I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my office chair with my eyes focused on the computer screen working on a spreadsheet when my phone rang. It was mom. Immediately, You could tell something was wrong. She was holding back as many of her tears as could while she gave me some, less than fortunate, news. I still remember her shivering voice. She had just found out that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and wanted to tell me as quickly as she could. As she told me, it truly didn’t process for me. I responded with “ok, so.. can the doctors fix this?”. She said they felt like they could. “alright then, we know where we are and we know where the finish line is so we just have to get there.” After talking to my mom a bit more, I told her I loved her and I hung up the phone.
I sat there, stone-faced, for at least 5 to 10 minutes before getting up and walking over to someone in my department that I wanted to tell. As I walked into her office, I muddled the words “I just found out my mom…” I immediately looked at the ground as I began to break down in tears…” has breast cancer”. At that point, I really don’t know what she responded with. I was absolutely inundated with emotion to the point that I excused myself from her office and went home.
Over the next little while, I didn’t exactly pull away however, I wasn’t there for her as I should have been. In looking back, I found that I “avoided” most conversations about it as if I could put a lid on it and not have to bother with it. it WAS the elephant in the room. My mom went through some very emotional and trying times, you can read about her story here. It changed her, my mom was always so strong and independent. This emotionally broker her. My mom was no longer the same. I walled up even more. It was my coping mechanism. I am not sure where I learned how to block out my thoughts but I was very good at it.
Rewind my life many years before and I remember going to my grandmother’s funeral and almost being emotionless during visitations. The next morning, we had one last moment to see her and as they closed the casket, everything became so real, so overwhelming and so very hard to handle. What I began to piece together is that when something became actualized, I would fall apart because I blocked it out. I would hold things in so long that when it finally broke, it was extremely hard to even breathe. It hurt!
The power of the spoken word is so strong that I now tell this story every chance I get. Experience taught me that until I spoke the words “my mom has cancer”, they were thoughts in my head… not real… until I spoke them (or written as I have come to learn). They became real at that point. Until the casket was closed for the last time, I could tell myself “my grandma is just sleeping”. However, it was at the point of actualization (the closing of the casket) that I had to own the truth and its harsh reality. I took the hard road. I chose to push off my thoughts and emotions in an effort to protect myself. After all, I am a man and I am supposed to be emotionally strong. Well, that is the story I kept telling myself. I cared greatly but from the outside, it could be seen as cold or even heartless. I was far from that but I understand, now, how it looked to others.
Over the years, I have spent a crazy amount of time seeking to understand human behavior; how we think and how our thoughts control our actions that ultimately define our life. I often wonder how much painful experiences, like this one and many others, have helped build the path passionately seeking to understand the human mind. I do believe though, that it is harder to teach things we have not experienced and learned from. I’ve learned a lot, I have learned that holding back our thoughts and emotions can make the breaking point unbearable. It is like consuming poison that we never allow to escape out bodies. Don’t do it. I’ve learned that it is not healthy to “avoid” anything. The more you avoid, the more you find what you avoid. So, instead, I turn to acceptance from the get-go. I’ve learned that healthy men are not fearful of their emotional side and embrace it. Things become far easier to handle when we are authentic to ourselves; hiding/avoiding reality is not being authentic to anyone.
Years later, my mother experienced her second diagnoses of breast cancer. This time, stage 4. What I have seen from my mother is that stage 4 is not a death sentence, it is a life sentence. She is as strong as I have ever seen her. You will not often catch her without a smile on her face. She changed her approach this time around and.. I have too.
I’ve learned from my lessons and so has my family. The point I want to get across here is this, no matter the situation…no matter the issue… we all have a choice in how we will handle it. We can’t control what happens however we can 100% control the meaning of it as well as our response. Even when we don’t like the situation, we do not have to be victimized by it. We have free will to choose meaning to everything in our lives. We can't be upset, frustrated or even sad without our own personal permission. Everything and I mean everything happens for us so that we can continue to learn and grow. If you find that you are having the same “thing” happen over and over… it’s because you have not learned from that situation yet. Take the lessons your life has granted you; accept them and thank them.
So I challenge you!!
I challenge you to look (even reflecting on past situations) and see things differently. I challenge you to find the silver lining, I promise it is there (what you seek will find you). I challenge you with getting tougher when life gets tough. Not from blocking out your thoughts and emotions.. get tough by being authentic and accept what is. You will find this is a far easier path, take it from me and my mother. We can’t change what happens to us but.. we can change how it affects us. I don’t speak of this through rainbow sunglasses. I’ve lived this path… I see things as optimistically as I can because I’ve personally experienced the opposite and I want nothing more to do with that way of life.
With life comes experience, with experience comes education, with education comes a new response, with a new response comes a new life, and with a new life comes happiness no matter the situation.