Posts Tagged: fear

Aug 14

Monkey Mind

I am struggling lately with my old demon, anxiety. It sits on my chest, making it hard to breathe. I wake up at night in a panic, endless thoughts eddying around in swirls in my brain. I remember yoga teachers talking about the “monkey mind:” a mind filled with this kind of loop-de-loop chatter. All the to-dos, should-have-dones, must-remembers. It’s unproductive, but I still can’t fall back asleep. Last night I roamed the house in the wee hours, driven by my monkey mind. I try to relax. An impossible task.

During the day I sit down to do one task and endlessly interrupt myself with other tasks that need doing. There simply isn’t enough time. I worry, over and over again, that I am not doing as well as I should do. I berate myself for not being better at life, for not conquering each and every challenge life throw at me.

And then I try and take a deep breath. I try and remember to be kind to myself. I think, “self? Would you think these things about another person that you love?” (Answer: no). “Then, Self, be kind. I can only do my best. My best HAS to be good enough.”

I wish things were perfect. I daydream about everything being my definition of perfect, and how that would solve all my problems. Except probably it wouldn’t. My definition of perfect would change. Or I would become an insufferable person to be around and lose all my friends. Or maybe I would even be bored(?).

I look at our bare concrete floor in the kitchen and feel a tiny bit ashamed that we don’t have “grown-up” flooring. And then I think about people who live in places with dirt floors. I think about The House on Plum Creek and Ma Ingalls sweeping that earthen floor and, BOOM, reality crashes back in.

I live under a roof that keeps me dry. I have plenty (so many!) of things to wear. I have running water. I even have hot water, at my disposal, day or night, whenever I want. I have a refrigerator and a pantry full of food to eat. I’ve even got books to read and things to entertain me, and a car to drive sitting in my driveway. I live with people who love me, and who I love the heck out of.

So I guess I am just working on my perspective, on breathing in and out, and letting go. Of practicing kindness. To others, but also to myself (I am my own biggest critic).

Meanwhile, the dishes in the sink beckon. Going to try and calm down my inner monkey and focus, zen-like, on that one task before me.

Jun 12

Crazy is as crazy does

It’s my philosophy that we all have a little bit of the crazy in us. Some of us more than others. Some of us more visibly than others.

My own particular brand of crazy is a little touch of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Once I (via a therapist many years ago) figured out that *that* is what my crazy is, it started to all make a lot more sense. I sought additional, intensive therapy (in my case, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has an excellent track record in treating this condition) with a Psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders like mine. For weeks, I practiced techniques and exercises. It sucked. It was hard. I really, really didn’t like doing it. But in the end, it helped. I got so much better. I was able to hold conversations again and do tasks that once used to paralyze me with fear. As time went by, I was even able to (mostly) forget about it.

But there is something about the hormones associated with pregnancy that make my OCD rush right back in. I’ve been able to hold it at bay, but I feel it there. I have more trouble sleeping. I have these crazy thoughts come into my head–thoughts that, while still there, I’ve been able to dismiss for years now without having to do crazy rituals to “make it better.”

I’m embarrassed about it, even though I know that I can’t help it. My obsessions are mostly surrounding thoughts of bad things befalling myself or people that I love. They are things that don’t make sense. I cringe and have to take deep, calming breaths sometimes when I see Adam cutting food with a knife (even though he has excellent knife skills–did I ever tell you about the time that he was testing out new knives at Sur La Table and the guy helping us asked if he was a professional chef?), or when Anna is running towards me (I imagine her falling and cutting herself open on….what? the ground? I’m not even sure, but I know that in my imagination it is bad), or even just as I’m trying to fall asleep (what if there is an earthquake and mirrors break and cut me and I die and then Anna is left as a motherless child????). It’s not like I’ve even ever been traumatized with a knife or anything. See? They’re kind of crazy, these thoughts. I know this. It doesn’t mean that I can help it, though. My rituals are, similarly, kind of crazy (some of mine are tic-like: I shake my head–to erase the thought, or make a little noise–almost without thinking, for some reason this makes me feel better; my other big one is totally textbook OCD: counting).

