The Monster with Wide Eyes

And just like that, July becomes August. All of a sudden I notice a shift in the air, difficult to describe in words but everything feels different; the rain, the heat breaking, the sun shifting mindlessly over the house at the end of the day, just a little bit earlier than even the day before.  The light has changed seemingly from July 31st to August 1st.  The last stretch of summer.

Summer always reminds me that the rest of the year feels like a completely different world than June-September, and it makes total sense. At this time of year we go to the beach (water has proven time and again to be cathartic to many of us, forget about the lobster rolls and sandcastles), we spend more time with family and friends, we take more days off of work, we make excuses to go get that ice cream cone that we may not “allow ourselves” in the winter or stop for a $6 iced coffee because it’s so blazing hot outside.  For me, my office becomes quieter, slower, and more relaxed.  The sense of anxiety and the rush to get things done just doesn’t feel as profound in the summer.  I love that it takes me 5 minutes less to get to work in the mornings (less traffic) and that when I get home from work there is still oodles of light and I feel like I have another half a day to get things done or take a walk or read before wanting to fall asleep in that deep slumber the way you do in the wintertime.

But we turn a page on the calendar and I can already feel the anticipation of the fall rolling around outside of Augusts’ edges. We know that we will have a whole month left of the beach and the light and the ice cream, and yet we start to feel the “Back to school” jitters with their  ads everywhere (just writing it makes me sick) and stores start to stock up on jeans and sweaters and boots and true to form, just as human beings so often do, we already have one foot in the door of autumn.

I hate it.

So I look to meditation to ground me, to keep me here, on Tuesday August 2nd, and nowhere else.  Not even this weekend when we fly down to Austin for a friend’s 40th birthday party.  As much as I want to be there already, I also don’t want to lose sight of today.  What miracles may I see if I am truly in tune with the present? It is so hard to be in the here-and-now.  We must practice if we wish to slow things down, to let go of depression around the past and anxiety around the future.

It’s an ongoing process, a struggle really. My mind constantly wants to be in the future as if I can somehow protect myself from anything that may happen if I think of it beforehand. If we worry about the future then we can prepare ourselves if something bad happens, right?

So not right.

So I tell myself that to live in the future is to create anxiety (and to live in the past is to create depression). But here today, I remind myself that no matter what may happen, I.Can.Handle.It.

And I have to keep telling myself that, because I don’t always believe it.

It’s always easy to say and not so easy to do. Don’t let the months in between scans ruin the days that you are lucky enough to have, I say to myself over and over again, as if my brain is trying to work out a complex math problem and the more I roll it around in my head the more I can figure it out.

I work on acknowledging my fear, instead of stuffing it deep down inside where nobody can ever get to it.  I picture a monster under my bed just like when I was a little girl and instead of pulling the covers up over my head like I so long to do, I wearily slide out from underneath the warmth of the bed and get down on my hands and knees.  And sure enough, there it is:  The monster lurking in the dark, just waiting to take me down.   “Hi Monster,” I whisper in the sleepy night.  It looks at me with wide eyes, just as surprised to see me as I am surprised that I can admit it lives there.  I get back up again and with a quick sweep of the room to see what else lurks in the dark crevices (who else can I worry about at 2am?), I pull the soft sheet around me and listen to the ceiling fan whirl.  The fear is there.  I have acknowledged it.  I am as scared as I will allow myself to be, and I begin my falling asleep ritual all over again as I put the state capitals in alphabetical order– anything so that I don’t think about death.  I have seen the monster, but now I need to move on to sleep and the next day and all of the good that lives beneath the fear.  If I start going down the rabbit hole of cancer at night, sleep will evade me forever.

Kris Carr says to invite your fears to tea (I’d actually much rather invite her to tea), and I am sure that you too can apply this to any facet of your life, for I know that I am not the only one who has fears. She believes that once we acknowledge them, process them, and work with them, then we can truly begin to heal.  One thing I know for sure is that the more I face my fears, the more I need coping skills.

