• Erin Graham

The Scream Closet

Updated: Jan 25, 2019


“Well, you could try some deep breathing, that’s what all the magazines say to do,” shares my friend, before releasing a lovely peal of laughter.


She’s laughing, because she and her husband raised two boys while working full time and then some, and then right as things were supposed to be moving in the “let’s go travel the world” direction, her husband suffered a widow maker heart attack - and survived - only for her employer to block their health insurance. Between $12,000 Life Flight bills and retrofitting their home and car and life for a wheelchair, my girl has seen some things.


But like literally every woman I know and love, she bears those challenges quietly, just another task to check off her list:

  • Stop by the store for all the things: Check!

  • Work out and then work work and then house work: Check!

  • Keep the family alive and happy and together: Check!

  • Breathe in: Check!

  • Breathe out: Check!

  • Reapply lipgloss: Check!…. Check!… Check!

Why oh why am I up making lists in the middle of the night, we ask ourselves. Hey I know: I’ll just do some deep breathing and everything will be OK…OK???


But the problem with that, of course, is that you’ll hyperventilate and pass out and then who’s gonna shove the orange slices in the kids’ lunches so we look like a healthy family that has its act together?


My friend does as a good friend will, and tells me to chill. I don’t know how she got the job, but it’s become her responsibility to talk me down from the wall that I find myself climbing when I’m on tamoxifen. It’s the drug you take when you have my kind of cancer, and it throws you immediately into menopause. And in case you were wondering, it…is…as…much…fun…as….that…sounds.


Also in case you were wondering: Menopause feels a little like you,

but maybe more like your 12-year-old-self,

and you’re on stage for the holiday concert

and your tights are starting to inch down your waist.

You want to yank them up, but you can’t,

you’re in the front row of all these people,

and hello? You’re on stage?

And now you’re getting sweaty

and you can feel those tights start to roll at the waistband.

You do your best to give them a graceful and discreet tug,

but instead of just hitching up your tights

you also pull up the front of your dress

and now everybody has seen your knickers

and your stupid brother has started laughing

and pointing at you from the audience

and now you wanna cry but: no.

You have to keep right on singing.


My friend agrees. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.


My concern, I tell her, as I clasp my hands too-tight around my cup of coffee, is that women go through menopause *literally* every day. I know this. I know I am not special. And yet I can’t seem to not suck at it.


My concern, I tell her, is that this is all going to come off as complaining, when I quite specifically promised myself I would NOT complain, given that my doctors had told me I’d be dead by October and then here I am, very much not dead, and I would take any medication, and undergo any procedure to keep it that way.


But….I tell her, my *concern* is that the last time I took this drug it made me the kind of cray that manifested quite specifically into the desire to drive a hatchet through someone’s forehead.


I mean I DIDN’T, obviously.

But I remember so clearly sharing this with my doctor

(“I want to drive a hatchet through someone’s forehead.”)

and how she penned all this down in my file,

reciting in her clinical way, without emotion,

“hatchet….forehead…got it…”


My concern, I tell her, is that here I am in a new marriage, just a year into the thing, and I’m afraid of going through that hatchet phase again. What if he decides he doesn’t *like* the me on tamoxifen?


My concern, I tell her, is that the last time around, I worked with my doctor on a list of pros and cons of stopping the medication, and when the ‘Stop’ column far exceeded the ‘Continue’ column, I stopped taking it. Because the risk of the cancer returning was so, so low. I’d had a double mastectomy for that very reason, didn’t I? If there’s no more breast tissue there’s no more chance of breast cancer, right?


But the cancer returned this past spring anyway.

And I’m not complaining, technically, but I sure am afraid.


The waitress came by with more coffee, and while we really had hogged our booth for more than 2 hours already, there was no mistaking that I was on the verge of a good cry so she just poured those cups full again.


What you need, says my friend, is a scream closet.


I laugh, of course, because that’s what you do when you know you are on the brink of brilliance and you just haven’t figured out exactly what that looks like yet.


My brilliant friend shares: When the kids were younger, and things got out of control, I’d excuse myself, head upstairs, and climb into my closet and scream my head off. In private. Like a lady mind you, not like some lunatic. And then I’d close the closet and head back downstairs to my family and work and I went back about my life like the badass I am.


****


Now, what I like about this strategy is that unlike most, you don’t have to buy anything to make it happen. No thousand dollar treadmill, no forty dollar collagen tub, no trip to some spa in Santa Fe. It’s just you. You and your closet.


Also what I like? You don’t have to wake up an hour earlier every day to implement, like so many solutions require.


(Oh you should just get up earlier every morning and meditate, they say.

You should get up an hour earlier and organize your office.

You should get up before the family wakes and take a jaunty hike through the forest.

You should get on up and choke down some lemon and vinegar in lukewarm water.

Oh, and while you’re at it, you should get some more sleep each night.)


I mean. Anybody can find the time to scream. Especially with all that coming at you.


So there I was, in my kitchen, after a long day of work and bad weather commutes and getting kids to and from stuff and really, everything was fine. My awesome husband was making dinner and the kids were playing Fortnite or at basketball practice and the dog was running around happily in the snow. But I began to feel those 12-year-old tights start to slip.


Have you ever had a hot flash? I’m guessing they’re different for everyone. But for me, they start as a flush in my chest that rises up my throat into my brain. And I know it’s just a hot flash. I know that. But when my brain starts to sizzle in that way it feels like I’m right back on that stage, the lights hot on my skin and the fear dripping down my back.


So I head up stairs.


I enter my closet, with all my lovely clothes and the hidden Christmas presents I forgot about and the returns I haven’t dropped off to UPS yet, and some recently slobbered on slippers because our dog is a naughty one. And as I close my eyes and take a deep breath it feels like the stage lights are finally turning down.


Through the muffle of the closet I can hear the chorus of family life below. Someone had let the dog in and her nails scrambled over the hardwood floors in joy. The kids sang out some video game victory and the microwave kept time with its relentless beep.


The stage was set.


One last breath in, and I think, ok so why can’t this count as mediation, and as I exhaled, it may have been a scream, but just the same, it might as well have been song.

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