Ahhhh, it’s been a long time, friends; much too long since I’ve blogged. If you’re anything like me, your creativity took a hike a few years ago when COVID started. And the longer the shut downs and isolation dragged on the further away creativity trekked. For me, like so many others, illness reached through it all and touched my family in the heart with it’s long, dirty finger. But it wasn’t COVID that tainted us- Mark’s cancer had returned- this round aggressive and invasive.
Mark and I moved to Tucson for ten weeks so he could undergo radiation therapy and chemo infusions at the U of A Cancer Center. With Mark’s white blood cell count plunging during the middle of treatment we were extremely isolated for fear of him contracting a simple cold or flu- a regular germ could mean life or death.
Aside from being terrified of what was happening to Mark’s body, and witnessing the tremendous pain he was enduring day in and day out, I felt trapped and lonely, and texting and social media became my lifeline to friends and family; the kind words, the care packages, the pictures… every little thought, prayer, gift and cyber hug became a deliverance from insanity. But lurking beneath the surface of an already tumultuous situation were the loudest voices of all- the ones in my head… and they weren’t saying nice things about Chelly Bosworth. I believed every cruel thing they whispered in my ear.
Perhaps I never dealt with situations from my childhood. Perhaps I never properly dealt with my step-father’s death. Perhaps the darkness that steals away from my soul every now and then chose its time wisely. While I watched Mark suffer day after lonely day, helpless to ease his pain and helpless to ease my own anguish, I let the darkness inside eat me alive. I knew others were suffering during the pandemic too- death of family members, isolation, job loss… no one was skating through the past two years unscathed. We were all impacted one way or another. Which made me close up even more. Who was I to complain to friends and family? Everyone was going through sadness on some level.
In desperation, last fall, I got myself into a therapist.
For me, going to a therapist was easy. Talking about myself was easy. But trusting… now that’s something entirely different. As is healing. Because there is a world of fear in healing. I’ve lived forty-eight years on this earth and I am accustomed to the flaws within my mind and body- they make up who I am. The little intricacies of pain and scars and self-degradation are stitched together with memories of joy, moments of happiness and passions fulfilled. The good and the bad that make up my personality are twin flames and they burn and scorch me by turn depending on that capricious overlord we call Life.
A few months later, as I sat in Laverne’s office, her therapist’s sofa warm and soft beneath me, I looked at her beautiful, indifferent face and not for the first time wondered if she even cared. On some level if she DIDN’T care what a relief it would be because if I said something I wished I hadn’t then maybe she wouldn’t notice. I was terrified of revealing too much of myself to her. The very air of Laverne’s persona radiated no-nonsense confidence; the slight lift of her chin when I sometimes spoke jabbed me in the chest like a disdainful poke. It was quite clear to me, as clear and icy as a blue winter sky, that Laverne viewed me as just another depressed white woman seeking help for her self-imposed problems. My intuition picked up on what I imagined her body would do if she allowed it to while I divulged and purged my inner feelings: sighs of impatience, eyes rolling heavenward, fingers tapping, a big breath of boredom through the nose and, somewhere deep down, a quelling pain of dissatisfaction at having chosen a profession where she had to listen to someone drone on about their pathetic life fraught with the despondency of their own doing.
There were many times over the past three months of therapy when I’d felt helpless during a session. Helpless because treatment didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere and Laverne’s aloof, watchful eyes and dismissive advice often left me fearful of saying something that she wouldn’t like. The more familiar I became with Laverne’s tone of voice, the more I heard her annoyance. Have you ever sat across from someone who doesn’t like you? I have. Many times throughout my years, in fact. Which is why, when a session would begin, I could not only sense Laverne’s dislike of me but I could smell and taste it in the air each time I took a breath.
I was always required to take the lead in each session. To decide what I wanted to talk about. Laverne would throw out condescending advice disguised cleverly as “re-framing”. I had long since extinguished the thought of ever revealing to her my deepest, darkest secrets. And I had also internally balked at the thought of asking her for help in overcoming writer’s block… writing, my first love, my greatest passion, is too precious to talk about with most people, but certainly not with someone I was growing increasingly wary of. So, it was with some trepidation that I asked her one day, “Do you want to know anything about my past?”
She responded, “If you want to tell me.”
“I just wasn’t sure… I mean, do you care? I don’t want to tell you something that isn’t pertinent to my treatment and I don’t want to waste your time.” I was wringing my hands in that embarrassing way people do when they’re nervous and seeking approval.
Laverne’s shrewd eyes veiled. Was she anticipating a vapid story? A tale she’d maybe heard from countless other clients? I wondered if she was calculating my therapy payment, breaking it down into dollars per minute. How much is a painful memory worth and what can it buy? Would the exchange be worth it?
“Why don’t you just tell me?” Laverne said, the cadence of her voice not inviting but at least neutral.
