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.