I was like this when pregnant with Anna, and for a while after she was born. I think that it is hard enough having a newborn and I’ve read (and had my therapist reassure me) that it is totally normal for a resurgence of OCD symptoms during this time. I mean, SIDS is scary enough, even without an anxiety disorder! So I’m carrying on now, leaning heavily on my tools (confronting myself with the odds of these things *actually* happening, reminding myself that it doesn’t help prevent them to either dwell on them or do rituals to try and prevent them, etc).

I’m putting this out there because in this, like so many other things, I know that I’m not the only one. I’m all about full disclosure. Not that this isn’t hard for me to write about; I have written and re-written so many posts about OCD, read and re-read them, and, in the end, just erased them, because, the truth is, I’m totally embarrassed by it. When I read about this, objectively, it just sounds so….weird. When I read what I’ve written about it, it feels so self-indulgent to go and possess a label for a disorder. I don’t want to obsess about my obsessions, but I want to acknowledge them and move forward. I want to be and do more than this. In the meantime, I’m working through it–it’s part of the challenge of life, isn’t it? The fact that we all have a little bit of the crazy. Maybe your crazy looks like mine, or maybe it looks totally different. Maybe you have trouble with relationships, or you are sad a lot of the time. Whatever it is, you and I, we are probably not so different after all. And, for me at least, that is a comfort. I think we are all a little crazy.

Jul 11

The Scare

Yesterday didn’t turn out at all the way that I had thought it would.

Sunday morning I noticed a little lump under my arm. [Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I should preface all of this with an “I’m Fine” because I am.] I ignored it. Monday it was still there. I ignored it. Tuesday……I started thinking about it. I thought about calling the doctor. I mentioned it to a friend. And then ignored it. Wednesday….was really busy and even though I was thinking about it a bit more, I didn’t have all that much time to really think about it. Thursday, I woke up in the morning and knew that I had to think about it. That not thinking about, not dealing with it, was really incredibly stupid for someone who has had Lumps Of A Serious Nature. I called the doctor. She ordered tests. I tried to not let this freak me out but actually I started maybe just a little bit going insane. I spent the morning considering how our lives would change if my cancer had returned. I started wondering if this was a recurrence of lymphoma or if it was breast cancer. I started planning out how I would tell people. I tried very hard not to cry as I considered my daughter as a motherless child because ohgod, I was surely going to die this time.

Thursday at 1:15 pm I had my first mammogram. Ouch. I got into all manner of awkward poses to try and capture the underarm lump. As a special bonus prize, I also had my first non-vaginal or abdominal ultrasound. It was weird. They use the same goo on your armpit that they do on your belly when you are pregnant and somehow that seemed weird. The tech took a supremely….horrifically…long time capturing images of my armpit. I tried to surreptitiously glance at the screen but–who am I kidding–all it looked like was black and white and grey fuzzy blobs. Even the pictures that showed right and left armpit images side by side looked exactly the same to me. The techs never tell you anything, I knew that. This one stepped out into the hallway and consulted with the doctor, who had to go and do a biopsy and therefore could not come and ease my mind in any way. I had to put on my clothes and await my fate. I drove myself to Five Points and aimlessly wandered around Ross, for some reason. I didn’t buy anything (thank goodness; buying things when one thinks one is dying is probably not a super fantastic idea).

My doctor’s office called me at 3:45 and asked me to come in at 4. They said it was good news, but I was suspicious that this was just a lure to get me in there and then deal the blow. Surprisingly, it was not a ruse. Everything really was (is) okay. I do have a weird lump in my left underarm. It is a lymph node (YES! So glad that I am not a complete idiot in thinking this!) and it is kind of hard, but it appears that (this is the sort of embarrassing part) I had just cut myself shaving (just the tiniest little cut) and it got a little infected and the lymph node was just doing its thing that they sometimes do when there is a localized infection.

And my doctor hugged me as she explained this, told me to get some antibacterial soap and to lay off the shaving for a few days (oof, too bad it is summer and my armpit hair is so easily on display in short sleeves and tanks).

She also said that I did the absolute correct thing in calling. She did not shame me. And for this I am grateful.

