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#378: Life, Interrupted | Suleika Jaouad

2021-09-13

Here’s a thought experiment: how would you handle it if you got a terrible diagnosis?

Of course, many of us have no choice but to find out. This is the situation Suleika Jaouad faced when she got gravely ill at a very young age. She had to figure out how to have a sense of agency when so much was out of her control, and how to stay awake and present when her life was hanging in the balance. 

Suleika Jaouad is a journalist, author, speaker, cancer survivor, and the author of a book called Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted. She is also the creator of “Life, Interrupted,” the Emmy award-winning New York Times column and video series that she created from her hospital bed. 

In this conversation, we talk about: Suleika’s journey from being diagnosed with leukemia as a young adult to her recovery today; managing your emotions in excruciating situations; handling an ocean of uncertainty; feeding your need for creativity and productivity when your body is in mutiny mode; and the immense value of strategically going easy on yourself, especially when you’re an ambitious person. 

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Full Shownotes: https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/suleika-jaouad-378

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
From ABC this is the ten percent happier pot cast. I'm Dyin Harris here's a thought experiment. How would you handle it if you got a toy able diagnosis every once in a while. I muster the strength to think about this, and I find that my mind just revolts. I just don't want to think about this. Of course, many of us have no choice, this situation might yesterday was in at a very young age. She got gravely ill and and really had to figure out how to have a sense of agency when so much was completely out of her control and how to stay awake and present when her life was hanging in the balance. There's a quote: she likes from the great writer Miguel sovereignties before death. It's all life, my guess name is so like a Jawad she's, a journalist
author speaker, cancer survivor, she's, the author of a book called between two kingdoms, a memoir of a life interrupted and the creator of life interrupted the Emmy Award winning New York Times column and video series which she created from her hospital bed? In this conversation, we talk about the Sioux Lakers Journey from being diagnosed with leukemia, as a young. Adult too, recovery today. Managing your emotions in excruciating situations handling an ocean of uncertainty, feeding the need for creativity and productivity when the body is in mutiny mode and the immense value of strategically going easy on yourself, especially if you are an ambitious person. We also talk about which he believes is a poorest line between sickness and health and her rather astute critiques of which
calls the wellness industrial complex, some exciting news. Earlier this year we ran a survey of our listeners. Thousands of you answered all series of questions about your experiences with the show and that we in turn, listen to you. It turns out. One of them you really don't like is the ads on the show, we'll be right in the middle of talking about the pernicious impacts of mass media. The importance of self compassion or how to achieve it blissful state of attention and focus and then jarring voice elbows its way and tries to convince you to watch a boxing match or try a new dialogue but by a car, so we ve heard you on this and we're gonna try something new. This show the ten percent have. Your bike asked is now available ad free, inside our companion, meditation app, which is also called ten percent happier. So you can listen to all of our episodes without ads inside the app when you subscribe relate of wisdom.
sounds distraction so to get started. Download the ten percent happier app wherever you get your apps, then open up the Epp and tap on the pied casts tab at the bottom of your screen and good news as promised. This is now available on both Iowa S and Android. Ok, that said that item of business out of the way, let's diving now with sir Could you what so like? You are welcome to the show thing for having me and then pleasure, so I'd love to hear a little bit about you're you're back story, you sick pretty young. Can you tell me when you, you first learn that you get your ill so
about a year after graduating from college. I was diagnosed with leukemia, but looking back I'd been sick for a long time had started with a mysterious edge, my senior year of college and and fatigue, but I think, like a lot of you know, people in their early twenty years. I had this notion that youth and health are supposed to go hand in hand and you know I went to see a number of different doctors who you know sent me home with About x or told me to get some rest day was how spies for a week and ultimately released with something called burnout syndrome. So all this to say that by the time I got my actual diagnosis, I spent the better part of the year
feeling like I was losing my mind, man and knowing that something was wrong and not necessarily being are filling taken seriously. The doctors I was saying, but also not taking myself seriously and so on, strange, perverse way It was a relief to get a kidney cancer diagnosis. Did they give you a sense of whether they thought you're gonna make it? They told me quaint blank that I had about a thirty five percent chance of long term survival and That kind of prognosis, I think, is impossible to wrap your head around but certainly you know at twenty two. I had ass yet friend tat, are given much thought to my mortal again, so I
number experiencing. That prognosis, like a kind of slot, did you start to playing a more telling at that moment in. If so, what was that brought whether that look like internally? For you? I think they got a lot of patience and those first couple of days, These are weeks. There is so much adrenaline. I fell almost the super charge by by this need to keep it together to keep it together. For my parents, to learn all of the information they need to learn their suggests. Deep learning curve- and you get a diagnosis like this, and I found myself wishing that I'd pay better attention in my high school science classes, but everything was overwhelmed.
