Exasperated, worn out, upset, sad. Angry.
I had surgery on my lower abdomen 8 days ago. The surgery went an hour longer than was planned, so by the time I was awake, my doctor was performing another surgery in another operating room already. The nurses jolted me awake, gave me my clothes to dress in, tried to feed me gluten (wheat crackers), rolled me out to the parking lot. My family was so relieved that there was no return of cancer that their first words to me were that everything was fine and that the doctor hadn’t found anything.
Nothing? I’m okay? Really?
It wasn’t true. What she found wasn’t cancer, but she hadn’t expected to find cancer (that was my family’s fear, not the doctor’s). And my plunge from disbelief and elation that nothing was wrong down into the truth of the situation filled me up with emotion that boiled inside me.
“But it’s not cancer. It’s a chronic condition, and it can’t kill you.”
Yes, that’s all true. But loss isn’t always relative, at least not immediately. I often have friends who are upset over something that has shaken their world, chastising their (usually crying) selves, say, “But I know I shouldn’t be this upset—I should be grateful—because it could have been worse.” It could have been a broken spine instead of a broken arm. The rape could have taken place as part of a lifetime series in Darfur instead of as a single event with a frat boy. The financial disaster could have resulted in homelessness instead of just moving home with the parents.
And perspective is good. Don’t get me wrong; most of us (at least most of us who are able to sit around and read blogs) can say about most of our life events, It could have been worse, yes. But guilt over a lack of perspective is not good, and perspective usually takes time to develop. As I tell my beloved friends in their times of hurt, let us endeavor not to forget this:
We need the space and the time and the ability and, yes, the right to work through what hurts without judging or chastising ourselves for doing so.
And I forgot that, for a few days. Or half-remembered, I guess, and gave myself good lip service about it anyway, but I didn’t take it to heart. Until we went back to the doctor so that I could hear the various news from her, and she gave me the news (on and on and on) about what she had sliced and removed and implanted inside my body, and, oh, as a reminder, if I want a biological child, this year may be the last time to try, and I started to cry in her office.
“Why are you crying? I see so much worse cases than this. You’ll start feeling better soon.”
“I know you see worse than this. But that does not mean it’s not hard that this is my body this is happening to.” Yes, I said it with the emphasis.
She didn’t get it. (She’s a good doctor, really, but doctors are so rarely emotionally adept people.) It actually wasn’t important that she got it, though. What was important was that it broke open the floodgates for me.
I cried in the car. I cried at lunch. I cried at home. I entered a blue funk, entirely, that afternoon. What’s wrong with me? And then it hit me. Of course. I was angry. I was angry that this is how I’ve lived my life, waiting for the next time I need to be sliced open or the next diagnosis, knowing something is coming, knowing my body rarely ever just functions correctly for very long. I have a new diagnosis or two to add to my list; I have additional pressure to go ahead and have a baby despite not being ready for one; I have the possibility of more surgery and the definite of further treatments.
Yes, there are worse diagnoses. Yes, it’s good I have health insurance to have surgery I need. Yes, it’s good I might be able to have a baby at all, and—Yes, yes, yes, but stop for a minute, pause the judgment, and just let it be:
Anger and loss and frustration are valid emotions. Stuffing them down inside ourselves leads us to try to cope through other means. And those other means don’t tend to work, because we need time and space and energy for healing where we just air ourselves out. We need to be allowed to possess, then release, the emotions that come to us. Not to revel in them permanently (that is to create misery), but to give them their due.
I emailed a couple of friends on Friday afternoon, after my doctor’s appointment. They had written to check in on me, and I decided to lay it out there. I told them, basically, “I’ve had a loss, and I’m hurt and angry and don’t know what to do.” I cried while I wrote the emails. I moped. I thrashed. I didn’t sleep that night. I wished I could exercise some if it out, but I couldn’t move much at all yet.
The very next day, Saturday morning, I felt a bit better. And I feel better still, now. I’m still angry and grieving, and that’s okay. Resignation is replacing frustration, and these other emotions will evolve into acceptance. I know good can come of this situation, as good always can. I know it could have been worse, could be worse. I know that I lead a blessed life in many, many, many ways. But before my body and mind and spirit had any space for acceptance or gratitude, I had to admit to the hurt and the give the hurt its due.