How I Learned to Love the Bomb
I have always been the type of person who relishes control in life. Ever since a young age I remember always trying to grasp tightly to stability--maybe it's the Taurus in me or maybe it's the fact that I have not only changed homes often as a young person, but I have also changed countries. I just know that as an adult, even the appearance of not having control could send me into a spiral. I've had panic attacks that had me rattling like a poorly oiled motor, so much so that they sent me to the ER. It's one of the many reasons why I don't do recreational drugs. The idea of giving up power to something else, even for a short period of time, is stressful to me. Consequently, it's also why I don't do religion.
One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn through cancer is to let go. I've had to take the "whatever will be, will be" mantra to heart. When I say "let go" I don't mean give up. That's the worst thing you can do when you have cancer. Always keep fighting. Grab life by the beard and drag that bitch to the ground with you kicking and screaming if you have to, but don't lose your grip. That's important. Don't forget that.
When I say "let go" I simply mean that having cancer is a lot like involuntarily being on a roller coaster. Somehow you got on that ride, you're not sure how, but you're in there now, buckled up and ready to go. As you are nearing the peak, you know you're about to plummet down at incredible speeds, but there is no way off, and the only thing you can do is brace yourself and go along for the ride. You can scream, you can kick your feet, but it doesn't matter what you do, you aren't getting off that ride until its finished. I'm not saying you have to enjoy the ride like you might a roller coaster. There's nothing fun about cancer. I'm just saying that the only thing you can do is surrender. There is no other way.
What does surrendering look like? The obvious is going to all of your appointments and treatments and making sure you are doing what you can to stay healthy and on top of it all. It also means taking things day-by-day, while trying not to think too much about all of the bad things that COULD happen. It means actively doing things to curb your negative thoughts and it means trying to live in the present. Things that work are meditating, reiki, and therapy. You could try physical activities or something more sedentary and soothing like curling up with a good book.
All of those suggestions are valid and great ones, but they're also easier said than done. There is nothing more real and terrifying than being faced with your own mortality. One day you are waiting at the bus stop at 8am preparing yourself for another mundane day at work, the thought that you could die only a small blip in the background of your life, then suddenly, its staring you in the face, like something out of a horror movie, like Freddy Fucking Krueger in a boiler room.
Of course you are going to be terrified. Obiously your first reaction, and probably every other reaction for a long time after finding out you have cancer is going to be to freak out. Who wouldn't freak out by a nameless, faceless monster trying to liquify their insides? I would be fake as hell if I sat here and told you that it's all Kumbaya and that you should give in to the process. It's a hard thing to do. I have and always will be a proponent of losing your shit. Wallow away. Do it, but try to do it for a short period of time. Get it out of your system, then get to work.
I don't have it figured out. There are days when I am still low, real low, but mostly I'm evened out now. It took a lot to get me here. It took a lot of trial and error with medications. It took therapy. It took time. One piece of advice I can give you is something my therapist told me: yes talking it out and writing about it can help, but you also have to do the work. Doing work means correcting yourself. It means actively trying to change your thought patterns after identifying the cause of your stress. When you are going to a dark place, try to steer things back to a place that is a shade lighter. I am not saying that you can think away depression or anxiety. I'm not trying to insult anybody. What I am saying is that trying is the best thing you can do outside of taking your prescribed medications and seeing your doctors.
Even before the cancer I didn't think there was any use in trying. My anxiety, one that greatly stems from my need to control things, has always been a part of my life. It has almost become a piece of my personality. I never imagined my life without it. Part of me still doesn't. It's not something you just tell your brain to stop doing and walk away from. The only thing you can do is try. Try everything you can. Do some work before you give up and assume constant stress is going to be a part of your life forever. For some, maybe including myself, it can very much be a part of their lives forever, but there are things you can do to temper it and make it more manageable. I am living proof of that.
What I'm learning through my therapy is to identify my negative emotions, all 10,000 of them that I have in the span one minute. Im learning to take the ones I can and examine them, to identify where they are stemming from and to challenge them by asking myself the likelihood of my thoughts happening. I have to ask myself if I am doing a "worst case possible" sort of game in my head. Lastly, I try to replace the "worst case possible" thought with a better thought. Sometimes I replace it with nothing at all and just go read a book instead or watch the Office for the 10th time in a row like the basic bitch that I am.
It's not easy. It's not foolproof, and it's not one size fits all. People have different anxieties and people have different reactions to cancer. I just want two things to be clear here: 1. freaking out and going to a dark place is normal and you should never feel like you have to constantly put on a brave face 2. If you ever become tired of the fear and existential dread, there are things you can try to alleviate it. Letting go and living in the present is something that has had amazing results for me. Hopefully it can help you too.
I understand that not everyone has great insurance or access to proper mental health. Here are some amazing resources:
1. The social worker at your cancer center or hospital- most, if not all, hospitals have them and they are absolutely free, give great advice and also help with financial issues.
2. Better Help- This is a website that has plans as low as $35 a week where you can talk to your therapist digitally with no strings attached. They also have financial aid.
3. Talk Space- This is also a digital platform for therapy. For about $49 a week you can get text, video and audio messaging 5 days a week.
4. Complete strangers online-I know this one is a little unorthodox, but I find that online support groups have a wealth of knowledgable-through-experience people who are willing to help. You can try going on facebook and searching for facebook groups relating to your specific situation or you can try organizations such as Young Survivor Coalition, which has a lot of free personal and online services for therapy.