My family went to see Finding Dory last weekend, and besides being an adorable film that all of us loved (and that made me sob like a baby being sleep-trained,) it was also a good reminder for me about where I am in my life right now.
I want to be able to say that everything is wonderful, that my health is great and that life is nothing but joy. Sometimes I feel like that is what people want and expect from me. I mean I am a Cancer Survivor! I have lived through so much, it’s kind of time for me to be over all my health issues and emotional baggage. Now I realize that most of you probably don’t actually think this, but it’s what the not-so-nice voices in my head tell me. There’s also a lot of “Quit whining, at least you’re not dying,” and “Stop being so lazy,” that last one may be surprising to those of you that think that someone who runs a non-profit and has twin 4-year-olds has the right to relax every once in a while. But anyone who also battles depression and/or a really harsh inner critic understands that those voices aren’t rational and that they are extremely hard to ignore. Part of my well-developed coping mechanism system is that I keep myself busy doing things, I keep creating, I keep moving- because sitting still is dangerous for me.
I don’t know if depression is something you ever really “get over.” For me, while I’m not in the dark hole of major depression that I have known, there is still a certain heaviness around my heart that feels frighteningly close. When the tragedy in Orlando happened I spent days weeping. Breaking down into sobs at unexpected moments. Because I have such close ties with the LGBTQ community. Because there were years of my life that I spent dancing my nights away in gay clubs and I understand how much of a safe space that is supposed to be. For some people, especially in conservative areas, a club or bar is the ONLY place that they can truly be themselves. Imagine how exhausting that would be. To constantly be pretending, hiding yourself from the world and to have the one place that gave you relief from that pressure be violated in such a horrific way.
That same week I also got some test results that have left me in a pretty raw emotional state. My anemia, which I have been dealing with ever since my colon surgeries in 2014 has been getting worse. My numbers suddenly dropped alarmingly so the doctors decided to do an Endoscopy and Flex Sig (like a colonoscopy for a person with no colon) to check for bleeding. I was hoping that they would find the bleeding and be able to zap it right then and there and the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, they did find the bleeding, but the area was too large and too fragile to cauterize. Basically my pouch is just fine but the area around where they reconnected my small intestine has large bleeding ulcers and the tissue is extremely sensitive, so trying to stop the bleeding could actually wind up making it worse.
My GI did some biopsies and said he would talk to my surgeon and get back to me. The biopsies came back negative for celiac (duh, the only thing I eat that doesn’t bother my body is gluten) and Chrons (thank God, because if I had my colon removed because of Ulcerative Colitis and then developed Chrons too I would have totally lost my mind!) So that’s good, but it still leaves me with significant internal bleeding that “has no medical solution.” The current plan is to keep dumping iron into my system, check my blood more regularly to see exactly how much I am loosing and hope that I eventually just get better on my own.
Um…yeah. That doesn’t really sit too well with me. Oh, and by the way when I asked about a time frame for my intestines just “healing themselves” the GI said maybe years. Like 2-5 years or more. So I’m just going to be bleeding internally, which leaves me feeling tired and kind of crappy, and have to go get iron by IV every 2-3 weeks potentially forever.
I have a pretty good amount of perspective, and what I am dealing with now is absolutely nothing compared to the kind of daily agony I was in a few years ago. And I guess I know that my body does not, and will not ever function like that of someone with all their organs. And I have to learn to deal with that- but I feel I have a right to be a little pissy about it now and then.
And sometimes it makes me really angry, or really sad. Last Tuesday, I had just talked to the doctor and started crying when we got off the phone. I could not stop but I had to go get the kids from summer camp. So I walked into their school crying, and signed them out crying, and buckled them into the car crying, and then got home and put on Annie and watched it with them until I cried myself out and passed out on the couch.
At least my girls are growing up knowing that mom has feelings too. When they asked why I was crying I just said “because I’m really sad. You know how when you are sad you cry?” And they accepted that answer and gave me hugs and cuddles and didn’t fight while I slept next to them.
But through all this I do see how lucky I am. Lucky that I have friends who call me and offer to watch my kids after they see me crying uncontrollably at school pick-up. Lucky that my girls have amazing emotional intelligence for their young age and are able to be gentle with me when I need it. Lucky that I have a husband who will let me sob in his arms even when I don’t have the words to explain what feels so deeply wrong.
So what does all this have to do with Finding Dory? Her mantra, one that was present in the first movie but gets a meaningful explanation in the sequel is “Just Keep Swimming.” Whenever things get bad for her, when she forgets and is terrified, she always goes back to a little song she sings to herself, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” And every time, if she can just calm down enough to keep swimming something will happen that will lead her to a better place.
I’m adopting this as my motto too. Because I have been through a lot, like A LOT, and when people ask how I got through it I usually answer, “I just decided to keep going.” or “I got out of bed every day (well most days) and prayed that there would be another day and that it would be better.” But Dory’s line is simple and effective. The opposite of swimming is drowning and that is something I refuse to do.
So when I make myself so busy that I don’t have time to think, I’m swimming. When my body is so fatigued that I can’t make it through a day without napping and yet I still decide to create an entire summer camp program in just a few weeks [seriously check out Camp Kindness, it is really cool!]- that’s me swimming. And sometimes if I don’t return your call or email or text, it’s not because I don’t appreciate the love you are showing me, it’s because at that moment I am unable to discuss what is going on in my life without missing a few strokes.
Some days I am barely keeping my head above water with a frantic doggie-paddle, and some times I am gliding gracefully and joyfully through the water with ease. But no matter where I am on the about-to-loose it scale that day, I will trust that I am not alone, and that I am having a tough time right now, but there will be an easier season eventually if I just keep swimming.