on anger

Sitting here with my knee elevated, ice pack in place, trying to address what I hope is a flare up of arthritis and not something more serious in my right knee. I desperately want to trade in the right side of my body for a new one. It’s where all my problem areas are — bad boob, bad hip, and now bad knee. I had a busy weekend and I’m hoping that climbing multiple flights of subway stairs is the culprit of this pain. I know in the back of my head that I need to slow down, but it is one of the hardest things of living with this diagnosis. I am not good at sitting around for extended periods of time. My other side effects, mouth sores and rash, are finally on their way to resolving themselves. Well, with the help of lots of steroids. But still, finally able to eat without wincing. So I’ll take it.

But when my mobility is impacted, I can’t help but retreat to a dark place. The cancer feels more present when I’m dealing with side effects and pain. I mean, it is always present but I am able to turn the volume down most days as long as I’m feeling okay. I work hard to not have it by the biggest part of my life on a daily basis. But when friends are facing progressions or members of the community pass away or my own body acts up, I feel the fear and anxiety creep in. I can’t help but wonder if I tempted fate by daring to make some fun plans for the upcoming weeks and months. I finally ordered that couch I’ve been eyeing, sent my passport off for renewal, booked some Airbnbs for later this summer. There is no concrete reason to think that one day soon I won’t be sitting on the terrace of an apartment in the hills of Positano, Italy. But we are never really for sure until the thing is in our grasp.

I’m also found myself feeling more emotional lately. Some friends who moved away last year came back to the neighborhood this weekend and for some reason reached out to others but not me. Something about “being left out” sent me back to the moments in seventh grade when I would find out on Monday morning about a weekend slumber party I was not included in. No matter how old I get, I still sting at being left out. I cried about it to E on Friday night and he very kindly did not tell me I was being foolish. He was stung on my behalf and we spent time positing what would cause someone to leave me out. Someone I consider a friend even if we don’t talk as much since she moved. Someone who reached out to the rest of our crew, even folks she had not talked to in months.

It left us wondering if my diagnosis is why. I know that a lot of people prefer to live their lives in a sort of ignorance of their own mortality — maybe they don’t want to think about it too much or maybe they’ve been lucky enough to not experience too much loss. Whatever the reason, me, a woman in her early 40s, with an incurable cancer, can be terrifying. The whole “there but the Grace of God do I go” mentality. (Sometimes I drop a phrase that really tells you that I went to school in the south). I’ve written in the past about people that ‘get it’ and it does really hurt when the ones you expect to get it, really do not. I’m lucky to have so many people that do in fact get it. I shouldn’t spend my time worrying about those that don’t. That’s logical of course but who can say they are always guided by logic. Especially when it comes to hurt feelings. And it’s not just about being hurt if I’m being honest — it makes me pretty dang angry. Anger is not a feeling I’m that comfortable with. My therapist often chides me for saying “I’m frustrated” when I really mean that I am royally pissed off and I’m not going to take it anymore. Society often ingrains in women that we shouldn’t get angry or else we are labeled bitches or shrews or whatever other derisive term for women who stand up for themselves. Since I’m not that comfortable being angry, I’m also not that good at expressing it. I lash out at the wrong people, I push away those closest to me, I snap at my mom for asking innocent questions. Anger management is not just about turning down anger so you can express it in socially productive ways that are not punching a wall. It is also about acknowledging when it is okay to be angry, processing why you’re angry, and figuring out what to do about it. Maybe there is nothing to do. I have no intention of confronting my friend about this past weekend. But I do owe some other folks apologies for being shitty to them. Because when we don’t acknowledge our anger, we end up letting it win.

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Michelle T

Sometimes funny lawyer-writer person battling breast cancer in NYC