And when I first entered the hospital that summer, I remember packing a suitcase full of books and telling myself tat. I was going to make the most of what I imagine to be a summer of illness, short sojourn in the kingdom of the SEC and that I was going to read all the things I hadn't chance to read that this is so I'm going to be a restful experience and, of course, you know very quickly into that hospital stay out whenever assumptions or preconceptions I had about how my illness was going to were up dead and at the end of the summer, I had yet to read a single one of those books and I learned that the standard chemotherapy treatments were working for me. In fact, my leukemia had become much more aggressive and, and plant. My only option was an experimental clinical trial, and I think that's when it hit me
the realisation not just that I was sick and that I could no longer recognise the person Staring back at me in the mirror and lost all my hair and my eyebrows in my eye, lashes, but that you hope in cases like mine, medicine, was more of an art than a science. So the art in this case involved a experimental treatment, that go not well in terms of the day to day experience that there is a really physically. challenging eight months course of treatment, and I ended up spending about four of those months and isolation in the hospital fighting off every possible complication and that I could
and I think it is also because of the length of the trial and the uncertainty of it. It was my first indication that cancer was going to be as much physical challenge. For me as an emotional challenge. You know they say you can survive anything asylum, as you can see the horizon or an end and states, and I think what was most starting with a sense of of constantly moving goal posts and, if not, quite being sure what was going to be on the other side. Of that very, very literal trial and what the ended up like for me, was lifesaving bone marrow transplant, with my brother Adam as may donor, and then two more years of chemotherapy but in all of this in and my ended up being nearly four years. I think that's the thing that I kept coming back
I'm kept being surprised by again and again was that this is as much a physically grueling experience as it was an incredibly psychologically trying one. So how did you manage your emotions? How did you tend to your psychology, while in this. Awful excruciating situation. You knew I was someone who had always been a higher cheaper before my diagnosis said in our ports. Less on later to get into the best possible school I could go to in to get us our support to attend and I really like I up until you know, my Agnes had spent my twenty two years on the planet, preparing for life, and so,
not first year. I felt in a couple of things at the first. Strangely resistance of Relief to no longer have to be able to participate in, and the kind of things heidi of accomplishment. Suddenly the states for dramatically low you don't know what I couldn't work. I couldn't study my pet me no were over the moon. If I walked one block around the house for the first time in my life, I had very few expectations, but a double edged sword is that was feeling I sense of deep frustration and anger at this
feeling that my life was stuck that my life salts over before had really begun, and so the thing that ultimately helps me after the first couple of months of trying to set the world record for the number of craze anatomy episodes botch consecutively. That's all I did for those first couple of months was returning to practice and elevates turn to in my most difficult passages and not the sterling, and I began keeping the journal every single day and turned into a kind of reporters book. I've ever shot down. You know overheard snippets of conversations between the nurses. I would write about the new patients have his befriending. I would write about all the aspects of the almost experience that felt taboo and impossible to talk about. I read about in fertility. I wrote about you know
like to fall in love, far falling SEC. I wrote about all of that and something about that act of Pudding pen to paper and the privacy of notebook gave me a sense of narrative control. at a time in my life right, had to see so much control to others to my disease, to my medical team to have forces beyond my comprehension. I doubt whether journaling in a second and what that lead to. But you mentioned there are sort of this interesting and maybe seemingly contradictory pair of responses, relief and anger at the stubbornness dwell for a second on the relief me wait when you talk about that. This,
Having spent twenty two years, I believe, use the phrase preparing for life. It just reminded me of a comment I once heard from a young man who was in college at the time he was into meditation and he was saying that when he got into meditation. He realized that much of his life had been a pre game and that he was never awake for the whole game, which was always right now. Aids is that resonate with you absolutely resonance and now, I think now more than ever fur for college students for high school students in this age of highly competitive. and MRS Jensen and social media there's so much pressure to make yourself into these smartest most prolific. Most productive shyness version of yours off and
yeah? In that sense, it did feel like a pre game. I felt like I was constantly hustling and constantly working and constantly striving and so we have. This thing happen that I haven't chosen, but that hit the pause button on everything you and when I got my diagnosis, I lost my job. I lost my apartment. I was living abroad in Paris and working as a paralegal. I lost my independent soon and suddenly found myself back home an absolute New York and my childhood bedroom, which is obviously not the plan, not my my when your plan, my five year plan or my ten year plan for that matter, but in a way to have an element of of agency or choice for me, for the first time in my life did feel like a kind of forced exile from
