Coping is what we become good at…

People have scars in all sorts of unexpected places. Like secret road maps of their personal histories. Diagrams of all their old wounds. Most of our wounds heal, leaving nothing behind but a scar. But some of them don’t. Some wounds we carry with us everywhere and though the cuts long gone, the pain still lingers.  Meredith Grey.

My first scar happened a long time ago. I was around five years old and somehow managed to jab a biro into my knee. I remember it hurt at the time and for years I had a blue dot beneath my skin. The dot has faded but the scar remains, a constant reminder that biros are best used on solid surfaces, not knees.

I have a feint scar on my right hand and a more distinct one on the left.  The feint one is a cat scratch from my Grandmothers enormous ginger (and semi-wild) tomcat. Both my Grandmother, Evelyn and the tomcat, Tigger died a number of years ago but thoughts of them still make me smile. I remember my Grandmother cussing the cat as he ambushed her from beneath a flowering shrub for the hundredth, or possibly the thousandth time while she tended to her laundry. Pristine white linen drying in a garden that was a triumph of horticulture and a sea of colour, filled with dahlias, Japanese wind-flowers, lupins and peonies. Tigger had plenty of places to lie in wait for an attack on any unsuspecting ankles.  No-one, not least my Gran, was spared his high jinks.

The  scar on my right hand is a burn. Too much rushing around in the kitchen and a failed attempt to remove something very hot from the oven with a tea towel instead of oven gloves. My oven gloves had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Instead the money went towards my sons third birthday cake. I taught myself that rushing to bake cakes was a bad idea. I also taught my young  ‘soak up new words like a sponge’  son a word I didn’t intend to share with him. B*ll*cks.  I’ve never fathomed why children learn some words immediately while others take time and patience to be assimilated into everyday speech. That word was seized upon by my almost three-year old with instant glee. Fortunately it didn’t amuse him for long. We both laugh about this now… and we both have fully functional oven gloves in our kitchens.

I have a scar in the shape of Myanmar between the annular and little finger on my right hand.  I’d been out with friends but wasn’t drinking because I had to drive. I managed to slip on some gravel and some gravel managed to embed itself in my hand.  I was teased for being the only person who fell over when everyone else was drunk and I was the only one to remain sober.

The three newest, most visible scars include a 2cm line in my right armpit, two perfectly round scars that resemble a large vampire bite on my rib cage (they’re drain scars) and a 7cm diagonal scar across my right breast. These scars have no amusing memories to accompany them. They are the unholy trinity that marks my physical assault on cancer and  the handiwork of Miss M, the amazing oncoplastic surgeon who helped preserve my life.

All of these wounds have healed, repaired themselves leaving nothing more than some lines on the road map of my personal history. There are, of course, the other scars. The ones that can’t be seen. Scars of miscarried babies and my Mother, snatched from us far too early by cancer. Scars of past betrayals, misplaced loyalty,  forsaken friendships and lost love.  The cuts went away and for some of these scars the pain is a dull ache instead of the nerve-jangling wretchedness of a broken heart.  For others the pain doesn’t recede, it’s simply concealed behind a facade of optimism and the hope that in time, things will be better.

When facing a difficult situation, something painful or threatening we often try to console each other with clichés: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, every cloud has a silver lining, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all… There are hundreds of these things but they rarely help.   When my Mother died I was deeply traumatised, receiving a cancer diagnosis myself was quite a shock too.  Many clichés were offered up by well-meaning people around me but those words didn’t help.  The words I fell back on, the ones that have really made a difference came from my Aunt a long time ago. “People will say it gets easier with time, that you get over it, life goes on. Life does go on, it doesn’t get easier. You just learn to cope better. Coping is what we become good at.”

