BACK TO “NORMAL”
I remember when I first found out I was pregnant with my son, Michael, almost twenty years ago. I knew there was this life changing event forming inside of my body yet as I walked, went to work and moved through my world looking normal on the outside no one knew. There were times I wanted to scream out, “I’m pregnant,” with the excitement and enthusiasm of someone holding on to a secret for a little too long and dying to let it out when the time was right.
This past weekend my other Michael and I took a much-needed respite for an overnight to Boston to get back to our version of normal or at least the illusion of normal. To go to the MFA to see the Matisse Exhibit and the Lodz Ghetto Photograph exhibition, to go to our favorite restaurant, to see a movie in Coolidge Corner that is not showing yet in RI. Normal. Hanging out, staying in a hotel, walking the Charles, having some nice delicious glasses of Pinot Noir, and trying to reconnect our lives the way we lived before breast cancer round two as we enter May.
There were the funny moments, like when I realized that I didn’t pack right and my only alternative for a warmer day than planned was a tank top. I don’t even think about bras at this point, wouldn’t put one on anyway since I feel like I have one on every waking minute. Not to rub it in, but I surely don’t need one for support. So when I looked at my new and I guess strangely improved figure in the mirror with just the tank top, to me I looked weird. Michael thought I looked amazing, but when fifty two year old boobs get a super lift, it takes some adjusting. Luxury problems I know, but I stared at the image staring back at me in the tank top and the flashback of my pregnancy came back. It was a similar feeling of wanting to shout out, “Yes, they are fake, but it is because…” This is absurd. I am almost embarrassed to write it aloud, but the fakeness which I am both humbled and grateful for is still a weird addition to my reflection back. I say it aloud because I am fully aware that shit could be so much worse. I am so lucky. But I still want to get the conversation front and center because our realities our simply this. There is always something worse, someone out there who has it worse, but in considering this, I don’t want to go the place of minimizing the angst. The angst is real. Even though I am fully aware of my good fortune, I must allow myself the necessary struggle with the trails of grief this type of life challenge brings about. To minimize the feelings is to subdue the natural cycle and I don’t think this is a healthy place either. So like every emotion, I over analyze its worthiness and try to wrap my head around the idea that every emotion is worthy, every emotion is a tool for growth and because I own them, I must allow them. I must not judge them. This is the perpetual balancing act. I think we all struggle with this concept, that just because our pain, our life challenges are what they are, they are ours. Because of this, because they are owned by us in our own life cycle, the cortisol hormone of fight or flight kicks in regardless of our comparisons to the “shit could be worse” inclination.
I just didn’t feel comfortable walking outside with just a tank top even though I was warm, I felt odd with myself and I wasn’t ready to expose the new part of me yet. Remember these babies do not move, so as I walk and I move, they stay put. For those women out there you may think how lucky that is, but I think the process of this is slower than I had considered. I must ease into this. I realize that the world is not judging me, frankly no one is probably even noticing, but this is really not the point here. I am noticing. I am feeling this change and I need to be ok with the exposure. It is a process, one that I am gradual and patient with for a change.
I don’t know if it is an age thing or if it is a combination of doing “the work” and these are the fruits of my labor, but everyday I wake up I feel like all the little breakthroughs are adding up to a big awakening. The thing is that my struggles with this experience I am also enjoying. Maybe because I get to view this whole cancer experience from the platform of “caught it early.” I don’t know, but what I do know is that its teaching moments are definitely the awareness of how much I have previously judged my emotions, labeling them as good or bad rather than just allowing them as feelings that do not need a label. I am curious about whose voice the judgment voice belongs to. This is the work and if it takes this experience, this event to change its tone, its sound in my head to something different and improved, than this has been worthwhile in the whole spectrum of things. I am challenged by the work it has provided me and I am guessing that “the work” as I refer to it will never be checked off my endless lists that I am often the unforgiving taskmaster of.
I swear I don’t wear this shirt out in public but it definitely has the message I was thinking about.
This sums up my work nicely.