Lately I’m trying to see my challenges (large and small) as “opportunities for growth”. I put that in quotes because that very positive spin on things still seems a bit hokey to me. But sometimes I personally need to embrace the hokey and set aside my cynicism. I don’t think it would hurt me to do so. I wonder sometimes why I cling so hard to my dark and somewhat pretentious beliefs, especially when these beliefs inform my behavior, and sometimes my behavior is that of an ass-clown. Somewhere along the way I learned that smart people are cynical and critical, and since so much of who I want to be (and who I fear I’m not) is rooted in intellectual aptitude, I don’t allow myself to be happy. Sounds absolutely insane as I’m typing this.
This whole life is one big ass opportunity for growth. I am not who I was 5 years ago, or even 5 months ago. Cancer has transplanted me from one world into a drastically different one. I find myself uncomfortably vacillating between the two, only to come to the same conclusion over and over again-I am no longer who I was. Standing in front of the mirror obsessing over my scars-this is a way that I notice myself grieving the death of my former self, yearning for the person I used to be before all of this, because even though I wasn’t happy, in some ways the familiar self-torture is more manageable than acknowledging my mortality, which is what cancer has brought me right up against. And then I realize hours have gone by, I haven’t left my house, or even my room, and it occurs to me that I’m not dead yet (and I don’t plan on being dead for a long while), but engaging myself in front of the mirror (or worse, inside my head) isn’t exactly living either.
The tamoxifen caused serious visual disturbances, which is a rare side effect of the drug, so I’m no longer taking it. All I can say is that I believe my grandma was with me on the ride home from Canandaigua. My eyes started to feel a little tired and heavy, and my vision was slightly blurry when I was driving home on the thruway. Within 3 minutes of setting my purse on the counter at home, my vision went BLACK with small flashes of light. I couldn’t make out faces. I sat down on the couch for a second and tried to breathe through it, and I stared blankly ahead at the tv which was airing a commercial for Mazzola insurance. One second I was staring at a woman with long brown hair talking about insurance with green frogs at the lower corner of the screen, the next second, I saw black with patches of green where the frogs used to be. This lasted for about 10 minutes before I called the oncology nurse who told me to stop taking the drug and that they’d find me something else.The effect carried on for a solid 25 minutes or so. To be sure it was the effects of the drug before calling it quits, I went to the eye doctor for an exam. My eyes are good, I have 20/20 vision. Aside from the visual disturbances, I was pretty miserable on the drug. Anxious, weepy, ready to fight with anyone (mostly my mom), and lots of stomach upsets. Lots of night sweats too. All in all, my experience on the drug was pretty lousy. I believe there’s a reason my vision didn’t go completely black while I was still behind the wheel on a busy expressway at lunchtime. Its because I’ve got shit to do in this life.
Last night, I went to a memoir writing class at Writers and Books on University ave downtown. I missed the first class last week because I was too busy feeling almost-suicidal, thanks in large part to good ole’ Tamoxifen. When asked to introduce myself to the class of 9 people, I found myself stuttering and babbling all over the place. After my flop of an introduction was finished, I shriveled up, and existed inside of my head for the remainder of the class. I couldn’t even get through the exercise the teacher was leading us through because I wasn’t able to hear past my super-ego who was kindly telling me I was worthless and stupid and that everyone else in the class now knows how stupid I am. It probably seemed like I was frustrated with the class itself (actually, I know it did because I received a compassionate but concerned email from the instructor this morning), but in actuality, I was pretty pissed at my own thoughts, my own reactions, at the skeletal and beautiful bitch hissing in my ear, reminding me of all the things I am not. I felt like a closed circuit; the more I existed inside my head, the more my behavior sucked, which just kept the bad thoughts going, and so on and so on (I literally sighed-more like HUFFED-loudly. About 4 times. Like a child. I’m so charming).
I wonder what it would have been like if I was able to have extended just one crumb of compassion toward myself in the beginning of class after the self-deemed inarticulate and less-than-stellar introduction. I am, afterall, going through a whole fucking lot. I wanted to drop out of the class right then and there, and I drove the whole way home in tears. When I got home I was angsty and pissed so I decided to jump on my mini trampoline in my backyard under the stars listening to some Red Hot Chili Peppers-a much healthier coping mechanism than I would have chosen just 5 months ago. When I first started jumping, I was looking directly at the light from Pandora on my phone, because I was afraid that if I looked anywhere else, I’d fall directly on my ass and break it-the whole ass. And I was thinking as I was jumping that my choice to focus on the light of my phone is like any other choice of perspective I’m making at any given time at life. I chose to stare at the light of my phone because it felt safe and comfortable, but in doing so, I was missing the view of the stars overhead, the warm golden glow of the neighbors porchlight, the breezes brushing my face and bare arms, the fresh green smells of summer air on a humid night. I decided to carefully shift the direction of my bounce, so that I was facing the neighbors porchlight. As I began to transition my gaze toward the new focal point, I felt extremely uncomfortable and wobbly, like I was going to collapse any second. But I didn’t. And before I realized it, my mind was in awe of the stars above me, the sounds of night all around me, the whispering leaves in the bushes and trees, the faint buzzing of insects all around, the soothing yellowy glow of the lamp above my neighbor’s deck. I pictured myself breathing in this warm yellow light while I was jumping and I started to get blissfully lost in that, but then Tom Petty came on pandora and I had to start laughing at myself. A good friend said to me recently, “What doesn’t kill you makes you funnier”, so there’s that. I don’t know if I’m funnier, but I’m most certainly looking for the humor in things these days, because the bleak does not serve me.
Sometimes all thats needed is a bit of perspective, and some green tea (for the polyphenols).
I’ve realized that for most of my life, I’ve been sleeping. I haven’t been living authentically. Not with others, and most certainly not with myself.
I have lots of “opportunities for growth”. My cancer journey has been a powerful illuminator of these opportunities. And as it evolves, I’m sure more opportunities for growth, adjustment, reflection, moral inventory, change, and shifting will reveal themselves…