One of the biggest lessons I learned from the cancer life, and one of the last I gained, was the importance of feeling your feelings. Being able to recognize what is going on with your emotional self is the first step, but more importantly is to experience whatever it is that is going on in your heart and mind. We've all done the baking soda volcano experiment, you know what happens every time pressure builds. It demands release. Our emotions are no different from this. The more we suppress the more we eventually need to express.
Truthfully, I spent the majority of my fight with my head buried in the sand. I figured, "survive now, process later." I can attribute my successful battling at the beginning of it all to this. I heard much on my "positive attitude" and how impressed everyone was with the way I handled all of it. There were few tears, lots of laughs, and I truly enjoyed the caccoon of love that I was sheltered in. This love worked as a shield for me in the beginning and it kept a lot of the pain away. But the pain eventually needed to be felt. And that's when the trouble started for me and when I grew weaker as well.
I devoted a large portion of the little energy I had to staying strong and positive. I thought that I was doing this for myself, a "fake it till you make it" scenario, but it was revealed to me eventually that it was more of a learned behavior. I noticed that any negativity I expressed was received poorly by others. No one liked to see me cry. No one wanted to hear me complain. I remember sharing how poorly I felt or scared I was and hearing no response in return, which actually felt worse than the frequent "It's ok... It'll be over soon.. This is all temporary.." and plenty of comfortless phrases. Most people physically tensed up. A lot of time we feel like we always have to say something to the person hurting when in reality the pained just want to be heard. I knew nothing anyone said could fix the situation; I didn't expect any words to magically cure me. I just needed to say how terrible I felt or how much something sucked. But everyone loves the brave fighter; it's easier and less scary. The reality is though is that that is not how every minute of fighting cancer goes. I don't always feel brave. I don't always want to smile. And I don't always want to press on.
To help with this I found an outlet or two that was comfortable with the negativity. A person who doesn't freeze up but instead says, "Yeah, that does really suck." Or hears you when you say you don't want to go to chemo anymore. I was fortunate to find an outlet for my negativity with one particular friend. He never tried to fight me on my feelings, and he was someone I didn't feel like I needed to protect so I had no problem telling him how it really was. I spent a lot of energy on protecting my boyfriend at the time, making sure this wasn't "hard" for him. And my parents. I never wanted my parents to hear how I wanted to die; I just wanted them to think I was ok. They had enough to worry about with me already. But this one friend I could be honest with, without fear of causing him pain. He is ex-Air Force, a realist, and always brutally truthful in return. I didn't feel like I could scare him so it wasn't scary to talk to him. We spent many nights walking around, talking about how I felt. I send him tons of texts that would have added weight to most of my friends and family. He either shook my words off easily or released them else where. Regardless he never made me feel crazy or foolish for having the feelings I did. The beauty in that was that whenever I was with him I felt normal. Never dramatic or capable of hurting him. I always felt free to just be myself. When you're going through so much already, not having to put on a show on top of that can be the difference between feeling strong or weak as you fight on. Having a friend like him gave me a sense of safety and some peace with what was going on inside me.
So my advice to you is simple: listen. Understand that when someone comes to you with a problem or whatever you want to call it, they aren't asking for you to solve it. We want to get rid of people's pain. Rarely do we expect someone to fix things for us though. Realistically, we often see that a situation might suck but that's just sometimes the way things go. If your advice or thoughts are asked for by all means give them. But don't be quick to forget the times you just wanted to be heard. And never underestimate the power of knowing someone cares about you and what's going on in your life.
The emotional processing has been a challenge but I appreciate all of the help and support I've received through it. Some days I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Some days I feel carefree and full of life. Some days I feel like cancer life is all I'll ever know. But every day I feel loved.
Pura vida :)