Since Cancer and having a second child, I have taken lots of time outs. Way more than my 3 year old, in fact. Well, we call it “taking space,” and it is more for her benefit than mine. You see, patience is very lacking in my parenting and my life these days. So I encourage her to take space (mostly from me, but sometimes from her sister), to prevent my overly dramatic reaction to her normal preschool antics. More often, I put myself in time out, hiding in the bathroom with the door locked and the fan on, to find some peace or to try and hold onto it. More often than not I am trying to keep my emotions to myself. Trying to stay cold. It has been a coping mechanism from the beginning. Surprisingly, in the year and a half since I was diagnosed, my tears have not come easily or often. I am a very emotional person in general, but under these circumstances, what used to be sadness has been replaced with frustration and anger. It is not my preference or even my choice, especially for my children’s sake, but it is just how I am getting through it. I could blame the side effects of all the medications and procedures, my hormones, or lack thereof. I could blame the volatile combination of motherhood and cancer. Or two needy little people and a needy parent. Maybe because the sadness is more overwhelming and harder to recover from. Maybe because my tears bring tears from my children, and it just snowballs. But every once in a while, sparked by something innocent, the tears start flowing behind a closed door. In between sobs and snot and feeling sorry for myself, I find some relief. The release is calming but disconcerting. Whether frustration or tears, I often feel like I have regressed to the emotional maturity of a child. Like I am holding it together as well as my toddler at the end of a napless day.
I should be able to cry about this more, right? Maybe I would’ve moved on by now, although I think the reality is that I never will. Tears seems warranted, justified, even necessary through all this. For me, it feels strange when I do cry because it makes me realize how little I have. Maybe my extensive use of time outs has served me well enough. I have the luxury of helping hands that enable me to just walk away and close a door. To be with my body and my thoughts. And then, I consider my regular bouts of sleepless nights to be really long episodes of taking space. There is the physical aspect of insomnia (a side-effect of many parts of treatment) and then the mental need to have less waking hours that overlap with the majority of people. It means less interactions, responsibilities and energy expended with the rest of the regular world. These marathon time outs have decreased in frequency, but still seem to remain necessary here and there as I process and reset from new phases of treatment. The dark and quiet of night is my time to write and participate in my online support groups. It is when I can get lost in a television show and get my mind to let go for a while. It is also when I should be sleeping.
It is all still so heavy. I am still trying to get out from underneath it. I am trying to sort it out. And speaking of that, I spent my Saturday night organizing all my medical paperwork. Punching holes, sorting into categories and swapping out for a much bigger binder. My recent life is summed up in hundreds of pages of clinical notes, appointment and treatment schedules, lab work, diagnostic and pathology reports, and plenty of reference materials. My older daughter excitedly wrote notes on piles of discarded paper, incorporating this into her doctor game, which involves lots of check ups, shots and medicine on the regular. This project refreshed my memory and understanding of all that has happened to me in Cancerland. As I flipped through my cancer book with my husband, there was some light-hearted commentary and even some chuckles. It is easier to do this now that I am on the other side of the poison, cut and burn (I hope). Now that it feels like there is space to step back and breathe. All these pages represent time, experiences and connections lost. Normal life I wasn’t living and isolation gained. It still seems like it happened to someone else, written in a foreign language. No matter how many times I read my own name on the pages, this was not my doing, but something I endured. This is the story of an extra long time out, yet just a snapshot in the big picture of my life. More and more I am realizing what I need most is more time IN. More time taking walks, cooking and sharing meals, having adventures with my girls, playing games, crafting, going out with friends, or maybe even my husband.
Here’s to the truth of this journey. Here’s to sharing and supporting each other through our time outs, or whatever gets you through the hard stuff. Here’s to more smiles and sleep, and most importantly to improving and increasing time IN.
Spending some quality time at Moran State Park, Cascade Lake playground.