Breast Cancer Resource Center Savannah, GA USA

Embrace Vulnerability; Own Who You Are

I wrote Oh Deer in the middle of my chemotherapy treatment.  Emotions had inevitably begun to erupt; and I struggled internally with trying to keep them under wraps.  It was a battle that I was losing!  The undealt with negative emotions condensed into a giant snow bolder and continued to pick up steam.  I may have tried to run from them, but they gained momentum with my denial and neglect and shook my foundation in their wake, causing an avalanche to chase and attempt to flatten me.  I hated it; but I finally owned up to two critical thoughts.  One: I didn’t have to do this alone; it was okay to fall; and two: I was allowed to feel however I felt whenever I felt it (and that was okay too).  Although I am past chemo now, this message is a powerful reminder of how to address sadness and grief (of any kind).  A few have asked to hear it again, and to be honest, it’s probably a good thing for me to remind myself of from time to time too.

Oh Deer

My husband told me that there was power in showing your vulnerability because it meant that you were comfortable being and feeling however you were rather than how others might expect you to be.  So, what is vulnerability without being completely honest and well…vulnerable?  Since I am beginning to care less about what people think of me right now (perhaps cancer is the catalyst in changing me in more ways than one), here’s the real me: authentic, sincere, and vulnerable.

I am an optimist; I like to smile and laugh.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m compassionate, sympathetic, outgoing; I’m a freaking damn delight!  However, people who know me well are not surprised that I’ll laugh right alongside them at my ‘crazy’, which is really just my inexplicable need for control and order.  I love to organize just about anything; I do, however, draw the line at laundry.  Everyone has their kryptonite, and for me that is allowed to pile up and stay in disarray. 

Nevertheless, go ahead, arm me with manila folders, highlighters, and a label maker, and then sit back and laugh your ass off.  I’ll have way too much fun with it, guaranteed!  I color coordinate my planner because it makes sense, and it’s awesome.  I plan, organize, and coordinate just about anything: parties, trips, school…the list is endless.  (Y’all know you love me for it).  I arrive early for everything, because being early is ‘on time’ whereas on time is ‘late.’ 

I’m a perfectionist; I’m a people pleaser.  I care way too much about way too many things.  Worrying has been an art form, a talent of mine since the beginning.  Former teachers of mine will shake their heads and smile because they have witnessed this.  They know.  My friends know.  This is me.  I want my life to be in this nice neatly packaged bundle complete with a shiny bow.  I am a control freak and when life gets messy, I want to clean it up.  I will laugh uncontrollably at anybody who tells me to relax because, sure, that’s exactly what I know how do. 

So, what happens when life gets messy and I don’t know how to clean it up?  Here’s another layer of vulnerability: I’ve gone to see a therapist.  I’ve been a handful of times now, long enough for her to ‘get me’; and now that I’m up against some pretty ugly messes in my life, it’s been helpful.  I guess people don’t ever want to admit that asking for help could prove beneficial in ways you never thought; I was no different.  There seems to be this thought or fear that people will think something is wrong with you.  (But, y’all already know that I’m a damn delight.) 

We all have layers to our personality and sides that we try to hide from the world.  I am no different.  I don’t want anyone to ever know when my smile fades or when I feel defeated.  I’d like to take my husband’s advice and showcase vulnerability; let there be power and strength within it.  Aside from my high strung, type A, life must have order kind of self; yep, cancer is trying to kill me too, and that folks is not just messy, it’s kind of fucking sad.  My smile does fade at that thought.

Most of the time I am hopeful and strong, but I am human and have tough days too.  I’m learning that grief born from adversity isn’t something that you can push through and find yourself unscathed on the other side.  There is a piece of who I once was, both physically and emotionally, that has in some ways died.  I will never again be the person that I was prior to my diagnosis.  I am forever changed. 

I have scars: physical and emotional, and although they may fade over time, they have left their mark of ‘newness’ upon me.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either.   I’m merely recognizing and sharing that even though everyone changes over time, when something in your life rocks your foundation and the ground that you have relied on for years slips a little bit, like a rug ripped from underneath you, the change you experience in yourself is accelerated and intensified.  I have to let myself be happy when I am happy, sad when I am sad, and somehow learn to not judge myself for that. 

I will make it through this storm.  I don’t know how, or when, or who I will be at that moment in time.  However, I have hope.  In the beginning, when I stood at the entrance to this darkness, I thought I could leave a trail: breadcrumbs.  I wanted to light the way for my girls and anyone else who may be traveling this spooky path and clutching their fear along the way.  I wanted to make it better for them somehow, perhaps easier. 

Unfortunately, I am also learning that there is no ONE way out!  I can’t show them the way because there are so many routes, and they are as individual as the people taking them.  The path you take in life is yours.  It’s your story, and nobody can do it for you.  There is however a difference between walking your own way and being alone.  You may have to be the one to walk, but this doesn’t mean that you are without support.  Have hope.  Have acceptance and embrace yourself in your entirety.  Be vulnerable and know that’s where strength is born. 

Cancer really is changing me.  Although my transformation is yet to be completed (I still have a heavy fight to withstand), I can feel this new sense of boldness trying to rise.  I want to let it.

There’s a lull in time now, a pause between one cause for action and the next.  This is the time when my body and mind collapse.  It’s when everything that’s been building and I hadn’t had time to face creeps up and has to get dealt with.  I’m not going to lie; it’s no picnic.  I don’t want to be sad.  I like my smile.  Although to be fair to myself, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect myself to never experience sadness when cancer is trying to kill me.  I will fight it, and I will win. 

I will harness my determination, hope, and positivity and get through this, but that doesn’t mean that I should be afraid of grief, of being sad.  It’s going to be there too.  I don’t want to ignore it and let it grow uncontrollably in my shadows, nor do I wish to adopt it as a new motto either. 

Yet, in the movie Inside Out, Joy even let Sadness take control of core memories.  By the end of the movie, they had these beautiful marbled memories infused with multiple hues of emotions.  Some were a mix of anger and disgust, some of joy and sadness (Lasseter & Stanton, 2015).  I have found myself with moments of such intertwined emotions: gratitude and anger, happiness and sorrow; although opposites, they were sometimes inseparable and felt at the same moment in time.  I guess my best advice for my children, for others struggling, and for myself as well is to let yourself be whoever you are in that moment and don’t feel bad about it.