A lot of friends and family have asked me what I’ve learned since my diagnosis. It’s impossible to distill into a few pithy phrases; there’s no Instagram post or Tumblr typography that can fully encapsulate the amount that I’ve matured in the last 3 months.
But there’s no doubt that I’ve been learning a lot through this ordeal – a lot of things that, unfortunately, take facing death to really learn the importance of. Don’t get me wrong, I would never wish cancer on anybody… but things that you learn through the toughest experiences are lessons that last a lifetime. Lessons are best taught through experience, after all.
If I could sum it up, I would stress how important it is to be happy. I don’t mean that in the inspirational “Laughter is the rainbow of the heart”-sorority-calendar type happiness. Being happy is much harder than that. It’s about listening to that little voice in your head that you ignore because the magazines, Facebook, and Snapchat are just so loud.
Remember that time you went through a fast food drive thru, got yourself a double double with sweet potato fries, and a milkshake because, “Why the heck not?!”… and after you ate it, you thought, “holy shit… that was delicious… but I hate myself so much right now.”
That is not happy.
Remember that time you kept patting makeup onto your face, trying to mask out every trace of the original you because you thought you weren’t beautiful? You don’t look like Kendall Jenner – but more eyeliner and concealer will fix that, right? But you thought to yourself, “… This isn’t me. This can’t be good for me.”
That is not happy.
And that time you were feeling sluggish after a long day of work? All you really wanted to do was collapse on your couch, hug your pillow and put on Mean Girls for the 50th time? But your friend invited you to hang out at a bar, and everyone’s going and you’ll probably be like super weird if you don’t show up? That tiny voice was screaming, “I NEED SLEEP!”, but you shush it and tell it you can down some coffee and you’ll be juuuust fine?
That is not happy.
Instantaneous excitement is short-lived, but every time you suppress that tiny voice you’re adding a little more stress onto your body. And that stress adds up. You take your body for granted because it’s working fine right now, but if you keep denting the car, eventually it’ll stop running and you won’t know why.
It’s okay to indulge. It’s okay to cheat sometimes. But when you withdraw from the bank, you need to replenish and store some in savings for a rainy day. It’s never good to be in debt. Our bodies are truly miraculous, but even they can only take so much.
What I’m telling you now is: learn to listen to your body. That is how you’ll be happy.
But thanks to murky societal values and our young, resilient bodies with high metabolisms that can bounce back from almost anything, we’ve become so accustomed to tuning out that small voice in our heads. Processed and animal protein foods affect our stretch and density receptors in our stomach that tell us when we’ve had enough to eat, suppressing that natural voice even more. And Photoshop-ridden magazines and advertisements scream loudly at our insecurities, silencing the voice constantly telling you that you’re beautiful.
How do you know what to listen to anymore?
Start slow. Look for gut reactions. And solve the problem instead of trying to cover it up.
When you get sick, you feel drowsy and thirsty… don’t take some Emergen-C and down a cup of coffee. Drink lots of fluids, and sleep as much as you can. When you feel heavy or groggy, eat something light to dilute it and clear up your stomach. When you feel parched, reach for water – don’t reach for soda or a beer. Solve the thirst, don’t create another problem.
And you’ll be surprised, the healthier your body becomes, the more you realize your body has clear answers for other things as well – you were just so used to ignoring it.
When you have trouble waking up on Mondays and find more excitement scrolling through Google Flights during lunch, that’s your body telling you that a 9 - 5 just isn’t your thing… it’s time to take off. When you feel funny because this first date just seems off, but you can’t figure out why… he’s probably not the one for you. Even these little feelings are stress on your body that can take a toll on your health.
Listen to the warning signs. Your body is trying to tell you something before it’s too late.
You’ll be surprised at how confident and decisive you become, because your body had all the answers after all.
This post is a guest blog post contributed by Natalie Sun, Texting from Cancer. Published with Permission.