2nd Note: Thank you to all of you who have visited www.sparklesandspitballs.com and checked out my shop. I appreciate all your support. Things are coming along nicely and I am enjoying myself immensely. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do!
Okay, now on to the regularly scheduled, but really late, post:
I have never been the most confident person. I can’t walk into a room full of people I don’t know and just start talking to people. I was painfully shy as a young child and even now myself to be relatively introverted (I said relatively, for all of you who are chuckling at that one!) Sure, as a teacher I am more than willing to put myself out there…I sing, I dance, I act silly, anything I can do to make learning fun for my students. But take me out of the classroom, I’m always afraid people are watching me and judging me. I was always the cautious child, I didn’t really take risks and I certainly wouldn’t try anything new unless I knew I was going to be successful at it. What would people think if I tried to do something and failed miserably? It was easier not to try.
When I hit my 40’s, that fear started to diminish. I started realizing that I had spent 40 years worrying about what other people thought, valuing their opinions of me more than my own. But even still, it was hard for me to come out of my shell, to put myself out there and talk to people I didn’t know or try something I had never done before. And then came my diagnosis. Suddenly I was in a whole world that was new and risky and really, really scary. I had doctor’s appointments and tests and I had to advocate for myself, which I had never had to do before. And once I had my first surgery and I wasn’t able to talk for months, I had to do all that nonverbally.
I won’t rehash all the details of what has gone on in the last ten months, those stories are all in previous blog posts. Suffice to say, it has been a journey to find me. For many months I felt lost. In the last few weeks, since I made it through those first three months post radiation and then got my all clear, my new birthday, I feel like I have become a new person. I am more confident than I have ever been in my life. I am putting myself out there, taking leaps that would have paralyzed me before. I went through hell and I made it through and I am better because of it. Of course, I wish I had been able to get through to this new me without the pain and the disfigurement and the fear, but I don’t think I could have.
This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion. I know I talked about it before, when I was deciding whether I was going to go or not. Eventually, I made it my goal. I needed to get myself feeling well enough to make it to the reunion. And I did. I went to the reunion and had the most amazing time. But it is the months leading up to the reunion that have been the most important to me. I have made connections with people that were unexpected and are so special.
In high school, we all fell into niches. We found our group of friends and it was the rare person who could comfortably move between those groups. I was not one of those. I had my group of friends that I was comfortable with, those who knew me well and who I could be silly and out there with and really just be me without fear of judgment or derision. I knew who the kids in the other groups were, but never went out of my way to befriend them, and they never approached me either. I didn’t dislike them, I just wasn’t comfortable stepping outside that comfort zone.
In preparing for this reunion, I connected with one of the women who was organizing it and we started talking. It was a simple offer to help, to do what I could from behind my computer. But that one little step brought me to a new friend. This was someone I don’t think I ever had a conversation with in high school. I don’t know if we had any classes together, don’t think our paths really crossed. But suddenly, here we were, texting regularly, catching each other up on our lives, like we had been friends forever. She sent me regular check-in messages, making sure I was feeling okay, and listening and encouraging me when I wasn’t. One of the highlights of the reunion was getting to give her a hug…which we did several times throughout the evening. We live minutes away from each other and I expect that our friendship will continue to grow.
I started thinking about shifting perceptions during the reunion, as I had conversations with various people. I talked to people I had never talked to before, not in high school, not at the previous reunions. And I heard things that surprised me. I introduced myself to several people and each time I was met with “Oh, I know who you are.” They saw me, they knew who I was, they wanted to be my friend way back then, but I was so shy, I was afraid to step outside my circle. I wasn’t as invisible as I thought I was.
Before the reunion, when we were trying to make sure everybody knew about it, I sent out messages to a bunch of people, most of whom I have not spoken to in nearly 25 years. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t hear back from everyone, which was to be expected. The people I did hear back from…it was just amazing. We had these fabulous catching up conversations and I am just blown away by the people these kids I knew so long ago have become. And to see some of them at the reunion, my heart is just so full!
Even before the reunion, I was shattering my own perceptions of myself. As you know, I have started an Etsy business. This is a whole new world for me. I have been a teacher for so long and I’m comfortable there. I know what to expect and how to manage my days. In starting my business I have had to learn to promote myself, to be a little shameless about handing out my card or mentioning my products. I have ideas that have to be created, tested, refined. I have new skill sets, like drilling holes in glass (who knew?) and taking product pictures. Sometimes things work. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they fail miserably and end up in the trash. And guess what? The world didn’t stop turning because I failed. No one pointed fingers and laughed. In fact, absolutely the opposite happened. As I shared my failures, new ideas evolved, new strategies for making my products work, new techniques to try. I have grown so much in the last month, just from this little craft business. It has pushed me far beyond what I thought I could do. A little push outside that comfort zone is a very good thing. And a shift in perception, a new perspective on who I am, is also a very good thing.
A little backtracking to something I posted on Facebook last week…many of you know that I have become a part of a group of Facebook that is comprised of various oral, head, and neck cancers and their caregivers. It is a safe place to ask questions, vent, and celebrate, sometimes all at the same time. It is a group I go to whenever I need reassurance and to just hear that what I am going through is “normal.” I don’t know anyone in the group, that is, I have never met any of them personally. But over the last ten months, I have gotten to know many of them quite well and often relied on them when things were particularly difficult. One of those people was a man named Jim. He was just a little older than me, father of two, and had a similar diagnosis and surgeries. While I was fortunate and only had to do radiation, he needed both radiation and chemotherapy. I finished radiation about three weeks before he did. Jim was brash and funny and honest. And unfortunately, his body was not able to recover from all the trauma it had been through and sadly, Jim passed away last week. His death hit me hard. It really shook me to my core. At no time during my illness did the thought ever occur to me that I wasn’t going to make it, that I wouldn’t be here to raise my kids. And here was this shocking reminder that things could have gone very differently for me. His passing made it abundantly clear to me how truly lucky and blessed I am to still be here, to be recovering, no matter how slowly it may seem to be moving. It made me realize that no matter what the future holds for me, and I really don’t know what that might be, I will be fine. Sure, it sucks that I’m not eating yet and it sucks that I still have my trach, but none of that matters. I am still here to hug my kids and kiss my husband and shop with my mother and pester my brother. I’m here to laugh with my friends and advocate and educate and simply live. And so, this man I have never met will be with me always, reminding me of all my blessings. If you are reading this, you are one of those blessings.
Okay, this has gone on long enough today, but before I go, I have a challenge for you. Think about the longheld perceptions you have of yourself. Are they still valid? Do they need an update, a reboot? What would happen if those perceptions changed, if you took the restrictions off? Just food for thought…but let me know what you are thinking, I can’t wait to hear!
Love and sparkles to you all,