I spend my life as a writer staring at blank pages. How to fill them? What is my heart yearning to say? Most of the time I’ll figure it out. I find the words. With this essay, I’m not sure just what I’m wanting to say. Maybe by writing, I’ll find out.
In these last few weeks, my writing’s been exploring my interior spiritual and psychological life following a medical diagnosis that rocked me. I felt a strong urge to write about what I thought and felt. Most of the time I was certain of what I wanted to say. I kept close to the particulars of what I was experiencing, the emotional tones and the particular thoughts that were raised. However, in my attempts to write this essay I fumbled as never before: I wrote and rewrote several drafts. I kept feeling I was going in circles. I wasn’t speaking my heart. So, what’s going on, I wondered?
Although physically I function well right now, the circumference of my life frankly feels constrained. The leukemia keeps my outings largely confined to clinic visits, having blood drawn and tested and then, depending on results, having the treatment adjusted accordingly. I’m experiencing no significant discomfort in any of this and there’s no particular stress involved; at the clinic, the nurses are consistently cordial and pleasant. Generally speaking, I feel okay.
The most recent tests reveal that for the last few weeks my numbers look good. What I can’t fathom is why, in this essentially positive development that should be lifting my spirits, I feel flat. Unlike the weeks before, when the whole scenario was more dicey and closer to the edge, I was more certain what I wanted to write.
I feel little incentive to explore and write about my situation of the last couple of weeks. Ironically, it’s been the least problematic in months. I dearly hope I am not one of those driven types who need crises in order to feel energized.
I keep thinking to myself, ‘Isn’t what’s come about recently just what I would want?’ The treatment appears to be working, slowing down the disease process so I can live longer and enjoy a decent quality of life.
I’ve listened to stories of people who found themselves in all kinds of dire straits, the kind that seem to point to only one end which will be tragic one way or another. Then, for no apparent reasons, the unexpected happens and the situation starts turning around. Initial reactions are not, as you might first expect, to feel elated but instead to be confused, even suspicious. Five months ago, I was sure I’d be dead by now. This is not an accurate forecast, at least as I write this. But then what am I to expect? Another week; six months; what?
This is embarrassing to consider and for me even to think it. But, to be candid, I’m wondering, could it be that I am so addicted to being in control, that as horrifying as the initial prognosis was, at least I had the assurance that I knew what was going to happen next? Outcome was even accompanied with well, a deadline.
What complicates the matter for me and brings in another possibility to my odd reaction this week, is the peculiarity of my personality. In my family and among some friends, I’ve earned a reputation over the years for being pessimistic, ‘real heavy,’ a human Eeyore, if you will. Eeyore, you might remember from the Winnie the Pooh series, is characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic (for me, watching sports is a drag), an old, grey, stuffed donkey. Eeyore’s frequent and favorite expletive is “Oh, bother!” Mine is shorter and less benign.
Like Eeyore, I am also old and grey and have some of his negative propensities. I’m aware of this liability. I try to resist it as best I can. I can’t always put on a happy face. It’s hard for me especially when I meet with flaming optimists –– whose ebullient extraversion and terminally chirpy dispositions insist on placing the sunniest spin on the darkest situations. They irritate me. “Just look for the silver lining” and with a pat on the shoulder and a stiff upper lip dismiss me –– this does not do it for me. I like people who will listen to my dark and meandering perseverations, who seem to have neither the need to cheer me up nor the desire to assure me that indeed “ain’t it awful.” I like people who will listen to what I happen to feel, even though it’s often messy, and about things that may not quite hang together, which, is often the case.
Truth be told, for years I’ve had a thing for the children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh and especially for Eeyore. My wife, who is painfully aware of my temperament and needs to make an annual statement about it, gives me a stuffed Eeyore every birthday. I have one that even speaks, and says, “Oh, bother” when I press his hoof.
Eeyore often lost his tail. It was poorly secured and often fell off. I am sympathetic to Eeyore’s moods. I am, as Eeyore was, also surrounded by a forest filled with friends who, if not able to find for me what I’m looking for, will always provide me with support in my search. My life involves a tale of a very different sort. Eeyore’s tail was secured by a nail, my tale hangs by a thread. I will eventually lose my whole tale and when I think about how that goes, I can get stuck, and keep ruminating to myself, “Oh, bother.” Eeyore puts the matter front and center: “I get so upset I forget to be happy,” he says. The human tale that follows us for our lifetime grows even dearer as its fragility becomes more apparent. I want to hang on to it.
In the last few weeks, a rainbow appeared on my horizon. It surprised me. Seems I’m doing okay right now after several months of some dark clouds.
Eeyore is reported to have said when seeing a red balloon, to which he uncharacteristically took an immediate liking: “Sure is a cheerful color. Guess I’ll have to get used to it.”
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.