Saturday, September 30, 2017

Never Saw It Coming

As I approach the first anniversary of my reconstruction, I find that I have many more good moments than challenging, many more reasons to be grateful than to complain, and many more occasions to celebrate than to mourn. Yes, it takes a lot of work and energy to stay positive, but I do that work because wallowing in pain, anger, and misery is unacceptable to me. My life, with all its twists and bumps, is the only one I've got, and I refuse to waste it.

That said, every once in a while I am overcome with rage, despair, pain, and exhaustion beyond my power to fight. I wish I could see those moments coming, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet.  Thursday, when the news of Julia LoiusDreyfus' breast cancer diagnosis popped up on my screen at work, I was seized with a unexpected wave of crippling rage and hopelessness beyond my control to ride. I tried to swallow all of those feelings and keep working, but the lump in my throat felt like it filled my entire chest. I excused myself, found a friend in the hall, and asked for a hug, and silently shook with sobs as he patiently held me steady. Then I ran upstairs to the private bathroom and collapsed in a fit of burning tears silently screaming, "No more! Damnit, NO MORE!" I ugly cried. I really ugly cried, my face splotchy red and purple with a nose that glowed like Rudolph's.

I couldn't go back into the office looking like that, so instead found a tiny niche in the conference room between a sideboard and bench, grabbed a pillow, and clutched it to my burning, aching chest, fighting to stem the tide. Of course someone came into the conference room to work just a few moments later. The sight of me in a mottled heap on the floor startled her, but she did just the right thing. She sat with me. She didn't ask questions, she didn't try to fix it, she just sat with me so I wasn't alone. In those moments, that was exactly what I needed. Eventually I was able to focus on my breathing and  calm myself enough to return to work. Having a regular mindfulness meditation  practice helped a lot as I fought to recover myself. I was able to step out of my head for a moment and focus on the breath flowing in and out of my lungs. While I couldn't do that in the instant that the wave hit, I did get there more quickly than I could have in the past.

Being the Betty I am, of course I had to start dissecting the episode as soon as I could think again. And, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that I am not okay with not being okay. It would seem, however, that I am not as okay as I thought I was. I thought I was, "Fine," with all of it: breast cancer, double mastectomy, missing out on a giant chunk of the last year, reconstruction, much pain, and exhaustion that never seems to abate. I thought I didn't need to worry about not knowing what size or kind of bra I should be wearing, not knowing if the feeling would ever come back in my perky new breasts, and not knowing if anyone would ever find me romantically attractive again. I guess I was wrong.

I didn't realize that, after hurricane Harvey devastated so much of Texas, and Irma looked to do the same to us, disaster-prep and sleeping in the closet with the dog took a toll on me. I didn't realize how much I was feeling the bombardment of political ugliness. The vitriol constantly flung about like Mardi Gras beads in a parade attacked like tiny paper cuts to my, tender peace-and-love soul. One at a time they hurt, but bleed just a little. En masse, they can cause an excruciating exsanguination. The loss of another friend to this damn disease, the loss of a beautiful elementary school just down the street from ours in post-Irma electrical fire, and a mountain of post-cancer debt that I fear I will never summit, together created the perfect storm. My body, mind, and spirit said, "No more."

Now I realize it was too much. I am a painfully sensitive and empathic person. I have always known this, but apparently have never really learned how to handle it. Clearly I have work to do. When I started this breast cancer journey, and turned the focus of the blog to it, I promised myself I would be honest and show the good and the bad of every day so others would know that they were not alone. What I just realized today is that on bad days, I avoided writing altogether, rather than putting the negativity out there. I am sorry that I made that choice. It is so important for all of us to know that we are not alone in our anger, pain, or fear, regardless of our journey. I looked back at the brilliant book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton today and was smacked between the eyes with this gem. "My grief is a solid brick wall in front of me. I want to bulldoze through it, scale it, tear it down a brick at a time. I'm desperate to get to the other side of the wall so I can see what's waiting for me down the path." That is how I addressed my diagnosis and treatment from the first moment. Let's get through this so I can get on to the next part! Apparently that approach is only sustainable for a limited period of time. Clearly I hit my limit Thursday.

This entire post feels ridiculously self-indulgent, but it is the truth. I feel small, vulnerable, raw, sore, and exhausted from the energy it has taken me to be, "Fine," for so long. I feel foolish for thinking I could outrun all of the feelings that accompany a positive cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. I feel unworthy of all of the negative feelings because my cancer wasn't "bad enough." So many others face far worse prognoses and battles that mine. Who am I to presume to talk? Who am I to feel sad, angry, tired, or overwhelmed?

This week, I feel crushed under the weight of all of the questions that I cannot answer. However, I know that this will pass. Everything passes eventually. Everything. For now I can only focus on my breathing and, as Glennon so eloquently puts it, "Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That'll take you all the way home."

This evening the next right thing was to write this post. Once I hit Publish, I have no idea what the next right thing will be. I will be still and listen, though. I will be still and listen until I figure it out, and then I will do that thing.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Thank you for supporting me through all of the days, even when I don't know how to support myself. Please be gentle and show yourselves, and each other, the kindness you have shown me.


Peace & love

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton inspired me to create this.