Holding Space and Making Room: Walking Through the Swamp of Emotions

by | May 7, 2021 | Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health, My Story | 0 comments

When my MRI results came back clear last year, I had an unexpected reaction to them. You can read all about it here, but basically, I felt this wave of confusing and mixed emotions. There was the happiness and relief of course, but then came twinges of sadness, grief and mourning over the before-times, the life I lost that I can’t get back.

I got my results for this year a few days ago, and it was the same. On a day-to-day basis, most days anyway, I’m able to go about my life without thinking constantly about cancer like I used to. I think about healing and how this journey to health has affected me in so many positive ways, and generally I can keep the negatives mostly at bay. But, I have my days for sure, and those days always include the time around a scan or test. I felt the relief, and then almost immediately got hit with the sadness, the anger, the guilt, the doubt. I literally said out loud a bunch of times, “I hate this! I hate that I have to go through this EVERY. YEAR. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.”

Our feelings are nuts y’all. They can make no sense to us, or they can make a lot of sense, but we don’t know what to do with them. And both of these can make us want to just shove those feelings aside. It’s sooo much easier to just shake them off and move forward. We should just be happy and relieved, so we can ignore anything else, right?

I wish that this was the case, because it would be a heck of a lot easier, but it will create more problems for us down the road. The first two years after my diagnosis, I remember feeling nothing but excitement and relief. So, what’s different now? I think, for me anyway, it’s about what was going on at the time. There was SO MUCH negativity and fear and anger in those first two years, so much else to be worried about, that a clear result was one of the few positive things to focus on. Too, what life after cancer was going to look like hadn’t formed yet, and so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how many confusing emotions there would be to work through; it could have been all peaches and rainbows for all I knew! Unlikely, but a girl could hope. Now that I’m here though? The scans and tests are instead a reminder of the negatives, a reminder of cancer. They remind me that I’m still traumatized, and I don’t consider that enough day-to-day. They are a reminder that I have no control over some things in life, and that is scary af. And they remind me that this is what life is going to be like, for the rest of it; a little voice says to me, “Oh right. This is going to be something that I will worry about forever. This is always going to be a part of my post-cancer normal.” Damn.

It might not always feel that way, but right now, it does. And realizing this is what brings a lot of the confusing emotions to the party; the sadness and anger and doubt that we can feel at what others would assume should be something that makes us only happy. And then comes the question of what we DO with this complex jumble of emotions.

Like I said earlier, the instinct might be to push them down, but that’s only delaying the inevitable dealing that we’ll have to do and potentially creating more problems for us down the line. Instead, we should hold space for our emotions to let them blossom and rage and flow. It’s important to feel them, to let the tears fall, to let the words tumble out; the “I hate this!”, and the “I’m guilty I’m still here and others aren’t”, and the “I’m still afraid”. Know that it’s not only okay to feel all the feels you’re feeling, but that you should let yourself feel them. This is how you work through them, and working through them is how you release them and loosen that vice-grip on your chest.

And just as important as making the room to feel these emotions is always helping ourselves come back around to a more emotionally stable place. We can visit these swamps, as I like to call them, so that we can chart a path through them, but we don’t want to live there; if Shrek taught us anything, it’s that holing up in a swamp only isolates us from the world and those around us, and we will just miss so damn much. Find a way to always tap back into a positive place after the negatives have spent themselves. I usually do this by free-writing to help work through that tangle of emotions, to get them out of my heart and onto paper. And then I talk, usually to my partner Jesse, and he reminds me of the positives that I can focus on: how hard I have worked for this result, how many amazing things I am doing to reduce my risk, the other ways of monitoring I make use of like blood tests and thermography (which quiets that voice of doubt), and so many more. If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable talking to about this, just list them for yourself out loud or on paper. Seeing or hearing them can really help bring you back from the muck.

This process of coming back around to stable ground may look completely different for you. It may involve getting out in nature to feel the sun on your face, exercising to distract your body while your mind works, creating art to express what you’re feeling, or going to therapy to get some help in working through and addressing what you’re feeling in a healthy and constructive way. There are endless ways to do this, so just follow what your heart is telling you to do.

Whatever you are feeling in the wake of your scans or tests, know that it is completely normal and that you aren’t alone. Remind yourself that growth and insight and healing can come from working through these emotions instead of shoving them down, and don’t forget to eventually leave that swamp in your rear view.

Hold space to work through what you’re feeling now, and you will make room for something more positive on the other side of that quagmire.

Happy Healing ❤️

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