As I mentioned in my last post, I have another post rumbling around in my head. This is one that feels much riskier to put out there ‘publicly’. It’s not full of news about good energy, healthy hugs, or cheery thoughts. Although I continue to experience those things, I also experience some darker thoughts and feelings, living right alongside the lighter ones. I share these for 2 main reasons: 1) because they’re real, and a part of my experience, and sharing them helps me to move through the process of healing; and 2) because it just might help others to give themselves permission to have paradoxical feelings living inside them—and not beat themselves up for not having it all figured out!
I’m now 2 1/2 months past my last treatment. I had expected to be reflective following treatment—you know—what did I learn from this? what will I do differently in the future? how has this changed my life? Big thoughts, wise assessments, deep analyses, etc. etc.
Instead, I have found myself so relieved to no longer be dealing with the exhaustion, lack of appetite, terrible taste in my mouth…and all the other things I complained about for the 5 months of treatment…that I usually don’t want to reflect on anything other than getting my flower gardens looking good so that I can enjoy them. It’s like the pendulum has swung from wallowing in misery, to wanting to put as much space as possible between that experience and my present daily living. Until now.
Very recently I have become more ready to reflect…or at least to begin the process of figuring out what all this has meant. Cancer (or other life crisis) doesn’t just affect us physically—it affects us emotionally…big time. It throws our emotional compass way off balance.
Actually, I’ve kept myself pretty busy now that I have energy once again. But some of my busyness is a way to avoid some of the feelings that I have about this past year. While I am happy that we have both made it through some pretty serious health issues, I’m beginning to feel some of the less-than-cheerful feelings that inevitably go along with changes in one’s life.
For example: anger. Do you ever feel angry, but don’t really have a target for the anger—at least no one that makes sense to get angry at? I’m angry that after taking relatively good care of my body for most of my years, I’ve ended up with 2 cases of cancer. In fact, sometimes that really pisses me off! It feels like my body has betrayed me, but who do I get angry with about that??? Me? God? Neither of those options make a lot of sense to me. So…I continue to trudge along the path of exercise and good nutrition, which supposedly give me a better chance of good health, but where are my guarantees?? I want guarantees, darn it all!!
Behind anger, of course, is loss, grieving, sadness. It happens to all of us on a regular basis whether we’re aware or it or not. We recognize the big losses—death of a loved one, loss of a job, diagnosis of a life threatening illness, etc. But life is packed with small and medium size losses also, and we end up grieving those losses whether we recognize it or not.
Ready for a lesson in grieving? In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the “mother” of grief research published a book called On Death and Dying. In it she described the stages of grieving, which I had to memorize in graduate school: DABDA: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These don’t happen in chronological order—that would be too neat a package! We bounce around among the 5 ‘stages’ over and over again as we try to come to terms with whatever loss(es) we’re dealing with. We may very well think we are comfortably at the acceptance stage when—boom!—we’re dealing once again with anger, or depression, etc.
So, as I became uncomfortably aware of my anger in the past couple of days, I (in my typical analytical way) started to reflect upon what losses I’m grieving. What am I mad about? In nutshell—I’m grieving the loss of optimum health, high energy, ability to do ‘all things’, a steel-trap memory (that doesn’t fail with names and other details), a spirited body (one that doesn’t groan to every command I give it). I’m grieving the fact that I now have fingers that have lost feeling and can’t fly across the keyboard effortlessly like they once did. I’m grieving that my feet ache after minimal use, and therefore I can’t take long walks like I used to. In my own “Pollyanna-ish” way, I didn’t think I’d lose this much this ‘early’ in life. I wasn’t ready! (I know, I know…when are we ever “ready” for a health crisis??..or any loss??)
But…a life crisis/loss will bring us nose to nose with our vulnerability, our weaknesses, our lack of control, our need for support. And that is at the crux of my anger, my grieving—namely that I AM vulnerable and weak in terms of having control over “time marching on”. And with “time” comes ailments, weaknesses, slowing of body (and mind?), aches, pains…and various heartaches and losses. Darn! I hate it when that happens!
Some who are reading this may be ready to shout a few questions in my direction: “Why are you angry/sad? Aren’t you thankful you made it through chemo and are on the road to better health? Don’t you realize how lucky you are, compared to the experience of many others? [As a matter of fact, I’m keenly aware of this fact. As I write this, my brother -in-law is at the U of M having stem cells extracted from his bone marrow in order to have a transplant next week. He’s had cancer for over 20 years, with tons of chemo treatments, and this is his last option.] Aren’t you overjoyed to have your energy back? Aren’t you looking forward to many years of good living ahead of you?” Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes! And as for the big question: “Why can’t you just accept that ‘it is what it is’?” Well…because, one doesn’t simply jump to stage 5 without having to at least tiptoe through the other less enjoyable steps!
Going through the grieving process doesn’t negate the fact that you’re also thankful for what you have. But ponder this thought: Being thankful doesn’t negate the fact that you can also feel anger and sadness over what you have lost. Just another of life’s paradoxes!
So, I’m currently slogging my way through Kubler Ross’s stages of grieving, trying to be patient with myself as I experience the less-than-cheerful feelings that go against my Pollyanna-ish nature. Let’s face it—I don’t like loss of any kind, big or small. I don’t like watching the aging process take its toll on me, or on others that l love.
And if anyone says “It is what it is”, I’m going to deck ‘em!! (Or, does anyone have the urge to say “This too shall pass?” That will get you a frown…not a complete decking. Ha!)
I warned you—reflective, turbulent, emotional, not cheery. That’s just where things are at for now…and that is fine! Really!