Anger makes people uncomfortable

There are five stages or parts of the grief process: Denial and isolation; anger; bargaining; depression; and acceptance. You can be in multiple “stages” at the same time and you can cycle in and out of stages. Meaning, it is possible to go through a stage and then go back to it. Over and over again.

A dear, dear friend of mine posted a graphic about the lack of funding for childhood cancer research on her facebook wall in September, which is national childhood cancer awareness month. She did this on her own. I commented and said thanks. A friend of hers (I do not know him, never met him) commented on the post as well and then compared childhood cancer funding with breast cancer funding. I wrote back and said it IS low when you consider that ALL 13 types of childhood cancers get 4% of the NCI’s total budget….blah blah. Two days later a different graphic came out. I shared it on my friend’s wall and said she should share it with her friend. Apparently, that was attacking him. I still don’t see that. But, he felt attacked and it happened on her wall so I apologized. I even wrote my version of a mea culpa post about it. You can read that here.

Since then, she and I have gone back and forth about my anger. She is a very good friend of mine and I appreciate her bringing all of this to my attention. I really had no idea how I was being perceived by others. I am doing what I do, which is try to raise awareness and advocate for children, who cannot speak for themselves.

She finally asked me what I was so angry about. Here’s my list:

  1. My three year old son almost died. (anger)
  2. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2008. His team of oncologists told us once, “we will take him to the absolute brink and then bring him back.” They were right. The things that were done to my son’s little body are unspeakable. (anger)
  3. I wish that I had seen his tumor sooner. The cancer might have been stage 1-3, thus decreasing his treatment time and increasing his long-term survival rates. (bargaining) I am his mother. I am supposed to keep him safe.
  4. I am angry that I didn’t care about childhood cancer before my son was diagnosed. It’s the #1 disease killer of children. #1.
  5. I am mad a big pharma for putting money and profit ahead of patients’ lives.
  6. I am angry that Americans care more about boobs and penises than they do about kids.
  7. I am angry that the general public thinks childhood cancer is rare.
  8. I am angry that the general public thinks there is an 80% cure rate.
  9. The treatments that were used to save my son, could end up causing significant long-term damage (heart problems, growth problems, cognitive issues, puberty issues) and/or cause secondary cancers (skin cancer and/or leukemia).
  10. My son lived and others do not. I am angry that I have survivor guilt. I am angry that I am angry because I should be grateful and compassionate. If I keep advocating and raising money and awareness then fewer kids will get cancer and die (bargaining again).

Anger makes people uncomfortable. They equate it with violence. Which is sometimes true, but not always. The hard part about being angry with cancer is that there is nothing and no one to take it out on. Cancer is nebulous. There is no perpetrator that can be brought to trial. It is just out there. And those of us who have been forced to deal with it are left…

floating.

When I think of anger, I think of that scene in A few good men when Jack Nicholson says, “In places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.” Of course people get angry. We all do. We are all humans. But, there are very few spaces and places where it is ok and acceptable to express your anger. It makes people uncomfortable. I get it.

I wish I weren’t angry. I wish that my son didn’t suffer the way he did. I wish. I wish. I wish. I can’t go back. I know this. And I am trying to move forward. The stages of grief are real. So is PTSD. There are triggers everywhere. Even the amazing Leah Still and her dad Devon’s heroic efforts to raise awareness and money are triggers. My son was once completely bald, too. Four years ago was both a lifetime and just yesterday.

Sometimes, the release of lashing out or posting snark is easier than the truth. But, that release is only temporary.

The truth is, I am not angry. I am scared. I am absolutely terrified that my son will die.

I have the right to be angry. And I am right to be angry. What happened to my son and our family was horrible, wrong, unfair, scary. What I am learning though is that what happened to us doesn’t give me the right to be self-righteous. I am working on that last elusive stage: acceptance.

What does it mean?

I went for a run tonight.

I am not sure what spurred me on. We were all at the garden plot picking weeds. As we were leaving, I asked if the boys wanted to jog home. C agreed. Off we went. Me and my 5.5 year old, trotting the half mile back to our house. He was a great companion. He told me that he likes looking at birds when they fly in formation because he takes pictures of them in his mind and that the pictures remind him of Santa Claus’ suit (too funny!). When we got back to our house, I was not winded at all. Not bad considering it has been a good three weeks since I have done anything physical.

I decided to go back out. No agenda. No time or mileage requirement. I don’t know what inspired me. The song of the crickets. The AMAZING sunset (pink and purple wispy perfection). The fact that I was not winded? Who knows? I still don’t and I probably won’t.If I try to focus on what the motivating “it” was, I may never find it. And I will spin my wheels trying to recreate something that didn’t exist.

I just know that I wanted to go running, so I did.

I am so glad. It was actually fun again. I have no idea how far I went, or how fast, and I don’t care. I found myself smiling while running.

Part of learning to be kind to myself is accepting that moments like this don’t have to mean everything. I am back on the running bandwagon! I am going to buy new shoes and a pedometer and a heart rate monitor..and and and and….Runaway thoughts like these are what get me in trouble and eventually become overwhelming. It becomes too much (for me) and a burden that I can’t live up to, rather than a healthy choice I make for myself because I want to.

