The funny thing about cancer is that it puts blinders on, so everything that isn’t focused on pure survival gets pushed to the side. Obviously it’s a huge relief to be feeling better to do more, and reengage with life. But emerging back into normal life, where all those other concerns come rushing to the forefront feels more than a little overwhelming.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I felt overwhelmed on a regular basis before I had cancer, and pretty much everyone I speak to seems to find it challenging to juggle everything that goes into living at time or another.
At the moment, it feels like almost everything in my life is up in the air, and I’m grappling with some really big decisions. The pain point is at the intersection of all these decisions: about childcare, work, identity, finances, creativity.
I have played out a million scenarios in my head. I’ve been up late nights trying to work out it, googling different childcare options, searching for jobs, planning my days. I’ve even had nightmares where I just keep working, trying to find a solution that feels okay to fit the pieces together.
The big dilemma I’ve been facing is this: we don’t really have a budget for childcare unless I figure out a way to earn more money. I feel incredibly lucky that Zach’s salary can cover almost all of our basic needs, and our family has generously helped out in emergency circumstances (otherwise, I can only imagine the load of debt we would be carrying post-cancer). But we need to be quite careful about our ‘extras’: dinners out, special treats, etc. And without some massive changes, the budget doesn’t really stretch to cover childcare.
So there’s a decision: do I stay home with Rosie? Or do I try to get a paid job that can cover our childcare costs? Or is it some combination of the two? And in either case, how do I find the time to look after my health and to write (without which I start to genuinely lose my mind)?
I feel guilt in all of these scenarios: for wanting time to do the creative work that feels like my calling, for wanting time away from Rosie to be creative, for wanting time with Rosie when nursery might expose her to new experiences, for doing work that earns so little money, and so on.
I’ve been thinking about it so much that I’m actually bored by my own problems. But I still haven’t been able to find a way out, since it feels like there are so many variables and everything is up for grabs.
To top it off, it all feels time sensitive. Our contract with our beloved nanny is ending soon. One of the jobs I’m thinking of applying for has a closing date coming up. And our financial health needs some serious attention…
I actually think I’ve been making myself feel physically ill with the stress of this – which is embarrassing coming out of something as serious as cancer. But even though the issues that are troubling me seem like surface concerns, at the base of it is actually an existential crisis about what kind of person I want to be and what kind of life I want to have.
This morning I had a good long cry – which actually felt rather cathartic. And in the calm, quiet aftermath, a question rose to the surface in my mind:
“Does this feel like a step forward? Or a step backward?”
I’m still not entirely sure what all the answers are, but it was bringing me a new clarity.
Much as I love having Rosie around, keeping her with me full time would feel like a step backward. It felt essential in the baby days when I was breastfeeding her. But now, she is a curious, independent-minded toddler who loves being out in the world and with people. The nostalgic part of me wants to rewind to that close place of togetherness, but the choice that feels like a step forward is putting her in some kind of childcare that lets her explore this wider world, and gives me the freedom to find my own independence.
The answer is a bit murkier in terms of my career. With regard to applying for a job, finding a position in academic administration for an arts school could be go either way. It could feel like a step backward, returning to a familiar safety net or a past that no longer suits me or my life. Or it could feel like a step forward, in being able to support my family and laying the foundation for a future in education and developing young artists.
This isn’t the kind of question that can be answered rationally. It’s an intuitive choice. But just sitting with that question – step forward? step backward? – feels much less torturous than teasing out a million scenarios.
Another way of thinking about this is: “will this help me grow?”
People like to say there are no right or wrong decisions. In many ways this is true, and regardless, most of our choices fall into a middle ground where the stakes aren’t so high.
Still, I do believe there can be such a thing a right or wrong decision for an individual person, determined by whether they are following their gut instinct and their own inner truth. The ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ can be so loud, that it’s hard to hear that inner voice – I know it often is for me. With big or complex decisions, this is something to try.