“Have you noticed this bump before?” asked my oncologist at a follow up appointment.
“Hmmm… I don’t think so” I replied (surprise and confusion (have I?) step into the room).
“I don’t see it mentioned in my notes, I think we should either decide to monitor it or schedule an ultrasound. What would you like to do?” my onc replies.
“Ummm… (anxiety stops by to say hello) not sure.” A little time passes as I mull it over. As I was feeling the little bump, I asked for clarification where she considered the bump to be since my foobs tend to confuse my internal body map.
“The chest wall”. (Adrenaline starts to flow, the chest wall is scary place for breast cancer survivors)
In the two weeks between the appointment and the ultrasound I knew I needed to practice acceptance of the various thoughts and feelings that crossed my path. If I were to draw it, I imagine a narrow path surrounded by whirlpools and quick sand. To continue on, I needed to be mindful that they were there, recognizing that I was capable of walking past them without having to be sucked into them or having to will them to go away. They exist as a natural response to potential danger as well as reminders of the healing process all survivors need to walk through in order to heal.
Our culture tends to value the power of gratitude, which many of us interpret as focusing on what is positive. As I have written before, I am a believer in positive thinking, but not when it is taken to the extremes of causing shame, guilt, avoidance, and so forth of our “negative” thoughts and feelings. Interpreting feelings as being good or bad lends itself to black and white, concrete, judgmental thinking that deeply impacts our capacity to embrace the gray tones of flexibility, non-judgmental openness that are the building blocks of being a resilient person.
What we don’t always anticipate is that if we rely on repressing, avoiding, or freezing out all of the negative thoughts and feelings, we also repress our ability to feel confident, joyful, peaceful, content and so forth. If we desire the positive feelings, we must make room for all of the other feelings as well.
In fact, if we proceed down the path of repression, we ultimately lose the capacity to feel anything at all. While the short term impact may seem attractive since it alleviates pain, the long term implications are often very detrimental to our well being and can create a lot of anxiety about how to manage when finally we reach the point of no return and they erupt.
If our feelings are messengers that carry important information to help us survive, turning them off would be like turning off the emergency warning system that helps us prepare for a disaster (like the tsunami warning system). Will the tsunami not come simply because we turned off the warning system?
Returning back to the title of this blog, practicing acceptance of our thoughts and feelings allows for a more complete and complex view of gratitude. Gratitude for our blessings as well as for the challenges we have faced. By accepting them, we access new levels of resiliency, which strengthen our ability to manage adversity and increase our confidence to do so. And with that, we gain the opportunity to live more fully, more thoughtfully, more lovingly with ourselves and others.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.