Well folks, I have breast cancer and am starting chemotherapy this week (See About). The nurse warned me that the chemo treatments would be long and recommended that I bring a tablet to watch Netflix or even a laptop to do work. Upon hearing this, I was aghast, nearly angry. I’m getting freaking chemo and I’m just going to leisurely carry on with Netflix and emails like an ordinary Wednesday? Oh, No No No.
As Author Glennon Doyle captures beautifully, “Anger delivers important information about where one of our boundaries has been crossed. When we answer the door and accept that delivery, we begin to know ourselves better.”
So I paused and thought about my reaction.
I am entering a new chapter in my life – one that I don’t understand quite yet – but I know with 100% of my toddler-mom-self that quiet time is a gift. I don’t want to fill the time like it’s an ordinary weeknight; I want to treat it with respect. I don’t want to count down the minutes and the hours; I want to learn from them.
And then I think, maybe I’m just making all of that up. Maybe the real issue is quite different: I’m afraid that if I stop being productive and relax then I will make room in my head for scarier, more troubling emotions.
This balance between productivity and relaxation makes me think of Grit versus Grace.
In my head, Grit sounds something like this:
My value comes from pushing harder.
When things go wrong, I fix them on my own.
Everything is fixable, if I can only work more.
This Grit headspace is lonely. In here, I put the burden on myself to do more and push others away.
Grit makes me think of driving in high school. I vividly remember clinching the dark grey steering wheel in the driver’s ed car with all my might in a desperate play to maintain control of this steel deathtrap that I had found myself in. The driver’s ed teacher told me that I would be a better driver if I relaxed my grip, “Hold the steering wheel gentle like you are holding baby chicks.”
Grace is typically a religious word, but in my head, it’s more broad than this. It’s about our universal connection. It is about letting go and trusting that your life is a plan that is still unraveling. Grace loosens the control grip on those poor baby chicks of life.
For many years, I have recognized myself as a “gritter” and longed to cultivate grace.
When I pressure myself to find a remarkable use for this chemo time, I am holding tight control over treatment – to make sense out of the situation and channel it into life-changing productivity. To be clear, grit is not bad. It can create forward momentum and protect me from falling into feelings of despair or hopelessness over my condition.
But, I’m challenging myself to also remember grace and to let my inner creative play. The Artist’s Way affirmations from Julia Cameron are especially helpful for this. Some of my favorites for grace are:
“My creativity heals myself and others.”
“As I create and listen, I will be led.”
“There is a divine plan of goodness for me.”
“My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.”
To be clear, grace is not about zoning out or numbing pain. In fact, grace is about listening to ourselves, not extinguishing ourselves.
The balancing act between grit and grace really shines in these two Glennon Doyle quotes:
- “Hard work is important. So are play and nonproductivity. My worth is tied not to my productivity but my existence. I am worthy of rest.”
- “I will continue to become only if I resist extinguishing myself a million times a day.”
The real work is incorporating play and nonproductivity in a way that doesn’t serve to numb or extinguish ourselves. Is TV numbing? Does scrolling facebook extinguish you? We all have to answer these questions for ourselves.
So in short, my response to that nurse was a gift — a package telling me to balance my need for life-changing productivity with letting go and playing a bit (paying careful attention not to confuse playing with numbing).
So with that out of the way, I’m going to check out some then Netflix, and *gasp* maybe even doze off.