Scar

Scar (Photo credit: Tattooed JJ)

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18 thoughts on “Coping is what we become good at…

  1. I love your Aunt’s words, but I would dare to add, If we embrace the uneasiness, then coping becomes loving. Not sure if that is a cliche, but I truly believe it. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  2. I like the scene and its true, we tend not to wear our scars as badges of honour even though some of them are worthy of the Medal for Valour. Like you I wish we could learn this lesson without the trauma that seems to go along with it

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  3. When it comes to ‘coping,’ some of us definitely do it better than others. To some extent you have to teach yourself to cope and, as one who spent many years in the wilderness after the death of your mother, I am still learning. As I have ‘cared for others’ for the main part of my working life, most people I have come across have ‘learned to cope’ with whatever life has thrown at them. They all agree that the psychological pain they suffer may fade somewhat with time, but it never goes away and sometimes a certain situation or chance remark can make the pain seem as raw as it ever was. If we are lucky, we are surrounded by friends and family who do their best to support us, but in the end we are all alone and have to learn to cope in our own way. You are strong, and you have the love and support of your family, many friends and a myriad of wonderful people who are willing to share their experiences via their blogs etc. With much love and many many {{{hugs}}} as always. Dad xxx

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    • Sometimes I think hiding seems like a good option too! I am lucky to have the best family and friends anyone could wish for though I wouldn’t wish to go through this again for their sake or mine. Take care Dad, love you xxx

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    • Thanks 🙂 I can safely say the earlier scars were more fun – not at the time but looking back on it they have stories attached that make me smile.

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  4. Hi Tracy, as I drove into work today the thought of scars was on my mind, only to find your blog entry waiting for me. My thoughts were about physical war, or a dog bite. If I were to become wounded in a war or bitten by a dog and it caused extensive scarring how would I feel. At the time of the infraction my thought might be: glad it wasn’t worse and I’m still alive. Unfortunately, with surgical removal of cancer the scar is very different for it has deeply embedded roots that underlie the tissues throughout, that’s what makes these scars something entirely different. They are a reminder of what lurks beneath the surface.

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    • Hi Diane, funny how these things happen isn’t it. We think of something and sure enough there’s an article on it. I hope you never get wounded in a war, or bitten by a dog. I think you’ve done your turn – this breast cancer thing, it’s scars and what lurks beneath is more than enough.

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  5. Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    I would add, that only people who actively engage intelligently with their circumstances learn to “cope better.” As a whole, Americans don’t have the patience for coping. We tend to slap a quick-fix on and hope for the best. We simply have too much to do to heal from things we’d rather not think about. So, some of us — by choice or lack of options, get REALLY good at coping. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people (more than just Americans) who are “coping” in a way that only causes more issues.

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    • Thanks for the reblog Kristen. I wonder if our societies and the pressures we live by these days force us into that quick-fix mentality instead of giving ourselves (and others) the time, space and support to deal with our challenges?

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    • She’s also very humorous, full of interesting stories and has a wealth of knowledge. She hasn’t had an easy life so is quite an inspiration. Hope you are well Elizabeth xxx

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  6. So true, those physical scars are the visible reminders and mostly they heal (though I love the fact that you have a special Myanmar shaped one 🙂 though not the pain that caused it of course ). But the mental and emotional scars run deep and are shifty, feeling more tender some days than others. And yes, we learn to live with and cope with these. Beautiful post x

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    • Shiftiness is a good word for the emotional scars. Sometimes it seems they’ve faded then often when we least expect it they come back into full focus. I suppose this is part of what makes us human and possibly goes towards making us more compassionate and empathic… if only there could be easier ways to learn those traits. I love your blog and your location, both are truly amazing x

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  7. I have grown to love my mastectomy scars. They are the scars that were the most difficult to earn and the ones that are the most important for my continued life.

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    • You’re very wise Mae, you have an insight that is so valuable and encouraging. Thank you for your help and support, it is very appreciated

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  8. I remember the scene from Lethal Weapon 3, in which Lorna Cole/Renee Russo and Riggs/Mel Gibson compare battle scars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNOsA4nH8yE. At the time I first saw it, I was charmed by the woman showing her scars with pride because it seemed so much more natural to hide them. What is so charming to me now is the notion that the earning of a scar is not merely a recollection of pain, but, as you point out, a testament to the power to cope. I wish for everyone I love that they never have to earn their scars, but I have collected my own and they may bear witness to the fact that I have not led an idyllic life. I have led a life that I can say has made me stronger, more resilient, possibly a bit more wise, certainly a lot more empathetic. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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