*From Ryan Holiday’s Thought Catalog: Find a Way To Connect To Something Big— Marcus Aurelius would look up at the stars and imagine himself running alongside them, he’d see them for their timelessness and infiniteness. Try that tonight or early in the morning and try to make it a daily practice. A glance at the beautiful expanse of the sky is an antidote to the nagging pettiness of earthly concerns, of our dreams of immortality or fame. But you can find this connection from many sources: A poem. A view from the top floor. A barefoot walk across the grass. A few minutes in a church pew. Just find something bigger than yourself and get in touch with it every single day.
When you’re a kid, you think everyone’s home and family is like yours. This changes when you “spend the night” at your friend’s house and realize that she doesn’t eat kimchi and rice. And her family goes bowling on weekends. And her parents don’t make her do extra math problems after completing her homework.
It took me a long time to discover that anxiety and depression are not normal – that, in fact – they are states of suffering. It took me a long time to learn this because there was so much disquietude and tension everywhere: in my house, in her house…
It is everywhere:
“Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S. They affect over 40 million adults (18 and older) or nearly 20% of the entire population every year.”(ADAA)*
“Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.” (ADAA)*
I know that all kinds of people have all kinds of disorders and that medication might be the only solution for a small percentage of the population. But I also believe that far too many of us want a quick fix in the form of a pill.
Anti-anxiety drugs, or “anxiolytics,” are powerful central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can slow normal brain function. They are often prescribed to reduce feelings of tension and anxiety, and/or to bring about sleep. Anti-anxiety medications are among the most abused drugs in the United States, obtained both legally, via prescription, and illegally, through the black market. These drugs are also known as sedatives. (Mind Disorders)**
Before considering drugs, let us try all the other options:
Try as I might, I cannot separate love from fear entirely. I love her, my first born. Knowing her has lit the dark corners of my soul forever. She laughs often. She is deeply sensitive to others and is quick to help…anyone. A friend recently texted me. She thanked me for raising such a generous daughter who offered to loan dresses to her friends for a dance. I had no idea.
And I fight the fear that clouds my love for her. Will she get college scholarships if she gets a “C” in math? Couldn’t she have practiced a wee bit more for her violin competition? Will boys taunt her sexually when she goes to high school? Will they touch her against her consent? Will she develop an eating disorder like the 20 million women in our country suffering from anorexia nervosa? On and on it goes. The remedy for this chain of anxiety? Be present. Admire how she paints her nails and reads her English book. She hops about the kitchen, looking for a snack. She jumps up and teases the dog, English book in hand.
I fear the swimming pool filter ever since I opened it and found two small mice, spooning each other, dead.
I fear centipedes and the carpet in our guestroom sheds. When a filament comes loose and I’m not wearing my glasses, it looks just like a … CENTIPEDE!
But I’m not afraid of snakes and I’m not afraid of javelinas (collard peccary), despite the recent attack in Phoenix. I can overcome my fears. I CAN stop worrying over what has not happened and enjoy what is in front of me, right now.
Circuitously, I have offered my advice. Pay attention. Be present and kick fear to the curb.
Driving to Phoenix for my oncologist appointment, I find myself trembling. My heart is beating faster and I think I really need to cut out the caffeine.
The waiting room fills me with the usual dread: elderly people with scarves wrapped around their bald heads, the walking canes, wheelchairs and bandages. I want to shout, I’m not sick! I don’t belong here. At the same time, I know it has not been that long since I was tightly wrapped with two drains coming out of my chest, and expanders under my chest muscles.
I can’t forget and I shouldn’t.
A woman in her late sixties with a silky Louis Vuitton scarf wrapped around her bare head walks slowly. Her husband holds her arm by the elbow with both of his hands. They walk to the restroom and then to the doctor’s office. They take each step carefully.
I’m called in for the draw.
The room is small and crowded with three chairs. The chairs have planks like small school desks for arms to rest on.
Did they take your lymph nodes?
She raises both eyebrows.
I add, Not all of them, just a few…you know…for the biopsy. I am rambling.
Which arm shall I use?
I lay both arms out for us to assess.
She chooses my left arm.
The room is freezing and my trembling has turned to shaking.
“Are you OK?” She is concerned because I look away. I know what’s coming. They can never find a vein. They never find it without moving the needle all around.
She wiggles the needle. I take a peek. “See, I’m trying to get that one.” She points to a vague blue line. I nod.
After many apologies, her wiggling and my squeamishness pay off. Two vials fill quickly. The blood is a very deep red. I visualize only healthy cells in it.
Then comes the meeting with the RN.
