Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Channeling My Inner Goat: What Cancer Taught Me About Negative Self Talk

One night last May, after I'd started chemo but before chemo was really kicking my butt, it was really warm.  I don't like warm.  Well to be honest it was probably like 68 degrees and I was likely having a pregnancy induced hot flash but like I said, I don't like warm.  Michael came in our room to find me flopping around on the bed like a fish out of water trying to get comfortable and we had the following exchange:

Michael:  Do you want me to grab you a blanket?

Me:  Ugh..NO...I'm DYING...

Michael:  .................................could you..........................not...........................say that?

End Scene.

That little exchange really stopped me in my proverbial tracks.  I felt horrible.  How could I use that phrase: "I'm dying" so flippantly when it was possible that I could shuffle off this mortal coil sooner than anticipated?  I could do it partly because we say "I'm gonna die" and phrases like it all the time in casual speech, which of course is how I defended this behavior to myself.  That night, in the following days, and all the way up to this moment, I've wrestled with this.  The truth is that yes, it is just a casual turn of phrase, but it is also a bad habit.  I'm prone to hyperbole and in difficult frustrating situations this is often the soundtrack in my head:

I can't take this another minute, I'm gonna die.

I will not survive this.

KILL ME NOW!! (delivered while shaking my fist at the heavens)

Am I suicidal?  Of course not.  I'm just having a melodramatic pity party, and unfortunately I'm so prone to these types of histrionics that I can easily work myself into a snowball of doom over things that are tiny and fleeting in the scheme of life.  There are so many negative aspects to this self talk, not the least of which is that if considerable time, effort, and money has been expended on a daily basis precisely so that you will not die it is kinda crappy to shake your fist at the heavens and beg for a lightning bolt because a little person wrote on the couch or whatever.

I don't mean it like that I argued with myself.  Then why say it? I annoyingly countered...to myself.  Even worse, none of the situations that prompt this sort of melodrama are actually that big of a deal.  I never go down that mental road when faced with actual trials.  When it took 4 tries to get my line in for chemo?  No worries!  Breath through it!  Offer it up!  I'm in labor with no drugs?  Enter into it.  Accept it.  Breath through it.  Offer it up.  Even that dark dark night when I found out I was a pregnant cancer patient, I never once said I would die.  I wondered how on earth I would do it, but I never once expressed a desire or a fear that I would die.

But if I have to have this conversation with my 4 year old 6 times before I get down one cup of coffee in the morning?

4 year old:  Mama?  Is tomorrow is the next day?

Me:  Yes.  Tomorrow is the next day.  It is the day after today.

4 year old:  What day will it be when I wake up tomorrow?  It will be tomorrow?

Me:  When you wake up tomorrow it will be Wednesday.

4 year old:  And it will be tomorrow?

Me:  Well, then it will be today, because it will be the day you are on.  Tomorrow means the day that comes next.

4 year old:  So Tomorrow is the next day?

Me:  Yes.  Tomorrow is the next day.  It is the day after today.

At this point in the 5th or 6th iteration of this super fun exchange I'm mentally shaking my fist and bellowing "KILL ME NOW!".  But really?  Kill me?  Now?  Awesome attitude for a cancer survivor with 6 kids.  But...BUT what I really mean is I don't want to do this now.  I can barely tolerate this now.  Spending all day dealing with little kids can occasionally make me feel like I am on. the. brink.  I don't want to die, but I start to feel like a caged animal that's getting poked with a stick.  I just want out.  I definitely don't feel like having that conversation again, or cleaning up that mess again, or keeping my composure through someone's temper tantrum again.

