Tell me, what it is you plan to do …

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

I’ve been in a holding pattern for the last two weeks, since I found out I needed a biopsy to rule out breast cancer. All future plans were quite suddenly circling the drain, waiting for word on whether I’d be moving forward as I thought I would be, or taking a completely unexpected path down the road of literally fighting for my life.

Thankfully, I got the results back Monday afternoon, and all is well. No cancer; not even a sign of any pre-cancer potential. I didn’t realize how much I’d been holding my breath until I heard those words from my doctor. What a relief.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? This line from Mary Oliver’s poem struck me the first time I read it, and has stuck with me for years. WHAT. IS. IT. YOU PLAN TO DO WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?

Geez. It’s a simple question, but for me it comes with all sorts of pressure attached to it. Probably because I’ve felt like I was wasting my one wild and precious life. Not living it to the fullest. Not taking risks. Staying in a relationship that wasn’t healthy, wasn’t what either of us wanted or needed, and had no way of being what we wanted or needed. And then, two weeks ago, a significant smack upside the head.

DO SOMETHING with this wild and precious life, because who knows how long it will last.

My radiologist’s office made a mistake on my biopsy results, and included results for another patient in my report. Luckily I didn’t clue into it, but man was my doctor angry (that’s putting it mildly). There was one paragraph in my report stating that carcinoma was found, and surgery was recommended. I thought it was a reference to what *could* happen, and the reason for the biopsy. But, no. It was another woman’s results. Another woman who got the bad news I did not. Another woman who is now headed down that unexpected path of fighting to take her life back from cancer.

Last night, I got together with three very dear friends. One of them has a niece, B, who is 34 years old, and in the final stages of advanced lymphoma. None of the chemotherapy treatments have worked, so at this point they are just trying to make B as comfortable as possible, and hopefully strong enough that she can go home for a while. There is no hope for her; the cancer will take her. I’m so sad for her and her family; she is so young and it’s just not fair.

Thinking of both the woman whose results made it into my biopsy results in error, and B, makes me feel I must absolutely live my precious life as fully as I can. I need to care for this physical body of mine; keep it strong and healthy. I need to care for my spirit as well; I need to love myself. And I need to take responsibility for my life. No more coasting, no more excuses, no more rationalizing, no more wasting precious time.

I’m still not sure of what I’m doing. I have doubts, and questions, and reservations. I’m not clear about how I’ll support myself. I’m not sure where I’ll be living. I’m afraid of the unknown; afraid of making a mistake; afraid things will be worse than they are right now.

But I’m moving forward anyway. Because I really do want to make something of this wild and precious life that is mine. I am moving forward with clear biopsy results. Already, I’ve lived more life than my friend’s niece B ever will and have yet more time.

Every day is a gift. I have a responsibility not to squander it. Too many people don’t get tomorrow.

 

 

When it rains it pours …

Seriously.

As if enough of my life wasn’t already changing (exploding? transforming? imploding?  evolving? falling apart? Pick a day and a different verb will surface to describe how I’m feeling about everything. Every day it’s different, that’s for sure).

Last week I went in for my annual mammogram screening. As has been the case for the last five years or so, I was called back in for a diagnostic screening. I have calcification in my breast tissue in a few areas, and my tissue is also too dense for the standard mammogram to see through (lucky me). Yet another thing for many women over 50 to enjoy: calcification of tissue.

One quick aside: my health insurance (I think this is the case for all of them) will not cover a diagnostic mammogram without first having a screening one. How asinine is this?! They end up paying for two procedures, because I always have to have the diagnostic. But, nope. No coverage if I don’t have the screening one first, no matter what my history is. It is so very stupid, and another (albeit simple) example of how f*cked up the health insurance industry is in the U.S.

Anyway. Back to yesterday. I went in for the diagnostic, which is usually fine and I get the green light. No changes, nothing of concern.

Yesterday was different.

Some of the calcifications “seem to” have changed, and so they want to do a biopsy. I looked this up online (I know, I know) and yeah. WebMD and a few other sites seem to recommend a biopsy if the calcifications have changed. I don’t know if I have “microcalcificaitons” or not; the micro ones seem to be of more concern in their potential to be pre-cancerous.

Seriously, I’m afraid to even ask what else could possibly happen in my life right now. Nope, not gonna even go there. Let’s just throw everything up in the air and let it rain down like confetti; see where it lands. But I’m telling the Universe, enough already.

