You know the phrase “This is the first day of the rest of my life”? I’d been rehearsing it in the run-up to the appointment with my consultant, following my second operation for breast cancer several weeks ago. Being prepared to move forward into whatever was next. A watershed moment, either to step beyond the diagnosis or go into a new round of treatment.
I thought I was ready, I’d even practiced saying the phrase to myself. Turned out I wasn’t…
As the surgical and oncology team expected, the results were really good. No more treatment or surgery required. This truly was the first day of the rest of my life.
But the phrase was hollow. I couldn’t say it. And when the nurse specialist suggested Steve and I go out and celebrate, we let the words drop to the floor.
I couldn’t even call all those lovely friends and family who had supported and prayed for us. So I opted out and sent texts later in the day.
What was going on?
Fortunately, I had enough self-awareness to recognise that whilst I was making a good physical recovery, I was mentally and emotionally in a mess. And I needed to just rest.
Today, two weeks on, I am ready to at least talk about being ready to move forward… It’s a start!
What stops us being ready to move forward?
As you’d expect, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. What’s wrong with me, why can’t I just step up and move forward?
Here are a number of things that may be going on:
1. What if… preparing for the worst
Like many others, we’ve experienced a whole saga of challenges. Over the last few years, it’s been relentless: serious ill-health (both human and alpaca); financial collapse; close family bereavements. So part of holding back has been in case there’s more to come. It somehow feels safer not to celebrate, than believe that this is the start of a good season. So the fall, when it comes, is less hard.
As I write this I realise that we were in danger of putting on the cloak of victimhood. And that’s not a healthy place to be.
I’m ready to move forward from there, knowing that whatever comes our way down the road, we will be able to walk through it – with help.
And that’s the thing: victims don’t tend to ask for help…
2. I don’t deserve this
This is a particular issue for me. I’ve been brought up in a culture that rejects the notion of entitlement. And I am probably more alert to punishment for failure to make the grade.
But also in the context of breast cancer, I am hugely conscious that many women with the diagnosis have to endure far more trauma and uncertainty than I have. Somehow it feels wrong that I get off so lightly. I can’t celebrate when they are suffering. What right have I to move forward when they can’t?
Of course, this is rubbish. It reduces our experience to a binary phenomenon, which denies the marvelous complexity of life and living. But thinking and feeling are two completely different things!
3. I’m afraid of failure
If I move forward, I might fall flat on my face. Again our history over recent years has not been an unmitigated success. But what I now know is that what we call failure is really just an opportunity to learn more. To grow and find new ways to move forward.
Actually, we can’t truly learn anything or develop further if we are too afraid to fail. Getting stuck at this point is the real failure because if we don’t move forward, we die. It’s just an imperceptibly slow death…
I have a long history of making quite acute judgments about where I can succeed and where I am likely to fail. As a result, I’ve chosen to only do things where I can excel.
But there’s also something really important about being prepared to move forward into more vulnerable territory. For me, that’s about emotional vulnerability and needing people. I’m so glad that the last few months have started to teach me that this is OK.
So here’s to learning and growing in the uncomfortable places, in the spaces between ‘fortress me’ and new, wholesome life.
4. Not ready to choose
To move forward does involve choices. We need clarity of direction. And sometimes we’re just not ready.
For me, it is almost certainly a mixture of actually we are really not ready, and it also feels too risky.
Over the last few weeks, I know that I was not in a safe place to make major life decisions. This is reality. And that reality was that I have been emotionally and mentally drained. The warning on post-surgery information sheets is there for a reason. ’Don’t make any significant financial decisions or write cheques for at least 24 hours after surgery…’
For each of us, there are times and seasons when we need the wisdom to see where we are. If I had followed through on some of my ‘decisions’ over the last few weeks, we’d be in a dreadful place right now. Thank God that I didn’t!
There are also times and seasons when we simply haven’t done enough preparation to make a decision. To know which is the best move forward, to commit. Sometimes that’s because we just need to do the work. Other times, it’s depending on events and situations outside of our immediate control. We just have to wait.
But also it can be because we are simply putting it off. If so, be prepared to dig deeper to understand why.
When we give ourselves permission to really stop and reflect, without the constant chatter in our heads, we often know what’s going on. If we are honest with ourselves.
5. Things never change, really…
If we fundamentally don’t believe that we or our circumstances can change, then there’s no point in getting ready to move forward.
Why would we expend the effort to set ourselves up for failure?
This self-limiting belief can be huge and cunningly disguised. It might be about ourselves or others close to us. It may have been laid down over years of experience with the little voice of “I told you so” perfecting its narrative over time.
Change is never easy. To rewire our neural pathways isn’t so much about putting up roadblocks to old thought patterns, as creating new ones that take more of the traffic over time.
It is possible. Celebrate every time you move forward. Not in unreality, but in gratitude for every opportunity to be and to become your best selves. Before long you’ll see how far you’ve come.
I’m practicing a number of small steps, including being more honest with myself and others about where I’m at. And making more direct contact with people.
6. Not really believing we have a purpose
Why would we get ready to move forward if we don’t really believe there is a reason for our existence? If it’s all just random, why bother?
For many of us, we simply don’t stop to think about such things. That’s just for philosophers or poets.
But actually, there is a unique calling on each of our lives. There is no one who could, or will, ever be me. I am not an accident.
The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. Bernadette Jiwa quoting Neil Gaiman in Story Driven
It is awesome to realise that I do have a role in the ongoing creation of the world. And the world would be poorer without it.
Carpe Diem – seize the day
Each day is a new day. Every single morning it is the first day of the rest of our lives.
The cycle of days, seasons and years will keep on turning. We can’t stop the sun coming up. So in that sense, we never stand still.
But we can choose, and keep on choosing, to move forward. Not every day will be a big day, a massive shift.
I’m actually glad that I couldn’t herald the day of my wonderful results as the big step change. I wasn’t ready. There were – and still are – things I need to work with and people I want to honour.
And in the realm of embedding change, the small consistent steps are the best.
So I’m ready to move forward – slowly just at the moment!
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