Over the years I've had occasion to seek counselling more than once. Mostly it's been because a key relationship has been in the throes of a life-threatening illness. I've been charmed in my choice of therapists- Brian Cade, Rhonda Dilger and Susan Hatch, take a bow, for all of you are truly brilliant at your calling.
From each of these gifted professionals, I've learned precious information about myself in the process of escaping negative people and destructive dynamics. See, we don't have a hope of dealing successfully with other people until we sincerely seek to understand ourselves. When we ignore our own role in forging our future and simply blame others for all our woes, we miss so many chances. We hide behind a comfortable wall of anger when we could- and should- be staring kindly at our own culpable behaviour until it notices us and scuttles away to take a wash, leaving us a better person with a cleaner chance of happiness.
This time round, when the betrayer is my own body, there is no-one else to blame. How precious my learning is now. Because I remember sitting in Rhonda's office years ago, after she'd finally got through to me about the pointlessness of my combative stance, sobbing "But what do I do with the anger? I've got nowhere to put the anger."
There is, of course, no real answer to that question. Anger needs to be sanded gently back to the feelings hiding behind it, before it can be treated and put away. To be rid of my rage at what's happening to me now, I know from my work with Brian and Rhonda and Susan that I need to take a good, long, kindly look at it, and keep looking until I can strip it of its disguise. Only then do I have a hope in Hades of making it go away.
There is much to be angry about. How dost thou anger me? Let me count the ways. (To misquote a perfectly good poem.)
1. I'm angry with myself, for noticing a gut feeling of urgency months ago but ignoring it. The old mammogram referral in my handbag got tossed out instead of followed up, and now I have one breast when I could still have had two.
How long will it take me to respect my own instincts? Do I have to come close to death before I listen to myself? I feel stupid about that, and I hate feeling stupid. I'm disappointed with myself for being a coward. I'm devastated that my reluctance to open a can of worms has made this journey longer and tougher than it needed to be, for my Bear as well as for me.
It's too late to regret that bad decision, but it's not too late to learn from it. Perhaps that's why I'm so determined to stare everything in the eye now.
No more cowardice. I kick the anger out the door; I try to replace regret with courage.
2. I'm angry that the Bear is going through this all over again. That's just not fair. How could I not be furious about that? Am I not entitled to be furious? What do I do with that feeling?
Short of throwing rocks through stained glass windows, I mean.
The fury is a curious disguise for empathy. I love this man. I hate it that he's hurting so badly because of me. I feel responsible for his pain, too.
See point 1.
I do my penance; I try to see my anger as protective love, and offer it rather than throwing it.
I give him plenty of rope. I forgive him for his moments of not coping. I try to be there for him.
3. I'm angry that my body looks so wrong now. I'm angry that despite that forest of information I was sent at the start, despite all those pink pamphlets, nobody was brave enough to communicate that a mastectomy is an amputation- and an ugly one at that.
A woman's body with one breast missing isn't something that can be fixed by pretty bras with pockets in them and a lump of silicone. Amputating a breast distorts everything we've been brought up to think of as normal and beautiful about our bodies. Where is the truth written about this? I'm angry that nobody wrote the truth. They dressed it up in pink ribbons and hope, and pretended it was as 'doable' as a CT scan or a blood test.
Maybe they do that so you'll actually submit to the operation. Maybe they're trying to reduce your sheer terror.
It didn't work for me. Terror might have prepared me better for horror.
I'll call that particular anger the first stage of grief, I think. There's no denial or bargaining when your breast has gone AWOL. Eventually, I guess, it'll moderate itself into sadness, and one day descend into acceptance.
I am so not there yet.
4. I'm angry that nobody talked about severed nerves.
You know that sore left arm I had? It took three days for the pain to wear me down to the point where my cheery face fell off, and someone finally noticed, and the nurses stopped talking about the position of my arm during surgery and started mentioning that some people do have this bad reaction after the nerves of the upper arm are severed during node clearance.
I find that I'm one of those people, and I wish to god someone had given me a chance to prepare for that possibility. It's a bit like the whole amputation thing, really. Forewarning has a purpose, guys. I spent three nights not sleeping properly because the pain meds weren't touching the jangling agony of exposed nerve ends, a pain which stretched from my shoulder to my elbow and had me sitting there groping for pressure points in the middle of the night. I'm angry that it took three days for anyone to put two and two together and think to mention a side effect that isn't much talked about in the books.
Getting past the anger on that one is a bit harder. Words like 'incompetent' and 'thoughtless' flood my brain with useless blame; pain does that to you. But if I'm honest, I know that the medical staff were run off their feet, they were doing their best, and I wasn't exactly being a squeaky wheel.
Be fair, Candy.
I felt overlooked. I felt unimportant. But really, I was too good an actress. I was 'coping' a bit too heartily for my own welfare.
Lesson learnt. Squeak louder.
So that's the anger, in a big fat nutshell. Some of it I can toss. Some of it will be round a while longer yet. I'll keep staring at it. I'll try not to throw it.
And I do know the ingredients to make it go away, now that I've had a good look- even if I haven't quite got them in the mixing bowl yet.
Courage. Love. Acceptance. And a little less coping.