I spent most of 2010 willing myself out of chronic pain issues so deep they had changed the shape of my body, shrinking me by almost an inch and adding untold pounds to my weight, and depression so fierce, it altered how my mind operated, how I viewed the world around me. I came out the other side of it more hopeful about the future and more content with my present than I had ever been. I slayed a lot of dragons.
And then there was the lump. The lump showed up. It did not get smaller. It did not go away. It got bigger.
There was a process. Noticing the lump. Registering it as a lump. Waiting for it to go away. Noticing it again. Registering it as a slightly larger lump. Acknowledging the situation. You get the idea.
Once I got to acknowledging this was a thing and it was a thing that was going to demand being dealt with and it was a serious thing and by the looks of the situation an existential threat, I knew I had to come up with a new and better coping strategy. Having spent the past year telling myself I preferred to be alive, I needed to decide exactly how much I preferred life to death. Was I willing to go all in? Did I have it in me to face another struggle? The dragons that live in my head, they were persistent shits. They always kept coming back for more.
All that time, the time between thinking maybe I had a breast cancer problem and knowing I had a breast cancer problem, I built new stories about my past. I told myself about all the times I could have given in but I didn’t. I remembered all the times that people and circumstances conspired to do me in and how those plans had failed at every turn. I remembered how horrible and big and black the clouds of depression had been, all my life, and how it never stayed that way forever. I looked back at every stupid thing I had ever done, how many deep holes I had dug for myself and how I had, every single fucking time, made my own ladder and pulled my own ass out of them. My body had tried to kill me before, heart attacks all over the place, and even that didn’t work. I was a Goddess of Getting It Done, a Making It Through Monster, a Sorceress of Surviving It All.
I reframed my narrative. In my own head, I went from never being good enough to being exactly the person I needed to be and then some. Were these stories I told myself, were they fairy tales? Were they any less true than the stories the dragons brought with them, the stories about my horribleness, about my life being a ball of suck and failure? No. Plus, it worked.
The first year of cancer treatment was the most emotionally, psychologically, and physically brutal thing I have ever done. I found barrels of personal bad-assery I did not know I had. I possessed wells of mental discipline deeper than I could have ever imagined. I could have never found those supplies, those vital life-affirming supplies, in my old stories. But with this new library with its new stories, it saved me.
The thing in front of me now, the dragons lurking now, they are old friends. Impostor Syndrome. No Education. Risk Is Bad. Only 100% Perfection Is Acceptable. They are all there. I have an index card beside my desk. On it, in bold Sharpie, I wrote “PRETEND TO BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO DOES THIS KIND OF THING”. It isn’t pithy. You can’t really put it on a t-shirt. But it works. Pretend. Act like I am a writer, Kelly. Act like it. See what happens.
Chances are, there is a dragon lurking in your head right now. Chances are you have a challenge ahead of you. Why? Because being a person is hard. Being a person involves challenges. Sometimes the challenges are less consequential, like forcing yourself to learn HTML when you really, really, really, hate technology and computers and the entire internet. Sometimes the challenge is existential, like leaving a bad marriage or overcoming addiction. But we all have dragons.
What narrative do you need to reframe? Where are your dragons? What kinds of stories do you need to tell yourself in order to live?