I have been lamenting the loss of my hair all week due to going through chemotherapy. I did a small "class" this week on journaling at the local cancer care center in town and it's really got me thinking about a number of things.
For a long time I think I have been obsessed with my appearance. This is sort of funny, because I've let myself gain a LOT of weight over the years due to what can only be regarded as rampant hedonism - so much so that the thought of going on a sufficient enough diet to lose it is a daunting task. Still, I have always been rather particular about how I look. Rarely will I step out of the house (for instance) without makeup on my face, or my hair fixed nicely. With my hair losses mounting by the day, looking in the mirror is becoming increasingly difficult. All I see is the baldness coming through...and yet...
The loss of hair is in a small measure a little liberating. I can't really fuss over what isn't there, and looking in the mirror is starting to become less about real appearance than perhaps mental and physical health. Perhaps this is way overdue for me as well. I've needed to pay better attention to my overall health for some years. This lack of attention has lead to physical (medical) problems as well as some emotional ones over the weight gains. I think it's changed the nature of some of my relationships. And who knows, perhaps it lead to the lymphoma I am now fighting. Losing hair has allowed me to look closer at my identity and less at the outer shell.
This week I saw an Oprah show that talked about a man called "John of God". He is a Brazillian healer. A man who went to see him as a journalist came back from his visit profoundly changed and he was interviewed by Oprah on the show. He made one comment that has resonated with me this week. Something I've know and believed all my life as a Catholic, but not paid much attention to. He said our bodies are not who we are but are just the shell/casing of our beings. He said alot of other things too - about how we are all connected and that our minds are so much more than we intellectually "know." I really got that.
So this week when the woman presenting the journaling class asked about who my authentic selves were I had to step out of my "body" and think hard about it. I immediately had an image of the multiple personalities person "Sybil" from the book and movie of the same name. So I got to thinking about my selves/what comprises all the "hats" that I wear. And not just the labels like "wife", "mom", "friend", "daughter". Those are roles. I think the authentic self comprises personality traits and the longings/strengths/weaknesses of our souls. I had a hard time defining those at first because just asking the question makes me have to think about myself as a soul and not as the shell I see in the mirror each day. Something I am really unaccustomed to doing.
For the most part I like my soul and I'm comfortable IN my skin/shell. Not so comfortable WITH my shell. There is a difference. And it helps me put into perspective the hair loss thing too, which I have been so focused on. What I am noticing this week is that even without hair, I am still the person underneath. I still am a peacemaker, a creative entitity, a nurturer. I still like to read the same kinds of things. I still like to do the same kinds of things I always did. I have the same thoughts and feelings. My hair, it turns out, has little to do with me. If I focus on that, I think I'll be able to get through the loss fairly easily. Besides, it grows back, right?
The moderator of the journaling class steered my thinking this week. She had me veer away from the familial titles and think about my traits. So here it is....I acknowledge that I am sometimes naive. I have a gift for seeing situations for what they are and cutting to the chase to get solutions, particularly for others. (Not always as good with my own interpersonal relationships. My insecurities get in the way.) I can be morose, but it usually doesn't last a long time as my nature is to be optimistic. I cannot say I really "hate" anyone or anything with particular vehemence. (Brussels Sprouts?) I can be slothful/lazy for only a short period of time before guilt sets in over not getting something done. I seek others' approval, usually by doing things for them so they can see my "value." I love family unreservedly but am really guarded when it comes to romance for fear of being hurt. I have been hurt romantically many times, one of which was profoundly. It's hard for me to trust, so I end up taking on more than I should instead of letting go. I am childlike in my love for holidays, most things Disney, great books like the Harry Potter series, and getting ANYTHING new. My authentic self is giving as a rule, sporadically organized, a pack-rat, and a dreamer. I am a Pisces for sure because I could stare at a lake or ocean all day. I love the water, but am afraid to drown/swim - though I know how. I am fearful of a LOT of things, sometimes to the point of inaction. I encourage others to advocate for themselves but rarely do it on my own behalf. I can be critical of others and acknowledge that I have some biases learned from an early age. I wish for greatness but have not achieved it I don't think. I know I am smart and have a good sense of humor - two things I am also rather proud of.
I can go on and on when I think about what I am, how I react to things, how I was brought up, what I think about myself and the world around me and what comprises my dreams. The truth is we are all complex beings. The mind is vast and not understood by science all that well. I do think I will live forever in some capacity because I have often felt the presence of others around me whose "shells" are in the ground. I believe in God - a creative force/energy. I am fortunate to have many people that I care about and that care for me. THIS is what makes me, ME. Not the shell that I have put too much emphasis on for too long.
Funny how a "little" think like losing your hair can change a point of view so dramatically. There is no choice but to see beyond the hair once it's gone. To look in the mirror and see the soul residing there. I have to think more about that when I meet others, too. So much attention in our society is placed on the shell and not NEARLY enough is placed on our spirits. Chemo may be taking away my hair, but it cannot strip my spirit away - my authentic self.