Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Oh hi there

Friends. I have been unsure how to re-enter this space. It seems a little rude to drop "Got a brain tumor, see you soon!" on the webs and not check back in. The surgery went great. They got 95% percent of the thing, which was beautiful and absurd. My recovery has been somewhat uneventful. Things are *quite* good, all things considered, and I really mean that.

At the same time, the healing process in my experience is very slow and long and mysterious. A friend of mine who went through a terrible thing said people give you about six months, then they want you back to normal. I don't quite feel that way - having brain surgery is sort of a built-in Back Off! I'd like to meet the person who's like, "What's your problem? Snap out of it!" after you get a metal plate in your head. And, but, etc, etc, there is a lot on the surface of life that I have snapped out of pretty quickly, which can sometimes be difficult for everyone including me to remember what I've been through. (A week after getting out of the hospital, I went with Tim to pick up the kids at school and got horrified looks. What are you doing here?! You should be on your death bed! they seemed to say.)

There's so much to recount and I am filtering so many things through this experience, some quite banal. I still spend a lot of time resting and walking and doing whatever I want. I don't really feel like breaking down my vestibular schwannoma (my band name, like My Morning Jacket) or its medical effects in this space, but my balance is back to about 85% percent. I still regularly run into the trash can from all angles but in fairness to me, that thing pulls out of a special nook in the kitchen and Ellis also slams into it frequently. He's running in to share his fabulous and surprising announcements -"Hey, look!" ... "Did you know...?" ... etc etc - so much daily abundance and instantaneous miracles - and whack, a new little bruise.

Frankly, I am not sure how to talk about what I've been through yet (not unlike
Chris Rock after Will Smith gave him that slap. Wink!). I'm not shy about what I've been through, but I also feel like, wow, that's a lot to summarize. I have had some new ideas about how to move forward with this space. In some ways, I'd like it to be more of a reflection on the challenges of life. Then I'm like, wow, that sounds like a lot of work.

In short, I don't know what I want and I'm sitting in a lot of uncertainty. However, that's pretty much always been my cozy spot. One of the big reliefs I felt after my diagnosis was that certain life choices - which may have appeared a little crazy but always helped me feel like myself - now feel doubly blessed. If the tumor had been malignant, this whole journey would have a WAY different flavor, but I'm not sure how many regrets I'd have. Yet something like this can't help but influence how I move forward. I'm asking myself lately, what really matters? what do I really need?

One of the somewhat devastating things about having a brain tumor is how inherently unfunny the topic is. When I was diagnosed, it felt like one of my biggest defense mechanisms was whisked away. It was hard to be the barer of the news, I have a brain tumor! I'm not out of the woods yet (fun fact: no one is?) but the surgery was majorly successful. From here, as we all do, I see what happens. Does the remaining bit grow back? Does it sit tight? What do I do now? What changes, if any, do I make? 

I return again and again to how truthful religious texts I've studied throughout my life have been. (Not necessarily the religious people, lol. Human foibles are real, including my own.) Across traditions, I have welcomed teachings on impermanence and acceptance and trust in ethereal things, and I now find those teachings bedrocks of my sanity. It's not that life is or was ever easy - even without medical crises of this size - but I come back to these teachings now, in what has turned out to be not a dress rehearsal for me.

Here's one from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart, which is a comically dramatic title that sums up not only when sh*t gets real but also how a standard Tuesday can go awry:

"We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity."

This winter, I found myself saying the following to my friend: "It can be useful to think about death every day." She laughed which I appreciated because it's both true and delightful. The gift of a tumor is its holographic skeleton behind your days? Maybe. Having a brain tumor has, unfortunately, given a little gravitas to the things I've been trusting all along. Did I manifest this tumor as the ultimate practice for myself? I don't think so, but it does feel like I've been training for this moment for awhile.

And now, for funsies and the strong of heart, I am going to display before and after photos of my incision. The scar has faded even more than when these photos were taken in December. Do I feel like a Bad-A Mofo? Absolutely.

So far, my physical health is holding strong but it is fair to say I'm having several existential crises: first as a mother rediscovering the gifts of being here to care for my kids and also as an artist. How do you say the meaningful thing? When do you share and when do you study something further, listening to its secrets? Where does humor deflect and where does it illuminate? I am pondering these questions, along with the perennial one of what's for dinner. In some ways I am right where I've always been, but the rooms look a little different now.


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