Something strange has happened since my hospital stay and stem cell transplant. My ire is gone.
I just wanted the cancer gone, but the radiation or the four days of chemo seems to have removed some residual anger. I’ve wondered before if the stubborn spots lighting up on my PET scans were angry words that I swallowed and lodged in my trachea or the molten glow of my temper in my gut.
I joke that Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza is my spirit animal, because when I try to calm down, it’s basically as effective as angrily shouting, “Serenity now!”
Part of my lessened anger, I realize, is because I haven’t been around people. I’ve been pretty isolated at home and at the hospital, where everyone was unfailingly nice to me. I know a few train rides will raise my blood pressure. But I feel as if I’m experiencing something more long-lasting than the peace of isolation. (As isolated as one can be in such close proximity to 10 million other people.)
I have a legendary hold on my grudges. My mental nemesis list is long and spans my lifetime. It includes Prince and the supposed friend who told my second-grade crush that I liked him. In the latter case, it’s not fair, because her last name rhymed with the word “beaver” and, unfortunately, she was bucktoothed, but I never made fun of her like the other second-graders. Why would she betray my confidence and scar me so I wouldn’t reveal my crushes to anyone again until I was 14 and started dating? I can picture her triumphant, toothy grin after her big reveal.
I still feel a flush of humiliation thinking about that day. (I think the guy in question transferred schools the next year—not because of me—and I saw him as a freshman at Ohio University during my brief time there before I transferred—not because of him. But I still felt embarrassed when I saw him a decade later.)
As you can probably tell, I take things pretty hard. I joke about it, but often I can think about an instance where I felt wrong or hurt and feel just as angry or upset as when it actually happened. It’s something I don’t like about myself. Also, it was no fun to feel those things the first time, let alone again. And again. And again.
That’s not to say I don’t get over things or that I don’t forgive people. True, it’s pretty easy to get on my nemesis list, and it’s pretty hard to be removed. It might involve a jar full of the offender’s remorseful tears. Or, more often, a simple, “Sorry.”
But how do you forgive someone who never asks for forgiveness? Or—even harder—how do you forgive someone who truly believes the way he or she treated you was justified? That’s so hard. For me, bearer of grudges, it’s almost impossible. I’m still working on it.
I may never be able to look my second-grade crush in the eye should I ever see him again, but I forgave that girl a long time ago. Yet that day in second grade was probably the first time I was blindsided by someone who I thought was a friend suddenly and inexplicably turning on me. It happened again when I was 20. And 22. And 24. And 31. And 32. Probably some times in between all those too. I guess I don’t learn.
If you think I haven’t worried that I’m the problem, don’t worry—I’ve given it plenty of thought and therapy sessions. At one point in my 20s, someone who I would say was truly malicious drove a wedge between me and some other friends. She was so skilled at it, and I felt so raw and hurt and vulnerable. I let other people make me feel as if I were a bad person and if I were crazy. Looking back, I can say that’s crazy.
Luckily, I had other friends who reassured me that I wasn’t insane or a terrible person. But I was pretty broken. I even went to therapy for a while to put the pieces of myself back together—and reassemble myself as a more confident person. In a way, that girl did me a favor.
I realized a lot of those people who hurt me were insecure about themselves and tore me down in an attempt to feel better. I have my own insecurities—less after this cancer battle—but I certainly have had plenty over the years. When I recognized insecurity in others, I saw a kinship with the hope we could boost each other up. Everyone’s insecure about something. But when it’s someone looking to belittle someone else—well, I might as well have a big target on my back.
Yet it’s so hard when someone you trust tells you something she believes to be true about you to not take it personally—even when you realize, on some level, the situation is really about her (or him).
I’m pretty gullible at times. It’s dangerous when someone I trust tells me something terrible about me that isn’t true.
I obviously tend to dwell. The other day, though, I found myself reflecting—not dwelling—on some past relationships with family and friends. It felt different to reflect. I thought about things without the anger.
I was really thinking about wasted time. Since the things I can do post-transplant are still very limited and I’ve been limited to varying degrees for almost a year-and-a-half, I reminisced about being well—but I also remembered feeling terrible at times. Mostly, this was because I was dwelling on a past hurt or wrong, making it last much longer than it had to. In some cases, instead of letting myself heal from someone’s words, I picked at it, like a scab, until it became a giant wound.
I regretted the time I’d lost to feeling bad about myself. Wasted time wasn’t any time spent with friends. Or moments spent rubbing the belly of a cat when I had other things to do. It was time I’d stolen from myself. Now that cancer—something that both is and isn’t me—has stolen time, I’m more protective of it.
Poet, author and activist Maya Angelou died today, and the Internet was peppered with her words of wisdom. I read a long quote about forgiveness, and Angelou certainly had a lot to forgive (and a lot to say on the subject). One of her well-known quotes: “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
I’m not going to forgive people for them. I’m going to do it for me.
It’s still really hard, even with less ire.
Could this be a good side effect of the chemo? With so much poison coursing through your veins, there’s no room for additional poisonous thoughts and feelings? Could I have been hanging on to anger in the marrow of my bones? Bones seem like as good a place as any to harbor resentment, being hollow and all. I would think organs or even muscles are too soft for hard feelings. The stem cell transplant was supposed to be a re-birth of sorts.
I have to confess that there’s also something else about forgiveness that appeals to me. If you tell someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness that you forgive him or her when that individual doesn’t admit to any wrongdoing, there’s a good chance it will really annoy that person.
OK, so maybe the old me isn’t completely gone. For now, I hope that the cancer has left, along with my ire. If not, I have to remember that I can control at least my recurring anger, my emotional cancer of sorts.
Photo note: When I’m in doubt of what type of photo to put up, I use a cat photo. I forgive this particular cat on a daily basis for something, almost immediately, because—well, look at that face!