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When Your Inner Voice Says “Time Out”

28 Aug

Recently I stumbled upon and reread one of my journals from two years ago.  Two years ago was half a year after my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent lumpectomy.  It was a time during which I had removed myself from much of “regular life.”  I was not working a “regular job,” I was not socializing, I was definitely being a bit of a hermit.  Cancer had thrown me for a loop and I was struggling to find my footing.  Withdrawing from life seemed necessary at the time, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t sometimes judge myself for it.

When I first discovered the symptoms that took me to my primary doctor and then very quickly to a breast specialist, I was busy working on a big project and trying to start a new business.  In the midst of all this busyness, I had a second appointment with the specialist.  As I was getting ready to go to the appointment, I was finding myself stumbling on things, I was so stressed.  When I took a moment to check in, I realized I was extremely anxious.  I was scarcely breathing and I felt like I was ready to scream.  Then it finally dawned on me that I’d become so busy worrying about making money that I hadn’t taken the time to even figure out what this momentous “breast thing” might mean for me and what I might want to do or not do as a result.  I was about to show up at this appointment completely unprepared.

I stopped for a moment and sat down to breathe.  And then – no surprise – I started to cry.  I gave myself permission to feel all my anxiety and fear.  And from that moment on, my attitude changed.  NOTHING became as important as what was going on with my body and the decisions I had to make about my care.

As soon as I returned from that appointment I did a heck of a lot of research.  I also decided to go to the beach to have a small retreat and try to get clarity about my next course of action.  After a couple hours there with the sun and the ocean, I suddenly remembered a dream I had once had but then “forgotten.”  In the dream I was asked, “How’s your cancer?”  I was stunned that I’d had that dream and then tucked it back into my subconscious.   I suddenly realized I didn’t need to stay at the shore anymore; I’d gotten what I came for.  I realized I needed to go home and look at my dream journals.  I also realized I wanted a different doctor.  I wanted someone who would listen to my concerns and include me in decisions about my treatment as opposed to simply telling me what “we” were going to do.

During the course of the next several days, weeks and months, I spent a great deal of time in the process of introspection and reflection.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t bringing in any money.  Needless to say, that was a bit stressful, but I couldn’t seem to focus on anything as mundane as a job.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but nothing in me wanted to work at a regular job.  I was seriously burned out from several years of hospice work and intensive caregiving (of others, not me!)  And I was actually feeling strongly guided to not begin another job at that point.  And then the Universe conspired to support me in that decision by causing my car to break down.  I had no money to fix my car and so I stayed home.  And continued with my introspection, reflection, and research.

I also took a lot of walks.  And  I wrote.  A lot.  I called a few friends.  I also did something I hadn’t done in many, many years.  I vegged.  In extreme.  I watched loads of Netflix.  I did the Facebook thing.  I sat in front of the screen of my laptop more hours than I care to admit.  But this was where I was at at the time – in a place of non-doing.  I didn’t feel like being a contributing member of society.  I just needed to be by myself.  A lot.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t judge myself.  I did that a lot, too.  This society doesn’t look kindly upon idleness.  I confess I got a bit depressed.  I was poor, I had no car, I had no job except for the occasional odd job, and I was worried about whether I’d “done enough” to fight the cancer I’d been diagnosed with.  But now, two years later, I realize this fallow time was absolutely necessary from a spiritual perspective.

Cancer is such a wake-up call.  It is seldom simply a physical disease.  It is always, if we let it be, an impetus for change and growth.  Healthy growth.

My guess is that a lot of women who get breast cancer have been neglecting themselves.  Most women are oh so very good at taking care of others.  Here is what the four years prior to my diagnosis looked like:

  • For a couple years I was a hospice chaplain in New Mexico.  At one point I was serving two offices and commuting upwards of four hours a day – not counting all the driving between clients scattered throughout the central part of the state.
  • My workload increased as the job of bereavement counselor was added to my duties.
  • Then I left the hospice job and started doing private caregiving.
  • Then I moved back home to help care for my parents.  My mother had had a heart attack and a small stroke, and Dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • While caring for my parents, I got some more caregiving jobs.
  • The opportunity arose to become a hospice chaplain yet again, this time in New Jersey.  And once again, I had almost an hour’s commute each way.

So for four years I was caring for other people.  Relentlessly.  That was my job.  I cared for clients, staff, parents.  But not so much myself.  I was pretty much in survival mode for much of that time.  My energy reserves were very low.  I did my work as well as I possibly could, and then when I got home, I kind of crashed.  It was hard to summon up the energy to prepare myself a good meal.  And on weekends, I was happy to just stay home.  I didn’t feel like driving anywhere.

In retrospect, it is so obvious  why I got cancer.  I needed something drastic to happen before I would have the courage and wisdom to say no to obsessively caring for others and yes to caring for me.  Not that I wouldn’t care for others on an emotional level (although my energy for that was more limited), but that I wouldn’t subsume myself in the needs of others at the expense of my own.

After a month or so I decided to stop fighting this desire to not work.  I realized that if my intuition was guiding me to not work a “regular job,” then I would simply need to find a way to reduce my expenses.  They were already fairly low, but I did have rent.  That was my biggest expense.  Then my intuition kicked in again. It said  to ask a friend if I could live with them for a while and barter my rent.  They said yes!

During that next year I wrote,  I walked their dog (and myself), I slept, I dreamed, I prepared healthy food, I drew, I painted, I gave a few massages, did a few odd jobs.  But mostly, I simply cocooned.  I badly needed to hibernate and stop focusing so much on others.