She wants to hear how I have been doing. She wants to know how the Tamoxifen is working. I remind her I have been off of it for 9 months. I had told the doctor that it made me feel suicidal. He had given his blessing, proclaimed me cured anyway….but he didn’t put that in his notes. The RN appears embarrassed and adds that to my file. I sigh inwardly.
No cancer in your family? No.
So strange, you got it so young. I nod in agreement. It will always be a mystery.
She asks about any new developments. Concerns. I take advantage of this opportunity.
I’ve had what I’m sure is a hamstring injury. Or bone cancer, I laugh weakly.
Is the pain intermittent or progressing?
Her shoulders go back, her eyes get wide and she says in a soothing and authoritative tone:
Bone cancer is extremely painful. The pain gets worse and worse. ALSO, it is extremely rare for breast cancer to spread below the groin. Extremely rare. It sounds like a hamstring injury.
She recommends a heating pad and a Styrofoam roller.
I am slightly relieved. Still…
She sees my concern.
If you want, I can order a bone scan. For your entire body. Not because I am worried, but because you are.
This is so generous of her!
This sounds thorough. This sounds like something I want. This will increase my chances of celebrating my 20th, 25th…heck, maybe even my 40th wedding anniversary. This will increase the chances of holding my grandchildren someday.
If I am developing a cancer that is NOT bone cancer, would that show up?
No, not in the bone scan.
Hm. I realize how crazy I am getting. I want a full body MRI. I want a full body bone scan. I want someone – someone who is an expert with an immaculate record – to tell me the cancer is gone and will never come back. But there are no guarantees. I don’t want to obsess over every achy muscle…over every itchy mole. The testing could go on and on and in some cases, actually increase my chances of recurrent cancer.
The RN tilts her head and smiles. I exhale.
Tell you what, why don’t you try the Styrofoam roller and heating pad? If it doesn’t get better, call me. Call me any time.
This sounds reasonable. And generous.
I am to return in six months.
I walk into the sunshine. It’s not as hot as it has been. I’m excited about the new season as I get in my car.
Tonight, I tucked Ava into bed and whispered, “How about tonight you don’t suck your thumb?” She replied in her snotty pre-pre-teen way, “Yeah, that’s gonna happen.”
She reemerged from her room to whine and half-cry that she has a canker sore. Willey jumped from his chair to give her a swig of Listerine, coaching her to swish for as long as possible. She whimpered in pain. Then he swept her up in his arms and flipped the light switch off with her fanny. “You can turn the light off with your butt.” She giggled as he carried her to her bed.
I’m sitting in bed, typing, with an ice pack on my chest. I had my fifth (and final, I swear!) surgery Monday. It’s been almost one week. I felt a swelling and bruising start today and basically freaked out because the last thing I need right now is an infection and to go back to Dr. Parson’s office for drains. That would be a major bummer. This surgery was to correct some positioning and to give me “nipples.” It went well as far as I can tell. It will be a resounding success if I keep infection at bay!
During this summer break, we took a vacation to Legoland. It was just what we needed: mindless fun. Ava had her first roller coaster ride and Josie rode mini-cars with her sister, both earning “drivers’ licenses.”
In addition to this fun, I worked all of June, teaching remedial English to incoming 7th graders and training for my new Ed Tech job. The teaching was challenging. How do you work with 12 year old students who can’t spell “dirt?” How do you impress upon these kids that they need to do their best ALL of the 15 days of summer school, not just two or three? How do you retain your cool factor while admonishing them for eating Doritos and candy for breakfast?
I’ve also taken this time to address dental and medical appointments for the girls. Ava is starting to show an overbite as well as what orthodontists call “overjet,” which is caused by her night time thumb-sucking. I want to do the right thing. I want to purchase an appliance if that is what is necessary. I know she will stop sucking her thumb if her thumb is met by a row of metal on the roof of her mouth. But I am mourning for her at the same time. She has always sucked her thumb and it brings great comfort to her. Her thumb is her best friend. It’s time for her to find security in something else, but what? Peaceful thoughts? I wish I had her equivalent of the thumb…something that brings me instant calm and repose.
Security is a state of mind. Sometimes, in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, I wonder if I still have some residual cancer. Did they get it all? How will I know whether it’s back? I want a 100% guarantee that I will remain cancer free forever. I want to know that Josie and Ava will always be safe and happy and employed. I want to know that Willey will always be healthy, too. There are no guarantees. There is only the opportunity to shed light on the dark corners of my mind with the joy of the present moment. When we are fully present in the moment, there is no room for fear or worry.