Friday, August 3, 2007

Anxiety’s footprint

“I can only imagine…” so many people say to me. Meaning of course, that they can’t imagine what it would mean to be in my situation right now.

And that’s good. You’re not here, and in terms of your own life, you really don’t want to be.

I’ve always believed that worry for its own sake is wasted effort; effort that might better be spent working to address actual tasks and challenges. What you see is so much easier to deal with than everything unknown. Why not wait until a problem materializes before throwing too many precious resources at its amorphous shape? In the meantime, I prefer to use those resources to attack known problems. There are way too many bad things that can happen as we do what we must to keep our heads above water, and I for one can’t anticipate all of them.

Being married to a professional worrier, this attitude was a major source of marital discord for many years. And it contributed an additional problem. My refusal to get sucked into the worry-habit became a symbol of actively undermining the relationship. Any worry I rebuffed was more for him to shoulder, and a huge flashing sign that I didn’t love him enough to pull my own weight.

But that’s an old story.

What’s happening now is that I do have a problem I can name. I have cancer. Some have suggested I’m brave in the way I face it, but truly, my life is not about bravery. I simply do what I must to get by, to keep my head above water as before. But I’m in a much deeper pool, with sharks and stingrays nipping at my heels. I’m at serious risk and I can no longer avoid the anxiety.

Anxiety is physical. For me, it starts with a rush of blood to my head and a burning sensation in my face. I feel fluttery vibrations in the pit of my stomach, somewhat akin to adrenaline rush, with the heightened awareness that I might have to flee imminently.

And if I flee, what will I take with me? My mind is always racing to inventory what remains to do before I can start running. I’m simultaneously tugged by the urge to run, and held in place by the need to take stock of my mountain of to-do tasks. The enormity of the mountain floods me with the awareness that any effort I expend can’t possibly make a dent in the backlog. These contradictory forces frequently leave me paralyzed.

Many times, I have to force myself to breathe. Fortunately, my body takes care of the autonomic part. What I’m referring to is deep breaths that can potentially restore a brief moment of calm. I frequently feel like I’m holding my breath… waiting, hoping, to simply get through the next minute/hour/day.

Most mornings I wake up with a start, and a full-on awareness that the anxiety has begun again. In fact, it never left. It’s been lying next to me the whole night, interrupting my sleep and dreams, and nudging me awake before I feel completely restored.

What I’m painting is not a pretty picture. It's not meant to instill terror, but to create an impression of where I live. Writing about this gives me a small sense of control. What I can see, identify, and write about becomes another problem to deal with, something I can potentially conquer. My blog is an extreme act of selfishness. But in the long run, I can’t wait to go back to simpler times!


Anonymous said...

You are brave, Ceil. Not for dealing with cancer--you have no choice in that. But for this blog. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with the world is a very brave thing. And you do it so well. I really don't think that if I were in your position, I'd take the time to not only examine my feelings so closely, but to catalog them so carefully and post them for the entire world to see. I was thinking of how brave you are, even before reading this entry on your blog.

-Barbara Peisch

Ceil said...

Wow! Thanks Barb. I appreciate the feedback. I am moved to know that I can touch my friends with my writing.

There isn't much I do, say, think, or feel that I don't reflect on. It's always been so. I've been told I'm forgiving of others, but very hard on myself. That's probably true.

Before I started this journey, my attitude was one of do-it-all-myself. I'm not entirely sure why I've embraced this new medium, but I know it's important to me to get some of that deep, dark, internal stuff out in the light where others can understand me better and I can feel connected to the healing power in the world at large.