Reconciling what was and what now is
I thought I had planned everything in the lead up to my first day back at work. Right down to where I was going to get my morning coffee. When I drove into work and saw my favourite coffee place had a ‘for lease’ sign in the front window, it was probably an omen of the morning that was coming. If only I had included on my list “managing disproportionate emotional response to Every-Thing”.
I wasn’t prepared for the electric shock every time someone walked past and I saw them pause; their puzzled brain-cells trying to reconcile the familiar face but unfamiliar hair-cut… and then the gradual increase in volume: “Jodie !!! You’re BACK !!!” At first, a lovely, albeit loud, sense of re-connection. But after the 10th time, I hit my ever-so-quick-to-disintegrate emotional threshold. I managed to delay losing my shit for the 3 minutes it took me to scramble for the comfort of the lift and find some outside oxygen.
It’s been two months since I’ve been back at work. Some days I feel like time has stood still for that whole year and I’ve just walked back in from getting a coffee. But other days I feel the weight of a cancer carcass strapped to my leg … Do people see it when I walk by? Do I look like someone who had cancer? (the short back and sides is a bit of a giveaway). Is that what people are saying in the kitchen: ‘She’s the one who had cancer’? I was asked to update my online work profile picture recently because some people simply still don’t recognise me. But I don’t want to – a part of me just wants to look like her again.
The other day was one of those days when I just wanted to forget about the 12 month time warp. My photo ID flipped open and there she was – Jodie B.C. (Before Cancer). Long strawberry blonde hair, smiling, clueless about what was actually important in her life, and clueless about the extraordinary way that Life was intending on flipping the table she was sitting at when she least expected it.
It’s like it all happened in a vacuum… I was gone. Now I’m back. I’m driving the same route to work (with a LOT more traffic), doing the same job (part-time) with the same people (mostly) in the same building (just with a new fit-out). The danger comes from allowing myself to clamber back inside the hamster wheel to start walking/jogging/running in the same spot with my eyes fixed at the same wall.
The kicker is that Jodie A.C. (After Cancer) has a very different view of the world, and it’s one that I’m forever grateful for that I would not have ‘but for’ cancer. Like going from those old black and white 20-tonne TVs with the wire antennae hanging half-cocked delivering a fuzzy outline of a face at best. To now having a High-Def, 75 inch full colour smart TV that can probably make me dinner while I’m binge-watching Big Little Lies! The change in view is beyond comprehension. It’s got me asking: Is this all there is? Do people not want more than keeping everything as it always has been? Am I allowed to ask for/expect more?
I now accept that a disconnect exists between people who have experienced trauma or grief from a health/life crisis and those who have not. For those of us in the “have” group, we each bear scars but also silent strength from being forced to make a set of choices: Change or Forget. Accept or Deny. Conviction or Acquiesce. Resolve or Apathy. The tolerances long-established when we were part of the “have nots” no longer apply. Perspective and gratitude can be lost on those who have never had to claw their way towards acceptance and hope. For our troubles, the “haves” are bestowed the luxury of selfishness (my word for self-prioritisation) and time – we make decisions based on what we need, whenever we want. Let’s call it an ‘entitlement’ … not usually a favourite word of mine, but in this case, it serves the purpose of nourishing and nurturing ourselves, enforcing boundaries, speaking truths, and believing in all that’s possible. (It doesn’t, however serve to justify the M&Ms binges that I’ve been indulging in lately... but that’s for another post).
You can’t plan for change – I mean, as a change manager in a previous life, you kind of can, but the key principle in change management is that it relies on individual ‘motive’ to get it across the line. The desire to want change. And let’s be honest – most people would absolutely avoid such significant change. Because great change usually comes from great pain. It’s not exactly something we are all sprinting up to the front of the line for….”I’ll have an El Grande serve of Pain, thanks! With a side order of Shit Sandwich.” And then the guy behind the bar says, “No worries, here’s your Change!” (just a little joke, right?).
On a serious note, my change plan for now is simple while I ponder what more I want from my world - to continue to believe the words that are etched on a small plaque hanging in my bathroom: May every sunrise hold more promise, and every sunset hold more peace.
“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." - Carl Bard