In reaction to negative events, people often talk about the stages of being a victim or being a survivor. I had never heard of any other options until a discussion with a friend of mine (a great counsellor named Deborah Brakeley). She told me of a third stage: being a creator. In the role of creator, you consider how to use a negative event as an opportunity to grow and create.
Her words came back to me when I was struggling with healing from my brain surgery. However, in the months after my surgery there wasn’t time for me to properly process everything. I went through the victim stage and then went into survival mode.
When you have a newborn and have a health issue, the newborn comes first. When you have a newborn, are in school, and have a health issue, the newborn comes first and then comes school. And so it goes with obligations.
In order to function, you have to forge on. With the forging on though, you don’t have a lot of time to deal. A lot ends up being repressed. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just part of trying to function.
Almost a year after my brain surgery, I realised I needed to take the time to reflect, to actually face what had happened, to wallow if necessary. And, me being me, I decided I needed a plan.
After much research (again me being me), I developed a six week arts-based healing plan for myself. Everyday I wrote in a journal which included daily affirmations. On top of that, I spent at least an hour daily drawing, painting, and/or writing (either poetry or narrative).
Before beginning this plan, in order to record my starting point, I did a life pie chart and took some on-line wellness assessments. I also did a beginning self portrait. The resulting painting shocked me. It was violent, it was red, it was loud. It helped me realise where I was: I was angry and I was grieving.
Motherhood was something I had always dreamed of but it didn’t end up the way I expected at all. I was angry that my faith in myself as a mother was shaken to the core. The seizure left me so insecure. I didn’t trust myself anymore. If I had one seizure, there was a chance I could have another. I was on meds but there was no guarantee they would work. I was told not to bathe C by myself. I wasn’t allowed to drive. I was to change C on the floor. I was a risk to C’s safety. So, yes, I was angry. Life wasn’t fair.
I had 34 staples in my head (symbolic, I felt, as I was 34 at the time), a scar that ran from ear to ear, and a bald spot – all before my first wedding anniversary. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
I also felt guilty. Really a brain tumour wasn’t the end of the world. I should be able to brush it off. The tumour wasn’t cancerous; it wasn’t fatal. Don’t be a child stomping your foot because you didn’t get your way. Shake it off. Deal.
But I wasn’t dealing. Certain people might have been able to just let it go, no biggie. But that wasn’t me. I wasn’t able to let it go, but at the same time I was afraid to open up to it. I was afraid my feelings would consume me.
I was in denial of something I have heard many times: you need to embrace where you are, even if it’s negative. So instead of continuing to avoid my feelings, I decided to embrace them. I was angry and grieving. I wrote angry and grieving. I painted angry and grieving. My poetry was angry and grieving.
An amazing thing happened. As I wrote, painted, and rhymed, the anger and the grief, it faded. My artistic endeavours gave me an avenue through which to process. Through painting and writing I gave my feelings an outlet and, instead of blooming and consuming, they receded. Through accepting my feelings and embracing my anger and grief, I was able to release them. My final painting says it all:
Yes, I had a brain tumour. Yes, it was not what I had been expecting and it tripped me up for a time. But my processing journey reminded me that what defines me and where I want to invest my energy are in my other labels: mother, wife, educator, lioness, determined, warrior, CREATOR.