While the word stupid has a negative connotation, it doesn't have to have one. For me, it’s the feeling you get when you're dealing with a new situation. It could be project at work, a new baby, or a health (or lack thereof) situation. With a project, you start with a lot of reading and it’s not until you fully understand what you’re working on that you can actually start asking the questions that will get you traction and help you move forward. With a new baby, you worry about what’s normal. “Is the baby too warm?” “Why is he crying so much?” “Will I ever sleep again?” With health situations, you can feel overwhelmed; you don’t know what questions to ask. At first you just go with the flow of what doctors tell you to do until you’ve gathered enough knowledge and started putting two and two together. At this point, you realize there are questions that you have to ask so that the answer to two plus two question does not seem to equal five.
The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know until you start to see the light. Unfortunately, even if someone tells you what something will be like, it’s not the same as experiencing it first-hand. You have to go through this phase.
Even if you've worked somewhere for years, a project with new subject matter can make you feel like you're just new to the company. I’ve worked on many of these projects and I’m always amazed at the time it takes to ramp up. As I become more familiar with more topics, the ramp up time is less, but that doesn’t mean I can by-pass the stupid phase. I’ve come in on projects partway through and, if possible, it makes me feel even more stupid. At least when you’re starting a project at the same time as everyone else, you have some company as you try to figure things out.
On the flip side, you may also find people who think they know and understand everything until you provide a fresh perspective and identify aspects or risks that no one thought of yet. Sometimes ignorance is bliss...at least for the project.
When you have your first child, there is the constant fear of making mistakes, especially if you believe any mistake you make can result in something terrible happening to your new baby. As time goes on, you gain confidence. You go from gingerly holding your baby to holding your child against your hip while you finish some other activity. You start to learn what is normal for your baby and what the various cries mean. It doesn’t mean that you have it down pat, but the periods of feeling stupid get a little less frequent. Although I’m no longer dealing with babies, I still feel stupid sometimes when dealing with my adult children. Each stage of your child’s development (regardless of the age) is a learning experience. No one ever has all the answers.
While there are books out there to help guide you and people who have been through it before, no one knows your child exactly the way you do. You just have to allow yourself the time to figure it out. The questions you ask to ensure your child’s well-being will change from the early days of being a parent. You will come to learn what resources you can trust (maybe your parents actually do know something) and who feels obligated to give you unsolicited advice just because you made eye contact.
In a Health Crisis
There’s nothing like a health crisis to give you an adrenaline rush, and not in a good way. You don’t realize just how much information will come your way even before you have a diagnosis. You can't possibly fully appreciate how difficult it will be to understand all the terms and concepts and how the results associated with those terms will impact what happens next.
For me, even before I had a breast cancer diagnosis, many of the tests I had were totally foreign to me and the words used to describe the results were like a whole other language. Until you’ve had cancer, about the only word that you may know is “stage” and even then, we (and I include myself in this group prior to having cancer) have no clue what the various stages mean. The only thing that people tend to understand (or think they understand) is Stage IV. That is the number that people know is the stage where the cancer has spread. On the other end of the spectrum, I learned there is a Stage 0 for breast cancer.
I bet you didn't know that you didn't know all the stages.
In addition to the terminology, there is an administrative aspect to cancer. A friend, who had already been on her own cancer journey, told me to start a binder so that I would have a place to store all the paperwork that would come my way. I didn’t listen. Since the experience was new to me, I didn’t fully appreciate how much information I would have to try and keep organized. Appointments with doctors. Appointments for tests. Instructions for those tests. Test results. The treatment plan. Lists of useful resources. Exercises to complete. Foods to eat or not eat. Treatment dates and times. Diagrams (especially hand-drawn ones by my doctors). Questions to ask and their answers. Receipts for things like parking. Yes, parking.
Storage of Information
While many of us store information on our phones, sometimes you just have to go back to basics. Sometimes a binder can be the best way to store your cancer-related information. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use electronic devices to store some information, but a binder is a good supplement for more detailed information. You can bring this binder with you to each doctor’s appointment so that you don't have rely on the doctor looking through your entire file before each of your appointments. It just won't happen. You have to be your own advocate.
Dates and Times
While you can add dates and times on your phone, for me, it just wasn’t the same as having all the information on a physical calendar or in an Excel spreadsheet. I used Excel to summarize dates, tests, doctor visits, test results, distances travelled (kms or miles), and expenses. This Excel spreadsheet saved me from looking at a barrage of paper or online resources to try to piece all aspects of my cancer journey together.
Electronic and Paper Combination
Even in this electronic world, there's still a lot of paperwork associated with cancer. For example, it’s best to get a copy of all your test results. Once your understanding increases, it’s easier to go back and look at the results you've already been given. It doesn’t mean that you will suddenly understand the medical jargon, but your grasp of it will improve over time.
There will be receipts associated with your health crisis. While you may not be thinking of your taxes at the time, down the road it’s possible that some of the expenses you incur could be tax deductible. It’s better to have receipts and then determine later whether they are expenses you can claim than to try to get receipts after the fact. Collecting receipts and recording distance travelled were two suggestions from my friend, and this time I listened. I even went one step further and started logging the receipts and the amounts in my Excel spreadsheet.
I became an accountant’s dream. Later, once I knew what I could claim, I had all the information summarized in one spot. I just removed the medical information before I filed my tax return. The country where you live will determine what you can and cannot claim, but at least you've got options if you have everything recorded.
Here is an example of the spreadsheet I used. Notice that I split the information for each medical facility. All the dates are sequential. I logged the time in and out because it corresponded to the cost for parking and gave me a sense of when I went for each appointment. Knowing the time was for my own personal interest.
It’s Okay to Feel Stupid
Ultimately, even with knowledge from other people, we all have to go through our own stupid phase for some aspect of our lives. This feeling is not a sign of stupidity; rather, it's an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. The important thing is to move forward regardless of this uncomfortable stage. Just recognize that you are not alone in how you feel. Be patient with yourself and others. It's just a phase.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.