I was going to write a post about how much chemo brain can suck it, but my mind went other places tonight. It went into memories.
I started writing stories when I was in fifth grade. They were terrible little things, but I liked to read and loved to write. I kept a spiral and a book with me at all times. I never knew when I’d get bored and want to write or when I’d need to lose myself into a book and suspend reality. That happened to me a lot as a preteen and teen…the need to suspend reality.
It’s not that my reality was terrible or anything like that. I come from a good family. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were there when I needed support (or a swift kick in the rear), but for a long time, it was easier to be the quiet one. The one who could lose herself in a book…in a story…in a song.
As a teenager, there were people in my life, not in my family, who expected me to “turn out” bad. Those people were acquainted with a member of my family who had a lot (and still does) of struggles. Those people told me they saw that person in me sometimes and if I didn’t get straightened up, I’d have the same struggles. It baffled me. It still baffles me. I was, and always have been, an A/B and the occasional C (thanks chemistry and algebra 1!) student, I had perfect attendance (except for 1 day my senior year when I woke up with strep throat and my mom wouldn’t let me go to school), I sang in choir at school, I had good friends who would rather hang out at one of our houses and watch movies and play games than go out, I followed the rules, and I didn’t get in trouble. I was, for all intents and purposes, a nerd. I didn’t mind being a nerd. That’s how I saw myself, not how my friends saw me.
I couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my head around how they saw anything in me other than me. Sure, I could be loud and obnoxious at time. Yes, I cursed more than I should have if my mouth got ahead of my filter, and yes, sometimes I wasn’t the nicest teenage girl in the world. I recognize that about myself. I can admit I was a mean girl sometimes, and I’m ashamed of it now. But, when it came down to it, all I wanted was to make something of myself. I wanted to be a successful student and adult. And, as a teenager, it was my burning ambition to make my parents proud of me. They were proud of me, but I wanted…needed to accomplish things. My parents never put an ounce of pressure on me academically except to pass my classes and be good. They didn’t have to put pressure on me. I did it to myself. I took honors, pre-AP, and AP classes. I didn’t always get the grades I wanted, but I tried, and I learned. I wanted to go to college…didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, but I was going. And, my other burning ambition? Prove people wrong. I was NOT going to “turn out” bad.
As a teenager, I let it fester…that opinion some had of me because I didn’t fit their idea of how I should have been. I had opinions, and I spoke them. I didn’t give in. I was (and am) stubborn. I didn’t fit a mold, and then, it felt like people were trying to break my spirit. Fortunately for me, others recognized I was letting someone else’s opinion of me fester and demanded I think better of myself and to let the anger go. Besides, I was going to prove them wrong anyway. One of those who encouraged me, once said to me, “You’re never without a book and a spiral. Write. When you’re mad, write. When you’re upset, write. When you’re happy, write. Just write. Get it out and let it go.”
For a long, long time, I did just that. I wrote. I poured my heart and soul into stories I wrote. They were fairly terrible, but I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Writing so much improved my writing. It’s a skill you hone by practice. I graduated from high school, went to college, graduated from college, and became an adult who’s proud of how I turned out. But, along the way, I stopped writing. I kept reading. I devour books. But, I stopped writing
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first people I talked to was one of those who helped get me through those teenage years…the one who encouraged me to write. After we talked for a bit, he asked me, “Do you still write?” And, I had to answer with a no. He asked why, and I didn’t have an answer. So, he told me I needed to write again. I needed to have a space of my own where I could be me and lay bare my thoughts.
For the first three months after my diagnosis, I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t see past the fear and anger. And, I realized, I needed to write so I could see past the fear and anger. Where I could let the fear and anger out. Where I could give it voice and know it’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to admit my struggles. It’s just ok.
And so, Those Four Words came to be. I needed to write. I needed to give space to my words. So…I did. And, I’m better for it.