Sunday, April 09, 2017
I spent the last two years experiencing levels of anxiety at work that greatly increased last fall. To the point that in October I had my first panic attack in 15 years. As much as I enjoyed my work I was also struggling for reasons that I still don’t feel comfortable discussing in public. Trying to pretend that things were okay or that I could somehow will things to be better was essentially just adding more stress and anxiety. The panic attack was the final sign that I needed to make changes. So I polished up the resume, sent it off into the world and, thankfully, I landed a new job in the beginning of the year that made it possible for me to move back to northern Virginia. While the move to Maryland helped me grow career wise I always had in mind coming back to Va - a short 6.5 years later and I’m back!
It’s funny, in a not comical sense, that I only realized that I was depressed until the anxiety and stress levels went down. Its hard to pinpoint when it started. I just know I finally put a label to it a couple of weeks before my birthday. I used to enjoy my birthdays, to the point that I would countdown to it - on the blog ages ago with a script that ran on the side bar, and then on Facebook despite feeling a little (a lot) silly about it. And then the cancer and the hysterectomy happened. I understood why I wasn’t overjoyed during the 2015 birthday. I even understood why the 2016 birthday didn’t inspire much joy. Plus, I thought, maybe I’ve finally just grown up, gotten to the point where birthdays are nothing special at all. But even as I thought that I knew I was just trying to deny the truth which is, I’m still not “over” my life being turned upside down two years ago. But I also feel like I can’t say that. Like I’m not supposed to say that. People expect me to be happy, to be relieved and grateful that the hysterectomy caught all of the cancer.
And of course I am. But there’s no denying that along with my reproductive organs, the hysterectomy took something else, some little spark of hope, of joy, of - I don’t know. Something that doesn’t sound so maudlin.
While I was struggling with dealing with the worst work experience I’ve ever had to deal with, the brain had no time to process anything else, I suppose. So when the new year rolled around and I realized that the birthday was coming back around I was caught by surprise by just how little I cared about it. For weeks at a time I even forgot all about it. And I know, many people behave that way and it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them but until two years ago that was way out of the ordinary for me.
The week begore my birthday I was driving somewhere when I thought, “Oh. It’s actually next week.” And then, like the sky clearing up after a storm I had a realization, “Oh,” I said to myself, “You’re depressed!” I almost laughed because i should have reliazed sooner - this isn’t new territory for me. And yet, it still has taken a month to shake the fog off and make a conscious decision to not let myself fall deeper into the pit. Sadly, the weight gain is the thing that has really scared me enough to make some changes. Shame I couldn’t have figured this out and resolved to get back on the right track before I gained I don’t even know how many pounds. I’m scared to step on the scale. Though given that I have a follow up with the oncologist on Tuesday I guess I’ll know soon enough just what the number on the scale is. Not looking forward to the embarrassing moment when they record the higher number in the system. But, hey, at least then I’ll know what I’m working with and as we all know, data is never a bad thing. She says, trying to find the humor and silver lining in all of this.
Saturday, October 01, 2016
Are you ready to make fun of me, I asked?
Why, the friend replied.
That’s when I brought my arms forward and showed him the lovely wrist braces and shared that the doctor had diagnosed me with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
You’ve had quite a year, he said. I reminded him that it’s been quite the two years.
Last year basically started out with a diagnosis of cancer, it ended with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis, which isn’t quite as (or at all) lethal but it’s painful as hell. If you haven’t had to deal with it, just trust me, it is. That lasted all the way through March of this year and now, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (or, CTS, if I may) on both wrists.
When the subject of my migraines comes up, I share with people that 20+ years of living with migraines has made me accustomed to being in pain but that doesn’t mean I get used to pain. So trying to get a good night’s sleep lately is basically impossible.
The hysterectomy had ripple effects that I’m still trying to cope with. The added pain issues don’t help; I don’t believe I get whiny when I’m in pain but I do get emotional and dealing with those moods takes a lot of mental energy. It’s draining on a lot of levels. But, such is life. At least, if I squint a bit and use a lot of imagination, I can make believe my wrist braces are more like Wonder Woman bracelets and I get to feel like I could take on any villain that gets in my way. Provided, of course, I don’t actually have to hit or block anything. That would be super painful!
