Through all my learning, connecting, struggles, hardships and achievements, there is always an undertone that colours my experiences. There is a part of me that I battle with everyday and every night. I am an angry person. I am self-aware enough to know that I should not give myself that hat to wear, but I would be lying if I said that anger didn't have at least one firm grasp around the threshold of my life. But to deny that anger would be to suppress it. To ignore something doesn't mean it ceases to exist.
Calling yourself a spiritual or mindful person isn't about only focusing on the positive. There is this idea out there that spiritually attune people don't have room for negativity in their lives; that they don't acknowledge it, living blissfully in this state of approving enthusiasm.
This is total bullshit.
Calling yourself a spiritual or mindful person is about focusing on positivity, but it is also about accepting negativity. It is about understanding the polarity of negativity, and that positivity can't truly exist without it. If you are finding yourself on this journey to betterment, this journey to self-care, self-love and self-appreciation, my guess is that there was a catalyst to push you there. My guess is that there was an experience that hardened a part of you and showed you the ugly sides of the world. Why would you search for something more beautiful if you hadn't seen or felt something terrible? The aboriginals mistook the sails of a ship for clouds because they didn't know ships could exist. Just like you couldn't look for something more fulfilling if you didn't know you weren't fulfilled.
I often toy with where my anger truly started. Was there some event from my infancy, lost in the memories of a growing brain? My memories take me to my father's death, his succumbing to cancer when I was 11 and just starting to grow my boobs. I lost the most important man in my life while I was just becoming a woman. My female-ness became confused. I felt an overwhelming need to be the man of the house - to be the calm, strong one while the hallways were echoing with sobs, my older sister and mother's weeping like a tragic harmony. I remember lying on my bed, listening to my mother and sister cry on Christmas Eve after my sister tried to sneak presents into our stockings. She knocked a heavy stocking off the mantle, sending it crashing onto a tiny sculpture of my mother's. It shattered. With my father dying only a month before, (on my mother's birthday) any little ruckus lit the house up in tears, engulfing it in its insatiable fire. My mother felt upset. My sister felt guilty. I felt trapped.
To this day, I still have nightmares about looking into my father's dead eyes. To see their blue pallor lost in the whites of his gaze. It's a nightmare that haunts me so much, I turned it into a piece of fiction. I'm often asked to contribute to a collection of short stories by varying authors, and this particular edition was themed nightmares. What bigger nightmare could exist than watching your parent painfully die? I cried - angry - the entire time I wrote the piece.
My father was a massive man, towering over my tiny frame with wads of black hair and soft blue eyes. Bathing his weakened body - once strong - felt cruel. To the both of us. My tiny hands could barely wash all of his back. I could feel his embarrassment seeping into the water as he sat atop a milk crate in our bathtub, staring straight ahead as I poured water on him. I was careful not to wet the gnarled piece of his head where part of a tumour was removed, making his head cave in as if it had been hit with a baseball bat. As I aged, all I could think was, what a cruel way to live out the last of your days - mangled, embarrassed and afraid.
Five years later, I sat in a room in the hospital with my four - maybe five - closest girlfriends around me. I still don't know how they got there - which one drove with a shiny new licence. We sat in a circle together, each nervously pawing at an itchy bra strap or twirling a long piece of hair. "I have cancer," I said, watching each of their eyes fill with tears. Mine didn't. It still didn't feel real to me at the time. My family had already been through cancer. And wasn't cancer reserved for old people?
I walked back to the hospital room that I wasn't allowed to leave, numb from all their tears.
After my long black hair started falling out, I shaved it in my mother's makeshift basement salon. I cried then. I stared at myself in the mirror, alone, feeling more hideous than I ever have. And to be completely frank, I have never felt beautiful again since that moment. Every time I looked in a mirror, I became more hideous, more beaten by cancer. Grayer. More tired. Weaker. More bald. Sallow. When I was completely deformed, my own mother didn't even recognize me. She screamed one day, startled by my rapidly changing appearance when I accidentally snuck up on her. I burst into tears then, too, and locked myself in my room for the entire day.
What a cruel way to live out the last of your days, I thought, mangled, embarrassed and afraid.
As my condition worsened, I became increasingly jealous of my beautiful girlfriends, each with their boyfriend, long hair, and pretty skin. It began to put a wedge between us because it was impossible for them to understand the impossibilities I was living. But it was my father who owned my thoughts. It was his diseased gene that was infecting me. It was him who had caused us years of pain. It was him who wasn't there now when I needed him. I felt like I hated him, worshipped him, longed for him and was devastated by him all at once.
