Sometimes when I talk to Martina I want to record our conversations. Not so that I can play it back to decipher her English (although she has been known to confuse words in the past…. like using the word “caterpillar” in a sentence instead of “catheter”) but what she says is so insightful that I don’t want to miss any of it!
She visited over the weekend and we discussed sadness. It is an emotion she enjoys exploring and letting go of. So I knew I could learn from her.
When she first arrived I felt incredibly detached. The words were mine but they were coming out of a robot. It was though I was on auto pilot. I used to feel like this a lot pre cancer. We ate dinner on the beach and something shifted. I cried. I told her I wanted all of this to be over, not in the sense that I wanted my life to be over, but the constant searching and discovery of my true self. It’s exhausting work, coupled with the extra burden of a cancer diagnosis and now a new hard-core treatment. It would be easier to go back to my old life of ignorant bliss. But she set me straight, saying all I needed was balance. She was right. With that out-of-the-way, I felt connected and the therapy session commenced!
She asked me what the main emotions I experienced last year were. She hadn’t heard me mention sadness or anger too often so she was interested. It was a hard question to answer. Early on in the year I felt lucky mostly. I was grateful, felt loved, experienced happiness, and there some moments of deep joy. I experienced contentment and a peace I’d never known and general calmness. Of course all of this was interlaced with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of uncertainty, fear what I was feeling as false and was going to be ripped from underneath me at any moment. Fear allowed negative thoughts to dominant my mind. It was a daily battle. I was also fearful of dying and I currently remain fearful of dying of cancer. But each time I acknowledge my fears they release their stranglehold on my life slowly but surely and I can get on with just living and being.
We talked then about sadness.
With this new-found knowledge of ‘underneath anger can lie sadness’ my take on this emotion has been turned on its head a little. It has allowed a fresh perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I think sometimes anger is just definitely plain old anger and should be treated as such, but I started to look back at a few episodes where this might not have been the case – it could have been a cover….
Just prior to my cancer diagnosis my friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. It shook me to my core. I cried for days. For weeks afterwards. I grieved in private, not letting it get too close to the surface but it ate away at me. I couldn’t rationalise it. I couldn’t understand it and I could not move forward. I didn’t really talk to any one about it in-depth. I felt myself spiraling down when the anger set in. I became angry at work, angry at home and angry at myself for not being able to become a mum. As the months past, work began to settled down, our living arrangements were about to change and I found out I was pregnant. The anger slowly disappeared but I never resolved the underlying cause, the deep sadness I felt for my friend and the sadness I felt for all that he had left behind. This is the type of emotion I feared. I had not been able to release it and by getting angry at external things in my life had allowed me to by-pass dealing with the sadness I was feeling. Only now after getting in touch with my friend’s extraordinary wife have I began to acknowledge this sadness and allow it to be a part of my life.
I explained to Martina that I was always scared of sadness because I feel like it could opening up my Pandora’s box. I could get swept in and swallowed up whole, never to return to the surface because I am not strong enough to pull myself out. I have had very little hardship in my life to date, so this sadness had never really played a big part. But I can see now that not having hardship doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldnt experience sadness. Its essential part of the human experience just like anger, there to be ‘enjoyed’. Maybe my attitude stems from an early incident as a child. I remember Dad telling me that he only ever hit me once. I had been outside crying, screaming and stomping up and down for hours. He came out three times to ask what my problem was, could he fix it? I only increased in volume. The third time he asked me if would I like something to cry about. More screaming. So he smacked me. I stopped immediately. Shock. I think about that now. I learnt that I needed a reason to cry. And if you don’t have a good one then you can be given one.
I think of the intense moments of sadness I experienced over that last year (mostly all to do with Moses). During an acupuncture session, I had a needle go in my back near the heart meridian and I felt like my face was being ripped off. I imagined I looked like the image from Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Tears began flowing and my lungs burned. I felt like my heart had just been pulled out while still beating. It was like a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but for me it felt real and raw and I actually enjoyed it. I understood what true heartache felt like and I couldn’t wait to get home to tell Mum and Leah. How times have changed… When these types of emotions hit, I find that if I am able to talk about them immediately I always feel lighter. So I am not sure what I am all that scared off…maybe it was a fear of dealing with reality, what is. Well, I am certainly better at that now.
I do know now that I feel more prepared to deal with sadness when it does come up and not sweep it under the ‘anger’ mat. Again just gotta put into practice. And I had my first opportunity over the weekend. I got angry with Alex a number of times for little things. It was mainly due to my expectations not been met (be that I did not allow sufficient time to for him to act or I did not communicate all that well what I had wanted). In any case when I had a chance to look underneath the anger I saw that I was actually sad. Sad that we seem to be no longer operating as the fine tuned, well-oiled machine (the A team) we had been for the most part of last year. We had acted as one, but this has changed lately as I have grown in dependence and Alex has needed to ensure he looks after himself as well. We finely have a moment of quiet time to discuss, maybe re-align or readjust so that we are both on the same page. Even if we are not in the same car, as along as we are travelling on the same road moving in the same direction, then I am happy (not angry :)).
The whole weekend wasn’t spent in therapy, analysing every action, thought or emotion…. We did achieve some sort of balance! The weather was magical so we pretended to audition for the next Jetstar ad on the beach, hob knobbed it at the posh bar on the hill, made time for lots of swims, SUPing, fishing trips, oh and two weddings in between. All remaining as present as possible!
P.S I wrote this after chemo yesterday ….. So it’s a lovely jumbly mess 🙂