My friends are very often supportive of me spending the free time that I have on myself; travel, spending quality time with SHL, geting that massage or pedicure, reading my book, meditating or going on spiritual or health and wellness retreats. But the truth is, all of us should probably be doing these things (or whatever feels “healing” to you), and yet we feel such a sense of heftiness on our shoulders to do for others, take care of others, and not appear to be “selfish” to the rest of the world.  So much of what we do depends upon how we think others will view us, doesn’t it?  Our kids, our parent’s, our spouses, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors?

I’m sure there are a lot of Mom’s out there who would love to get a babysitter or put their kids in front of a video and do something nice for themselves; go take a bubble bath, a long walk, read a magazine, call a friend (call me!), those things when your kids are young that I bet feel so luxurious.  And even though I don’t have kids, I still feel confident in saying that probably if women (especially) didn’t feel guilty, they actually could find the time to do more of these things.  (I don’t cook for SHL or do his laundry, instead I’m usually working out or taking a warm shower or meditating while he is making dinner.  Does this make me a bad wife?). But what would the world think if you left your kids once a week for a date night with your husband?  Or what if you spent the whole weekend away while your parent’s or a babysitter watched the kids?  What if you left them at daycare in the gym and spent 2 hours taking a class and getting a steam?  If you have that kind of free time, shouldn’t you be with them?  (And I understand that very often you want to be with them.  I’m talking more about the times when you need to work on self-care). Or is it OK to spend quality time with them, when you are really feeling happy and present, over quantity time when you’re so overwhelmed with life that all you want to do is cry?

I somewhat get it; as much as I can without being a mother. The only thing I can say with my own demands and pressures to be a good wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt and social worker (of which I take these resonsbilities very seriously) is that when I do for myself, I almost always do better for others.  Although I don’t have the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of a dependent (unless you count my husband, in which case I think we’d both agree that I’m the dependent in the relationship!) I still firmly believe that we have choices.

The truth is, I take advantage of life because things have changed.  I woke up one day to doctors giving me an expiration date. And I don’t live by this expiration date, I refuse to in fact, but it is an overall feeling that has colored my world:  Do now.  YOLO (You only live once).  No point in putting off having fun.  And I sometimes wonder what my life would look like right now if I didn’t have cancer.  SHL and I would probably have children, but would be having this much fun?

I often think to myself:  Years (and years and years) down the road, when I take my last breath on this earth, will I wish that I had lived out others dreams for me?  Will I wish that I hadn’t taken that day off of work?  Will I wish that I hadn’t spent money on seeing the world, or flying to be with a loved one?  You know the answer and so do I.

I feel that up until the diagnosis of an incurable cancer I had lived an amazing life filled with all kinds of deeply rooted treasures, it was just harder for me to see through the haze of depression, anxiety, and insecurity.  These things still exist, but I am more aware of how important it is to clear the cobwebs as best as I can so that the universe can give me what I truly want.

Cancer or no cancer, I hope that you can read this and relate and maybe decide that you too want to spend more time focusing on your own happiness, with the double whammy that not only will you be glowing and living a life fulfilled, but your family will the better for it.  It’s hard, of course it is.  I can hear you mumbling to yourself right now, shaking your head, “She doesn’t know how hard it is.  I’m working and I have two kids and my husband travels and I have no family in the area and it’s.hard.” It sure is.  I wouldn’t wish that kind of stress upon anybody.  But shift your perspective, make a change or two, and do for yourself as much as you do for others, and see what happens.  Is having cancer hard?  It’s the hardest thing that I have ever gone through, with the exception of losing the ability to have children.  SHL and I now have a life ahead filled with mysteries that nobody our age should ever have.

It doesn’t always work, I can tell you that. There are days when I have the resources to go get a massage or not have to take care of kids after a long day of work and yet I still struggle with carving out enough time to cook a healthy meal, work out, or even just figure out today what will make me happy.  So I empathize with you and want us to support each other in creating the happiest lives for ourselves possible.  Let’s go easy on ourselves, OK?  And take it day-by-day.

Because life wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously. And since today is the only day that you actually have any control over, I hope it is a good one.

My mantra?  Look that monster in the eye, acknowledge that it lives, but do not let it take away your hope or your love of life, ever.

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