this particular limbo started early for me this time; it really came on last October, in spades, because of having the shoe on the other foot — the carer foot — when I found myself caring about and caring for so many friends going through cancer and other miseries. So, my centre was already crumbling by the time January rolled around again. Sigh…

    Nancy, AnneMarie, Praelior, thank goodness for cyber-love, that’s all I can say. We can all be cyber-blobs together!!


  12. Oh yes, chocolate and blogging!

    Beautiful words, as always. 🙂

  13. Kathi,

    It’s OK to be floating and drifting, as you know. Just know that what you are going through is “normal,” whatever “normal” is. Come to think of it, I now hate that word. Anyway, you are not alone. So many of us are in limbo. I was diagnosed 11 years ago, and I still feel in limbo. The “centre cannot hold” indeed. But I guess in the grand scheme of things, life is so unpredictable. I cling to the present, but it is a battle.

    Hang in there….

  14. Dear Bethany, I know that you’ve been through your own things falling apart in recent years. I’m so glad you have those amazing little girls to hang onto, as well as your wonderful writing. xoxo

    Beth, I hate the word ‘normal’ too now. All we can do sometimes is just to put one foot in front of the other. What choice do we have? All of us here have gone through difficult things that have changed us forever. Knowing we share that understanding helps so much.

    Drifting is okay as far as it goes, but chocolate — which perhaps goes right to my thighs — keeps me from floating off the edge. 🙂

  15. Kathi, I’m happy time has made things easier. This is a beautiful post. Limbo must exist for all of us, but I think cancer just makes us more aware of it. I feel like I’m always looking for signs things are getting better and when I can’t find that, I feel stuck, unsure how to proceed, left wondering if I’m making a big deal of something I should just let be. Does that even make sense? Anyway, I won’t ramble here, but you’re right about not sinking. Thanks, this post really resonated with me. xoxo

  16. Thank you, Stace. Yes, I think you’re right about getting stuck. One of my ‘stuck’ signals is when I start asking myself all those big existential questions for which there are no answers. Oy…

    One of Yeats’ phrases that really resonates for me in light of cancer is “The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Oh, yes.

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