Forty-Four: Eat the Cupcake

eat the cupcake - val in real life

Tomorrow marks my forty-fourth birthday. I view birthdays as personal new years: a time to reflect, assess, and consider the previous year. Birthdays are usually safe from the turmoil of other holidays so it’s easier to be more thoughtful. This year, more than ever, I’m grateful for the amazing support of the people who love me. And for a fabulous therapist. Just keeping it real, y’all. 🙂

Sitting down to write this annual birthday post and looking back at this particular year, I go a bit numb. I like that better than the flood of emotions that still overwhelms me some days. This year has been one of extraordinary pain. And stress. It has been a roller coaster of raw emotions that run the gamut between hope and despair. Navigating those extremes on nearly a daily basis for almost a full circle around the sun so far has taken its toll.

But let’s back up…

I never wanted to be the person who woke up one day realizing she’s old and didn’t really live her life. Or develops a terminal illness before trying to live a life in earnest.

When I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor just before my 40th birthday, I realized I wasn’t being true enough to that. I wasn’t achieving the balance I wanted. The tumor was a highly treatable situation, if still difficult and unpleasant. It felt like I’d dodged a bullet and I didn’t want to squander my reality check. With careful attention, I’ve managed to strike a better balance in my life since then. As a result, I’ve had some incredible experiences.

And then this year, I was brutally and suddenly cut down to my core. It’s left my body feeling old and broken. Oftentimes my spirit feels the same way.

I can tell you I’m very glad I did some epic things in the time between the tumor and the crash. Unfortunately, now that I see what my permanent limitations are, I will simply never be able to do some of those things again. Certainly not in the same way or at the same level. Even daily tasks present new challenges.

Since I resolved to be more deliberate in directing my life’s path, I also created and nurtured the mindset and lifestyle that has helped carry me through this ongoing recovery. I’ve needed every drop in the bucket.

Eat the Cupcake…

A recovery of this magnitude takes a lot of time. I’m still working on both the physical and emotional aspects of that. And I will be for a quite a while longer before I entirely recalibrate.

The day before Halloween, I was having a very, very bad time dealing with the emotions that come with life-changing trauma. But I needed to pick up a cake at a local bakery for a friend and I was trying to keep moving forward with my life in spite of being overwhelmed.

Another woman was there picking up a cake as well. She was having an amusing debate with the clerk about whether or not to get a cupcake for herself. With a bit of wink and nudge, she looked at me and said:

“You never know, I could get hit by the bread truck tomorrow.”

I uttered one of those ironic, involuntary, guttural laughs. I had to summon every ounce of composure and strength I possess to hold back the tears, grief, pain, and frustration that wanted to surge forth like a tornado. After a moment (or maybe ten…) I smiled at her and said:

“Trust me, eat the cupcake.”

When I relayed the story to my therapist, even she winced at the thought of this little exchange, knowing how difficult it was for me. The woman, of course, had no idea she’d just said that to someone who’d recently actually been hit by a car. It was simply an off-hand remark expressing something we all know but don’t necessarily honor in the big picture of running our lives… that it can change or end at any moment.

The bigger picture…

In spite of this, you might be surprised that I’ve never been a fan of the “Live every day like it’s your last!” message. Let’s face it, that’s not realistic or healthy. We all recognize in theory that our lives are fleeting but we still have to do the laundry and pay the bills. Not every day can be epic. A life well-lived has a rhythm. One that requires you to protect your future while not banking on days that may not come. That’s the challenge.

I do believe in keeping your bucket full, though. That’s the emotional savings account for hard times.

So eat the cupcake. Maybe not every day, but when it makes sense to get your life back in balance.

Live large and adventure on, friends.