Have you ever felt adrift in a sea of normalcy? In which everywhere you look it appears as if everyone is carrying on as usual, and you are not, even though on the surface it may appear as if nothing has changed…
It’s soccer season here in the Northeast, the crispness of fall air is starting to appear, and I am on the verge of my 3rd cancerversary. I was diagnosed just days after my youngest started kindergarten, and just a week or so into their fall soccer season.
Every weekend, just a few blocks from our house, the fields would morph into a sea of kids all dressed in their uniforms and parents, eager to watch their kids and connect with their adult friends. The year I was diagnosed, it was such an odd place to be in, I was immersed in a sea of normalcy, while my life was anything but normal. I might as well have been lost on an island, because as hard as I tried, I really could not connect with what was going on.
We were coming to terms with what was happening to us. We were shell shocked, so to be out and about in public felt like being in an alternate dimension, kind of like the Twilight Zone. Everything looks familiar- but there is a certain quality of surrealism and unease that keeps you from fully relaxing.
Cancer, of course, is not the only thing that puts us in that boat. Any significant life change can create that jarring sense of discord, even when the change is positive.
Besides coping with the actual curve ball that has been thrown your way, the other major challenge of these moments is sitting with the unknown and sitting with our mortality. Even when the prognosis looks promising, on some level we are being reminded that no one lives forever.
It’s understandable if your gut instinct is to want to paddle like hell to any possible shore that you can find. Yet often there is value with learning to accept the fact that you are adrift, and rather than rushing away from it, finding a way to center and ground yourself enough to simply be with it.
There was a story this summer in the paper of a family with local ties, who had recently returned after sailing around the world for 6 years with their young children. The family had spent time living in various communities, but they also were often at sea for long periods of time. In the interview, I was struck by how the youngest child described his response to the high seas, storms and ocean crossings:
“I was asleep the whole time,” he said with a shrug. “They’re just big waves.”
If you find yourself adrift, perhaps you can borrow some of the essence of what this 9 year old did instinctively, re-defining what could have been catastrophic into something more manageable, yet honoring what is rather than minimizing it. It’s going to take some time before you find your way, and through acceptance we reduce the suffering that we feel in this moment of uncertainty. As Pema Chödrön wisely advises:
Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears
– 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.