Hanging on by a thread.

Hanging on by a thread.

If I could describe the last few months in five words, it would be those. And let me tell you—desperately clinging is exhausting. I’ve been navigating some big transitions the last few months. Ive been introduced to the world of oncologists, hospital waiting rooms, really bad news, conflicting medical opinions, miraculously incredible news, conflicting medical opinions. All on top of the usual, dramatic L.A. grind stuff: working long hours, career insecurity, big auditions, not booking big auditions, resentment about not booking big auditions because now maybe there’s less time than i thought. Transitioning from a chapter in my life that was lighter and more carefree, where faith was more of a cool, at times even self righteous choice, to a chapter that feels much deeper, where faith is the only force putting one of my feet in front of the other. A chapter without any concrete answers about the future. A chapter where even though thinking about tomorrow is terrifying, you’re rarely able to stop yourself from thinking about tomorrow. A chapter where everything is in between, and the destination is unknown. And Im not super awesome at “in between” and “unknown” (where my INFJ’s at?!). No definitive answers, no way to depend on plans. Having to adjust to the worst possible outcome, then being gifted, without warning, the possibility of a miracle.
This is where I learned how scary hope is. Let me tell you, it can be absolutely petrifying. Scary because, when you’ve already prepared yourself to lose big time (as much as one can prepare for such a thing), things cant really get any worse. And there’s a kind of sad comfort in that. You tell yourself “if we can just survive the next minute, all we have to do is survive the one after that”. You hang on by a thread. Gritting your teeth, holding it together and putting one foot in front of the other. It becomes very simple. All you have to do is keep holding on. But once a glimmer of hope is introduced into the equation, suddenly, everything you thought was already broken, can be broken all over again. You can lose big, and you’re not prepared for it anymore. This will sound crazy depressing if you’ve never been through something like this—which I hope you haven’t—but for me, when the diagnosis came, once I got beyond denial, all I wanted was definitives. I wanted a timeline. I did not want to watch my favorite person in the world fight a long, slow battle that he’d likely lose. Point blank. I did not take any comfort in the possibility of it lasting the next 2, or 5, or 10 years. I did not take any comfort knowing that this could drag out for a very long time. Yeah, I’d get to spend that time with my favorite person in the world, but to think of how that time would be spent? Impossible. Just no.
Surgery happens. Its long, complicated, high risk, good times.
Then—curveball alert. We are informed that the surgery was so successful that the surgeon is of the opinion that everything could be gone. Yes. Gone. Stage 4 cancer. Gone. You’d think that would send me into fits of never ending euphoric joy, right? Yeah, not exactly. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many, many fits of euphoric joy, don’t worry. But here’s the rub: we wont know for sure until the end of October, once the PSA determines how much cancer is left in the body. That’s like weeks of “maybe”. Have I mentioned how bad I am at “maybe”? Oh, and the doctor in Holland who did the initial scans that diagnosed the severity of the spread disagrees with the surgeon. Look, I love me a good pair of clogs just as much as the next girl, but come the fuck on. Like, literally, get out of here.
So here I am, totally in between two drastically different possibilities of the future. And I am tired, man. Im tired of swallowing down my worst fears when they inevitably cry out to be heard. Im tired of trying to compartmentalize the mess I’m in. Side note: Did you know that it’s pretty much impossible to be an actor when you compartmentalize your brain like that? Im tired of running from emotion Im afraid will devour me. I’m tired of lying every time someone asks me “how are you”? Im tired of being afraid. Im tired of hanging on by a thread.
I’ve come to believe I have two choices:
1. I can continue to hang on. I can tune out, numb myself from the pain and as a result deny myself the joy that exists in this beautifully weighted space, thereby eliminating any creative and transformative potential that it holds. I can lie. And have a huge load of shit to deal with in therapy later on. Sounds rad.
OR…
2. I can let go. I can surrender to the moments of fear as much as the moments of elated celebration. I can give myself the permission to, as bravely and vulnerably as possible, experience this chapter fully. I can let go of expectations of myself and others. I can show up with all my mess and lean on the angels who are my friends and family, knowing that nothing that we face now is faced alone. I can be completely present for those I love, who need me now more than ever. I can allow this part of my life, as my dear friend Stacy put so beautifully, to transform me into the person that I will be one day. I can practice doing the thing I love most about my art—tell the truth and do it fully.
And then it hits me, right? Is this choice really any different from the one we all make every day? Think about it: we are all dying. Every minute. This is a fact, without any kind of diagnosis or sickness. We could get hit by a car while we’re high as kites and happy as clams going for a walk in the rain, like, tomorrow. There are never any definitives. Not like the ones I’ve been looking for, anyway. No day is promised. And nothing about that fact changes because of what any doctor says or test result indicates. Is it possible that we are all in exactly the same mess? Is it possible that the miracle that I’m looking for is not in the outcome of some test, or the opinion of some doctor? Maybe the miracle is that we get to make this choice at all. The choice to embrace the beauty of this journey that is infinitely in between. The choice to surrender to the reality that we are all facing innumerable possibilities on the road ahead. Possibilities that include our greatest dreams and our greatest fears. When I look at it that way, it actually gets so simple. Easy even. Life is too short, for every single one of us, to confine ourselves within the lies we think keep us safe. Its too short not to show up and tell the truth. Too short not to be scared and love anyway. Too short not to be a mess and let people see you. Thats all they want anyway. Because when people see you for real, it gives them courage to let themselves be seen too. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? You die? Someone dies? You lose big time? Umm, there’s absolutely no way around that.
So, in conclusion,
I’m sharing this for myself mostly. To hold myself accountable and to document a really important time in my life. And, honestly, I just don’t want to post another picture of myself half naked for the sake of getting likes on my instagram. It would be a lie. Because right now Im sitting here writing this post with a messy bun, my face blotchy from crying, still in my pajamas at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I want to practice making choice number two, I want to practice telling the truth. I think its important during this time when its so easy to fall into the trap of showing off only our most glamorous successes, that we acknowledge the moments when we’re reminded that we are so much more than all that. I’m not taking away from how important a tool social media can be, personally and professionally, but I cannot tell you how impacted I feel when someone who I admire takes a break from all the perfection, to get naked and tell the truth. Thats whats inspiring to me. The world is in too much pain for us to lie to each other. Anyway, thats all I’ve got. I’ll probably have a mental breakdown in like three minutes, but, hey, thats the fun of it, right? Telling the truth means we get to change, and grow, and mess up and be gross and love and be loved the whole time. Going to put real clothes on now…

October 2, 2017

1 Comment

  • Jonathan Ramsden

    Dearest Mary,

    ENFJ here. I feel you deeply. I had the opportunity to visit with your mom and dad a couple of months ago. They are facing virtually the biggest challenge life can offer – I feel for them. While I have not kept in very good touch with you, I have kept tabs on you over the years. That bubbly 12 year old with a spring in both her step and her ponytail who happily gave me a tour of her family’s chicken coup has stayed in my heart and in my best wishes. I love your whole family dearly. Please don’t hesitate to reach out should you need anything.

    Hugs your way dear.

    Jonathan

    November 4, 2017 6:08 pm Reply

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