By: Michelle Miró
*Translated from Spanish
One thing I have learned through the battles I’ve faced, such as cancer, pregnancy loss, divorce, raising my son, obesity, unemployment, love and heartbreak, and the many daily challenges, is that although one definitely needs to have a positive attitude to face and overcome challenges, it is perfectly acceptable and healthy to welcome those days and moments of not-so-positive thoughts, where grief, sadness, and melancholy claim their space.
In sharing my story, many people ask me how I could keep a smile and positive attitude during difficult times. They can’t imagine having the strength to face some of these challenges.
My honest answer is simple: faith, positive mind, knowledge and education, perspective, a good sense of humor, laughing, and following one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received, “welcoming sadness.”
When I was a senior at Virginia Wesleyan College, and only two years after my first battle with cancer (Malignant Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia—a gestational type of cancer), I faced yet another difficult health situation. The baby I was happily expecting stopped growing. At that time, the medical orders were simply to let time pass, to let nature take its course until my body miscarried. I don’t have to say how hard and difficult it was living minute by minute for several weeks, knowing that, within me, my baby was dead and waiting for my body to understand this and miscarry him.
During that time, I did my best to keep up my daily routine by attending classes. I just kept telling myself that life went on, and I had to move forward (I demanded myself to do so) and not lose the semester. I admit my concentration was poor, knowing at any moment “it” was going to happen.
The anxiety and sadness generated by the situation were getting the best of me. I felt exhausted, intolerant, ill tempered, resentful, and very VERY angry. As the time approached for final exams, and even though I attended classes and did my homework, I was not ready nor had the mind to take them. I decided to confide in one of my professors and great teacher of philosophy, Dr. Sturm. One day after class, I asked him if we could discuss the alternatives so I could still finish the class with the possibility of being excused from the final exam.
During the meeting, which ended up being more like an appointment with the psychologist and spiritual guide, he said,
“Michelle, you have to give yourself permission to feel the emotions that are there. Stop, take time, and visit with your emotions. Humans need to sit and visit with those thoughts and feelings: sadness, fear, anger. You must feel, live, internalize, and express them as part of that process of understanding and reconciling. Only then can you move forward. If, instead, you ignore and cover them, it only offsets the balance within [Yin-Yang], stealing us from life and happiness.”
I left feeling somewhat stronger, and, from the moment I got into the car to end of the 45-minute drive home, I gave myself permission to feel the sadness and depression and question why and why again. I allowed myself to mourn and cry and feel even the not-so-positive feelings, but I was aware of the exercise’s purpose: to acknowledge, understand, reconcile, and release. In the following days, I slept and lived in sorrow and anger until I felt the balance back in my heart and spirit. The exercise served its purpose. I felt strengthened.
Finally, nature did not take its course as the doctors expected, and I had to undergo a surgical procedure to terminate the pregnancy, which was very difficult, physically and emotionally. There I was, once again, on the way to hospital, another admission, more blood tests, another IV, another stretcher, another trip to the operating room staring at the ceiling, once again “goodbye, baby,” once again general anesthesia, once again listening, “Michelle can you count to 10?” once again, “Yes. 1, 2, 3…”
Once again waking up with nausea and vomiting, once again getting dressed and ready, once again driving home, and once again back to bed to recover.
Yes, of course, sad and with tears in my eyes but this time knowing that my peace and happiness depended, in part, on welcoming the sadness, visiting with it, letting it flow, and letting it go so I could smile once again.
Cry! Shout! Feel! Visit, consciously, with your emotions, and you will see: you WILL smile again.
Michelle Miró is a television producer from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Today, she is the mother of a 13-year-old and a two-time cancer survivor and obesity survivor. She is the producer and host for “A tu Salud” (“To your Health”) on the PBS-affiliated TV station in Puerto Rico and consults for various television and internet projects. Michelle’s greatest satisfactions in life are being a mother and the volunteer work she does for the American Cancer Society (ACS) as a motivational speaker, member of the “Relay for Life” organizing committee, and emcee of ACS’s Annual Grand Gala.
*Photo by Nutmeg Designs.