There was a day last week where I pretty much walked around crying. I cried in the cafeteria. I cried in the hospital hallway. I sobbed in my car. I was sad and overwhelmed and I just couldn’t, or didn’t want to, keep it in anymore.
It was the combination of a new medical setback and the phase of still processing this awful diagnosis that tipped the scales from “I’ve got this” to “I’m a blubbering mess.” But oddly enough, I was really fine with not having it all together…which is not like me at all.
The reason for my meltdown was that on morning of chemo (which is always a little stressful anyway) I had the brilliant plan of going to the dentist for a cleaning. I hate the dentist. For me, it is a supercharged stress event because of some major major dental surgery I had done 10 years ago. I am fraught with fear and anxiety just thinking about the dentist. So when, after taking multiple ex-rays of my mouth, the dentist broke the news to me that I was losing a tooth due to a rare “reabsorption” issue, I fell apart.
First, I don’t really appreciate hearing that any medical event related to me is rare anymore. It’s never good news. It’s not like, “oh hey, congrats, we never see this but you have this rare thing that is a true benefit to you.” Nope. Rare in medicine is bad. Rare medically means scary, expensive, unknown, and often painful. So to learn that my body is once again betraying me in the rare way that most bodies do not betray their owners was crushing.
It took everything in me not to flee the office and go sob in my car immediately. Somehow, I saddled up and let the tears fall as the dentist explained that I would lose a tooth out of my skull for no good reason and that they couldn’t help me. I fought hard against the start of the tears, but once they began to fall, the levy broke. They streamed out of me. There was no stopping them. And even though it was ugly and untamed, it felt good to release some of that built up tension. Plus, I couldn’t really control it anyway. It was thousands of pounds of pressure careening through a hole in the dam and it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.
And so, I kept on crying.
In part because I was devastated by yet another medical set back, and in part because everything else has been so so big and hard lately. It felt good to put it down and just cry over the loss and the heartache of the past two months.
And so, “holding it together” seems like a bunch of bologna to me now. Why hold it together? Why is it so important to avoid the pain at all costs? Life is hard and scary and sad sometimes. When we cry or act out our sadness we are signaling to others that we are suffering. And that’s fine by me. Really, it is. I guess I just am unabashed in declaring that this is hard and I’m struggling. I feel justified in my struggle and it felt good to be so understanding and patient with myself. Maybe that’s self-love. Maybe that’s acceptance. Either way it was totally new for me.
I usually beat myself up and berate myself for being upset. I’m always wishing I was more. This time I slipped easily into the grief and just let it be. I knew I was riding that storm and that it would pass and that I just had to do the work of letting the tears fall until my heart felt lighter. Giving myself permission to be upset not only made the experience of being upset much easier to bear, it also made it easier to step out of later as well because I didn’t have to deal with a shame hangover.
Through my pain I realize I have some stuff to work out, too. I have loved and honored my body for a long time. I am an athelete, a non-smoker, rare drinker, and I have always abstained from drug use. I wasn’t a purist, but I’ve done two half ironmans, a marathon, countless smaller road races and triathlons, etc. That counts for something, right? But my body has turned on me. It’s let me down. It’s currently trying to kill me. And now a tooth is falling out of my head. I have to stop myself sometimes from wondering where the heck I went wrong to make all that happen. It just seems so out of line with the life I’ve tried to live and I would by lying if I didn’t say it sometimes feels like I must have screwed something up.
But that’s just it. I didn’t screw up. I got cancer, that’s all. It’s hard to realize that sometimes you just don’t have control. You can do things “right” and they might turn out like garbage anyway. I suppose in those moments, that’s where you have to let love in. Love for yourself. Love for and from others. Love for the gift of your life…even when your life feels like a mess. Because at the end of the day, you’re still here. You stil have the privilege of living. And that, even in hard times, is an insanely beautiful gift.
Give em’ hell.