My dad didn’t believe that simply being good at something was good enough, you had to be Best. Oh how I must have disappointed him. Childhood me failed to stay cute, failed exams, failed to grow into a demure young lady. Adult me failed a first marriage, failed to provide grandchildren, failed to live conventionally, even failed to stay solvent.
But I hit my stride when I got invasive breast cancer, with the highest grade tumour for starters. The treatment choices on offer were a mastectomy, or lumpectomy and radiotherapy. I quite liked my breast so I chose the latter; the cancer returned within four years, so that choice was probably a failure too.
A dervish-like approach to coping overshadowed any fear of cancer. Everything I could possibly control was micro-managed and governed with an iron fist. I became the Dictator of my own mind, certain that mental discipline was the key to survival, and my default setting was being best at fighting cancer.
It was an interesting approach, and a coping mechanism that worked at the time. With hindsight we learn the tighter the grip, the harder the lesson. Life doesn’t necessarily obey your will, however much you crave a parental pat on the back.
Dad died in 1994 in circumstances that showed his whole ethos was less ‘do as I do’ and more ‘do as I say’. His fear of failure led him to his grave and from there, he reached out and passed me the baton of his impossibly high standards.
Being a control freak brings many benefits; namely burying the real picture in minutiae of managing detail. I called it ‘dealing with cancer’, called myself a ‘workaholic’ and carried on regardless. The day of reckoning came in the form of a mental breakdown, and true to form, it was spectacular; the best implosion I could possibly manage.
Psychotherapy, talking therapy, medication, holistic therapy, horses husband and friends pulled me through. I am very lucky. One momentous day, I shed my armoured coat and walked in my own skin. It was a shaky start, and I admit I wasn’t very good at it, but not being good felt ok and the world didn’t stop turning.
Of course, I’m not the first to realise this, it is summed up perfectly in the famous C.JoyBell C quote “It’s the hard things that break, soft things don’t break.” I’ve found the key to staying soft is noticing when I’m not. I can manipulate and forcefully manage if I choose, but I notice it doesn’t really work; other people don’t follow your expectations, life often doesn’t go the way you want, and horses have their own agenda. There’s more to be had from gaining knowledge to better cope with a situation, and make informed choices that stack the odds in your favour. Inevitable change stays inevitable however many barricades you build. I still don’t like things that happen to me (who would), but by managing myself I feel more in control than I ever was before, and at the moment I feel the best I can possibly feel.
Sorry dad; I failed to carry your baton, but it was the best failure I ever made.
12 thoughts on “dropping the baton”
Elaine, I so admire you, your writing, and, most recently, your decision to spend less time on the Barn pages, which I also love but which have left me feeling overwhelmed with the need to respond to everything, let alone to keep posting my own journey. It is a relief to be able to follow you here. We have horse, husband, cancer and writing in common. Thank you for being here!
Lisa, I’m happy/not happy we share share so much in common.
It’s taken me a long time to ‘come out’ to the world about the cancer, and I’ve been amazed that so many other people with whom I’ve shared a common thread, have said “me too”.
I know exactly what you mean about needing to respond to everything at the Barn, as if its impolite not to encourage and comment.
Its as much a relief for me to find you, here, too. Thank YOU for being here.
I keep saying this with each new post I read, but this is the best yet! I guess what that means is how much it resonates with me…to gradually realize that “being the best” actually means being the best at being YOU…I can’t imagine a more powerful and life-changing experience. And the feeling of seeing the “flaws” or seeing through the expectations of a beloved parent, and loving them just as much (if not more!), that struck home for me as well. I am so happy that you’re sharing yourself like this!
thanks Susan for your enthusiastic response, some things do resonate more with our own circumstances.
It’s a shame it takes us so long to morph into what we are meant to be, but maybe thats what life is all about?
I’ll keep sharing if you keep reading!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Do not think for a moment that you failed. Managing cancer, parents expectations and life in general requires we make decisions. Some we have the luxury to consider some we need to make in a wink. Hind site is not 20/20. Far from it ,unfortunately ,gives us the time to agonize, re consider and beat our selves up over repeatedly. You are here now and I had the great good fortune to meet you and am thru your writing getting to know you a bit. So what ever your path was I am grateful for the woman you are now. Just saying. And there is the hug thing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
you know, for the first time ever I’m grateful for the woman I’ve become – heaven knows it took long enough!
And the hug thing is worth a million comments.
For the record I tried to please my parents and never succeeded… is that photo of Queen Ann’s Lace with ice?
yes Kim! its Queen Ann’s Lace, in a big tub just outside the back door. The rain froze, and as it thawed it looked just like crystal drops.
Oh my Elaine you really do hit the nail with your open and expressive writing, what an inspiring way to start my day be reading your words. Thanks x
thankyou dear Penny, I think you had much to do with me writing this blog…
How honest. How painful. But for the cancer it could have been me, breakdown included. I have an important decision to make over the next few months and your blog has fed into that decision. I’m sure I’m not the only individual you will help with your honesty. Thank you x
I’m pleased we don’t share the common link of cancer Tracy.
It’s odd how something random appears when you need it, to help weigh up a decision.
My latest realisation is that doing nothing about a situation is actually a decision in itself!
Thankyou for your lovely words