I was talking through this with my sister one day and I was trying to express this conundrum.  Sometimes, I told her, I get so overwhelmed and frustrated that "I want to die" just doesn't sound wrong.  Sometimes I just don't want to deal one more second.  But I obviously really don't want to die all the way...I just want a break.  Some kind of suspended reality like a coma or something, but it can't be a coma coma because it would cause hardship for my family.  It just needs to be temporary and short, like narcolepsy...and that's when it hit me.  I want to be like this:

I want to be a fainting goat.
It's the perfect plan.  The next time I hear squeals coming from the room containing 3 little girls who should have been sleeping an hour ago and I go upstairs only to be greeted by requests for more drinks, more snuggles, or pointing fingers of blame at their cell mates I just want to pull one of these:

Oh, your sister was breathing loud?  See ya.
I want to have a reset button.  When I'm on the brink of losing it and the crazy just keeps coming at me I want to be able to just hit the deck like one of those goats.  Tell me that wouldn't stop little people in their tracks.

Kid:  I want a yogurt.

Mom:  No.  Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes.

Kid:  I'm so hungry!  PLEASE!  I just wanna yogurt!

Mom:  I know you're hungry and we will eat in ten minutes.  I am done discussing yogurt.

Kid:  Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom


Once I formulated this theory, that I wish I could just faint momentarily when things got overwhelming, I didn't really need to faint anymore.  Where I would normally launch a pity spiral of doom I would immediately get the mental image of a fainting goat and it would make me laugh and in a way it gave me the mental break I was looking for.  Sometimes I even pantomime being a fainting goat by dropping my head to one side, sticking my tongue out the side of my mouth, and closing my eyes.  I just let myself go kinda limp.  It makes me giggle everytime.

This is a gift cancer gave me.  It showed me a bad habit I'd developed, that terribly negative and melodramatic and frankly bratty self talk, and presented me with an opportunity to replace it with something much more positive.  Had I not faced the actual threat of death, I would have gone on indulging in these ungrateful, vapid mental rants and I would have continued to tell myself the lie that I shouldn't have to deal with the poop in the tub, the siblings bickering and needing instruction, the person driving too slow when I'm running late...I DO have to deal with that.  I have to deal with all of that, with love, with compassion, with patience, and with a positive empowered outlook.  It is my privilege to deal with that, because that is the stuff of life.  Sometimes I might not feel like being patient when someone pitches a fit right before they put their shoes on for school because the seams of their tights aren't quiet right, but I have to remember that it could pretty easily be someone else having to deal with it in my place because I'm not there.  Instead of going off the deep end and even joking about death, I'll just close my eyes and channel my inner goat.

So, the next time your kids are making you nuts, or you're stuck next to a lady at a dinner party who is droning on and on about her bunions, or someone is asking you if you're done having kids, or when you're going to have kids, or whatever it is that makes you feel like you're on the cusp of losing your goodness gracious mind, instead of succumbing to some kind of negative mental spiral, think of these guys:

You're welcome.


  1. Ok so this post is awesome, but that's to be expected from you. I never heard of a fainting goat before, but apparently it's a thing and I am so going to use that image when I want to disappear for a second. I don't use the dying phrase, but I do tell my kids often enough that "Mom's not here, she's on vacation" when they get to be too much!

  2. Thanks Colleen! And you're welcome ;), nobody should have to go through life not knowing about fainting goats. I hope you're feeling well superwoman!

  3. This is awesome! I need to try it!

  4. New thing I learned today: goats faint.
    Message I took away: Don't faint like a goat, kick ass (ok, kick goat) instead.


  5. I love this and needed to hear it. "It is my privilege to deal with that." Absolutely true, and now I will have the image of a fainting goat in my head during the next go round with a toddler. Hmmm...I see one about to develop now. :)

  6. This is so true. And so funny. I am totally going to picture those fainting goats now whenever I feel like I'm going to lose my mind in one of those conversations like the one you described. Fainting goats. Perfect! I'm so glad you're blogging every day this week. I love reading :)

  7. What you said about it being a "privilege to deal with that" is awesome and a good wake-up call for me...great post!

  8. Okay, goats are now on the list of things I'm super in to right now.

    And lovely thoughts, as usual!

  9. LOVE it! Now I'll try to remember the images of the goats fainting to make myself laugh. This is brilliant.

  10. Oh my gosh! The goats! Thanks for bringing humor to this topic.


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