It is easy for me to feel like the patient who cries wolf. The hypochondriac. The one who notices any little wacky thing and calls the doctor and then it ends up being nothing more than irritation from shaving. Or acid reflux (remember that one? That one landed me in the ER!). The problem is, there was this one time when I got The Lump and it wasn’t just any little lump, it was a Very Big Very Serious Lump and ever since then, my sense of medical safety, my sense that my body is generally okay, has been shaken. I’m not sure that I can depend on my body. I’m really not at all sure that I am going to be okay, that my cancer is not going to return, that some other cancer will come, that some other disease will be the end of me. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, and goodness knows that I do have a very real sense of embarrassment over jumping from tiny pea-sized lump to I AM GOING TO DIE, but I also know that my innocence is gone. I know that bad stuff can and does happen and sometimes it happens to other people and sometimes it happens to me. There is no escaping this, there is no going back in time.

It was a weird day.

I didn’t tell many people what was going on–just pretty much kept it to myself, Adam, my mom, and maybe a couple of others. I didn’t get on Facebook and announce that I had a lump. I think I was reality-based enough to know that, statistically, the chances were pretty darn good that it was nothing. But I couldn’t assume it was nothing. It is like my mind just had to go there.

The only good thing about this is (a) I really am okay and I don’t have cancer again, and (b) there is something deliciously wonderful about thinking that you are going to die and then realizing that you are not. It is like the feeling you get after you’ve been on a week long backpacking trip and you take that first shower and wash all that dirt off of you. It is like coming home from foreign travel and indulging in your very favorite hometown restaurant. It is like that time when Adam went to Europe on business for two weeks and he came home and just hugging him and hearing his voice was the most wonderful thing in the world. It is all of these things and more because all of these things–the sweet and savory and wonderful things of life–are only parts of what it is to be alive, and having a health scare reminds me, once again, about the true beauty of life. It makes the colors brighter, the sounds crisper, the faces around me even more dearer. It turns my eye from the dog hair and dust on my worn wood floors to the pictures of happy memories, the squeaky voice of my dear little Anna, the strong warm arms of the man I love wrapped around me, the first bite of homemade cookies made by mom because she was thinking about me and worried about me and it was all she could do to pass the time while we waited to hear.

I don’t wish for the scares. God knows I don’t.

But I think I’ll take advantage of the after-effects of good news. I’m letting the beauty of my life smack me upside the head, shake me up, wake me up. Life is beautiful and I am here to live it.

May 11

Once bitten, twice shy

I finished off the dishes tonight with the help of all the chocolate left in the house (not as decadent as it sounds, unfortunately, as we only had two very small squares left) and a glass of Grand Marnier. This is my new favorite combo. The Grand Marnier, in particular. It just….burns so good. I don’t do this every night. Nor every week. Every month? Well….I don’t know. Probably.

Today I made three meals (ok, one of those “meals” was nachos, but okay. Whatever. Totally a meal. I do the best I can). Today I prepared and supervised two baths (the afternoon popsicle was sticky). Today I wiped a poopy butt that was not my own two times. I brushed teeth that were not my own. I kissed a skinned knee. I listened to the plot summary (told in the confusing way of four year olds, in the way that finds your mind wandering off into the big wild yonder instead of paying attention until the child asks a question and you SNAP back with a cheery, “That sounds GREAT!”) of way too fricking many Strawberry Shortcake episodes. I did three loads of laundry and folded none of it. I washed dishes and dishes and dishes. I reorganized the cabinets in the dining room. I made tea. I poured milk, lots of milk. I administered Albuterol and Triaminic (Anna has a cold). I reminded her to wipe her nose, over and over again and scolded when she used her arm or her shirt instead of a tissue. I hugged and kissed and told her I loved her. Today I got bitten and grabbed and pinched (hard!). Today I got yelled at. I made her go to her room. I forgave her. I hugged and kissed her some more.

And I read part of a Vogue magazine (in spurts) and wondered at people who find success (Lady Gaga, for instance, or the author of that new book I’ve been wanting to read) at the ripe old age of 25. I wonder if I will do anything of consequence. Is this, what I have been doing all day today, of consequence? Is there lasting impact? I feel stir-crazy. I feel like a hamster going around and around. I feel like I’ve become what I never wanted to become. I had dreams for my life. They seem irrelevant, now, in the world of wiping sticky handprints off of walls, picking up paper dolls and plastic toys off of the floor.