Craig AIM, and I didn't have the sense that you know pretty much right away. With my diagnosis, my relationship to time changed. I couldn't think about the past because it represented you know a life that I was no longer living. I couldn't think about the future, because when mortality hangs in the balance. The future can feel like a very scary place, because you dont know if you're going to exist in the future and sign the strange way I felt pinned to the present. I thought hyper present for the first time in my life to the present, like that, you did have some agency, of course, and you you made a really normally smart, but a wise decision
two to revert to the practice of journaling. Just by way of context, I want to say something that listeners might not know, which is that you had d career you. You made them working as apparel legal, but in Paris, but you you had the career ambition of becoming a war correspondent. I know I know a little bit about that, so personally, so I'm just interested to hear about that before we dive into what you did with the journal. while you, while you were saying that lot, why hide why earth. Would anybody want to be a war correspondent Flynn question when that I suspect you have your own answers till I was born in New York City. Above my parents are immigrants. My dad is from Tunisia in North Africa, and so I'd always hide. great interest and in North Africa and the Middle EAST said love there ass a kid. I said to you too broad there, major dinner eastern studies but
also had this. This love affrighting and you know I felt this hence as price sure, to choose a more pragmatic Ashley viable route and said the idea of like good educating college doing and unpaid internship at a magazine, or something like that. I did not feel like an option for me, but journal as I did feel like We are not necessarily either a financially lucrative career, but something that was viable and that had structure, and so that's what I set out to do and right before my diagnosis, I got what I thought was gonna, be my first. You no small break by was an opportunity to interview for a position, a stronger in Tunisia, Britain, the early weeks of what was later known as the Arab Spring
and it was one of those moments, here in Europe. The twenties and you are not quite sure who you are or what you are doing, but you see a path towards a vocation that feels like something that somehow make sense her that alliance your interests and who you are, and so this notion of picketing a foreign correspondent or a war correspondent was very much that for me, although of course I never got to do that and never made it to myself MT of interviews and in a strange way. I found myself in a very different kind of conflict zone job you, you are aware, corresponded just the firing experimental treatments. Are you not bullets? Let's talk about that. You launched a project called life, interrupted
How did you come about and what was it? So, as I mentioned that first year of treatment, I really went into a deep retreat at his writing compulsively some might say incessantly, The privacy of my journal, but I really didn't have any sort of career aspirations, it seemed impossible to imagine what kind job I could hold or what kind of career I could create from myself from the confines of a hospital bed. But I ended up. Reading a lot about freedom. low and and doing a lot of research on our long lineage of bedridden artists and writers and Thinker
people like Virginia Wolf who had managed to take illness and whatever shape or form had arrived to them and to transform it into some kind of creative crest or something maybe even useful to others and so, as you know, I learned more about these different people. I began to think what I could do from the confines of my bed, my hospital bed and leafing through my journal, I realize I had quite a bit of source material and so like the good millennial that I am, I decided start a blog, but I took very seriously and I gave myself deadlines. I help myself to a high standard but really expected nothing to come of it. You know, nurses, but come to my hospital room and I'd say: can you come back in full of ours? I have a deadline, but of course these were entirely suffer
Listen. My readership at that point was likely. Gonna consist of my parents and, if need be, my grandmother, but I felt really good to have a job to do other than syn being a patient and- and it was that that sense of of agency there. I was fine in writing in editing and exercising of those muscles that I haven't felt in a long time and shortly after my blood launched. I was approached by another. At the New York Times who asked me if I might want to write an essay, and I propose and said that I right away we call on that. I wanted to report on from my hospital bed and, in addition to TAT, pitched a video series to go with that. That was pretty good,
that's where they re Jazeera. While you know this is this is interesting little project you're going on here. We should write us an essay you're like actually gonna. Let me take over a chunk of the most venerable newspaper on earth and an populate that I live I say this with admiration, but say: I'm not a presumptuous person, and even at that moment I knew it was wildly presumptuous of me to pitched us, but there is something about cancer that had made me brazen. I kept returning to four, simple words: no time to waste yeah and that's what it felt like for me. I didn't have enough time to purchase a fact. Checker too slowly make my way. I was staring down this bone marrow transplants and I felt a sense of urgency to do the things I wanted to do now,