I also know that moments like this don’t mean nothing. To suddenly be motivated after weeks of nothingness is an accomplishment. A big accomplishment. This is also part of being kind to myself. Seeing something for what it is, acknowledging it, and not giving it more or less value than it deserves.

My legs are really sore. But my heart is happy. I’ll take it!

Happy weekend to all. Thanks for your kind words and cheering along the way.

The post I didn’t mean to write, but needed to

I intended to post a picture of the cucumbers and beans that my son & husband harvested from our garden yesterday. Then, I was going to say something cute like, “lesson learned, never give up!” Then, the hypocrisy of that post stopped me and I wrote this one instead. I had nothing to do with the garden. But, I have everything to do with this. So here it is.

“It only takes one person to change your life: You.”

“Tips for a powerful brand”

“Realize your full talent potential!”

“I just posted a ______ mile run with Map My Run!”

“I worked out this morning!”

“I nailed a run. #beastmode”

“You can be anything you want, you just have to choose.”

“Believe you can do anything at least once a day.”

As someone who wrestles with anxiety and depression, these incessant messages feel like I am being pelted with… criticism. It feels like noise. Blah, blah, blah. Talking heads with really long skinny fingers pointing at me. “You are not enough. You should be doing more.” Noise, noise, noise. The messages make me jealous, more anxious, and paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong, trapped by perfectionism.

I haven’t blogged in too long and I have yet to make significant progress on my journal article.

I feel ashamed that I have fallen off the exercise wagon and yet to get back on. I can’t remember the last time I went for a run. I did a few 5Ks in early spring. I even ran in the mornings for about two weeks. I went running on vacation?! Then, I got sick and I stopped. Although my cold is gone, I have not fully recovered.

I know that people who tweet and post encouraging messages don’t know that I feel this way. I also know that the intent of these messages is not to make anyone feel bad or to shame anyone into exercising, or writing, or updating their LinkedIn profile. If anything, these posts serve to encourage others. And they do. I have witnessed many friends get on the exercise bandwagon, update resumes, add skills to their profiles, etc., etc., etc. And sometimes, they encourage me, too. And other times, these overtly positive messages feel threatening.

The thing with depression too is that it makes me lose sight of what I have accomplished. This weekend, I did six loads of laundry; went shopping for home décor; then came home and fixed an old nightstand with a new knob and picture frames; put my son’s artwork into a new frame and hung it in the living room; and painted an entryway in our house with a spiritual saying, with a stone cross in the middle of it (take THAT Pinterest! I came up with that idea all on my own!). Not bad! And, I did it all by myself. Doing this alone is also a huge feat for me, as my anxiety can sometimes make being alone feel like loneliness.

But, I didn’t go running. I didn’t exercise once all weekend. I didn’t call my grandmother. I texted my sister on her birthday instead of calling her. I didn’t, I didn’t. I didn’t…..Noise. Noise. Noise.

It’s not that I don’t want to work out, or write thank you notes, or clean my house. It’s not that I can’t.

It’s that the cycle of inertia, shame, and more inertia fueled by that shame, is really, really hard to break. Hitting the reset button is necessary. I know that I need to. I know that I want to. It’s just that taking the first step to actually doing it feels momentous.

This is part of me that I never knew before; I have only recently learned that how I feel had a name. Truth is, I have always wrestled with these issues. Looking back on my late 20s and early 30s, I can now see patterns of behavior. Periods of incredible activity and productivity, followed or proceeded by valleys of exhaustion and inactivity. When in the valley of depression it feels as if everything is fuzzy, like someone is shouting at me but I am under water. I can see and hear them and I want to claw my way out and break the surface but, I end up treading water instead.

I even have dreams about my depression. In my dreams, I have been wronged, shamed, or thrown under the bus by someone, almost always in a public setting. I try to speak up for myself and I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I am shouting inside my head but, only I can hear it. The people around me are staring at me. This leads to more and more frustration and more shouting, but no results.

I also dream that I am running but nothing ever happens. My legs get shorter and my abdomen collapses like an accordion and I get physically smaller. Then, my legs start to sink into the pavement and I am no longer running, just staying in one place. Interesting that my dreams are about running. Huh.

I read once that the author J.K. Rowling struggles with depression and that the dementors in Harry Potter are her version of that struggle. This is the best image I can think of to represent depression and it’s after effects. I can feel its presence, its cold breath on my neck. There are times when I can swallow the doubts and fears, choke them back like gravel in my throat. And then, there are other times when I must embrace the darkness. Let its waves crash over me and run their course. Then, I will rise up again. Battered and bruised, but still here.

I am absolutely terrified to post this. I fear what you will think. But, I am choosing #optimism and doing it anyway.

I am learning that none of this makes me weak. This does not make me less-than. Some days are easier than others.By being vulnerable about my imperfections, my crosses, I can name them, address them, and even embrace them without shame because they make me who I am.