I wonder if I would feel this way if I had another child or if I would be thrust back into the place where nothing else exists except for the sucks swallow breathe of breastfeeding, the immediacy of the need for diaper changes and pats on the back. A four year old has a frenetic energy, an ability to confound. A four year old is headed for longer days at school and friends that I don’t know, not really. Is my only reason for thinking of another child so that I can lose myself in the escape of new motherhood, all over again? Is it so that I can become oblivious to myself, again?

What happens when my firstborn deems me more and more irrelevant, over these next few years? When she tells me about part of her life, the part that she feels like telling, to appease the part of me that wants to wrap my whole self around her and remember what it was like when she was my whole universe? Will there be any me there?

I like staying at home because I like the freedom that comes with it. I haven’t lost the giddiness of feeling, when I’m driving downtown with the windows open at 10 in the morning, like I’m skipping out on something, playing hooky. Being a stay-at-home Mom is like having a handwritten note: “Please excuse Jennifer Gray from her need to be tied down to any adult accountability, as she is currently caring for the needs of the Tiny Dictator.” Will it still feel like the same excuse, the older Anna gets? Will she really “need me more,” as I’ve heard parents of grown-up children say (as in, “Your children will actually need you more and more, the older you get!”), or is that a scheme to continue the escape? Where is the real world? Why do I feel a little bit ashamed that I’m living this way? Like I’m not a real grownup? I suppose that, in actuality, I have the most grownup job in the world. Who else is there to raise the children? What are we doing with these little creatures, anyhow? We teach them skills and manners and communication and know-how and these little being grow and grow into other grown-ups who will, in turn, teach their own little ones things.

And all along, we may fail to talk about the other things, the things of ethereal beauty and lasting importance. We fail to talk about how, even with all these skills and manners and abilities to communicate, us adults are still just flailing about in the world, doing the things that grownups do, drinking the things that grownups drink, doing the jobs of grownups.

I have glimpses of perspective and dammit if some of that perspective doesn’t come from the cancer. Dammit if that cancer taught me a little about life and love.

I’m somehow infinitely more optimistic now. I sleep better (except right before a scan, and then I sleep like crap). I have reasonable (I think) expectations of my spouse. I am satisfied with me and yet I am also in upheaval because I am in the “what now?” part of the cancer recovery. What do I plan to do with my “one wild and precious life” (thank you, Mary Oliver)?

I want to excuse myself and these ramblings, I want to say that this is all because I am melancholy because we have just returned from a thousand (feels like) rambling and adventurous days and nights, because Anna has been sick and I’ve been stuck here at the house, because Adam is on the road and I haven’t had a real, sustained, adult conversation in days. Maybe it is because I had to cancel my appointment with my therapist today because of a sick child. Maybe it’s because I am hormonal. Maybe it is because I am tired.

But maybe it isn’t.

Maybe these are the real questions of my heart. Maybe I am reaching out, on my very tiptoes, towards….towards….what? Towards something that is yet to come. We are always on the verge of change, and blessed are we when we can sense it before it comes.

Okay, change. Change of my schedule, change of my heart. I’m ready to drift along towards the thing that awaits.

Gotta grab that boat and float along. Gotta feel what the feelings bring. Gotta do what the soul is shouting.

And right now I hear it say to me, Be You. Be the Best You that You Can Be.

I hear you. I hear you. I hear you.

I move towards clarity with an open heart, with all of the love in my being, with all of the courage that comes from experience, and all of the strength that comes from the determination of my core self.

Mar 11


I still find myself doing it….prowling cancer message boards, typing in search terms into Google. Trying to find the answers to something. Trying to find my life, writ large. Trying to see my future. Trying to find someone who has lived my past, my present, my future.

I don’t think it is out there.

I didn’t used to be so obsessed with knowing what my life held. I held vague ideals. I wanted things. But it was all so abstract.

Now I have terms, I have diagnoses. I have statistics. I have knowledge of things like Diffuse Large B Cell NHL. But I still don’t have answers, not now, not when I crave them the most, crave them with an intensity unmatched by my former, cancer-free self.

I live in the two steps forward, one step back mode. I am afraid to put myself out there. I am unsure what my path is in life….now. Who am I? What am I doing here? And, most importantly, who WILL I be?