Monday, June 27, 2016
While having lunch with a friend on Saturday, she began to tell me a story about someone she knows who has developed a fear of flying. “But,” she said, “someone who hasn’t had a fear before, that doesn’t develop without some kind of traumatic event -” She seemed to be implying that because there had been no near death experience via flying that there couldn’t or shouldn’t be any reason why this person would now be afraid of getting on a plane.
“I’m afraid of flying now,” I shared. She blinked and said nothing so I continued. “Ever since the cancer last year and the surgery, I’m afraid of flying and that was never the case. I’m okay after the take off but before that my stomach churns, I am jittery and afraid. Fear of death will do it, I guess.”
She nodded but didn’t seem that convinced.
I realize I put her in a bit of a spot because is she really going to argue with my assessment? That’s the thing about mentioning the C-word, it has an unfortunate ability to shut things down. The laying down of the Cancer card isn’t anything I do intentionally, nor do I really even like bringing it up. But this wrong idea that the brain always works in such a linear fashion made me want to speak up. I was a psych major for a reason; the way that the mind is constantly making connections, trying to make sense of the world or the way it can sometimes misfire is fascinating really.
If I spend time psychoanalyzing myself it isn’t that hard to figure out why the fear of flying has come into play. Being diagnosed with cancer and having to have body parts cut out in order to cure it, then spending weeks waiting to hear if the cancer had spread, there was no controlling that. Nothing I did could change the trajectory of that life event. Flying is a bit like that, right? Once I’m on the plane, whether I make it to my next destination isn’t up to me. Of course, we could say that about pretty much any action I take every day of my life but to worry and be on high alert every minute of the day would be ridiculously overwhelming so let’s thank the brain for choosing to only do this when I have to fly. That’s manageable, mostly because I don’t do much traveling!
Still, I’m hoping that with a little more time passing, the anxiety around flying will fade away. Just because I can pinpoint it to a particular traumatic part of my life doesn’t mean it makes it any less annoying to have to deal with.
Friday, March 11, 2016
For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced sharp, lucid dreams; dreams in which I am aware that I am dreaming. In doing some reading about this, I’ve read that some people have reached the point where they can direct the dreams. I’ve never tried to accomplish this. One, because I’m not sure how one would go about doing that. Two, while they happen often enough, they don’t happen so often that this is top of mind for me.
Some of the dreams can be fun. There was the one where I was a superhero and was kicking badguy ass left and right. I had a super cute superhero suit and super speed. The part of me that was aware that I was dreaming thought, “Cool. It’s like my own little comic book movie!”
While other dreams are emotionally intense and leave me quite disoriented upon waking. Like the dream within dream where my dream baby died. I remember thinking, while dreaming, that it was an awful dream and I wanted very much to be able to wake up so I tried to do that. I woke up relieved that the awful dream was done and that my baby was well. The part of my brain that knew all of this was just a giant mind game knew things were still not right. So when I finally woke up from this multi layered brainscape I had to work hard at understanding my reality. “Wait. Do I have a baby? Is my baby dead? No, right. I don’t have a baby. Thank god that was a dream.”
There I lay in bed, both relieved and sad that I had no baby to lose but still wishing my life wasn’t child-less. Can I tell you how hard it is to process that many feelings and sense of confusion so early in the morning and still get up with some energy to get to work? I probably don’t have to tell you. You can probably guess.
I was told I had cancer on a Friday morning, as I’ve previously shared. Friday, January 22nd to be exact. And from that day on, for about two months, I woke up every day with the feeling that that call had been a dream. All of the fear, the tears, the confusion, the anger, the grief; it all seemed surreal. So surreal that I was certain at any moment I would wake up thinking, “My god. That was the most detailed dream I’ve ever had!”
