Monday, July 22, 2013

Wrestling the map

I’ve been wrestling with something. Something that, for me, feels really big. It’s felt super big for at least the last ten months, but really, it has felt pretty-close-to-super-big for... well, if I’m honest, for the whole of my life. 

I’m talking about authenticity. 

Sharing your truth. Sharing your opinions. Sharing your experiences. Sharing your discoveries, your hopes, your dreams, your words, your work, your art, your expression. Sharing your love, your passion, your compassion, your kindness, your soft underbelly, your faith, your marrow, your gifts. 

Sharing whatever it is that feels like the Most Important Stuff of All Time, even if it’s just for that one moment, even if it’s just the Most Important Stuff of All Time to You.

The stuff that you’re secretly, or not-so-secretly, terrified to share. The stuff you’re afraid people will judge you for. Or unfriend you for. Or say mean things to you in public about. Or talk even louder and more cruelly behind your back about. Or whatever the heck it is that happens when the truth about who you are and what you’re thinking, feeling, doing or being in this exact moment in time is set loose for everyone to see. 

I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding parts of myself away. I’ve spent an equal amount of time creating an identity composed of what I viewed as the more desirable parts of myself. Or, if I’m to be precise, the more desirable parts and the ones I hadn’t fully accepted but just couldn’t seem to shake and the ones I just kind of made up in hopes it wouldn’t go so poorly for me on the playground if people didn’t get on well with the other two.

It was a lesson I learned early and often. It was a lesson which, each time I sought to reverse it, the “truth” of it seemed to come back even larger. There was even a peak moment when I felt that the Universe downright hated me: it seemed like every time I tried to share something openly from the good of my heart, I’d be punished. As a natural introvert, an empath, a compassionate being who sought not to cause even a moment of suffering to any other creature on the planet, it was viscerally painful to see my good intentions misunderstood, turned sideways, brought to bear like evidence against me at a trial, or exposed and left to rot like criminals in the town square.

When I was diagnosed with can’t-sir, I thought, surely, one good thing to come out of this must be my final liberation from fear of expressing my own authenticity. After all, the breath I was breathing could very well be my last. Surely with this awareness, I’d have no more need for fear, shame, guilt, jealousy. Hadn’t I always read about exactly that? How an awareness of one’s own mortality helps people sluff off the oogy stuff and get to the core?

I want to take a moment to just breathe. I want to acknowledge that doing our darndest to be authentic is Big, Huge, Life-Changing Stuff. Whether we do it for one fraction of one second, or take every chance we get to put it out there. Breathe with me. Because it’s true for us all. We’re doing our darndest, and it isn’t easy.

What I’ve learned through my life journey, and through my can’t-sir journey in particular, is that with time it can be done with ease. And still, there will be judgey-judges and mean-spirited people and simple misunderstandings and just a lot of general ridiculousness to follow any time we BE who we BE and say or do what we feel is true to us in the moment. There will also be magnificent moments of clarity and compassion and awareness and grace. Moments when we ride so high we just can’t help smiling and dancing and shouting, “YES!” while doing some awkward yet still socially acceptable gesture like a fist-bump or a high-five. So, that’s pretty cool, as far as double-edged swords go.

I share my truth here, and in the other forums I dally in, because while can’t-sir didn’t cure me of all my fears, it did help reaffirm and remind me of something vital: We Are All One. And it’s an awareness I just can’t shake.

Sharing our truth -- and I don’t mean sharing our wounds, I mean our truth, as in the truth of who we really are, and who we’re finding our way to being, not just what we’re suffering through -- sharing our truth is a kind of mapmaking. And with it, all roads lead back to our shared consciousness, our shared humanity, our shared dreamtime.

When I write, when I make work, when I reach out to connect, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me anymore, or to like me or the things I say or create. (Even though I admit that it’s really, really, heart-shatteringly lovely when they do.) 

I write, I make work, I share as much as I possibly can from the inside of my heart because I don’t know how to breathe underwater anymore. Because I don’t want anyone else to feel like they are in that dark, watery place of aloneness, staring up through a mirror at a sun they will never be able to savor and a sky they will never feel empowered to soar. I do these things because it is all I have, and all I am, and because I have this sneaky feeling that instead of being the horrible, punishment-inducing thing I once experienced my Stuff to be, it might just be my contribution to the map.

With all this in mind, I say thank you. To all that has been. To all that will be. To all the murky, nonsensical and even downright shitty experiences, I say thank you. And thank you, no matter how many words I might wrap around it to try to make myself understood, or to make myself feel better, is all I ever really am saying, and all I ever really need to say. In fact, maybe it's all any of us ever really need to say. But that feels like a topic for a whole other blog post. So I think I'll just leave it at that for now. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

And now... we dance!

