The ability to put one’s thoughts and feelings into written words is a truly wonderful gift. But it can also be a bit of a curse.
Throughout my journey with breast cancer, and into the aftermath of life beyond cancer, I have journaled and blogged to “keep my friends and family informed.” I know that there are those who appreciate my doing so, and I feel blessed and honored to know that anyone would actually care to read what I write.
I find it much easier to share myself through the written word than I do in a more personal face-to-face setting. Writing gives me the time to think before I answer (always a good thing for an overly emotional being like me!) as well as the ability to choose the pieces and parts of me that I want to share. It’s much more difficult to hide parts of who you are when you’re sitting in front of someone.
As I’ve said before, I am a member of a cancer support group online, and I truly love each and every one of the almost 200 members that participate in the everyday conversations we have. We don’t always agree, but we love and care for one another anyway. It’s great to connect with others who have walked a similar path, and understand the trials and struggles you have faced, while encouraging one another to move forward in hope.
I find the most beautiful thing about the online group arrangement is the ability to “choose” the conversations I participate in, the ability to “choose” how and when I “do life” with them. If there is a conversation that I find distasteful or going in a direction I don’t want to follow, I can choose not to participate. If someone desperately needs a word of cheer and hope, I can share just exactly what I want to say, taking my time to choose my words carefully. If a conversation becomes heated or emotional, I can choose to back out and let things cool off before making a response.
Tonight, for the first time in my journey–actually for the first time in my life–I am going to attend a real live support group. People in a circle, face-to-face, conversing about their fears, their hopes, their struggles…sharing their lives. And this “writer” is terrified.
It’s a lovely gift to be able to share my thoughts and feelings with others…as long as I can do it through the written word. I can remain somewhat anonymous, somewhat detached this way. Meeting face-to-face is much more real, somehow. Much more intense. Much more personal. Much more scary.
What if I say the wrong thing? What if I speak without thinking through my words carefully, and hurt someone unintentionally? What if I stick my foot in my mouth? (Which is quite a common occurrence for me, at least in the figurative sense–my foot can’t get anywhere near my mouth in the literal sense!)
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like a don’t know how to behave in public. For the most part, I can handle myself without too many embarrassing moments. But by and large, I am a very private person and it is difficult for me to open up to strangers. I often come across as stand-offish or somewhat stiff and cool. Growing up, when kids at school would call me “snobbish” it used to hurt my feelings a lot. I have come to understand that what other kids took to be “stuck-up” was merely my inability to “open up” until I got to know someone a little bit better.
I’ve always been the wallflower, sitting in the corner of the room observing the behaviors and attitudes of those around me. After watching someone for a little while, it’s much easier for me to converse with them. Once I “take the plunge” and decide that someone wants to spend time with me, I am “all in.” Sometimes it’s even difficult to shut me up!
But this level of comfort and confidence can sometimes take months of quiet watching. In a support group setting, I’m not sure I have that luxury. And I know I don’t have the luxury of slowly and carefully thinking through my words and then writing and rewriting them to suit the conversation.
In my heart, I know this is a step I need to take…for many reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that I can’t spend my life hiding behind my computer screen; I have to be willing to step out and meet people, share my fears, my struggles, my journey and hopefully lend a helping hand to those who must travel this path after me. And in doing so, I know that I will be blessed with new relationships, blessed by those I am trying to bless, comforted by those who need comfort. I know this is the true meaning of relationship, and I truly want to take this step. But wanting it and it being easy for me are two very different things.
So I as taking the plunge into “real life” say a little prayer for me. And wish me luck!
P.S. Tell me there isn’t a God with a great sense of humor…10 minutes after I hit “Publish” on this article, the nurse in charge of the support group sent an email, canceling tonight’s group meeting! All that angst for nothing! Oh well, I shall try again next month!