It’s been three years since my thoughtful, sweet and honest friend picked me up for an “outing” when I had Leukemia. As soon as I got in the car she said, “so, here’s why I hate you, in a nutshell.” I encourage you to read that blog entry before continuing. It’ll make my whining seem less, uh, whiney. After listening and thanking her for her kind words, I asked her to outline her grievances and email them to me. She had some excellent points that I think we could all learn from.
Lately I have been rolling around the idea of taking this particular blog “on the road”. Maybe a mini version of a TED talk (maybe a HEATH talk?). As I re-read it this morning and was reminded of all the “benefits” of having Leukemia (aside from the fact that it’s a potentially terminal disease) I too began to feel a bit jealous of my past self. And I understood my friend a bit better. I thought, “I get it, girl! I hate me too!” So, in no particular order, here’s “Why I hate me, in a nutshell.”
1. I hate me because people were standing in line to take care of all my chores. We all gained weight because of the yummy meals brought in at least 3 times a week. We could hardly eat fast enough before more food came. It was heavenly. And, side note, we felt obligated (read: giddy) to eat whatever they brought, even if it was drenched in gravy and laced with butter. They cleaned my house better than I ever clean it and there wasn’t one weed in my currently weed infested backyard. The pure luxury of these acts of love and service bring a nostalgic, grateful, and longing tear to my eye.
2. I hate me because I didn’t have to tell people I was sick. It was obvious. I was a 44 year old with a 100 yr old body and no hair. People felt sad for me. As a result, when I went out in public, people were nicer. When you shed a few pounds and grow our your blonde hair (ok-it really grew back in dark but I color it blonde–so sue me), people are indifferent and sometimes judgmental or rude. It’s a weird shift and it makes me miss my bald head and my walker. I really like it when strangers talk kindly to me.
3. I hate me because I had great perspective and joy in spite of hardship. I think this one is particularly bothersome to me because, in the face of a deadly disease, I was able to maintain hope and happiness in a way that I struggle with today, when I DON’T have life-threatening disease. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t, for example, take it personally when the person in front of me made me miss the light because they were texting. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
4. I hate me because I had one thing to worry about: getting well. When I returned a call, attended an event, emailed a teacher or did some light house work, I was a hero. If I didn’t do any of those things, everyone was understanding. Now, if I forget to reply to a text or neglect my laundry or let me grass grow too long, I just don’t seem to get that same compassionate reaction. Now, I have many many things to focus on and everyone, especially me, expects me to get it all done right and in a timely manner. It’s a lot of pressure, I tell ya!
5. I hate myself because I had permission to take care of myself. From others, but mostly from myself. I took naps when I needed them. I listened to my body and what it needed, instead of ignoring it and plowing ahead in spite of feeling run down or sick. I took time out to read and study and watch movies that inspired me or made me laugh. I was in-tuned to what I needed to stay physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy and I took steps to make sure that was happening.
6. I hate myself because for 7 glorious months, I got to eat whatever I wanted without guilt. Shallow, yes, but still, it was lovely.
7. I hate myself because I had the ultimate “play pass”. I have this problem (which will probably result in an entire blog in the near future): I think I have to earn the right to “play”. I do this by telling myself I deserve to have fun because I have earned it, either by having a hard day or having a day worth celebrating. Either way, my “play pass” is contingent on merit. Enjoyable activities are conditional for me.
8. I hate myself because I didn’t “should” on myself. I was able to live in the moment. To truly “be” with the people I was with and embrace whatever was happening at the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next or feel like I “should” be doing something other than what I was doing at that exact moment. I was present in the present.
9. I hate myself because I got to spend 6 days out of every month in the hospital. I know that sounds absurd, and maybe 6 days a month might be sort of excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to want a few days to lay in bed, sleep, read, watch TV and push a button whenever I want to eat? You can’t tell me that isn’t the least bit appealing to some of you.
10. I hate myself because I liked myself better back then. I gave myself a break from being all things to all people. I gave my body a break to let it be real. Instead of complaining about its imperfections, I cherished the blood in my veins and had a party when my platelets did their job right! I was less selfish with my time and less stingy with my affection and affirming, tender words. I was more tolerant of people who texted at stoplights because, who knows what pain they are in? I felt hopeful and extended that hope to people around me. I felt God’s presence in a way that I have been missing lately. It was so natural when I was dying.
So, I say to my friend, “I get it.” When I look back and compare the Me-of-then to the Me-of-today, I too am envious. If only I could live like that with ease like I did 3 years ago. Obviously, I am not a lunatic. I see the insanity piece of wishing I had Leukemia. I hope you are tracking with me when I share the list above. There are a couple truths that I have to first accept and then cling to in order to not hate my current self:
One: living real, raw, messy, everyday life is, in fact, harder than having Leukemia. It doesn’t let up. No one gives you a pass or permission to slack off or be a jack-marack. It’s consistently painful and challenging and stressful and exhausting. And yet we all are expected to smile and nod and plug away.
We are all suffering heart ache or grief or disappointment at any given moment, yet the sales clerk, or your spouse or boss or children or best friend, don’t seem to treat you with tenderness and empathy you yearn for. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and just as gentle with others. As I may have mentioned in a book I just wrote, we are all in this together.
Two: God gives me what I need when I need it. I would have never in a million years thought I could live through cancer with any kind of grace or joy. But clearly, I did. And now I am acting like God is big enough for cancer but not big enough for handling adolescents, husbands, jobs, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, etc.
I don’t believe that He isn’t powerful enough help me handle these areas. The real issue is that I don’t ask him to. I approach these challenges as if I have enough talent, smarts and chutzpah to manage them on my own. I act as if “I’ve got this” when the truth is, I sincerely don’t. I need God’s perfect guidance, wisdom, perspective and plan in order to live like I did when I had Leukemia.
In reality, I love that girl and long to be that girl today. With God’s help, we can all be like her. 😚