It’s hard to believe that already/only ten months ago I stepped into the shower and my life changed forever. Hard to believe a tiny little lump could have such power. But, there you go. Dorothy, meet Tornado.
A study in hair healing... pre- to post- chemo selfies.

I’ve been back at my corporate job for two months. Rejoining my team was a huge mile marker for me. In my mind, it meant I’d healed sufficiently to get back into the world and put some effort into thinking about stuff that wasn’t just about my survival. I was all kinds of emotion taking that step while still finishing treatment -- excited, terrified, grateful, paranoid, confused, hopeful. I knew I’d have to BE in a whole new way. A way that honored the journey I’d been on, and was still in the midst of. A way that didn’t allow my health and well-being to become an afterthought. A way that was more compassionate and gentle with myself and others than I’d ever been. I knew it would be a challenge. I didn’t know how constant that challenge would be. 

I’d read that returning to work after can’t-sir isn’t easy, and it’s true. I firmly believed it could be done with ease, and I think that’s also true. I’m not the same person I was before I heard those two little words (“it’s cancer”), and I mean that literally. My post-chemo brain is still pretty darn brilliant, but words get lost and whole chunks of memories have vanished and sometimes mental models entirely elude me, which is beyond frustrating. My body doesn’t let me get away with depriving it of food or drink anymore, and sends me into a pit of stupidity and immobility if I ignore its two-minute warning, which can be super awkward in the midst of meetings if I don’t pre-plan. 

Then there’s the mental-emotional stuff. 

As great as my team is, as supportive and amazing as they’ve been, there are also moments of intense loneliness and isolation that spring up without warning that have nothing to do with anyone but me. There are awkward moments of choosing or needing to reveal to someone that I’ve been out for seven months on this journey and so have no idea what they’re talking about. There are surreal moments of trying to rationalize investing time in a trivial task when my monkey mind screams, “Seriously? This could very well be your last act on earth!” There are beyond-words amazing moments coaching and supporting colleagues to help them achieve their dreams and goals, and doing the creative work that fuels my soul, and shock-and-awe minutes spent just appreciating the sudden realization that I am still around to do the trivial or be “on mute” for the meeting or draft the strategy that wants so desperately to change the world.

There are highs, and there are lows. Just when I think I’ve got the work thing in the bag, the life thing rears its head.

Like the other day, when I stood frozen for twenty minutes with tears running down my face, just absorbing the realization that I really, really needed to make yet another doctor appointment, because I really, really needed to request a referral to an endocrinologist because really, really this chemo-induced menopause isn’t going to go away on its own. Which was then also super exciting, once I wiped all the gunk off my face, because it helped reaffirm my resolve about the contribution I’m here to make as an advocate for women’s healthcare rights, and as a communicator to help build more awareness about the total experience of triple negative, so that others going through their own journeys know they’re not alone. 

Or, the time a few days before that when I had a little panic attack because I couldn’t tell if that thing in my boob was scar tissue or a new lump starting to form, even though I literally had so many doctors grope me over a two week period and tell me I was doing great that my life was starting to feel like a superlatively positive porn flick. Which also turned out to be super exciting, once I started breathing again, because it led to a serious “please sir can I have another” moment, and reminded me how incredibly supportive and smart my husband is, and how I can just go get that sh!t looked at because I have already survived this thing and nothing as stupid as a little lump is going to take me off my game.

The trick for making it through this phase, and to so much of life, it seems to me, is to just keep it simple. To keep breathing. To say thank you for every single piece of it -- the crap and the cream -- and ask as loud as you can for another full serving. To hold it all lightly. To remember life’s for living, and what matters most is to love on yourself and everyone you meet. To take a moment in the midst of wishing the scars and the tattoos and the chemo curls and the new wrinkles would miraculously disappear and return you to the self you grew up knowing, to slow it down and just breathe in how incredibly blessed we all are to have these beautiful, beat-up, strangely sophisticated earthsuits to wander around in. 

Hubs and I agreed this year on a daily practice based on some old shamanic wisdom that I think pretty much sums up everything I've learned over the last 10 months that's even vaguely important: to sing, dance and laugh at least once a day, and to not call it a day until that’s done. I rate the day a success as soon as those three things have happened. Even if they’re the only thing that happens all day. And, sometimes, especially if they’re the only thing that happens all day. Because I know something for damn sure: when I do kick it, I’ll be proud and grateful I went out with a smile on my face, singing loud and off-key to some terrible Seattle-based rap music, while bustin’ out a Caddyshack-style gopher dance. Life is too short to let any day end without such a raucous and ridiculous celebration of living.