By their mid fifties, most people believe they will settle into a certain position. If not of comfort, a place of contentment. Some dreams achieved, some relinquished. Some plans still laid ahead.
I’ve been through a lot in my life. A stressful childhood, an anxiety disorder, breast cancer, financial challenges, job changes, loss of a parent, loss of a home. Nothing has affected me as harshly as being blindsided.
I left a successful day in surgery. Two months later, I returned home from a treatment center. For one month, I felt my heart beating out of my chest in panic. Once this feeling subsided, it was replaced with intense grief. There is nothing worse than having your entire identity ripped away in one moment. It is harsh. It is cruel. It is a form of death.
I thought I would never make it back to life. I came home frightened and confused. I found myself subject to regulations and monitoring that screamed to me that I was defective and untrustworthy; a child without self-will. New treatments dealt with the anxiety that was filling the space in my chest. Medications requiring approval. Meetings in places I was afraid to go. Finding support in unexpected places. Being let down by some whom I thought would hold me up. This felt like drowning.
Anxiety is a bird let loose in my chest while my hair is on fire. The moment metal hits metal. The gun in the dark. Depression is a vat of sulfurous, boiling oil. Rotting from the insides out.
How do I, who has died, return to life? I do not believe in the resurrection. As a Jewish Buddhist, reincarnation is more my style. I had to find a path. I tried study, contemplation, discussion, meditation, 12 steps, and begging. So far, this is what I have come to understand.
1. I have to place self-care before everything else. This includes care for my physical being, mental state, emotions, and spirit. Sleep, stress reduction, healthy eating, exercise, grooming, and medication management. I underwent the back surgery for the herniated disc and spinal stenosis that were causing so much pain. I have been compliant with my post-op care, which is new for me.
2. I have to accept myself. Part of this is to surrender- surrender to what happened, to my death, to my anxiety and the limitations it imposes on me, to the fact that I have to accept help, and to the fact that I will never be the same. I must be brutal and kind in my self-awareness. The second part is to have love and compassion for myself in my entirety. When I am afraid, I must sit and meditate on the fear.
3. I have to connect with my higher power. I’ve long had a deep sense of my higher power. It’s been a big ball composed of God, Buddha and the dharma, the universe, nature, and love. I cannot connect to this right now. I can only show up everyday with an open heart. I am honest, open, and willing. I will listen and have faith.
4. I must practice gratitude on a daily basis. It’s true, that no matter how bad things are, no matter how full I am with fear and dread, there are gifts in the world. As a Buddhist, I know that the greatest gift is to be born a human. There is a list in my journal. It helps me feel safe.
5. I must return to a life of service. Right now, it is very small- putting a chair away, making some gifts of my art, baking someone a loaf of bread. I hope that it will grow as I heal.
Everyday, I come a little closer to feeling human. When it is hard, I must act as if I am human. The friends who have supported me are the lights in my life. The ones who let me down are my teachers. I learn and I press on. Then I rest.