July 25, 2015
This was one of the comments I received when I first shared my cancer diagnosis:
“Touched by your story, humanity, and willingness to be vulnerable (wherein real strength is to be found – another of life’s ironies it seems!). Wishing you strength, clarity, and support in your journey. May you continue to inspire others, but most of all yourself.” – B.P.
I didn’t fully grasp the concept of vulnerability and strength as flip sides of one another until this past week. For context, I spent the last 5 nights and 6 days at a private cottage that was donated through the Cottage Dreams Cancer Recovery Program. It had direct access to a lake from a private dock. It was a beautiful experience that was so needed. The lake water must’ve had some magical properties because my aching joints felt young again. I swam every day. I kayaked. I canoed. I lay in the grass and I meditated and I read and I napped and I smiled.
I took two appropriate books with me. One was about connecting with nature again. Recently I have felt a large pull towards being outdoors and I have decided that I need to live somewhere where there is a body of water right by me, be it a lake or an ocean (whether the Pacific or the Indian Ocean remains to be seen). I’ve always liked trees, but now they seem mandatory in life. Coming back to the city brings on a physical reaction of anxiety. Too many people who are way too busy and disconnected and who are just surviving and not living.
That thought leads me to the second book I read which was by Brené Brown titled ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’. I was skeptical initially but it turns out she got at some concepts that I’d been grappling with in my head anyway.
Concepts like letting go of the fear of uncertainty:
What if the cancer comes back.
Concepts like shame and criticizing yourself:
I’m not good enough. When am I ever going to lose this 10 kg of cancer weight and why won’t my stupid knees work.
Curse that traitorous thyroid.
I should be doing more with my life. I need to be productive.
I can’t afford to be this sick. This is costing too much.
Concepts like cultivating self-compassion:
Trying to be perfect is not healthy, I am beautifully flawed and my scar is just one physical manifestation of that.
I am who I am and I don’t need to pander to what other people’s expectations of me are, whether culturally, religiously or socially imposed.
Concepts like letting go of always being in control:
What can I realistically do today based on how I am feeling.
This book helped put some of my experiences into a broader context and make links between different emotions. This blog series required that I be vulnerable, something that many friends and family members had/have a difficult time understanding. Some people still think such issues should be private, family matters. I think it is only as we grow up that we become so self- conscious, so concerned about what other people think of us, and our reputations and our status. We compare ourselves to other people and so that becomes the default setting.
Ultimately, it is only by owning my story and my experiences that I can take control of my life. I do not want to spend my energy and time trying to be “perfect” because then, I subconsciously undermine what I am worth, right at this moment. And striving for perfectionism is different from self-improvement. I have read the following in a few different places recently (including this book), but the idea really hit home for me: Today, taking care of yourself and choosing to be authentic is an act of resistance, a radical act.
I’m not saying forgiving yourself is a one time thing, but letting go of guilt and learning how to respond to feelings of shame is such a relief. In being vulnerable, I have no “secrets”, because I’m choosing to accept all of me. In doing so, I have connected with other people because we all know what it is to feel vulnerable. Some people run away from vulnerability or ignore it but in choosing to embrace it, I have found strength. And as the comment at the top of this post wished for me, I have come to a place where I inspire myself.
Here are some resources and books, the first two are youth-focused.