Divorce. All the financial insecurity of having been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years (yeah, I had my own small business, but that doesn’t count. It’s never supported me in full, or had to. Until now.). Losing my current health insurance and having to get my own policy (which is even more nerve-wracking now that this has popped up, and might be considered a pre-existing condition. Which might no longer be covered if the current political administration has its way … or has it already been dropped? I swear I can’t keep track anymore). Moving out of my house, not sure where yet. Kids both heading off to college. Perhaps moving really far away from the area I’ve lived my whole life. Which would also mean moving very far away from family and friends (though many have said they can’t wait to visit). And, if I move, extricating myself from one of my businesses, and running the other one in a way very different than I have before. Wondering if I should close up both businesses, if they really can’t support me, and do something else entirely (and if I do, what?!). Plus, if I move … the overwhelming physical MOVE.

And now, the cherry on top of this colossal pile of overwhelm: the possibility of breast cancer looms over me like an ominous cloud. I’m thinking positive, of course (well, I’m trying to … some days, like today, it’s hard and what I really want to do is stay in bed all day with tea and my books and f*ck the adulting).

I’ve had an annual mammogram (or twice-yearly for a couple of years when the calcifications first appeared), at the same radiology office, since since I was 40. I have no family history of breast cancer. I still have this rock sitting in the pit of my stomach.

I was scheduled for first thing Monday morning. I decided to reschedule so I could talk to my doctor, which I was actually able to do this afternoon. He had already spoken with the radiologist, who said that it looks like I have NEW calcifications since my last check. And so, yes, my doctor wants to do a biopsy to rule out cancer. He said not to worry; it’s probably fine. I’ll worry anyway, of course. Because there’s always the chance it won’t be fine. Now it’s scheduled for next Friday, but I may try to reschedule it for sooner so I don’t have to agonize for an entire week. We’ll see. Worst case, next Friday, and then I’ll get the results the week after.

I’ll get through it, either way. I know I will. I just never imagined I’d have something like this pop up NOW, when everything is already a crazy bag of monkeys I barely feel like I’m holding onto.

Yeah, truly. When it rains it pours. Ok, universe. This is more than enough, thanks.

I Never Regret Anything. Because …

I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end. ~ Drew Barrymore

Not surprisingly, in the midst of such a huge upheaval of life, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, what I will do, where I will be, who I will be. I’ve also been thinking about all the things I used to dream about, what I used to tell myself, the person I thought I was and wanted to be, how I envisioned my life unfolding, what was important to me, what I wanted for myself out of this life I’m in. So many things start rising to the surface; I suppose this is a normal part of such a giant life change.

One thing I can remember writing and thinking about when I was younger, over and over again, was how I wanted to live my life so I would have no regrets at the end of it. I wanted to see everything, experience everything, go everywhere. I wanted to be a shriveled old woman lying in my bed, thinking back on my full life with joy and satisfaction. I didn’t want to be laying there with regrets about roads not taken, choices not made, things not experienced. Now in “middle age” (my age may tell me that’s where I am, but my soul disagrees), I’ve realized it’s an impossible feat to have no regrets at all, but it’s probably not even the best plan for one’s life.

Regret is defined as “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” In that respect, it’s impossible to not have regrets. Each of us will always regret something we’ve done or said. We’ll be disappointed in ourselves for hurting someone else, for doing something thoughtless, for not being the best parent or partner or friend. It’s human nature to be imperfect, so these sorts of regrets are inevitable. All we can do is our best to minimize the times we do or say something we’ll regret later. For me, this is “interactive” regret – how we interact with other people.

It’s not the “experiential” regret I wrote and thought about so much when I was younger. It’s not the kind of regret I’ve been struggling with for so many years, even perhaps up until this past weekend.

The kind of regret I’ve spent so much time pondering over the course of my life is the regret attached to not living life to the fullest, not experiencing – doing-going-seeing – everything I possibly could. I didn’t want to get to the end of this life and find myself regretting the chances I didn’t take, the opportunities I didn’t reach for, the doors I missed opening because I was banging against the closed one I thought I wanted. I wanted to be an adventurer and a risk-taker. I’ve always felt like I was neither, and that’s been a regret I’ve held within my soul for a very long time.

I didn’t take the chance to do that semester abroad in college. I didn’t quit my job and go back to school to get a Masters degree. I didn’t move to London for a year like I thought about doing, just for the heck of it. I didn’t move to Scotland like I dreamed about doing – moving there, getting a degree in Art History or English Literature, staying there on a student visa for a while. I didn’t take a year off between college and “real life” to travel and go on adventures and see the world. I didn’t go to art school. So many things I didn’t do, and I feel like I’ve allowed myself to be buried under these regrets for years.

BUT (and these are some big BUTS).

