I went through a “thing” last month. A health-scare that came out of the blue and made me look at the world through a different lens.
Those of you who read this blog regularly are aware of my propensity to over-think and my struggle to find my new “normal” in middle-age. Hence, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that when my skin doctor called me with the “bad news” of my melanoma a month or so ago, it ignited a whole new, marathon session of overthinking.
Fortunately, on a scale of 1-10, my health scare was a one in terms of seriousness when compared to sufferers of terminal illnesses – especially now, as COVID compromises their treatments. And albeit invasive, my treatment was marginal in terms of discomfort. But it was scary enough to give me an insight into question we all dread: how best to manage whatever time we have left.
The metamorphosis of my mindset over the three weeks (I waited for my results) was an interesting test of my resilience
As you would expect, my initial reaction to the news of my diagnosis was shock, then fear, anger, and self-pity – pretty much all the stages of grief. But the anger dissipated pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before I needed to be hugged, held, and sympathised with, until I found a level acceptance.
My senses were heightened
The real surprise – and I know it’s a cliche – was the way my (potentially) early death sentence made me look at life so differently. I expected to be racked with remorse and despair, for everything to suddenly feel bleak. But instead I started to view the world through rose-tinted glasses.
My senses were heightened, and yet I felt a strange calmness with acceptance. It was like the fear of time running out helped me focus and appreciate the colour in my life, the simple pleasures, and the relationships I am often guilty of taking for granted. The news propelled me to cram in as much living as I could before the end.
There have been many times over the past few years when menopause has turned me into a cranky old bitch (my husband’s words), made me irrationally angry and resentful about unimportant things, and this scare reminded me what I have, rather than what I don’t have.
My scare gave me a lesson in gratitude
I can only describe the experience as a brief glimpse into how I would grieve for my own life as my mind wandered between total numbness to full-on self-pity sessions that highlighted my regrets and dashed hopes, an obsession with my bucket-list, and greater appreciation of minimalism – the lifestyle I have been drawn to in middle age.
It’s impossible to list everything I took away from my ordeal, but below are 7 of the more surprising truths I learned:
- The realisation that I don’t want to die – which for someone who has experienced several depressions was an awakening – and yet …
- The discovery that I’m also not afraid of dying. I came to the realisation that I am grateful for my half-century, especially when so many others are cheated.
- That no one will understand the emotional battle or handle the news particularly well that you have a potentially life-threatening illness. No one wants to believe the gravity of your situation or can really identify with the whirlwind of emotions that come with the territory. That’s why it is easier to limit those early days of processing the news with close family and friends.
- I felt ashamed. Inwardly, I felt responsible and judged for my situation, which is a horrible feeling when you are already coping with a potential fight for your life.
- My legacy is not what I thought it would be. I came to the realisation that the legacy I want to leave behind is not my paltry list of professional achievements, it is my acts of service. It is about the people whose lives I’ve touched by telling them I love them, remembering their birthday, calling them, and being there for when they needed me most; and the awareness I’ve contributed to mental health through my writing.
- The need to change the narrative around death. I discovered the danger of the media’s drive to corrupt the meaning of death. The narrative that living longer and looking younger are what really matters increases our fear of death, which is discriminatory and isolating for those who are nearing the end of their lives, when what they really need is support.
- The importance of an equal healthcare system. My experience cemented my belief in equal healthcare for everyone. Our system in Australia isn’t perfect, but I was made to feel confident in my level of care. My scare was dealt with quickly, professionally, and with compassion.
Has anyone else had a health-scare that was serious enough to change the way you live?