Against my better judgment I went ahead and laid bare one of the most heart wrenching and shameful times of my life. After all, I was currently on that therapy couch to get better and you can’t get better if you’re not somewhat defenseless. I don’t know what I was expecting in return for my vulnerability. Compassion? Kindness? Understanding? Tools for dealing with the aftermath of the decision that both simultaneously destroyed my prospects and absolved me of my future iniquities?
The story started out strong. It had occurred over twenty years ago. I even thought maybe I could tell it without shedding a tear. Just the facts of what happened. Bare bones. No need for emotion.
But as I recalled my memories, I realized miracles come to us sometimes as a blinding flash of wonder- bright and sparkly and full of meaning and promise. And then sometimes they are taken from us- ripped from our hands in a merciless twist of ugly fate. The enormity of how cruel life could be pressed me down until I could barely breathe, and the grief from all those years ago grew louder until it was my inner voice. And that inner voice broke free and screamed out in Laverne’s office, raw and real and full of remorse.
I sobbed, tears pouring down my cheeks so hard that I couldn’t even see Laverne’s face clearly anymore and, as she cut me off, the air was palpably sucked from the room. My tears stopped, and I immediately went rigid, terrified, as Laverne’s voice accusingly rang out. She had experienced the same thing when she was younger. Did I think SHE was a horrible person just as I thought myself unpardonable?
My mind immediately began backpedaling. What had I done? I’d thought therapy was to be a bit of a safe space- a space where you admit feelings you would NEVER tell anyone else for fear they would think you are judging them.
Horrified, I started babbling- I told her what had happened to me was personal and has nothing to do with how I view others. But, yet, I do not tell people my deepest self-hatred for that reason.
“I would never judge anyone else,” I said passionately to Laverne. “Please believe me. I… I am just telling you thoughts of myself. Please don’t think this has anything to do with how I feel about you or anyone else.”
The spell was broken, but not repaired. I was like an agitated politician seeking clemency for a misspoken phrase. Laverne was silent, her face set in stone. I thought I saw her eyes glisten and I hoped she forgave me- I never intended to offend her.
The session was over and we parted ways. Before I left she said, “You are too hard on yourself.”
There is a world of truth in that, but it doesn’t give me the tools to press forward, the strength to overcome grief or the power to heal. Not just from what I’d told her, but from countless other punishments I’ve doled out to myself over the years.
It was then that I knew my time with Laverne must come to an end. We tried a few more sessions but trust had been broken- perhaps for both of us. I was unable to share much without being scared I would say something wrong. And her dislike of me, tangible almost from the beginning, grew from the seeds of my confession.
Therapy… it is controlled by the human orchestrating it: the therapist, the conductor. She leads her patients, her musicians, through the healing garden of melody. And I had sat in the orchestra pit, shadowed by darkness while insidious weeds, born of my own doing and the trials of life, clawed their way through my mind, choking out every last blossom of joy. It was all I could do to stare up at the conductor for those three months, and silently plead, “Help me. Please help me.”
In the end, in a very small way, Laverne did help me. She flippantly suggested a diagnosis during one of our sessions. I decided to try researching therapists who specialized in that particular area and it’s how I came upon my new therapist who I’ll call Rosamunde.
I’ve had several sessions with Rosamunde and she is kind and understanding; she believes in me and in my creativity and wants to help. Not just because it’s her job, but because she honestly cares. I can feel the darkness fade a bit and the weeds are lessening their hold. When I look into Rosamunde’s eyes I cannot see my redemption but I can see hope shine a little brighter. The new conductor is teaching me how to play my instruments again.
As I feel my way back into the harmony of language and grammar and sentence structure, the euphonious song of writing has brought me here to you, to blog about where I’ve been the past few years, what my struggles are and how I’ve been trying to cope. Obviously, the experiences I’ve had pale in comparison to what Mark has dealt with. I’ve watched him endure the most vicious physical attacks and accept them with strength and dignity. I have newfound admiration and respect for his personality, his soul, his being.
What isn’t spoken about very often is that when cancer tackles an individual it drags their family and friends into the ring too. We are called to be strong outwardly while inwardly we battle fear and grief and mental torment. For someone like me, it was almost impossible. I held onto humor, to my parents and to Mark’s parents, to wonderful friends who reached out. And I hugged my doggies often. But all the while my light was dimming and the music had stopped.
Sometimes life sucker punches you and you have to take the hit. The weak fall down and the strong stand tall.
I knew all along I wasn’t a fighter. But I sure as hell married one.
So, my dear friends, if you’ve read this far I thank you- for nothing pleases a writer more than to have their words caressed by eyes who can see the vulnerability of humanity through prose. I come to you offering the very little I have to give: my soul in the form of language.
I don’t know what the future holds for Mark and me, but I do know love and strength can triumph over fear and darkness.
Many hugs to each of you and I’ll be writing more soon.