What’s keeping me from doing any of the above things now, or later? Just because I didn’t do any or all of the above things when I was younger doesn’t mean I can’t at some point, if I want to. Right?

And, the biggest BUT of all: do I regret coming to this point in my life, not having done all the things I thought about doing when I was younger? Do I regret not going to the more prestigious high school my parents originally wanted me to attend, which might have led to a more prestigious college, and potentially greater opportunities related to that? Do I regret spending so many years in a career I didn’t really enjoy? Do I regret feeling that perhaps I married the wrong person (as I’ve been told I did by that very person)? Do I regret spending all this time in a marriage that was so rocky, so up and down and fraught with fighting and hurt and disappointment on both sides? Do I regret that my life partner wasn’t what I’d dreamed of – a soul mate, with all the attached ideals of intimate connection, acceptance, celebration? Do I regret not having a nanny so I could stay in my career (which I didn’t actually like, but I was good at it), make more money and perhaps now have a substantial retirement fund that would allow me to not have to continue to work to support myself? Do I regret the chances and opportunities I didn’t take when I was younger because I wasn’t brave enough to take the risks?

No. I really, truly can’t regret any of it. And this is absolutely because of three big aspects of my life:

First, and most importantly, I can’t regret any of what’s come before because I would not have the amazing children I have, who astound me every day with the incredible people they’ve become. They wouldn’t be who they are had I not stayed married and kept our family together. And if I hadn’t married the person I did, they wouldn’t even be here. Sure, I might have had other children that I would love, but I wouldn’t have THESE children. And they are so very special I’m truly dumbfounded sometimes that they came from me. They humble me with their awesomeness. Their existence is something I would never, ever change, not even in one tiny way.

Second, I would not be the person I’ve become, and I’m really quite okay with who I’ve become (except perhaps for the extra weight I’m carrying around at the moment ;-), but I’m working on that).

Third, I wouldn’t have the amazing friends I have. Each decision, from one of the earliest my parents allowed me to make, which was the high school I attended, has brought me the richest, and most wonderful friends. And I feel so lucky, because I have friends from each different phase of my life – high school, career, post-career, local. Again, I’m sure I’d have other friends if I’d made different decisions, but I wouldn’t have the friends I do. And I wouldn’t trade any of them.

So, when it boils down to the basics, I wouldn’t change any past decision, because each decision I made (even the non-decisions made by NOT deciding) brought me to this place, these children, who I am, the people I cherish, and the future before me.

Here’s the thing about “experiential” regrets. Unless you absolutely hate every single thing about your life now, it’s pointless to regret past decisions or directions. Because every decision, every fork in the road, has brought you to where you are now, with what you have now, in every facet of your life. Who knows the snowball effect even one different decision, no matter how small or inconsequential, might have made to where we each find ourselves now. It’s totally like “Back to the Future” and all the time travel movies and stories, where one small change made in the past changes everything that comes after.

For me, this has been truly liberating and a major shift in my attitude – for the better. Because it’s freed me from my past, freed me from obsessing (which I tend to do) about so many of the “what ifs” of past decisions. It’s freed me from spending too much time thinking about all the other “people” I might have become –  had I moved to London, or taken a year abroad, … WHATEVER … it just doesn’t matter. Because if there’s even one thing I wouldn’t want to change about now (and clearly for me there’s more than one), then there’s NOTHING I could have changed, because every single step and decision, no matter how small, has brought me to where I am, who I am, and what I have now.

It’s that simple.

All there is is moving forward. Isn’t that beautiful?

 

 

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted …

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. ~ George Addair

I heard this quote on a podcast over the weekend, and it resonated to such an extent I really can’t describe how it’s affected me. Other than it’s a “Yes!” moment. I feel it to the depth of my soul. I’ve said it to myself too many times to count in the past two days. It’s so true. Fear is the bridge through the fog that so many people don’t want to walk over, because they can’t tell if it connects to something on the other side, or if they’ll just fall off the edge into nothingness.

It’s time to look fear in the face – fear of the unknown, fear of the what-ifs (those f*cking what ifs! I hate them!), fear of not being good enough, fear of not being able to support myself … fear of stepping into the unknown void of the future, without knowing what’s waiting for me there.

I think this kind of fear stops so many people from making changes in their lives. I know it has for me. It’s easier to deflect, to step back from the fear instead of facing it and then walking through it. Because, what it what’s on the other side is worse? What if I end up in a more tenuous place? What if it’s horrible and I regret it? I don’t want to have more regrets.