And even dwell on that for a second, because it's interesting the you you put it in the negative like that being presumptuous in, and this may not be the case if you but I'll just say from my own personal experience, one of things I like to do is talk to people about their careers and so many of the people. I have these the conversation you could even call em like mentoring conversations are women, and I noticed this a sheepish nervous about asserting themselves or being ambitious, and I see what my wife, who who is who struggle a lot with impostor syndrome are not speaking out of school. Here she spoke about this publicly and I I almost never. I can't I'm searching my mind to think if I can come up with the time. We have heard this from a male, and I can't right now come up with one. And so I spent a lot of my time when I'm having mentor governs ages like cajoling people into being more of noxious there. I go with the priorities you know like, but do or written up choice would
I say facetiously, but I I I applaud you for doing that. I think that was. That was awesome, that you did that and if there are people out there who may fall, the same sort of psychology that you may have fallen prey to, and I dont really I'm just drawing conclusions based on your words, then I would say that you should look at what so like a dead end and go for it It's interesting and I think you're you're, absolutely right. I've been recently observing the number of thank yous and apologies an x, mission marks and my own email correspondence and the email correspondence from other women I receive and- and I can't think of anything man that I've corresponded well, who expresses gratitude and remorse and with its free He uses the exclamation marks in the same way. Women doing. I do think. There's this sense, whether purse,
I believe it or it's a kind of social performance that you do, and, conversely, transfer you have to mitigate as a woman, any sense and being too ambitious and and brazen. I that's something I I've had to do a lot of work around and damage dive and to end my impostor syndrome of was decade, something that's a kind of endless work for me. But I do think you now, especially as writers, the language we use matters, the language we use to describe her career trajectories to describe the decisions we make matters, and thank you for young fir for noting that I've had a really serve wake up to it, because
Mom was an unremitting, ass kicker who knew no became one of the first women to become a full professor medicine at Harvard Medical School and was just it just a complete bad but not everybody's, like that in my mom was able to resist some of the more noxious messages from the larger culture along those lines of previous guest. On the show someday. I really admire name Eliseo, Menendez she's, a journalist and currently with the MSNBC. She wrote a book called the like ability, trap. Where she talks about a lot of the issues you're you're Talkin, about their just so just as a side note. In any event,. You succeeded with your quote: unquote presumptuous pitch ass. I tell them but more about what came about as a result of it. I remember, as I was having this conversation- is actually waiting for a biopsy results,
My mom is sitting next to me and I was in this hospital gown and I turned to her and eight. Since I have the fun I jumped up and down and a screen and then I burst into the earth Of course, they felt tremendous excitement. I never been published before I never had a by lions, and this is a very big deal too. He, but I also had this in a tool realisation of now I actually have to figure out how to do this and the next eight weeks leading up to my bone marrow transplant. I think I pray wrote something like twelve or thirteen columns, knowing that I wasn't going to be well enough to maintain that weekly pace
once I started the bone marrow transplant process, but more than that, I was learning how to write a column. I've never done anything like that, but something about their short. You know eight hundred bird installments works for where I was that I have very limited energy, and so I wrote and ten minute burst staggered throughout the day. Entirely from bad and without you thinking about it. And these terms I was really having not just to Caen. my limitations and to accept them, but to fine workarounds, and so in this and survival, and and and the work that I was doing, became its own kind of creative act and the two felt very much intertwined so the com in the video serious interest. Called life interrupted launch my first week in the bone marrow transplant unit, and it was this confluence of both my
my biggest stream at and my biggest nightmare and fear, and it was very slanting, but what I haven't really thought about because to stir the active physically writing these coms. to use my brain and this new We all have is focused on with what was going to happen. far and like I mentioned that future had become a scary, place, so I wasn't really thinking about what would come of these experiences but when the column lunch. I remember waking up the next morning to hundreds of notes from raiders around the world who we know some had Ben sex offender had cancer, but many of them were having all kinds of life interruptions and
me, after a year of existing and in total isolation in our shuttling between the hospital, in my tells her bedroom, to feel that sense of connection to fill Kind of conduit to the world outside my window was no small gift. So what kind of subjects for recovering in the com? I wrote about all the topics that I found it impossible to discuss with my loved ones. I read about sexual health about fear. I read by built, read about anger, but when I was very interested in doing was reporting on this experience real time, because I think you know there's somebody books that are told from the perspective of someone who has survived.