Each day there was the waking up with the confusion and the slight hope that this horrible thing would magically go away. Each day I was forced to accept that this was my life now. It’s gotten better; I don’t wake up every day believing the cancer was a dream but it would be a lie to say that, even a year out and with a clean bill of health, I don’t sometimes wonder when I’m going to wake up and be able to put this nightmare behind me.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
In the fall of 2014 I finally worked up the nerve to talk to a gynecologist about fertility treatments. I went in knowing that my weight and my age would be working against me. But with my 42nd birthday quickly approaching I knew I was running out of time. We discussed these two things and she told me to not waste any time calling the fertility clinic. With her advice fresh in my mind, I looked up the number for the clinic while sitting in my car outside the gynecologist’s office. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a way to request an appointment online. (There just isn’t any good way to explain the relief that comes with knowing that one can delay actual interaction with another human being. When I tell people that I’m an introvert, I don’t say it because it seems to be the “it” thing to be nowadays.) I filled out the form, started my car and pulled out of the parking space.
Before I even left the parking lot, I had received a call back and had set an appointment for the following week. “Holy shit,” I remember thinking, “this is happening.”
The visit with the fertility doctor was as intimidating as I had expected it to be. He was unhappy about my weight and my age. The former I was told needed to be dealt with before any actual treatment could be done and the latter, well, not much to be done there except not waste a lot of time.
“Do you drink,” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Smoke? Do drugs? Sexually active?” “No, no, and no.” “You’re no fun,” was his official diagnosis. I ruefully considered that I hardly needed to shell out the copay to be told that. I get that told to me on a nearly weekly basis, at least every time I join friends for drinks. After that brief conversation with the fertility doctor I was sent along to speak with a nurse and the financial advisor. It was all a strange mix of hopeful, clinical, sad, and demoralizing. Despite not being able to start with treatments until I’d lost some weight, there were still tests that could be done, I was told. The timing, however, was a bit of an issue as I was leaving for my annual December trip in a few weeks. I decided then to take the rest of the year to focus on the weight loss and to start the new year with the tests and other matters.
I spent November and December thinking about the possibility that, if things went well (“please let things go well”), I could maybe, possibly, hopefully be pregnant at some point in 2015. That thought exhilarated and frightened me. I also spent November and December trying to not think those things. “We’ll just see,” I thought. “Stop. We’ll see how things go.”
I’ve spent my life, it sometimes feels like, doing risk assessments. If A, then B. If this, then that. Something could go wrong. Think positively, plan for the worst, etc etc. While I certainly considered the idea that I’d have trouble conceiving, or I’d run out of money, it was an idea, one of a million that ran through my head. That’s just the way that my brain works so I’m used to it and, because not every result has always been a bad one, the idea that things would work out just fine also lived in a parallel track.
Even when the doctor ordered extra tests because he didn’t like the results of some of the routine tests I still thought, “Maybe, possibly, hopefully.”
Until the morning of Friday, January 23rd rolled around and I finally was able to connect with the doctor after several days of playing phone tag.
“Patricia,” he said, “you have endometiral cancer.”
It’s telling, I think, that my first and only question was, “What does this mean for my ability to have a baby?”
He must have known, of course. Thinking back I think he must have known the answer to that but he demurred and simply said that the oncologist would be better able to answer that. He reassured me that I would come out of this just fine.
But that’s the sort of thing that is subjective, isn’t it? One person’s fine is another person’s shattered world. What does a person do when the one thing you’ve wanted for as long as you can remember is taken away? (Of course I know there are other options and we’ll touch on them at a later point but in that moment, those words, that truth was devastating.)
The worst of it is, this was preventable. Had I gone to the doctor more often. Had I tried getting pregnant earlier. Had I just -
done life better.
Maybe, possibly, hopefully, I wouldn’t be so angry with myself. For allowing something that I have wanted for so long to slip away. I know there are no guarantees but through my inactions I let even the possibility slip away and I haven’t yet forgiven myself for that.
So here I am, a year and three days since my world changed and the tears come just as easily and freely as if I’d gotten the call today.
Truth be told, I think that’s why I was so ready to come back to the blog. While I’ve shared some of the above (and more) with a few friends, the words are still just living in my head and I have this hope that if I put them out here that the grief will lessen. Though maybe it’s just more time that’s needed. Perhaps both. So, fair warning, it won’t be the topic of every post or every day, but the events of the last year and the repercussions (as they’re still being felt) will come up. Those of you who remember reading me know things can get uncomfortably TMI-ish. Knowing is half the battle, as they say.