During our youth and teenage years we are incredibly malleable. It's where we develop our thought patterns and where we begin to learn who we are. I was developed in isolation within a manilla lined set of walls. I spent hours alone, drugged, vomiting, shaking and afraid. It's where I became spiritual. It's where I learned how to write. It's where my anger was born.
But my anger blossomed with my health. As I entered remission, I was not who I remembered. I was bald, swollen. I had parts of me removed. Friends were no longer there. My home had changed. My dog had died. Something inside me was missing. Gone. Different? And I was angry. My mind remembered what it felt like to do pushups, to run, to sing - but my body wouldn't let me. Everything needed to be relearned. And that would take time. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to physically do what you mentally remember. I compare this to growing old - but I'm not old.
I will let you in on a secret. I have never fully recovered. Yes, I am partially damaged internally, but I have yet to be able to do the running and pushups - the dancing, pilates, yoga, racing - that I did once. I have had ten years to recover, and I haven't recovered. My energy never returned. I used to be a competitive dancer, but my neuropathy confuses the connection from my brain to my leg. I want to dance again, but I'm too mad at my body to try. I'm scared that I'll be out with friends and someone will snap a picture of me, catching the scar on my neck at a bad angle, or the hair on my face from hormonal imbalances, or that my once thick head of hair will look thin, ugly and scraggly. I'm scared I'll always have the puffy, saggy cheeks that extended use of prednizone gives you. I'm scared I'll never been thin again - I gained 70 pounds on steroids to fatten me up for chemo, and I've never lost it. I'm scared everyone will see me as ugly as I saw myself all those days in my dark bedroom.
And that's when I get mad at myself. That's where my anger comes from. I'm stuck in my sixteen-year-old mindset, infatuated with feeling pretty, wanted, and like my friends want to hang out with me. As a 26-year-old, I'll never have a 16-year-old body or face again. My battle with my ego - with vanity, and my desire to feel pretty and feminine - was never learned properly. It was jarred when my boobs started to grow, and stolen when my period eventually came. I have always wanted to be a man, because the person I idolized was a man. There is this internal war toward femininity that I don't know how to fight because a part of me wants to be feminine and beautiful; soft and delicate; taken care of - finally - and another part wants to be masculine, a provider, strong, and like I can wear my wounds like trophies.
I grew up with beautiful women. My mother and sister are absolutely striking, and I was raised in a hot pink hair salon. I have been surrounded by beautiful, healthy things. The universe has given me a plethora of influence but I get mad at the universe for forcing those things on me when I feel like I don't belong with them.
Every feeling extends back to anger. Anger takes over everything. It makes me feel absolutely crazy, enraged and broken.
But once shattered, the light was finally exposed. These cracks - these fissures - are the reason I am able to have moments that feel like I'm shining - moments that are happier and more full only because I know what it feels like to be truly empty. When someone tells me I look like my father. When someone tells me I'm strong. When my body proves its strength during childbirth. When I hear the words remission. When faces smile back at me at a book signing. When Derek dances with Hawksley. When my mother laughs...
Every time I hear of a friend or family member being diagnosed with cancer, I have to force myself into a cold shower to cry. I get so angry that I feel like I'm going to burst into flames. But then I dry myself off, put my clothes back on and keep going.
Allowing anger, or fear, depression, anxiety or whatever ailment you chose to experience in this life, is the key to living harmoniously with it. It does not define you, it is merely a part of who you are - like blue eyes. When you fight it, you're just fighting. And fighting is exhausting. We all have these parts. We all experience rage, fear, depression, anxiety, love, joy, goofiness, blunders. We experience them so we can collect them like badges to wear on the cosmic vest of our existence. Each life might be something new. Maybe a past life was dedicated to learning the effects of genocide, what it meant to abuse my wife, what it felt like to be a slave, to own slaves, what it felt like to be an alcoholic. To die young. To outlive everyone you love.
Don't discredit how important this life is. We are meant to learn all these trying lessons.
This human existence is so funny. The range of emotions we are privy to is absolutely insane. What a complicated, delicate thing we have with life. So easily we could perish - so many times we don't even consider it. Our darkness, our broken bits, our horror stories, tragedies, heartbreak and challenges - they're all fists sent from the Universe; sent from a part of ourselves - desperately pounding on us to try to get the light out. Each crack brings us closer. And with enough cracks we just might burst into light, finally eliminating darkness once and for all.
Because all darkness is, is the absence of light.