After traumatic event that our many years out, but when you're in the trenches of whatever that experience is When you don't know how your story is going to end ass, a very deferents Brian station experience, and I were to capture that uncertainty. I wanted to write about the things that if I did survive, I will hopefully have you know some helpful in Asia that that would make such sat. I wouldn't even experiencing the same kind of a throwaway bad I really, I think, have had been most interest said and my career in those kinds of in between places in those states are topics set
mood easy categories asian, where your kind of stuck in a nominal state, especially after my transplant in no longer had leukemia but was at a very high risk of relapse. I'm so doing seven days of chemotherapy every three weeks I was still very much. And a place of isolation. My immune system had been completely obliterated by major That's why I wasn't allowed to go out in public and if I did, I had to wear a face mask and gloves which of course, is now a familiar experience for all of us, but I also doubts and a kind of in between us that I think a lot of young adults, Filbert you're you're, not a kid, but you are not a fully formed adults. Yeah speeches you may want to be, I had the thought what Europe was soon to talk about subliminal spaces in between
this. Would it be fair to say that actually looked at from a certain angle, all of life is at an end between us. Yes, you're right, we all exists. No imminent space were all kind of terminal. Patients were here on this earth, for her are finite period of time that the epoch graph and my book is from the gas servant, is one of my all time. Favorite lines. Around his throat and told us, it is all life, and so in that sense, in a word, were all in and in between place and as much as we like to think of sickness and health as binary most of us depending the day exists somewhere along that spectrum. The border between those two realms is very poor
ass, something that we all have to reckon with an eye seer with covered, I've. Just how can you ass? Our lives are and yet we are, as the Buddhist Master, Trojan has said we are all programmed for denial, there's something about the human condition that doesn't quite let us take in our mortality. I often comparatively trying to get one. Cats. To look in the mirror, you just do it, you know or try to put two magnets together. They won't quite touch, and I don't you know, cool don't quite know why it is. There are lots of practices but as a men and by the catholic tradition is momentum more where you carry around like a stone in your pocket and touch it and just remind yourself you're going to dye it, and he said it one can get better at this, but it it's requires a lot of work.
Have you now that you are out of that situation? We should talk about how that situation resolved your healthier health travails, but did do you find yourself forgetting once in a while that, sir, before death, it's all yeah? I forgot all his home. I have moment site this morning where I knew we were gonna. Have this conversation and having a bad to end. I rushed in took her sour and then I found totally ridiculous because couple years ago. I had no here and so to be worried about about here today, especially on a per capita. Is you know a level of absurdity that I'm fully aware of, but I also think that there is very good reason for why you know we,
we cannot have that heightened awareness of our mortality if we were all to live every day as if it were last we'd, go bankrupt and probably make terrible decisions in the world, but likely implode and so I've? to the light and those moments of forgetfulness because they feel like a real marker, as as progress in and healing from me, the flip side of that that you know when I wake up in the morning, all often remind myself when I was at my sickest and my energy was so limited that I could do about three things every day, I could answer an email I could watch a movie. I can see it but I really had only enough energy to do three things. Three simple things, and now, when I go into,
day I use that as a kind of saw exercise for myself. If I could only do three things today, what are the things that would fill most important, most rewarding most nourishing and of course you know, I had the privilege of having more energy and being able to do more than that, but it's been a useful clarifying exercise for myself, but I think it does take deliberation and deliberate intentional practices in order to get this inter molecules. This, to strike this balance. That you're, describing between being aware of our own Pinatubo, add also have you no enjoying the luxury of forgetting it because with it, because I
got us ahead of ourselves in the narrative. Can you didn't answer you at some point? As I understand it, you were told your cured my right about that gas there. So, after about four years, I was told it was done with treatment. I had my port removed this little device and planted beneath the surface of my skin, through which I got you know everything from chemotherapy to stem cells. Blood transfusions over the years and as the surgeon jerked right before you remove that you said: congratulations, your being deported, which, of course, with a problematic the unsung loved all. It also felt very apps. I had this sense of I'm finally done and I'm going to return to the kingdom of the well. But that didn't happen, as I very quickly realized it sure is
where the hard work of healing ends in a lot of places where it begins. So when we talk about that in between place, that's very much, but I found myself on paper. I was better. I was cured, but off paper I was reeling from the wreckage of those four years of treatment on my body. On my mind, I was grappling with PTSD, which wasn't something that I was aware of and all the while. I felt ass, an enormous amount of pressure, too, of course be grateful to be alive, but somehow to follow that that heroes journey that's often projected onto survivors where you, you know,
merge, better and braver and stronger and wiser for what you ve struggled and suffered through, but that that lesson, but it felt like for me you know, that's probably the most lost I've ever found in my life. I was struggling with depression and anxiety and an PTSD and very much why to find my footing among the living again, but having no idea how to go about doing that. I think you were right about considering yourself illicit. This will be a revival of the term we used earlier. You consider yourself, an impostor in the world are the living yes, and in this strange way you know, I found myself missing the hospital. I found myself on the splashing that I could get sick again, not because I actually wanted to have cancer, but because
