When I was diagnosed with cancer, in March 2020, I kept hearing “you got this” “you are the strongest person I know” and “you’ll make it through”. While that’s all true, It’s totally beside the point, because some of those comments were for the benefit of the giver to help make them feel less frightened at the notion that the grim reaper can knock on our doors at any time. Additionally, their comments never made room for my difficult to deal with feelings like fear and vulnerability.
But truth be told, I am a participant of the “I can handle it” syndrome. I’ve been doing it all my life. As a kid in elementary school up until high school, I was teased every day of my school career, I was Zagha-nut because of my last name, Cock-eyed because my glasses had one normal lens and one coke bottle sized lens — a futile attempt to get my right eye working — and teased for just being different. I had to pretend every day that it didn’t bother me, until eventually I think being upset sad, embarrassed and lonely was a normal way of life, but those feelings had to be buried because I couldn’t be vulnerable in front of others.
So, I pretended nothing mattered, kept my nose in books as much as possible, and loved tv shows like Bewitched and My favorite Martian where the main characters had magic powers to make it all better. I didn’t have many friends because I didn’t know who to trust. Who will go back to the big bully and provide more fodder for their amusement?
Luckily, I went to a different high school than the other kids, so it was like having a fresh start. I was happier but trauma still lay underneath and I kept it buried as best as I could so I could fit in with the crowd.
Burying negative feelings became my way of coping, and it worked well for a long time. I became a social worker, married a loving man, made some close friends, and established a wide array of interests, one of which is reading tarot cards.
In my tarot studies, I found out that my life purpose card is Strength, represented by a woman taming a lion, our inner demons. It suited me well because I certainly needed strength to get me through life. Carrying around emotional baggage is a tedious job because though the unpleasant emotions are buried deep, life circumstances suddenly present a spurt of envy jealousy or hate which will arise just when least expected. Though I learned why those demons exist, they didn’t go away so I figured that the Strength card meant that my unpleasant feelings were to be managed somehow.
I faced cancer with the same “I can do this” attitude. I never had serious medical issues other than my vision, so after 5 months of aggressive chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant, l figured that I would be all better and life would just go on as before.
I wasn’t prepared for the lost feeling of “now what?” I wasn’t prepared to be immunocompromised for so long, perhaps indefinitely. I realized how fragile I was when Covid shots didn’t work and not even the shingles shot. Shingles was a painful ordeal. Three dental implants since treatment ended, I found out my bones now look like waffles due to severe osteoporosis. And to make matters worse, at 70 years old, my calcified fibroids are growing, and I fell and fractured my shoulder, all — especially the latter — was an immobilizing experience.
I’m running out of the ability to say to myself, “I can do this.” I’m tired of being positive but I’m so used to burying my vulnerable feelings I’m numb with confusion. I want to cry but it only lasts for 15 seconds, then I get all positive again, but my positive energy is dwindling. Then I remembered the tarot card of Strength. I took another look and realized that taming my inner demons doesn’t mean keeping them in a cage. It’s about opening the door and embracing my sadness because I am strong enough to carry it all.
It’s time to face my sadness and grief. I saw a great quote recently on Insight Timer, “The best way out is through.” I want to dig deep, find, and embrace my grief, I want to hug my inner child who’s probably angry at being ignored for so long. I want to be sad for all the awful things that’s happened because I think hiding unpleasant emotions plays a big part in my life: it makes me feel incomplete. While massaging my shoulder, my physical therapist said that healing is best when I can let go and loosen up my muscles. I now believe the same holds true for emotions. I want to move forward with my life as a more peaceful balanced person with a deeper understanding of how I embrace the tarot card of Strength.