But At Least ...

The words “but at least” sometimes make me uncomfortable. Once I figured out why, it’s been hard to see it any other way.

With “but at least” the goal is to put a positive spin on a situation. To offer a transformative outlook or a nudge to look at another side, a brighter side.  The majority of the time it’s well meaning when others say it. And when we say it to ourselves it offers kindness and protection.

Working with perspective, gratitude, and optimism is similar. They help keep us in check, and out of the gloomy places. They can also bring meaning and quality into our lives when things look bleak.

Here’s what I’ve said to myself over the past few years using “but at least”:

My hip hurts. But at least I can still walk.

I spent three days in the hospital because of pain.
But at least it was only three days and not three weeks.

I've been thrust into early menopause because of treatments.
But at least I’m still alive.

I’m starting a new drug with a list of potential side-effects to navigate.
But at least I still have treatment options.

My body has changed and sexual intimacy is a problem.
But at least there are other ways to be intimate with someone.

What great perspective, hey? Such a positive outlook you might think. And it really is! But here’s the rub, in moments of raw grief (anger, pain, and despair) it isn’t always like this. Thinking that this is how it should be and constantly resorting to “but at least” can actually be dismissive. Whether it’s someone saying it, or saying it to ourselves, it can do more harm than good.

I’ve learned that living with illness requires constant validation from myself, and from the people in my life. Taking an honest look at how this disease has, and continues to affect me, while fully acknowledging uncomfortable emotions is a heavy practice.

After speaking about loss and hardship sometimes there are no words I want to hear other than, “I’m sorry” or “This sucks”. Sometimes the best words I can offer myself are simply, “It’s so hard to go through this”.

I’m not saying that offering uplifting support is wrong or that it’s not needed. Certainly not! I’m suggesting there’s a time for it, and there’s also a time to simply hold space for what might be uncomfortable emotions and situations.

Like a pendulum swaying, we also go back and forth with emotions. Some of which are not easy to be with. Similarly, “but at leasts” may be pleasant and welcome, or uncomfortable as hell to hear. This goes for situations that involve loss of any kind. When someone you love, or you yourself, are in pain, feel it out and see what is needed. Taking the time to ask in the moment is hard to do, but trust me it’s better than throwing positive outlooks when they aren’t welcome. What might be needed instead is for the difficult truth to be validated.  

Here’s those same struggles from above, followed by a more realistic view of how I felt in the moment, and many moments afterward. No positive spin here, just my honest truth, followed by “It’s so hard to feel this way”:

My hip hurts. I don’t know if this is muscle strain from exercise or the cancer in my bones causing inflammation.

I spent three days in the hospital.
It was traumatic, and I had the most rank anxiety when I got home trying to process the situation.

I've been thrust into early menopause because of treatments.
Sometimes I feel like a 60 year old woman in my 34 year old body.

I’m starting a new drug with a list of side-effects to navigate.
It’s terrifying every time, and it never gets easier.

My body has changed and sexual intimacy is a problem.
Early menopause, anxiety about my body, and side-effects from treatments have given me sexual dysfunction.

Part I: Legacy Playlist

I've got Some Shit Going On: FB Post June 3 2017