I understood the world of the hospital, I knew how to navigate it. I belonged there. I had befriended, you know so many patients. It was the outside world that had grown foreign and frightening to me, and I very much felt like an impostor among the living. So how did you you're you're quota quote cured from leukemia? But your suffering with anxiety, depression, PTSD. How did you? What kind of treatment did you seek out? I didn't think out any treatment, enlarged because no one really prepared me for the challenges of survivors, sharp and so forth, time? I didn't understand what was wrong with me. You know I could see that I certain physical, long term, side, effects from a treatment and said I would go to make
I'm college. I served my medical team and talk to them about that, but as far as the invisible and prince of illness, the grief and the the heartbreak and the psychological and pensive that experience, I didn't have an understanding of where to turn to and who to seek guidance from, and so when I ended up doing was basically creating a kind of ritual for myself: you know we have these rights of passengers is ritual eyes. killing ceremonies that help us through moment of transition, funerals and meetings. We have baby showers, we have permits fastened all these ceremonies allow us to bridge that distance between longer and not yet. For me, I didn't have a kind of right of passage to help ease my way back
to the kingdom of the well, and so what I ended up doing was creating one for myself and I learned how to drive and decided to leave home for a couple of months, and I. Bird friends, car went out my apartment and embarked on, solo, fifteen, some mile road trip around the United States and where I went in and sought out. Some of the different people had written, worse in response to the call for the earth about their own moments of reckoning, their own moments of being stuck and that limit all and between place and tat, was ultimately but allow me to begin even just confronting, but it was that I was experiencing and confronting the very real privileges, but also the very deep
challenges of surviving something that will start to begin survivable. How did it help you confront it? I think there's a kind of America of censorship. Around survivor ship whether you're, veteran returning from war. There's again like I said, the sense that you somehow are one of the lucky ones, and- and while that may be true it I think, can also make it difficult to talk about the physical and psychological toll of surviving a trauma, and so too have people who have lived some version or some degree of the same thing I was living and to be able to
have frank conversations with a new experience for me, and I called the different individuals and I met my room guardians because I very much felt that way to me. They were a kind of bread crumbs trail through that wilderness of survivors shop. I know you ve turn this into a book. Can you tell us about that?. After the book is called between two kingdoms. It's my first book. It's a memoir, and it's really. about the importance of her analyse and on our relationships and and that road trip that I ended up. Embarking on to visit these different strangers. Much more my conversation with so like a Jawad right after that.
You may not be feeling down and out and depressed or like you're out a total loss. But if your stress stresses high your temper a shorter than usual or even if you're starting to feel strain and any of your relationships, you could probably use the chance to unload unload distress and get it out talk to someone who's completely unbiased about your life, someone who isn't going to jail you or take sides on anything. When you feel like you can't turned a family or friends to discuss what struggling you therapy can help better help is customized online therapy that offers video phone and even live chat sessions with your therapist. So you don't have to see any one on camera if you dont want to its much more affordable than in person therapy, and you can start communicating with your therapist in under forty eight hours, unload the stressors and get some unbiased feedback. You be pretty surprised at what you might gain from it see if it's for you, this pod cast a sponsored by better help
and ten percent happier listeners get ten percent off their first month at better help, dot com, slash happier, that's, b e t, t e r, HD, LP, dot com, slash happier, food share them or the most important take always for you from from all of this to the owners, the roads all of it. I reminded us man. I met on the road this guy named rich and he said something to me that at the moment and since then is something I think about a lot he said ever we travel, we actually take three trips. There's the trip of packing and preparation and excited
anticipation, there's the trip that you're actually on which for me was the road trip and then there's the trip that you remember. But the key is to stay present in whatever trip you're on without allowing or thoughts to time travel, and so I think that is one of the biggest lessons I grappled with both a lesson and its aftermath and that I grapple with this book, which is the question of how we learn to swim in an ocean. of uncertainty and which, of course, were all doing all the time. These moments when mine, your life is appended you can felt subsumed by that sense of uncertainty and so
That was my work and in writing the spoken ass. My my constant work, this learning to swim in the ocean of not knowing well that that sounds pretty Buddhists and it sounds like what we ve all been dealing with an living through it. Endemic you know we especially the beginning. We had no idea where this thing was gonna go now I mean that still true, but really true. At the beginning, and it's just a reminder that the ground was never stable under our feet or as life meditation teacher Joseph ghost goals likes, to say very simply, anything can happen at any time, and you know when we ve lived through something like that and at any rate this in the back. You know whence the ceiling on you, you no longer assumed structural stability. You have to learn to live a long fault lines and away in a light. My twenties were a kind of peach. The core issue
learning to live along fault lines, but more than that, I think you know in these these moments of heightened uncertainty, our isolation. We have the power to curb transmute whenever that circumstance is into something into a kind of creative solitude or into a sense of connection, and so for me that seeking out that kind of creative solitude seeking out those unlikely connections across the globe has been my way of, of learning to live along those lines. So the punchline or punchline here is that I don't mean to be club. Is. wherein the situation were all on this bus and we may- I'm not a road at any moment.