I become re-obsessed with numbers and figures. With terms like 5 year survival rate. I can’t let the numbers, the statistics, define me and yet I can’t leave them alone. They are always with me. They are a part of me. I can’t let them die like the rogue cells that were in me two years ago.

I’m moving forward, I’m looking back.

Jan 11

Pre-scan jitters

Will I ever, ever again be able to have a simple medical procedure without feeling the need for a shot of alcohol ahead of time (NOT that I have EVER EVER done that….or that I would admit to doing that…)? Just this morning I was all, la di da! I have a CT scan today and it’s fine! I’m not worried at all! And now that it is 15 minutes before I have to be there I’m having a little mini-freak out. What if I have CANCER IN MY HEAD? How much would THAT suck?

It’s probably nothing. They’ll probably be all, hey! Wasn’t that fun? You just got a scan of your head and there is nothing wrong with you except maybe you should chillax a bit more because you seem a bit stressed out. They might be all, hey! You have a little sinus infection! Let’s just get you some antibiotics and clear that sucker right up, shall we?

But there is a tiny part of me that is hyperventilating at the thought of CANCER in my HEAD.

I’m totally going to be ok. I’m fine. Everything is fine.


Jan 11

Scan Anxiety

You’d think that getting these PET/CT scans would be old hat by now and it is, for the most part, fairly uneventful. Flirt with Atkins for a day (I have to follow a no carb, no sugar diet for 24 hours prior to the scan, plus fasting 12 hours prior), go in to the Radiology Department at the Cancer Center and become radioactive (they inject a radioactive dye into the bloodstream), then get scanned, leave the center, consume as much sugar and carbs as my body will allow, carry on with my day.

Today they did the scan (scan of head, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis). I thought I was done. The radiologist came in and said, “hold on, I need to look at something,” went back into the little windowed room, looked at the computer for a few minutes, made a phone call, then came back out and told me that my doctor wanted him to collect more images of my neck and head. Hmmm, what? So I had to lay back down and endure 15 minutes of complete and utter stress. Why more scans? WHY WHY WHY!?!??! I have had approximately eight of these and they have never, ever done THAT before.

I tried to talk myself out of it. I thought to myself, well, maybe I just wiggled a little bit, turned my head or something, and the image wasn’t clear enough. Maybe they want a really up close and perfect picture to put in my file to close up my case, just to show how perfectly normal my head and neck is. But there is that other part of me that thinks OHMYGOD and immediately jumps (wouldn’t you?!?!?!) to OHMYGOD IT HAS METASTASIZED TO MY BRAIN!!!!

So. Probably nothing. No reason in the world to suspect otherwise except WHY the extra scan??!!?!?

Hopefully will hear something in the next 24 hours. Just waiting and stressing out in the meantime.

Dec 10

Adios, 2010

Wrapping up this year:

Just one more day of 2010. I’m uncomfortable with the year 2011 because, true to form, I fear change. Plus, the number itself seems unbalanced. I liked writing 2010. 2011 just seems wrong. I know, I’m weird.

What I find myself wanting to do, over and over, is reference the past. As in, “two years ago I was still getting primary chemotherapy for cancer!” or “a year ago, I had a drainage tube sticking out of my belly.” I don’t want to live in such a way that I am unable to live Here, In This Moment, but these referenced times hold tremendous importance for me. They help to define me. They tell me where I was and, most importantly, they tell about how far I’ve come. I’m happy…No…I’m stupendously, tremendously, amazingly happy to Be Here Now.

I know I held firm to the belief that cancer wasn’t going to make me a better person or anything. I know I used war analogies. I know I saw myself as some kind of GI Jane, gun in hand, all badass, ready to kick some cancer ass, coming out all punk and tough and victorious.

I’m victorious, but victory doesn’t taste the way I thought it would. It doesn’t feel like I ROCK. It feels like a smooth, smooth river. It feels like soft velvet. It feels like gentle speech and tender moments, and enjoying the little things in life. It’s different. It’s not bad. Just different. And, dammit, I think I might just have gone and improved myself in the meantime. I’ve learned so much. I’ve come so far.

