As I blink one of the many eye drops prescribed to me into my left eye with the door closed at work, I think about the term “new normal.” People have said it to me and I’ve said it to others, many times (not just about my situation but perhaps about theirs as well), but until right now, I didn’t realize just how much I hate that saying.
I understand the meaning behind it, but really, there is nothing normal about having to put 11 eye drops into your eye every day. There is nothing normal about having your eye clamped open and numbed and then injected with medicine to reduce abnormal blood vessels that have resulted from a rare tumor and lifesaving radiation 10 years ago. There is nothing normal about getting your body scanned, from your brain to your liver, at the age of 38 because you have something deemed “incurable.” There is nothing normal about not being able to physically have children because if you did, it could kill you.
What the hell is normal about any of this, I want to scream?
In fact, I take offense to this now, in thinking about it even further. People may say “Get used to your new normal” which I now translate to: This sucks, but what can you do? Get used to it. Does my life suck? Some days. Most of the time, not. Because I do everything that I can to make it not suck. I take a lot of responsibility for the fact that my life doesn’t suck, actually. Some of it is pure luck, like the fact that I was born into a great family, and some of it is worked for, like making sure that my relationships are deep and connected, that I don’t let myself stay in bed more than two days in a row, that I eventually stop eating those cupcakes and go back to the green juices. It’s hard work, this having cancer. And abnormal blood vessels. And kidney stones. Oh yes, pre-op appointment at 7am at the hospital, eye injection two days later, then surgery the day after that. May be a two part-surgery. The doctors won’t know until they put me under.
I am reading an awesome book by Brene Brown right now called Daring Greatly. She talks a lot about shame, vulnerability, and numbing. If I numb my feelings, will that be a relief? Then people will want to spend time with me more than if I was truthful about the shittiness of some of this, right? I am ashamed, at times, that my life does not look like everybody else’s (which is interesting: Since when have I ever wanted to be just like anybody else? Oh, when I got cancer).
And then I drive past a Mom putting her little one on a school bus. In her arms she’s holding an even smaller one, complete with winter coat and cute little winter hat atop her adorable head of curls. They wave as the school bus rolls on and then slowly head up the driveway, back to their warm house.
“That was going to be me,” I thought, as I drove by slowly, watching the whole thing out of the corner of my eye (my right eye, because don’t forget I’m almost blind in my left eye). Anger bubbled up, but it was quickly drenched in sorrow. I had always imagined being a stay-at-home Mom with two kids and doing exactly what my Mom had done: Make breakfast, put us kids on the bus, be there when we got home to talk about our day, have a snack, do homework, play, make us dinner, bathe us, read to us, fix our boo-boo’s, and just generally make us feel like there was no safer place than home.
Then I remember: That is not my life, nor will it (most likely) ever be. Nor am I sure that I have the energy for it to be nor am I sure that I want it to be anymore. So what can life be like, without children? Freedom. Connections and adventures with my husband that may not happen otherwise. Traveling the world. Diving into health and joy and peace and self-care and hobbies and writing and spending money on other things besides clothes and diapers and college and all of a sudden it hits me, the question: Do I live a small life? Is a life worth living without children?
It makes me gasp for air, that question. And then I think, “What’s wrong with a small life?” I think about how enamored our society is with people like the Kardashians who live a “big” life. How people with money and big houses and shiny new cars and kids whose names are Apple and North and those who don’t need really need to work (or work much) are revered upon. They look nice. They’re thin, and pretty (or hot). They dress a certain way, drive a certain car, do things a certain way because they have money. And because, mostly I think, the world treats them differently than it treats the rest of us.
Despite some of the great challenges in my life and the fact that, such is life, I don’t make $120 million dollars a year, is my life small, I again wonder? What would that look like? What would that mean? Do you consider a life filled with so much love that you want to burst every time you think about your friends and family, small? I certainly do not. The answer to my question. I guess I measure things in love, and if that’s the case, then my life is so big that it almost doesn’t fit on this planet.
And yet… One thing that I am realizing at the start of 2016 and through Brene’s delicious words is that I have kept my writing small. I have kept my gifts small. I am comfortable in my own little piece of this world. My “little” blog and my “little” circle and occasionally, branching out to other circles, but mostly just staying put right here so that I don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting. It’s warm here and comforting and nobody can critique me or make me feel small or less than (or they could. But I did my due diligence with dipping my toes in slowly and fresh with anxiety: Facebook. Tiny Buddha. Cancer Hope Network. All so supportive and loving!).
And then there is the fear again. That nasty little gremlin that lives inside of me (everybody has one) who I picture as a monster not just under the bed, but lurking out from behind this computer, which I use as an excuse to then keep my gifts “small.” It’s a fear of inadequacy, I suppose. Or as a teacher in grad school bluntly told me when I went to her freaked out about a paper even though I was doing great in the class: Fear of success. Fear of being asked—more like expected—to do something, and then fear of not being able to doing it. Or not wanting to. Disappointing others. Maybe even disappointing myself. Fear or not knowing how to do something! Oh how that scares me so.
My vulnerability– it makes me quiver just to think about not peeling off the layers, per se, but peeling off the layers and having people not like what they see, or hear, or read. Vulnerability, I’m learning, is actually the real key to being connected which we as humans are wired for. But if I took my writing out for a spin, a real spin, what if it was rejected? What if it was deemed “little” or “stupid?” What if I don’t know enough about what I write? What if somebody asked me to write something and then I got writers block and couldn’t? What if I published something and nobody read it? What would that say about me? What if the whole world found out about my story and judged me like they do at the Olympics, holding up signs (4.8… 4.5…7.5– cheers!– 3.2 gasps from the audience). What if everybody actually believes that my life is worth nothing because I do not have children? What if I could reach that utopia of having enough self-worth and enough confidence in my own life to not care what others think?
I believe that my life is worth living, that I am a valuable sacred member of this earth, children or no children, cancer or no cancer. I know it, but gosh I still wish that others could validate it for me (how cray cray is that?!). Oh how that vulnerability is so scary. And yet, without it, we wouldn’t be connecting like this, would we? And isn’t that what we all want, connection? Love? Joy? Perhaps this blog has been so therapeutic for me because of the vulnerability, and not in spite of it.
And so as we begin our 2016, I dwell in the possibility that the love will stay bright, and the gifts will be big.