the scary and its non negotiable sounds like the best coping mechanism is to make friends with the other people on the bus. To make friends with the other people in the basin to make friends with yourself through some kind of creative outlet? and you don't have to be a writer- you don't have to be an artist but to find some mode of expression where you can give ink to the things that feel indescribable or uncontainable in terms of the human connection you made on you, on your road trip. Dismay I'll ask about one presently, apparently, amid a death row. Inmates in Texas is at my right about that, yes, yeah he was a young man by the name of Queen Jones Little Gi Q, as is called in the book some who never been sick before that had written this column about what I described as my in conservation, reflecting on and the
parallels in the language we use around sentencing and also diagnoses, and someone had sent him this com and he wrote me a beautiful letter reflecting on our shared experiences of isolation and facing mortality, and we struck up a correspondence, and so he was probably one of the most powerful stops on that road trip, but I think it is very much someone who's done this to things that were talking about now. He's spent you more than half his life in solitary confinement on death row reckoning with what he done and who he's been and doing that through learning, how to write and and and more than that, letter writing and really, sharing that
and ability, but others most of them complete strangers, and I think that's been my experience. Some certainly quince experience, which is that when you dare to write or to sheriff vulnerable IE, there is a kind of reverberation that happens were vulnerability. Begets vulnerability, begets vulnerability. So even if you're someone on solitary confinement on death row or someone isolation and hospital room as I was, there are these opportunities for for connection. I want to put a five point another because there's a way in which, terms like connection and vulnerability can slide by people because it you know there,
trading in the area of cliche, even though you know that the fresh anything about cliches is that they become vitiate because their true but didn't challenges to revive a five equally shaped by coming up with new ways to talk about it, and so I just want to make sure that doesn't slide by people the the the I think you're making, especially with the vulnerability begets vulnerability, begets vulnerability. Is that if you take a risk and tell somebody what's going on for you in a real way, that is likely to encourage them to separate gate and on and on and then were dropping Masks were dropping, our persona were driving our curated instagram profiles and actually getting to know one another and therefore were all getting more comfortable on the bus, which again is on a road that is bumpy. At best, am I restating your thesis with some faithfulness
You are thank you. How are you doing now? I'm doing really. Well, I'm nine years out from my bone marrow transplant, and a strange way, I think during the pandemic felt a sense of a return to a kind of familiar state, and so I have had to be. You know extra careful because of my immune system, but I've also delighted and in my world quieting and slowing down a little bit in the first year, and so now as as the world opens back up and as we all are in this process of re entry being reminded daily of it How have similar in a lot of ways it fails to how it felt when I was tasked with a very different kind of re entry others years ago. I do want to go back to something you said before.
