After I fell in love my now husband, I started experiencing an uncomfortable feeling: a low-level feeling of dread that something bad was going to happen that would take him away from me. I'd never really felt anything like it before.
Actually, that's not true. I had felt something like it before, but not for a very long time.
When I was eight years old, our family got this grey Persian cat. We named him Smokey. (I was 8; cut me some slack on lack of originality.) And I loooovvvved Smokey; I mean, I LOVED that cat. And every time I'd go out of town or we'd leave Smokey at home for an extended period of time, I had this fear that he would die while I was gone.
I just knew that I'd come home from sleep-away camp or a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's, and he'd be dead. I have no idea from whence this morbid notion came, but I clearly recall going to sleep with a photo of him under my pillow, quietly weeping about the beloved cat I'd never see again. (Again, I was an adolescent girl, so cut me some slack on the dramatics.)
Well, Smokey lived to a ripe old age, long past my emancipation, and -- despite my fears -- did not die alone while I was away on a trip. Yet, once I found the man who would eventually become my husband, this perfect match for me, I started getting that old maudlin feeling of doom. I began worrying that his plane would go down when he traveled for business. Or that his penchant for driving sports cars, fast, would result in him dying in a fiery crash.
I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Once, when he traveled a couple days ahead of me on a beach vacation, I ended up calling the local police to check on him when he didn't answer his phone for several hours. Earlier that day he had told me that even though the sea was really rough, he was planning to take out the kayak for a paddle. Well, by midnight that night, when I hadn't heard from him and couldn't reach him, I panicked. It turned out that the phone at the beach house had been disconnected and he had no cell service. My tragic fantasies were for naught. But I had gone there in my mind. I had thought, "Okay, I knew this was too good to be true. This is how it ends."
Just reading this, I realize I sound a little crazy. Maybe I am. But why is it that sometimes when we (worriers like us, at least) feel intense happiness, we wonder -- even while we're feeling it -- when it will be taken away?
At any rate, my then-boyfriend was not killed in any accidents, nor did he leave me for a younger, hotter woman. We eventually got married and had a baby. And I was so very happy. So happy that that little voice in the back of my head would still whisper from time to time, "you know this can't last forever."
So when I was diagnosed with widespread gynecologic cancer five days after my daughter was born, I immediately thought, and even said aloud to my husband, "here's the other shoe."
That was nearly a year and a half ago, and we've been through a hell of a lot since then, including surgeries, chemotherapy, cancer recurrence scares, a BRCA1 diagnosis, raising a toddler, changing careers ... in other words, life. Life has gone on. And somewhere along the way, I've realized that I can't live in fear about what might happen. What's happening in the here and now is far too amazing. And to quote Aerosmith, I don't want to miss a thing.
Not that I don't worry. Of course, I still worry. I worry when my husband travels or when my daughter is in the care of others. I worry she'll get sick or that one of us will get sick. But I don't lose sleep over the things I can't control, not the way I did in the past. Life is too precious. Sleep is too precious. And I've learned that, no matter what happens, we will adjust and we will move on. Life will go on.
If I allowed it, I could "what if" myself into a state of total paralysis. But I'm not going to do that. The truth is that "other shoe" is all in my head. Fear is the only thing keeping me from living a full life, not cancer or car crashes. And fear is just the product of thoughts that I myself have created.
So that's my focus these days, batting away those unproductive thoughts of fear. Because on the other side of fear? That's where the freedom is.