January 16, 2010
Very interesting, very interesting, indeed . . .
Since I last wrote, I made an appointment with a licensed clinical social worker for counseling. I got her name through my social worker from the cancer support group. Sally, the counselor, has experience with cancer patients and survivors from working at our local cancer center years ago. Because of her past experience, we were able to talk about cancer, treatments, experiences and recovery without having to explain what it was like. Her history will make it easier for me to relax and feel safe.
There are three areas that I am questioning and wondering about. My need to feel safe, my rigid daily routine (which makes me feel safe) and exercise. When we talk about these areas I feel, “ah ha!”, that is why I am the way I am right now.
If you notice, the three areas have to do with control. I completely lost control when I was diagnosed with cancer. I am an in charge kind of a personality. I had daily responsibilities and I set goals whether daily, weekly, monthly or yearly – but they were set and I did my best to accomplish them. I did not quit until the job was done. Also, I was diet conscious always trying to eat nutritionally sound and I was exercise conscious, which also involved goal setting and accomplishment. And, exercise brought personal rewards as I would challenge myself to run farther, faster and finish a race.
But feeling safe is so very important to me. Safety became a necessity before I was even aware of it. A few weeks ago, I realized that I didn’t want to leave my house. I felt safe, the house walls protected me and I was in control of my domain. The family teases me because I keep a clean house. I forever keep the granite counters clean and streak free, the carpet and wood floors are vacuumed and the clutter is picked up. When I cook I do things just thus and so, and you can bet your last dollar, I clean the kitchen as I cook. When I am in control I am safe.
When bodies start to move about and messes start appearing, I experience a shortness of breath and my heart beats faster. This happens when I lose control of my surroundings. An example is when Carrie made the dessert for a baby shower, I had to physically leave our house. I knew if I stayed at home and watched her bake in MY kitchen I would probably go over the top with anxiety and say things to her that I shouldn’t. It was a very wise decision to leave for the day! And her dessert was delicious and the kitchen was cleaned nicely when I returned.
Control brings structure and structure equals safety.
An area of growing anxiety that I acknowledged a few days ago was our camping trip last March and an upcoming camping trip in July. This anxiety reminds me of blowing up a balloon too big and popping it. As Dale researches and maps out our trip, I feel like a trapped animal.
I experienced a bit of this last spring when we went camping in the desert. Driving to Ivanpah was okay and camping at Ivanpah was “familiar” because Dale, my brother John, nephew Will and Mom and Dad were there. This was a critical time for me because I was in the midst of mentally and emotionally accepting my cancer.
I still had short hair, I was regaining my strength – my family knew what had happened to me but all the other people there did not know what had happened to me. I didn’t know who I was, I was searching for my identity and I was still absorbing the fact that I had cancer . Once we left Ivanpah and were on our way to Death Valley, I began to feel restless. Death Valley was okay but then driving to our next destination was too much for me; I felt like I “begged” Dale to stay put at our next stop, Bishop, so I could gather myself before moving on.
Camping upsets my safety, familiarity and routine. Routine. This was a revelation to me yesterday. All through my treatment I kept a very strict morning and evening routine – now I know why. This was within my control in a very out of control setting. I don’t care how sick I was, I did my routine, even if I had to sit in the shower because I was so weak. I washed my face every night because it was part of the routine in “taking care of myself”, something in my control and something I could do. Wow.
Nutrition and exercise. I was self-educated when it came to nutrition and I was pleased, if not passionate, in sharing what I learned with others. Exercising was an daily outlet recharging me mentally and physically, plus I loved the challenge. I was the poster child for taking care of myself in order to stay healthy and to fend off disease and cancer. Well, my body betrayed me; it didn’t work.
Sally believes because I was so conscientious and athletic, getting back to this lifestyle will be a part of my healing. My broken leg was a real set back. The morning I broke my leg was the first time in over a year that I ran. Then I broke my leg that afternoon and I was told I would have surgery to reconstruct my leg. It has been nearly six months now. Sally and I agreed that I need the help of a physical therapist in getting past my present limitations. I need professional help to strengthen my leg so I can begin to build myself physically thus, healing me mentally.
So Sally asked me where I feel safe. Well, as said, in my home. I feel safe in the homes of my brothers and parents; I feel safe with them. I feel safe at the gym, of all places! I feel safe at my rug hooking group. (Interestingly enough, I told Sally I even finished five projects so far. I accomplished something!) I feel less safe at Bible Study Fellowship and church – I don’t understand that . . . it is out of my comfort zone.
We covered a lot of areas. Some of the emotion caught me off guard and the emotion was grieving for what I think I lost and how cancer changed me forever. With Sally I will learn that is not true and what I experienced will be incorporated into who I am now. The cancer experience is a part of me because it was a life changing event and it greatly affected me in every way and area of my life.
She asked me what my short term and long term goals are with her. I’ll share with you at another time what I would like this therapy to accomplish and how I can use my cancer experience for the good of others.
P.S. Sally said I am experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In just saying and confirming that, I don’t feel so nutty after all. Phew . . .