There are still so many questions. There is a big part of me that wishes that I could put my questions to a Magic 8 Ball and just KNOW. “Will my cancer come back?” “What does the rest of my life hold?” I like to PLAN, and not KNOWING? That kind of stresses me out. I can look at the statistics all I like. I can hold them up, down, read them backwards and sideways until I can quote them verbatim, and I still won’t know if I fall on This Side or That Side. So I guess I just have to live in the ambiguity, like we all do, except that perhaps the ambiguity of my life is a little different than I ever imagined it would be.

Statistically….reaching the two year mark post-cancer will be A Very Good Thing. Reaching the five year post-cancer mark will be An Even Better Good Thing. But? Who knows? I could get sick with leukemia (I am at a higher than normal risk, statistically speaking). The cancer could come back in 1 year, 4 years, 9 years, 20 years. I could live to be 48, or 62, or 95 or 36. Nobody knows. I am learning to live with this. Often I am okay with it, because I have to be. Because I can’t spend all day wringing my hands and reading research reports and crying. Because I just can’t. I have to live with some denial here. It’s healthy. But sometimes it’s hard.

As for now…I’m here. I am, for the moment, happy and healthy and grounded and just chockfull of every single good thing in life.

Goodbye, Goodbye 2010. Time for another new start.

Dec 10


Tonight I spent 4 and 1/2 hours in the E.R. assuming that I had relapsed.

I left feeling slightly (only slightly, given my symptoms and the severity with which my doctor urged me to go in to the ER) foolish for wasting everyone’s time and making such a huge fuss over….nothing. Over….maybe acid reflux? Or something else that causes one to think that one has many massive chest tumors pressing on one’s lungs and heart.

Normal EKG. Normal CT scan. Normal blood labs. Normal Normal Normal.

It’s good to be normal.

Sorry if you were one of the ones that I unnecessarily worried. I was worried. But, apparently, all is well. I was just having…something. Something that involved feeling like pain when I breathed and most closely resembled my symptoms at first diagnosis 2+ years ago. But it isn’t that.

Now I can breathe.

P.S. Kudos to MaryJoyce for stepping right in without a moment’s worry or hesitation and offering to take care of Anna for the night. What a load off my mind, to not have to worry for a second that Anna wasn’t well taken care of. Thank you, friend.

Jul 10

Farewell, this week. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Every single day of this week has felt like Friday. Not in a good, TGIF way, but more in a is-this-week-still-dragging-on?-kind of way. Like, every single day I’ve thought, “it can’t possibly still be NOT-Friday!”. This week has kicked me in the ass. Repeatedly. And it sucks.

I know, I know. I received good news–great news!–today. News that my scan was “normal.” Oh, good. Yes. I am relieved. Another reprieve, it seems. Another 6 months before I worry myself sick again. But it still doesn’t erase it all.

It doesn’t erase the deaths. This week, already mindful of Kenny’s death in such an immediate way, especially as I wrote a memorial piece about him, I was completely devastated by the news about Anna’s dearly beloved teacher, whose baby–not even 6 months old–died. This beautiful, charming, totally healthy and perfect baby, whose dimpled smile shone from her elfish face, whose body I held many times upon picking up or dropping off Anna (because I just cannot stand to NOT hold a baby, goodness knows). Gone. Just gone. SIDS. I cannot see a single shred of good in this death. Not even a “oh, she touched so many lives” or “her spirit will shine forth” and definitely not a “well, we will see her in heaven some day.” This was a life too brief and though it was not my child, I found myself waking countless times these past couple of nights, waking with a silent scream in my throat, racing to look at my breathing child. It’s the most horrendous nightmare for any parent and, for a woman that I know and love, her nightmare happened. I just can’t fathom it.

Saturday we will attend a memorial for this sweet baby girl.

Sunday we will celebrate my sister’s birthday (sorry, dear sister, that the celebration of YOU is sandwiched between such sadness).

Monday I have chemo in the morning, followed by funeral and memorial for Kenny.

It all feels like so much, the emotional burden too great to bear. I find myself grown quiet and thoughtful these days.

Adam has been swamped with work this week and, though I understand and appreciate that that is what he has had to do, I’ve missed him. I don’t feel like I have had adequate time to process everything that is going on.

I find myself hoping that Anna will not see only death around her, but the beauty also. Beauty, where are you? Oh, life, please linger near us for a bit. We need you here.