With cancer, the anxiety that lurks beneath the surface of everyday life comes rushing to me unbidden at unpredictable moments. Of course I get nervous when I’m waiting the results of my latest brain MRI or CT scans, but anxiety can strike at any time.
It can be crippling, unless you figure out a way to let it go. Worry and anxiety are siblings to fear. Stress is a first cousin. It’s a brain chemical thing, and realizing that makes it easier to not judge myself for these feelings.
A few ways that I’ve coped with anxiety:
Meditated, prayed, sailed, hiked, swam, skied, posted to SmartPatients.com, chatted online, phoned my Fourth Angel mentor, listened to audiobooks, hugged my wife Katharina, practiced guided imagery, and swapped tales with other cancer survivors.
Also, I’ve watched Patriot games outside in the cold on a television mounted on a tree with a bonfire roaring in the backyard of my friend John Meehan, with my other friend Chris Fox, cracking wise and laughing.
At various times, I’ve swallowed pills (lorazepam), drank alcohol, and gorged on junk food. It’s called self-medication, I’ve tried to be moderate in my use, and I know all of these things are not terribly healthy. But don’t judge me and I won’t judge you.
I’ve repeated mantras, such as “What will be will be,” “Don’t worry be happy,” “Breathe,” “This too shall pass,” and “Surface agitation.”
The last mantra needs some context. It refers to a point Jon Kabat-Zinn makes in his very helpful book, Full Catastrophe Living (I would recommend that anyone trying to cope constructively with stress listen to it rather than read it. For weeks, I listened to little else, and after a while it wasn’t even necessary to hear the passages in order — Shuffle was just fine).
Our thoughts and consciousness are like an ocean, lake, or other body of water, placid and still until the wind intervenes, rippling or roiling the surface, he says. Meanwhile, just a few feet beneath the surface, the wind’s impact is far less pronounced, and decreases even more much deeper below.
When I tell myself “Surface agitation,” it’s a reminder that there is calm below, and maybe even ahead. The trick is trying to find that sense of calm. It takes work, and many different approaches.
My aim is to use healthy approaches as much as possible. I’m not always successful but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.