If any of you are even remotely like me, you crave some sort of control in life. You long to believe that you have a say in how things go and your expectations will be met. If you experience a situation where you feel like you have little or no control, your anxiety kicks in and you freak out, even just a little bit. Or you become angry and blame anything and everything around you for your mood.
This is a natural response. We are hardwired to want to survive, and to survive we want to be in control and not experience pain or suffering. It makes sense, but wreaks havoc on our relationships and paradoxically causes more pain and suffering in the form of anxiety.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t feel much different; everything went by in a blur throughout treatment. Then suddenly, I’m healing 3 months out and ready to start my “new normal” and I realize I don’t know who I am anymore. I completely lost my sense of self.
Many of us build much of our sense of identity from our careers and the most frequent roles we play. Before cancer I was a critical care nurse and a mom mostly. Those two things defined me. But when I was going through treatment I couldn’t be a mom most of the time (in my own definition) and I still lack the energy now to be as great a mom as I want to be. I’m still out of work and won’t be able to return to the bedside where I spent almost a decade caring for critically ill patients and their loved ones. Bedside nursing probably defined me even more than being a mom. I spent years in school and built hundreds of relationships with fellow nurses, doctors, techs, RTs, etc as well as patients and their families. I’ve been a nurse longer than I’ve been a mom.
“You can only lose what you cling to.”
So recently I started studying different thoughts from Buddhism on attachment, compassion, and acceptance. I’ve learned that I’m pretty good in the compassion department, UNTIL I become attached to an idea, a person, an emotion…anything. I also suffer when I try to challenge something instead of accepting it. It seems like I’d have to give up all my own ideas to follow this way of thinking, right? Actually, no.
In Buddhist thought, letting go of attachments means we have more freedom to fully love and feel true joy. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about others or form bonds. It means those relationships and bonds don’t control our emotions. In practicing acceptance, we just allow ourselves to be present. When we form expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. That doesn’t mean we should let people harm us or stay in bad situations, but from an emotional standpoint accept that it happened, deal with it appropriately (such as pressing charges on an abusive partner), and continue to live.
In my situation, I’ve come to realize I need to accept that my life is what it is now. There is no point in mourning the past, it will never come back. I can learn from the past though, and use lessons from it to apply to my present life. I try daily now to accept the hardships that come my way and also realize they won’t last…nothing is permanent.
Impermanence can be a scary topic. It forces us to admit none of us will be here forever. However, that makes it even more important to be grateful for every moment. Even the bad moments have lessons in them if we’re willing to find them.
Now, I’m becoming grateful for this last 8 months of trials I never dreamed of facing. I’m becoming more fully who I am meant to be. My soul is shining brighter than ever and I’m content more often than not, even when I’m in pain or tired. I’ve accepted this is my life, I’m letting go of perceived control on outside factors and focusing on controlling my reactions to things, and I’m practicing self compassion more, as well as developing even stronger empathy for others…including those who don’t share the same beliefs or ideas as me.
To sum it all up, life will keep going, with or without me. It’s time I learn to let go and just enjoy the ride as much as possible, and help as many people as I can to do the same along the way.