I was thinking about the movie Adventures in Babysitting. The original 1987 version. Elizabeth Shue plays Chicago-based Chris Parker, who’s got to babysit 3 kids for the evening. She’s all set for a routine evening of doing just that, but then she gets a call from her friend Brenda, who’s gotten herself stuck at the bus station in the city and she wants Chris to come and help her. Basically, leave the suburbs and come into the city.
The particular scene that came to my mind was when Chris and her entourage end up in a blues club. She bursts in through a back entrance (the hijinks include being chased by bad guys — see the movie) and ends up on stage with a bunch of blues musicians. And the lead singer/guitar player (a cameo by the late, great Albert Collins) tells her she can’t leave until she sings the blues. So she does. Here’s the scene, in case you’re interested.
I was thinking about that scene because every one of us has either had, has, or will have the blues. You can’t leave this life without some low-down, mean-streeted, monkey-on-the-back, gut-stompin’ cases of the blues.
I’m working my way through one of those now. I got me a case of the post-surgery, boob-lacking, WTF-just-happened blues. (For those of you who aren’t aware, I had a mastectomy in February. You can get caught up on that here and here).
More? Keep on…
Don’t worry. The docs declared me cancer-free. The cooties, as I call them, went with my breast. I was lucky.
But this case of the blues, that’s something I guess I wasn’t expecting. After all, the cancer’s gone. What’s there to be worried about? Or maybe I was in denial. Maybe I’ve had this case of the blues since my diagnosis and it only really came on a few weeks ago, but it was one of those sneaky cases, and hung around outside for a while playing harmonica before it came in and made itself comfortable, where it opened up a full-scale juke joint, then bitch-slapped me upside the head and told me, in no uncertain terms, that nobody leaves here without singing the blues.
I make light of it now, but it was a rough few weeks, because I didn’t know WTF was wrong with me or why I came home from work every day and sobbed, or why anxiety kept me up and restless most nights, wringing me out and leaving me more exhausted than if I hadn’t slept at all. Or why stress wrapped around my chest like an ultra-tight kevlar vest until my heart felt like it was pounding right through it.
I couldn’t pinpoint what specifically had triggered it, but there it was, and I needed to do something about it.
So I got help, and did the things that I hadn’t been doing for months because I was so focused on just getting through the diagnosis, the surgery, and the recovery. Which is still ongoing. I’m still healing, physically.
Apparently, I’m also still healing emotionally.
A couple of days after I realized I needed some help (and I made the requisite appointments), a breast cancer survivor who happens to be a colleague of mine at work approached me and she asked how I was doing. I told her what was going on, and she said that’s one of the reasons she was checking in, because she wanted to let me know that there’s a post-surgery depression/anxiety that shows up with breast cancer survivors (and I’m damn sure it happens to other survivors of other cancers and illnesses and surgeries). She said it happens, but there’s no specific timeline that’ll tell you when it does. Everybody’s different.
I can’t tell you how much better that made me feel, in a weird way. Two nights later, I was out with some friends who had brought some other people I didn’t know, and it turned out that one of them, a woman probably 15 years older than I, is also a breast cancer survivor. She asked how I was doing and I told her and she said exactly what my colleague had said. There’s a depression that comes after the treatment, when you suddenly have time to heal, time to think, time to process. And it can be scary and painful, and you think about mortality and about others who didn’t survive and you have a desperate aversion to even saying the word “cancer.”
Two women, in entirely different circumstances, bringing me that message exactly when I needed to hear it. The universe provides guidance when you seek it, and for that I’m grateful.
This case of the blues has forced me to slow down. I’ve been frenetically burying myself in work and “things that need to be done” that really don’t. It’s forced me to confront the last year, which included the loss of my doggie companion (Taylor) of nearly 15 years, about 2 weeks before I was diagnosed with cancer. I’m finally grieving that loss, and it’s all tangled up with the loss of my breast and the loss of my “cancer innocence.” I also had another surgery last summer, and that was a pretty serious situation, too, and I was just coming back from that when Taylor died. I’ve spent the last year getting knocked down and getting back up only to get knocked down again.
I shouldn’t be surprised that the blues opened a juke joint in my living room.
And I shouldn’t be surprised that I feel drawn and raw in some ways. The blues strips away any veneer you might have that you’re “fine.” Blues don’t lie. You can’t sing the blues and not mean it. They are expressions of your deep-down, bottles of the stuff you stored up and haven’t poured out. So as tough as it’s been having to sing the blues, they’ve forced me to give myself the time to process and to work on being gentle with myself as I heal. I do need to do a little work — I need to take a few demons to lunch and have a heart-to-heart — but the blues nudged me to give myself permission to do that, and permission to keep healing.
I tell you these things as a heads-up, especially for those of you who have been dealing with a health issue and you think you’ve left it behind, as I have. Or maybe there’s some other issue that you might think you’ve navigated just fine, thank you very much. Well, I’m here to tell you that the blues will find you.
I’m telling you these things, too, because it’s okay. It’s part of your process. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to get that help. Sometimes you can’t sing the blues alone, and you need accompaniment. That’s fine. The blues don’t have to be a solo act. So don’t be scared of the blues. Yeah, they can sneak up on you and kick your ass, but sometimes they need to do that to get your attention so you can work through what needs to be worked through.
So if you’ve got a juke joint in your living room, my friends, that’s a sign. Don’t ignore it.
And because nobody leaves here without singing the blues, here’s Big Mama Thornton to take care of that:
And if you or someone you love is dealing with breast cancer or its aftermath and you just want to talk, feel free to drop me a line. I’m always glad to offer what I can about my experience.
Happy Friday, all. Hope your weekend is filled with love, laughter, and music.