Back in October after a particularly personal social media post, I got a text from my friend, Jerry. He wrote, “You inspire me with your courage. You put yourself so far out there that you are forced to embrace it. You put yourself on the new shore of radical self-expression and you burn the ship that put you there so you can’t go back. Keep speaking. Your message is wonderful.” I replied with a quick thank-you and was slightly confused by the praise. I wasn’t posting anything new, it was just a bit more authentic. I didn’t think anything of it and kept writing.
And then two weeks ago, the strangest thing happened: I was knocked off of my bravery seat and sharply nudged to the floor by a few questioning critics. I always knew it would happen, but I had assumed that gossip would be from people I didn’t know or those who clearly and out-right didn’t like me. I hadn’t prepared myself with the reality that negative talk would come from some men and women whom I’ve had friendly relationships with for over ten or fifteen years.
The initial blow was rough.
I had started to notice the air getting thick around me. It was like I was walking around in some sort of Willy Wonka land where other people were aware of something that I wasn’t. I had a few social interactions that left me feeling uncomfortable and dizzy. Then it all came to a head. I called a long-time, straight talking friend of mine and said, “I’ve got this feeling that there are people talking about me.” I sort of laughed at the absurdity of my statement and quickly checked in with the date, recognizing that it is 2018, and that I am thirty-nine years old. But my friend didn’t skip a beat. In her peppy, quick-talking and no-bullshit tone, she said, “Yep. That’s exactly what’s going on. I’ve heard some people asking if you think you’re better than everyone.”
I looked behind me at the smoke from my burning ship that I had purposefully sank and wanted nothing more than to MacGyver a life-raft to go back to the place where I didn’t feel stupid, scared, lonely, and so so sad. I cried for two days straight. Three.
I was brought back to seventh grade when the only thing I wanted in life was to fit in with this certain group of kids at my junior high school. I would get to the lunchroom early and sit at their table to ensure that I had a seat. My stomach would be in knots and my anxiety was through the roof. But it didn’t matter to me. I felt like I had nowhere else to go. We were all in the same classes together and – they had once liked me! What could have changed?! Was it because I was chubby and ate Funyuns and salads that consisted of iceberg lettuce, cheese, croutons and ranch dressing while they ate homemade organic whole grain sandwiches? I kept trying to explain myself to them. I would sputter over my words to prove that I was just as smart and worthy to be in the same classes, sit at the same cafeteria table and be part of their conversations. Finally, I realized that not only did I not-belong, but that I didn’t even WANT to be a part of the group. It was too much work, too much heartache, and not enough ease and acceptance. I came to the conclusion that it was better to be alone than to be rejected. What kind of friendship or relationship makes you prove your worth, second-guess yourself and give you heart-racing panic attacks?
As soon as I pulled away, I found one of my life-long best friends. The Universe had my back. She too enjoyed eating Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream pops for breakfast. On weekend mornings, we would sit side-by-side at my kitchen table and fill out Mad Libs with silly nonsensical words. I remember laughing so hard that our arms would be covered with sticky cream from the melting treats and there was chocolate stuck in our braces. It was easy. It was real. And I was completely myself.
After I made that call to my girlfriend two weeks ago, I wanted to individually reach out to the people who had been talking about my posts and explain myself. I wanted to joke with them, be self-deprecating, tell them that I hadn’t changed, and that I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. I wanted to reassure them that I was still a part of their groups and that I was worthy to have a seat at their tables. But I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t. Because it didn’t matter. Their opinions COULDN’T matter. I had to set their words on fire and watch them disappear into the ocean just like the fleet I had already buried in the waves that were crashing at my back. I don’t owe anyone an explanation and it’s a waste of my time to justify my actions. What kind of friendship or relationship makes you prove your worth, second-guess yourself and give you heart-racing panic attacks?
The thing is, I HAVE changed. And I plan on growing and evolving until the day that I die.
But I do not think that I’m better than anyone else.
Here’s more about my life with cancer: It never goes away.
When I was sick, I remember someone writing that I would “not be defined by cancer.” And while I appreciate the positive intention of the words, they aren’t completely accurate. Cancer IS a part of me. While I hope to God it never returns and takes my life; it’s the best slap in the motherfucking face that I have ever received. And I’m reminded of it daily. Not only emotionally and mentally, but physically too. Just last week, my OBGYN offered to remove my ovarian tubes during my upcoming cesarean. She said if Mike and I are sure we are done having kids, then this would be a great option for me. I’ve had two cancers and ovarian cancer usually starts in the fallopian tubes. It would be somewhat preventative and she likened it to women who choose to have mastectomy’s when they test positive for the BRCA gene. My grandmother had ovarian cancer. I can let the doctor know the day of surgery. Ehem, on my son’s birthday. A day that I was really looking forward to only bringing new life into this world and adding more love to our family. Not cancer. Of course, that can still happen and I can refuse the surgery or put it off for a few years. But those are the kinds of decisions I will have to make for the rest of my life.
My near-death experience is when I started writing. And as I began to LIVE this precious life instead of just breathing in and out and going about my day, my writing got better. That’s not thinking that I’m above anyone else – it’s just regular forward growth. If a runner times her very first mile, chances are that after sixty days, her time will have improved. I’m working on a book and I’m projecting my grit with perseverance and passion. Right now there are millions of people in the world who can write laps around me. But there is nothing that anyone can say or do to stop me from continuing what I’m doing. I teach “keep going and follow your intuition” and “keep going” is exactly what I intend to do.
When I told my friend Pete about the naysayers, he wisely said, “Make the art you want to see in the world.”
Being authentic has led me to a happier and more meaningful existence. It has brought me back to my inner voice, my intuition, my own definition of spirituality and has guided me towards my purpose of sharing, speaking, and writing. Because of this eternal quest, I have connected with hundreds of humans who are happy to be met with raw and real. I’m simply making my art.
More importantly, what I’m doing feels good and right to me. When I look in the mirror at my pregnant face, I like what I see. When I put my head on my pillow at night, I rest well (minus getting up to use the bathroom every half hour) knowing that I’ve been honest with myself and everyone else. Last week over supper, with tears pouring down my face, I looked at Mike and said, “I wouldn’t be living this beautiful life if I hadn’t committed the time and effort into all of the work that I’ve done. I don’t know how much more of this existence we have left together and I’m not stopping for anyone. I’m going to keep burning the fucking ships.”