This is how it goes: You're hanging out with family on the beach/you're at a party with people you like/you're shopping with a friend/you're at dinner with your partner and all looks great, you're having - FUN! But in a quiet moment, your mind goes to the Dark Place. It's the place the mind likes to hang out after hours, too, when you're alone or things are quiet. It's the place of dread, fear, stomach-turning thoughts about . . . whatever.
These are the myriad random things I've worried about lately:
- My surgery will go poorly and I'll have to deal with [insert some major complication].
- I'm going to have to surrender the care of my family and home to others for a while - and the time is undetermined. I can't stand ambiguity, especially when it comes to household/childcare logistics.
- I'm going to have to give up working out for about 8 weeks. I've been working out pretty much every day since March, 2011 and I see great results. This is going to set me back.
- I won't be able to prepare food for quite a while - cooking from scratch is very physical and I have some very heavy pots & pans . . . I'm going to miss my freedom and creative time in the kitchen, not to mention all my greens and salads.
- I might not even be able to open the refrigerator myself - it's got a crazy-strong seal on it and I've been told that even things like child-proof caps on bottles are off-limits.
- My daughter's going to witness my surgical recovery and I don't want her to be scared, or worse, scarred.
- I'm freaked out about the drains that'll be in me for at least a couple of weeks.
- I can't drive for a while after surgery - again, the dependence thing.
- I need to learn to wash my hair with my arms trapped at my sides because I can't raise my arms up for weeks. Forget about blow-drying.
- I have to find decent-looking button-down shirts to wear for a good long while - no arms up over the head.
- I hate sleeping on my back, and that's gonna be my only option for a while.
It's random, no? It's anxiety, all free-floating and ruthless. It's in the background, all the time, and it's unhealthy. Especially for 8 weeks. But luckily (what?) I've done this before, and I've got tools.
My tools are tools you can use any time you're faced with worry, and one of 'em I've used for years and years and years: it's exercise. Those who know me know that I'm religious about my workouts. Whether they're low-key (I'm a Pilates convert after an almost 2-year bout of arthritis that left me unable to do anything on my feet) or high-energy (I'm a former running addict who loves to blow it out with cardio of all kinds, just low-impact now in my middle age), they clear my mind and make my body feel powerful. And at a time like now when my body's in trouble, a powerful feeling is very, very good. I've amped things up now, pre-mastectomies. I'm in training - want to join the Mastectomy Team in Training (yes, M-TIT)? You can find me on Social Workout logging my daily devotional.
The other tool I've rediscovered is meditation. Yes, you read that right, this former litigator meditates. It's about 180 degrees from anything I'd have anticipated for myself, but at the outset of Cancer Round I, I learned to meditate and it helped me immensely. To my time-tested Relaxation Response (20 minutes of focus on breath and clearing my mind), I've added some visualization . . . to counteract all the negative thinking I've been doing about my surgery. Like athletes, housewives about to have their breasts removed can take themselves through the whole sequence of events w/a positive, winning spin - and there are studies that show that this does improve surgical outcomes. Whether it does for me, or not, it's improving my day-to-day life as I sit, stuck in this holding pattern, waiting for The Big Day.