“Have Patience with all things but, first of all, with yourself.” – Saint Francis De Sales
When it comes to children, or dogs, or the elderly, I have always possessed a large reservoir of patience. Letting my son dress himself at the age of two, even though it took five times longer than it would have had I taken over the job, was not a big deal for me. Dog vomit on the rugs or poop on the floor was unpleasant to clean up, but not the trigger for outrage. Repeating myself over and over to a person who was fifty years older than I and had lost most of their hearing was a piece of cake.
But when it came to being patient with myself, I had a fuse that was shorter than the wick of a birthday candle.
Seriously, if I couldn’t find my keys, or forgot to buy some ingredient at the store, or heaven forbid put on a pound or two because I was lax about exercise or ate crummy food, the self-recriminations flowed. Until I had to face cancer, that is. Then all those highly driven expectations of self-perfection faded in the face of a disease that was wreaking havoc on my body and my entire family’s psyche.
Once my weight blew up forty pounds from steroids and my skin bore a wealth of surgical scars, and I couldn’t taste anything but metal in my mouth, the memory of my once unstinting personal demands faded. Looking at the anguish in my husband’s eyes whenever I was having a rough reaction to the chemo, knowing that he was suffering because there was nothing he could do to alleviate my suffering pushed washed away any sense I may have had about being stronger than I was able to be.
In other words, during treatment, I had no choice but to cut myself a break – and once I healed, I found it a fairly simple thing to take it easier on myself.
Looking back on my pre-cancer self I can only shake my head at what a lunatic I was, with my dust free house and fat-free body and take no prisoners work mentality. Extra shifts? No problem! Spend six days out of seven flying from city to city? Sure! Days off? Who needs them? Food? No thanks, there’s always coffee to stave off those pesky hunger pangs…
It’s no wonder something finally gave out inside me – not that I think I caused my cancer, but I sure as heck didn’t make it easy for my body to fight it off!
Things are different now, mostly because I’m different. I’ve finally learned how to take the patience I have towards others and apply it to myself. Sure, I’d like to be a little thinner, a little less saggy, a little more gainfully employed – but I’m not, and that’s ok. The sun will still rise in the morning, I’ll still get my son off to school and put dinner on the table and take care of the chores of the day in between.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how clueless I once was. I really thought that by working towards perfection I would find happiness. Now I know that happiness is a journey, not a destination, and that taking the long road is much more enjoyable than racing towards the finish.
It’s too bad I had to go through such a hard time to learn such an easy thing, but even that’s ok with me, now that I’ve embraced the idea that patience really is a virtue, especially when it’s practiced on myself.