On working with troubling health news

Apr 17, 2019

This week I got some possibly scary health news. Nope, it’s not cancer or anything life-threatening, but it brought about one of those “holy shit!” moments; the first I’ve had.

It’s also complicated with multiple physical things possibly converging to make me have odd symptoms.

I’ve had a ton of health challenges in my life, but this is possibly another level of “oh no.” We shall see.

I’m not being mysterious about what’s wrong just to be mysterious. I’m not certain what’s up and that what’s interesting to me: how we all live with the unknown.

Because we are always doing just that: living in the unknown, every single moment we are alive – whether we are being a writer or not.

It’s just that certain junctures smush our face up against this truth. Ha, thought you’d escaped this truth, didn’t you?

Moments of immense joy like holding your newborn child or grandchild for the first time, or seeing your work in print, or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail at dawn… hello life.

Moments of intense change like watching my mother take her last breath or watching my daughter fall in love… hello change.

And of course, moments where our ever-present mortality says “Hi!” whether in the form of a diagnosis, or the day we can’t hike our favorite trail because we are afraid we’ll fall, or the day we realize that things like eating organic, practicing yoga, and random acts of kindness won’t save us from dying.

How do we breathe with the unknown? This is THE skill of being an artist, of being a writer, of being a human.

This is life, I tell myself. I am so lucky to be here for this. For all of it. Even this. It makes me weep, this truth.

What would I miss if I closed down?

Certainly, sometimes I want to close down. Times like when I had a nasty reaction to some routine medication recently. Even as I struggled, though, I was able to keep part of my mind curious and open despite just wanting the ick to be over.

No matter what happens, I want to keep reminding myself that all my worried thoughts and feelings belong. You belong, you belong.

Yes, whether you’re busy being a writer, an artist, or just being, you belong.

There were too many years of closing down. Too many years when the unknown of life, the disappointments, the grief, curdled me with pessimism and “why bother?”.

I don’t want to curdle ever again.

I want to see how present I stay with my fear, with my pain, with my totally understandable worries, and “WTF, I do not want to deal with this! I have stuff to do! I’m busy being a writer here.”

I’m savoring the good:

  • My book is going so well, I wrote 16,000 words on retreat last week!
  • I love my husband so much and we are working to make our marriage even better.
  • I can trust myself to show up and open my heart to this life.
  • I live someplace beautiful and safe.
  • My kids are thriving.
  • I have the most amazing readers! And friends!
  • I can feel Love holding me.
  • I’m enjoying being a writer.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything in life is trying to teach me a lesson, but only because it makes me think if I do everything right, I will escape suffering.

Instead, I want to wonder, “How can this open me?”

Perhaps that is what life is always trying to teach us. How open can we be?

I’m so lucky to write to you. Thank you for reading.

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