Not to sound bleak, but life is just one big timeline which is reduced to the dash between your actual birthday and the day you die. The key is to have ‘dashing’ moments (i.e. make them count!). You know, the expectations to your first kiss, graduation from school, the trip of a lifetime, the marriage / joining to your best friend and lover, the final mortgage payment and even retirement! These are the countdowns that make our heart sing, and there are so many others.
However, with a chronic condition or major illness, there are lots of ‘other’ countdowns (i.e. waiting for to get an appointment with a specialist… expecting the test results… waiting to have a treatment in hopes of feeling better… getting the ‘okay’ to go back to work… anticipating hair loss after having chemotherapy… waiting for the side effects to lessen.. wondering when will our body heal… and so on…). The waiting game can seem like torture, since all you want to be is ‘normal;’ it seems like life is spent waiting for the next appointment or the next call. As much as you try to live a normal life, a chronic condition or illness consumes your life, because it is always there in your mind and in your body. And yet, living in the future doesn’t equate to quality living.
I share this because after my first chemotherapy treatment, I began waiting for two specific things. First of all, I began the countdown to baldness. It is written that one’s hair usually falls out on day twelve. I prepared myself by cutting my hair short, but I still waited with baited breath for my hair follicles to fall, kept touching my head, and looked intently at my pillow every morning. Well day twelve came and went. Yes, they did fall in clumps on day eighteen, and I survived (I cried, got buzzed (via clippers, not alcohol), went out and about with my bare head, went wig shopping and am fine). Secondly, after a rough time with chemo side effects, I began the countdown to my second chemo session. As much as I wasn’t looking forward to chemo again, I was disappointed being told that the oncologist wanted another week for my body to heal. In my head, I was to have chemo on Friday, but my body (and the professionals) said ‘no, let’s wait a week.’
Disappointment comes when we expect things. The nature of this beast, and I’m sure your beast is similar, is wanting life to run like clockwork and to go how we want it to go. Well, it doesn’t…and so, what is one to do? Here are four things that have helped me when my expectations have not worked out:
1. Acknowledge your disappointment that things didn’t go according to plan. We care and that is why it bothers us. For me, I wanted to get through this chemo treatment schedule as quickly as possible. Mentally and emotionally I had banked on the timeline the oncologist wrote on the whiteboard for me. Now, it is going to be longer. Needless to say, this woman who rarely swears, was swearing.
2. Get over it… as quickly as you can…by being proactive. Holding onto disappointment over what didn’t happen or what someone did, or didn’t do, can be harmful. It can eat away at your joy, peace of mind and hope; it doesn’t serve you or makes things better. With me, I saw my hair fell out (I saw it in my hands and all over the shower). I cried, then cried some more and then knew I had to be proactive about the situation (thus the buzz cut and wig shopping). Getting over it doesn’t change the situation, but it makes living in the present a great deal easier. (Side note: be prepared to repeat #1 and this step as many times as needed. Feelings of grief and frustration don’t have a timeline and need to work themself out in their own time).
3. See it as it may be for the best. “What?!?!?”, you say. I wish I could say this point is 100% accurate, but sometimes it is. In my case, two days after the news of my delayed second chemo treatment, I saw that my body did need more time. I now know that my body will be stronger for this upcoming Friday’s session and weeks of effects.
4. Make countdowns for things that make your heart sing. Often times we can be so focused on our ‘to do’ lists and schedules, that we can bypass the moments that can be really amazing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have countdowns with chronic conditions, as remembering appointments and treatments are very important, but try to focus on the special things in life. There are people to see (or have over, even if your house is a mess), trips to be had (even if they are daytrips to the park), concerts to hear (even if it is on iTunes) and so on. With my recent baldness, I am counting the days until I get my head hennaed by a talented artist. Something, or someone, to look forward to does wonders for the soul.
So, whether you have a chronic condition, illness, or just dealing with the ups and downs of life, I hope this helped you with your own countdown woes and expectation disappointments. The key is to feel what you are feeling, get the help you need, and to focus on what makes you happy. Be on the lookout for the good things, people and situations in life.
P.S. Here are a few shots of my chemo hair loss to date...from an 'artsy fartsy' self portrait shot just after I got my hair buzzed (by Vanessa), to my first day in the city after the cut and to how it is today. In upcoming posts, I will share my wigs AND the comparison bald shots of when I was one years old to now. Stay tuned! :)
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