Guilty Gratitude

What a powerful experience.  An emotion that drives many of us to feel less than, ashamed, or even invalidated in our own feelings.  Whether it be true or not.  I believe guilt is the foundation by which many of us experience anxiety, depression, pain and struggle.  Especially with the exposure from social media outlets.  Another fallen officer whose family is ripped apart in the blink of an eye.  Another soldier who won’t be coming home.  Another child who will be laid to rest after a long battle with a childhood cancer.  Another mom and dad who won’t be bringing their child home from the hospital.  We are certainly no stranger to the pain and suffering that exists in the world.  It makes me physically ill to think about and yet here I am, still suffering.  Suffering with my own battle and feeling the heavy weight of guilt because others have it worse.

To each his own is an understatement.  We all feel things and experience life events differently and very personally.  I have to learn to grant myself permission to feel, to grieve, and to wallow in my own emotions.  This is after all my journey, although I must not forget I am not alone.  The ironic thing about life changing events is that each persons experience is individualistic in nature.  Maybe people think that you’re so wrapped up in what you’re dealing with that we won’t notice what’s going on around us, but you tend to pay attention more than ever.  

I don’t really appreciate the saying “it can always be worse” even though I’ve said it many times myself in the past.  Logically, yes, the words are probably true.  But it can be a hell of a lot better too.  To every person, what they are going through is very real and very raw.  It may simply be a flat tire on the way to work, that will end up costing them an hour of two of pay and a hundred and fifty dollar tire they couldn’t afford.  For that person, in that place and time, it sucks.  Does it compare to experiences of life and death, of course not, but it doesn’t take away from how that person is feeling in that moment in time.  

I feel guilt because I feel as though I may have felt more anger than gratitude over the last eight months.  The experiences I’ve endured are ugly.  They really make you question things like “is there a God?”  Or, “do things really happen for a reason?”  Also, if I had a dollar for everytime I heard how this is going to make me a better, stronger person.  But why, I want to scream.  Was I really that bad to begin with?  Did I need some serious fixing that could warrant the last several months of my life?  I know I can’t possibly be the only one who questions things when things go wrong.  When devastation sets in and you want to drop to your knees and ask why.  

Recently, friends of our best friends were hit pretty hard by devastation.  I can’t tell you how many times I read others response to their loss. “You will rebuild.  They are only things.”  Although I have never experienced the situation at hand,  my stomach cringed everytime.  Not because the people saying these things were ill intended.  As a matter of fact, I am sure it was just the opposite.  Human beings are fixers by nature.  They want to say the right thing to make everything seem just a little better at that moment.  The only problem is, when you are grieving, all you want is for those around you to allow you to grieve.  To just shout from the rooftops, “this hurts so bad!”  You obviously will get through this, but for the time being let the grief be felt and the devastation be absorbed.  

I felt immense pressure in the beginning of my diagnosis to uphold this hero front.  This mask of strength and optimism to put others at ease when deep down I was the one who needed rescuing.  The beginning was also the easiest in some strange way.  Maybe it was the adrenaline.  The feeling of going into battle.    Little did I know that my trips to the doctors wouldn’t have empowering songs playing in the background such as “Eye of the Tiger” and “Survivor”.  There wouldn’t be crowds of supporters cheering you on and there certainly wouldn’t be this overwhelming sense of pride for serving your duty.  Everyone’s lives are moving forward while yours is on hold.  The trips are quite dreadful to be quite honest.  I’ve also heard I need to change my perspective towards treatment because it will give me back my life.  Let me tell you, easier said than done.  If you had a mile of burning coals to walk across before you could enjoy your life again, would you thank your firey morsels of pain and agony for getting you where you needed to be?  Maybe.  But certainly not without cursing their name.  I promise you.

So, going back to where I began, I feel immense empathy towards those struggling with his or her own devastation.  However, I struggle with the petty complaints of everyday life.  I have to constantly remind myself that we are all humans, and at one time or another, I was that person complaining about things that didn’t deserve a second thought.  I am now that person who is learning very deeply about what I refer to as guilty gratitude.  Grateful to be surviving, but guilty for struggling so hard.

I want to end with a story for how powerful the mind is.  Every other Thursday is treatment day.  For those of you close to me or those around me, you are well aware I struggle with severe flu-like symptoms for days following my chemo, and then it subsides to nearly fatigue before I have to return and start all over again.  It is a routine I have come to accept and anticipate.  Now the interesting fact is that the vomiting control center of the body is located in the brain, although you absolutely can have triggers sent from the GI tract.  Thursday mornings are now violently ill for me for no other reason other than past experience.  It literally takes everything in me to get out of the vehicle and walk through those doors.  The smell alone sends me into an intense case of the dry heaves before I no longer can control the urge.  I have to be honest in saying I can’t write these words without gagging nearly to the point of getting sick.  

The point of this story is that the mind translates experiences to emotional and often physical responses.  It is so incredibly powerful.  Don’t let your experiences hinder your emotional growth.  There is plenty of people who have it worse, and at the same token, plenty who have it easier.  We must not feel guilty for how we experience life’s triumphs and let downs, and also not judge others for how they experience theirs.  It’s what makes us who we are and we shouldn’t ever feel guilty for that.  Someday I will get there.  Tomorrow is just a bridge.  For now I will practice this affirmation: “From guilt, to grace, to gratitude.”