Those damn what ifs. I’d like to ban them from my psyche. At least the negative ones that serve to keep me where I am for no good reason other than that it’s known and comfortable in the being-known.

It’s rarely the awesome “what ifs” my psyche conjures. Like: what if it’s BETTER?! What if the place that lives on the other side of fear is nothing less than glorious? What if stepping through the fear brings me to a better version of life? What if a future on my own is more exciting, satisfying, liberating, expanding than I could ever imagine? What if by stepping through the fear I can be stronger, a better role model for my kids, do more and be more present for myself and for them, be an even better version of myself than I could ever imagine?

I’ll never know unless I step up to the fear, acknowledge it, perhaps give it a hug and a pat on the back, and then walk through it. Because NOT stepping up and through fear of the unknown may be the biggest regret any of us will ever have.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and be faced with regrets about what I didn’t do, the risks I didn’t take, the chances I may have missed because I didn’t step out of my comfort zone. I don’t want to regret not opening myself up to the universe of possibility and potential, and instead staying where it felt more comfortable and safe.

Sometimes fear is a good thing. It’s self preservation: don’t go walking alone at night. Don’t give my address to strangers. Don’t put myself in precarious or unsafe situations. The intuition that tells me where I am is not a good place to be – don’t take the shortcut through the woods, turn around and go the other way, that person is giving off bad vibes so let’s cross the street.

But the OTHER kind of fear – the fear I’ve been struggling with for a long time – is not healthy. It’s the kind of fear that keeps me from taking chances, keeps risks at a minimum, and keeps me in my comfortable environments and situations, even though they may not actually be all that comfortable or all that safe. Change is hard, and it’s risky, and the unknown is downright scary when one is looking at it from this side of the fear.

This kind of fear keeps us from reaching our potential, because it keeps us in the the “known,” which has the real capability of stunting growth and potential. So much of growth and learning comes from walking right up to the unknown, letting it be a catalyst for change by jumping off the precipice and right into it. Then there really are no limits. Fear of the unknown can keep us from our destiny, and who would ever want that?

Change in itself can be scary, except for those lucky people who seem like they’re dare devils with their own reality, always ready for the next adventure, or risk, or wild dive into the unknown. I’d like to be more of a dare devil, but it’s not something I’d ever say I’ve been. Yeah, I’ve taken chances – quitting my career, starting a small business, starting another small business. Those were all easy, though. They didn’t feel all that risky, because I had the safety net of being married and not relying solely on myself for my livelihood. If they failed, I had support to fall back on. Now it’s different: it’s just me.

And that is as terrifying as it is exhilarating.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu

Woo boy.

Is that first step ever a big one. Sometimes it feels like it’s the hardest one of all. At least it has been for me. It was all the cliches: easier to stay the course, not upset the apple cart, not face the elephant in the room. The closer I got to the precipice, the more frightened and anxious I became. And the harder I tried to step away from it. I had all the usual internal dialogue: it was better to stay together than have the kids bounced back and forth; it’s not really that bad; if I could just (insert whatever here) things would be better.

Fear can be so incredibly debilitating. As a woman who left her corporate, professional career to be a stay-at-home mom, it was terrifying to consider how I would support myself and my children on my own, after being out of the workforce for so long. Yeah, the support of the kids wouldn’t have all been on me, because it’s not like their Dad was a deadbeat. But to have become someone who was scared – of the present, of the future, of the what if’s and all the unknowns. It was exhausting.

It’s damn scary looking into that “abyss.” For a long time knowing something was off: I wasn’t happy, but thinking (and, let’s not sugar coat it: being told) it was me – I was depressed, or unhappy because I was overweight, or just struggling to be what I needed to be. Really, I was struggling to deal with someone who was a bit Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That’s hard – not knowing who was going to walk in the door each evening. The subconscious feeling of walking on eggshells, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. Thinking that I had some control over things. Being told often enough that if I didn’t do this or that, or DID do this or that, things would be so very much better. How often did I hear “this is what you do” as a reason or excuse for a fight. It can sort of make a person find herself in a place where she questions herself – her sanity, her ability to communicate, her very “self” – more than is healthy. If I could just do “this” or “that,” or say “this” or “that,” maybe it would be okay and it would be a good night. And then dealing with the storm when it wasn’t.

Sigh. It sucked. Really.

So, this is going to be my online journal, of my journey in pivoting my life in a new direction, and either reconnecting with my “spark,” or finding a new spark. I’ve already made some progress; I’ve taken that first terrifying step. I’m still terrified, but it’s mixed with excitement about the future, and maybe a little bit of elation. I’m on my way! If you’d like to tag along, I’d love the company.