Here is what I now realize.  That downtime, that retreat time, that withdrawal from the world, enabled my energy to rise again.  I had to give myself that time to determine what my spirit needed and what I needed my life to look like.  I had to ask myself “What did I want to do less of?” and “What did I want to do more of?”  And very gradually, as I sank into and allowed this delicious downtime, the sap began to flow again.  My energy began to return.  I knew what my spirit wanted to do.  I began to pursue my dreams.  I allowed myself to make plans to move.  I began focusing on my passions and my purpose.  And I finally realized that focusing on my own deepest dreams and desires was what most greatly contributed to my highest health and well-being.

Too often we wait for something rather catastrophic to happen before making big changes.  Don’t wait.  If you’re feeling depressed, stressed, anxious, unsettled, there’s a reason for this.  Be kind to yourself and figure out what you’ve always wanted to do.  Then give yourself permission to do it.  You will find yourself with more vitality than you’ve felt in a long time.

May you be happy!  May you be healthy.

Abundant blessings to you.

Cindy

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Healing as a Process

15 Apr

April 10, 2012

 

I will be getting another stereotactic biopsy on Monday.  I’m hoping it’s my last one.  I’m ready to be done with all this cancer drama.  I’m ready to be “just me,” as my friend Art used to always say.  (“How are you?”  I’d say.   “I’m just me,” he’d reply.)

 

Also, it’s been a little over ten months since this saga has begun.  It feels like a good time for reflection.

 

This is what I’ve noticed.  For about eight of the last ten months, I feel like I’ve been pretty worthless on a productivity level.   I like to think of myself as being pretty strong, but it seems clear this health scare threw me for a much greater metaphysical loop than I’d ever have imagined.

 

I truly did not have much energy for doing much of anything.  I certainly didn’t have energy for work.  Or for being responsible.  Or for doing things for other people.  If I put on my judgmental hat, I would have all kinds of rather nasty, disapproving things to say about myself.  But if I put on my wings and look at myself from a place of greater compassion, I realize I was a bit more fragile than I thought I was.  And whether it was completely conscious or not, I ended up giving myself plenty of time to truly process things.

 

I’d written a blog post a couple weeks ago in which I was wallowing in my shame about this non-productive time in my life.  I ended up not publishing it, and have to say I’m glad.  Because since that time, I’ve had a couple instances of reassurance that I wasn’t just a total slug, that important work was going on.

 

First, I had a session with a friend who is highly intuitive.  (She has a great gift and she offered me a session as part of an exchange.  I took care of her house and her wonderful dog. Along with some money, she gave me a reading. Yay!)  One of the things she told me was that I’d done a lot of work in the last two years and that the next two years would be good ones as a result.

 

I’d done a lot of work?  I can’t tell you how happy my spirit was to hear that!  I had been bashing myself quite a bit, flagellating myself for not getting myself more together. (My eyes are flooding with tears as I type this.)  I was so embarrassed about how little paying work I’d been doing.   I hadn’t had a lot of work, and I hadn’t had the energy to go look for it.  Nor had I any idea what I really wanted to do.  Except, that is, those things that I love to do – all those things which were not yet bringing me much money.  (ie, writing, art, teaching.)   To receive the acknowledgment that I had indeed been “doing work” was a huge, huge gift for me.

 

I’m sure when she said “work,” she was referring to emotional/spiritual work.  This kind of work is very hard to do in the workaday world.  The soul requires time and space to do this kind of work. And this culture doesn’t really look kindly upon people taking time off for soul-searching. Not that I was consciously “taking time off.”  I was simply in a one-day-at-a-time mode. I just didn’t have the usual reserves of energy, nor the usual font of ideas and inspiration for anything more far-reaching than the next day or two.

 

The second thing that happened was a dear friend of mine said that I’d been a catalyst for a really big change and growth process in her life.  She said that I had had a major impact on her just by being me, just by being a loving presence.

 

This was also so affirming for me.  I had asked her, several months ago, for a favor.  I had offered some services in exchange for this favor.  What I discovered was, though these services were and are appreciated, it was apparently my presence which had been most valuable. What this told me was that Spirit was at work, whether I realized it or not.  There was grace happening in the midst of struggle and in the midst of this not-so-honored-by-society fallow time.

 

Once these two events of affirmation happened, I began to lighten up.  I began to trust that I was being of service in the world – even without trying so hard.  I began to realize that even such mundane things as making posts on Facebook and giving hugs at church were benefiting the world in a small way.  Maybe I didn’t have to do the “big” things – like midwife people into the afterlife with hospice work, or bring in a large paycheck.  Maybe it was okay to just “be me.”  Maybe I wasn’t such a slacker after all.

 

And with that realization, I can – right this minute, feel my heart opening.  I feel a greater connection to Spirit. I imagine the angels cheering as I realize I am okay the way I am; that I don’t have to be more, better.

 

I also notice that in the past month or two, my energy has been returning. I’m not talking about physical energy.  I’m talking about the energy to be more present to other people.  I’m talking about the energy to be more responsible for something larger than myself.   I’m talking about the energy to be of service in the world again.

 

Just as cancer generally takes quite a while to grow, perhaps our spirit takes a while to heal.  Perhaps it’s a process that can’t be rushed.  Like grieving or childbirth, it unfolds in its own time, and no amount of rushing will make it go faster.

 

Maybe I’m okay just the way I am.  Cancer or not.  Money or not.  Busy or not.  Maybe it’s all okay.  It’s all just a process – life is a process; healing is a process.  I am healing in process.  But I think… I think it just may be possible that this chapter in my life is coming to a close.

 

And if not, well that’s okay, too.  In ten months, no doubt I’ll have another realization or two.

 

Blessings to each of you.  Thank you for reading this.