Since being declared cancer free in February of this year I have been battling feelings of angst and anxiety and self-examination and self-deprecation. To put it plainly and simply, life in remission has ignited…depression. And I gotta’ tell you, I DID NOT see this coming. I lived through this completely transformative experience that introduced me to a deeper sense of self-love and called me to appreciate, live in the now, and simply bask in gratitude for everything I am and everything I have.
So I thought I would be turning cartwheels now that I am free of cancer. I thought I would feel even higher than I did last year at this time when my liver was blackened by an unwelcome little tumor. But now, 6 months in the clear, I find myself in a state of, as Brene Brown calls it, “foreboding joy.” I may appreciate having survived, but I can’t shake this inability to completely relax and let my guard down. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brown says. “We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.” I don’t necessarily believe that I will catch the cancer again, but I have not completely ruled it out either.
The specter of cancer follows me around like a shadow, illuminating itself every time I catch the lingering look of care or concern from someone I haven’t seen in a while or every time someone asks me how I’m doing. They may simply be truly wondering how my day is going. But I have a feeling I will forever take that question to mean, “how was your last scan? Was it clean? Are you still cancer-free?”
And it is extremely hard to think in the long-term. My husband and I had a meeting with our financial advisor recently and I found myself breathless, unable to speak, and dangerously close to tears when confronted with questions about retirement planning. I couldn’t possibly think about me at the age of 70. I just couldn’t even allow my brain to envision it. It seemed too far-fetched of a possibility. Too painful. I allowed my husband to do all the talking.
I suppose my days as a cancer patient were so much easier because I was so beautifully PRESENT. My sole purpose was to get well and enjoy every moment. Sure I had other obligations, but I didn’t really need to think about the distant future or even the immediate future. I truly took one day at a time. Anything that required more than that was prioritized healthfully and wisely or passed off onto another party or passed over entirely. I instinctively knew what was important.
And now, I find myself caught up in thinking about the future. I want to do more. I want to plan more. I want to push myself. Doing just enough is simply not enough.
But when we push ourselves, when we choose to believe that we are lacking in some way, when we try to force our own timeline and our own plans down the Universe’s throat, concentrating too heavily on the unknowns of the future, we strip ourselves of the ability to LOVE. And more specifically, we rob ourselves of the ability to LOVE OURSELVES. And self-love is where all the wonderful, delicious goodness of life comes from. And many of the terrors of life – bullying and abuse and suicide and murder – originate from a deep and lonely sense of self-loathing.
So this week, a week in which this entire world seems to be talking about depression and what causes it and how we can prevent it, I challenge you to find ways to take care of yourself today. What does your heart need right now? What steps can you take to love yourself deeply and genuinely and unabashedly this moment? What new practice of self-kindness can you adopt and put into action sooner rather than later?
If gratitude is our purpose, then self-love is our vocation. Each of us is called to it. And boy is it a tough job. Some of us find it to be the toughest of all jobs. But it’s not impossible. Not for any of us.