I back the bus analogy: it's not only make friends with people on the boss. It's also make friends with yourself. What have you learned about that? Because you know you talked about not recognising yourself in the mirror. Having lost your hair in your eyebrows, gotta be hard for somebody who's a kid And you're twenties- and you know I really getting in such the unreliability of your own body and the fallibility of your own body I lifted his hero. You free associate a little bit about what you said: and on having a relationship yourself. Given all of this, I think illness for me was an experience of having all the artifice stripped away, be poorer or certain values, or even people in my life and what was left at the end of of that process were the raw facts
of who I was even I didn't see. Relief in the outside looks the same way I had a, but also but felt most meaningful to me and I'm kind of fascinated by how these moments a heightened awareness of our mortality unveil and and review your Armas prime, all savage selves, and so I learned a lot about myself and you know those years if on this, in a way that I think probably taken a very long time for pre diagnosis. Twenty two year old mean to accrue, and so in a way s illness was an experience sing of inexperience, of unveiling of losing my hair of losing my job of losing all these kind of outside markers. Who, I was
as an really going beneath that this current face of my life, has been trying to live into the possibilities of that knowledge that are required, you say more about exactly what you mean by that living in the possibility of the knowledge you require. What is that look like in in a day to day life when the the questions I please return to when I was at my success, was: if I survive this, it has to be, for something has to be the live, some kind of meaning for happy life. Otherwise, what's the point of of going for all of us and so the answer as to how to go about that has looked very different over the years. But I think that the big thing that I come back shoe is
a sense of wanting to keep that artifice at bay and of not letting myself get to tangled up wrapped up in these kind of outside the markers of of who I am and and to stay in that kind of tender, stripped down place and to seek factor to that? But I think you know it. People always say that when they have near death experiences, they have a pity. Is that what they like to change and who did wannabes? So I think the simplest faded save
I am saying is tat. You know there's the peasant he and then there is the application of the opinions and to your life data so interesting and they have experienced out on medication, retreats rival, all sorts of business, and I go back and revert to being a shrunken rail, countless ways. So what I'm curious? What are the biggest obstacles for you between the activity in the application of the abyss? Me, God, that's a very good question: Instagram yeah exactly you know, I think, and the iron here ass. We started this conversation by and by talking about that anxiety of accomplishment and that kind of culture of constant hustling striving, and so I think,
You know something that I have been working on a lot, and this last year is having more he's in my days and and not pushing and striving as much in part, because I can't you know I pay for it physically, but I pay for it and other ways, and so I think in some ways. Yeah Instagram is one of the impediments that kind of culture of constant comparison by there. It's too, you know. Other people are our past versions of ourselves and these kind of constructed standards that we set for ourselves, but that make it difficult to slow down and to actually take a pulse check and
yeah figure out, not just where you're going, but maybe more importantly, why Karla less pressure from me while it while we're being critical of Instagram, lay just push you to be too late to explore? Another critique, I believe in your book you explore corrosive critique of the wellness herself care industry. Can you can't tell me a little bit about that? Yes, I have at a very located relationship to the boundless industrial complex. I imagine like a lot of cancer patients. Do anything that shocked me pretty much. The day I received my diagnosis was the amount of unsolicited medical advice I received about how to cure my leukemia with everything from juice. Cleanse is too apricots seeds to coffee animals, and I think
you know in going through that experience to I've kind of hard to develop and detector further ways and lets. You know, armless mobile are most SEC are often the people that and I'm falling prey to misinformation, from the Wallis industry are being taken advantage of back I've. Really. The hard way to have to approach my health as a journalist might to do my research You got my second and third opinions to speak the two fellow patients to really are myself for this much information and research in due diligence as I can so that I can be the kind of,
forget it. I need to be for myself and now all of us frankly do so they take away for people. Listening is might be of employees, let me guess easy to get enchanted by whatever the latest wellness trend, maybe you're some glossy article, you see somewhere on social media or in a magazine, but do your research and and and think carefully before you dive into something that you think might be miraculous or is being sold to you as such. And the last thing I just add to that, as you know, we live in a closer that's constantly striving for some perfect state of wellness, feather that's interior or some level of fitness, or it's the way that we look, and I know you know that for me, since emerging from cancer treatment You constantly be striving for that set of policies to live for
ever mired in dissatisfaction, and so I've had to release any expectations of a feeling, or unwell, or of aiming. First, in a rush like state of a house and said I've had to learn to set myself as I am an end to exist somewhere and not messy middle something. should all be striving to do before we go be great. If I can not, you too remind us all again about the name of the book where we can get it any other places where we can get content from you on on the inter webs, etc, etc. Cages plug everything, please I'll, do my best and our trying not to felt presumptuous as yeah so A memoir is caught between two kingdoms: nets available.
Anywhere that books are sold, and I also founded a creative community called the isolation journals during the pandemic. Where, every week menus letter, I send out a diffrent journaling prompt from an artist orchestra writer. Thought later and it's free project. It's been really really beautiful and in some ways, has yeah married all of my interest in and, alas, decade of really turning to creative expression, ass, a form of healing and connection and ends self examination yeah. If you gonna mobile, Sate, silica July dot com. I have everything there from the New York Times gone to the books to the new Sutter
such a pleasure to meet you congratulations on the book and thank you for coming on things some extent in Spain and honour. Thank you thanks again to so later The show is made by Samuel jars, Gabrielle Superman, Dj Cashmere, Justine, Davy Maria were tell and Gent point With audio engineering by ultraviolet audio, as always a hearty salute, my ABC News comrade ran Kessler Josh CO hen we'll see while on Wednesday, four a brand new episode with Doktor Delete Jest day who is a scientist and medical doctor who has studied wisdom and how to get the wisdom of old age right now. Fastenings she was you always safer.
Transcript generated on 2021-09-13.