When I began chemotherapy, I lost most of my hair pretty quickly. What remains is a feathering around my head, which makes me look like a monk. The interesting thing, however, is that as my eyebrows are thinning, the left one is much thinner than the right one. My eyelashes are falling out, too; however, my left eye has lost a lot more than my right eye. I also developed a problem with my voice and, upon an initial examination, I learned that there is a “slight asymmetrical quality” to my vocal cords. The left side is slightly weaker. These various uneven qualities seem to be in line with several other imbalances in my life.
When I was seven years old, I discovered that I have very little vision in my right eye. My parents took me to every eye doctor imaginable and I went for eye treatments at Bellevue Hospital to see if they could make the right eye work. They couldn’t. Oddly enough, I learned how to write before my vision problem was discovered and naturally began writing with my left hand. In those days, for some unknown reason, it was bad to be left-handed, so my father made me learn how to write with my right hand. To this day I have difficulty differentiating right from left. I remember traveling with a friend and while she drove I would navigate. She would ask, “Do I turn right or left?” I would point and say, “That way,” hoping I guessed right. Thank goodness for the invention of navigational systems. I still refer to my eyes as “my good eye” and “my bad eye.” I was so happy to get married because, among other reasons, we wear our rings on our left hand. I usually touch my wedding ring whenever I am in a situation to have to know which way is right or left.
I consider my right eye as “just there” for symmetry, because I see that my left eye, my good eye, just took over. It pushed aside my right eye and started to do all the work. I have come to realize that this is a frequent coping mechanism I’ve somehow learned to use in my life. I can plod ahead through life with a lot of heavy emotional baggage, without even thinking it’s possible to let it go; I just move ahead because I have things to do. But now, when I feel the weight of that luggage, it makes me think about all the asymmetrical issues I am experiencing in life and in chemotherapy, and that there is a larger theme in all of this.
I have written before about the importance of creating a balance in life. I believe the qualities in us that we refer to as “negatives” teach us lessons and are important for our growth. Accepting that they exist without judging them naturally leads us to find ways to overcome certain obstacles so we can discover our resilience. In addition, it helps us appreciate the positive parts of our lives that much more, as we have much to compare it to. But if creating an equilibrium is the goal, it is sometimes easier said than done, which brings me back to an asymmetrical life.
Perhaps asymmetry is more the norm than we’d like to admit, and by thinking of balance as the goal we are ignoring the benefits we can gain from looking at all the unevenness that is a part of our life. Having goals inspires us and focuses us toward higher learning and a greater state of being, but seeing where we are is just as important as seeing where we want to go.
I am leaning that our asymmetrical qualities are the instruments we can use to get us toward balance. It’s about recognizing the tools we have, and how to use them to get us to where we want to go. I see that with my vision issues. Having vision in only one eye created learning problems when I was growing up, which in turn fostered a poor self-image. I spent years feeling inadequate, just pushing things aside and burying them so I might do the best that I could, which was never enough. But as I am learning about acceptance and having compassion for myself, I look at all the ways vision in one eye made me a more persistent person, and I am amazed. Vision in one eye impairs perceptual skills, which made driving difficult, to say the least, so when I got a car I panicked as I drove up Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn on my way to work. My only goal at the time was to get to work one day without the panic setting in. A wise friend suggested that I learn to trust that the lanes were wide enough for me and my car. What a wonderful recommendation, but having a poor self-image also affects one’s ability to trust. Still, I kept her suggestion in mind because I liked her logic, and kept driving to work. Eventually I understood that that there was room for me on Ocean Parkway, and later I discovered that there is also room for me in this wonderful Universe. I now drive without panicking. In fact, sometimes when I drive I feel so elated that this is a skill I learned spite of my lack of perception. I now have a car with cameras and it is so excitingly liberating! Acknowledging the asymmetrical qualities that exist in us helps us see that they are not necessarily weaknesses. Instead of wishing things were better, we can use what we have to move forward. Those very qualities we try to ignore are what we use to bring us further along in life. When I became aware that I was driving to work without panicking, it lightened the load of my heavy baggage, and the pride I felt in being a driver helped me understand that what I thought was an obstacle was really the vehicle to liberation.
In life, it is often easy to point to obstacles, like my vision problem or being a slow student, as reasons for not moving on. It’s safer to say, “I can’t,” and let fear and old baggage get the better of us, but I see that each time I achieve something, my heavy baggage gets a little lighter, and I feel better about who I am and who I am becoming. There is always a place for us in the Universe even if a poor self-image might suggest otherwise. Learning to see our imbalances as the tools we work with instead of limitations lifts our spirits. When I realized I was a smart person but a slow reader, my vision issues made me structure my time differently, allowing me to study for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
So as I go through chemotherapy and watch the changes in my body, I do become upset at all that I have lost during this illness. I have periods where I just feel sad and lethargic, which is another imbalance, but I believe that there is value in succumbing to the sadness. We can examine it, make friends with it, and eventually learn from it. Laying around feeling sad and being unmotivated is what made me eventually question why and what, and it gave me the idea to write.