We think about our lives in different ways, on different days, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible.
Some days I think of my life as a long trip; a rough journey at times, an easy skate at others. In the movie Parenthood, Steve Martin comes to a place of peace when he envisions his life as a roller coaster. I find this a helpful analogy.
But there are periods when my life feels like a war zone – I think all of us feel that way at times – but it’s never been so vivid as in the past few years.
And, of course, being a child of two members of The Greatest Generation, loving history as I do, and making a hobby of reading about Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s, the war I can most easily reference is World War II.
This past year I’ve read several first person accounts of London before, during and after the war. The courage of the citizens is well documented; the steadiness, humor and ability to keep some semblance of a daily routine have resonated in my own personal life.
Early in the war, the citizens of London found ways to cope with incomprehensible terror. But exhaustion and time led to a war-weariness that made subsequent rounds of bombings 4 or 5 years into the conflict harder to bear. I identify with those late-war Londoners, too bone weary to head to the air raid shelters, numb with daily terror.
As many of you know, Gerry, my husband, has cancer. Multiple Myeloma, to be specific. When he was diagnosed in 2007 – soon after our family moved to Minnesota – the prognosis was poor; 2 years. At the Mayo for a second opinion this was reduced to 1 year, and a blessed numbness settled over both of us when we heard that.
A friend refers to this sensation as ‘god’s anesthesia’ and that’s not a bad way to think of the mind block that keeps overwhelming pain at bay. I wrote about our first year with cancer in my book Knit With Courage, Live With Hope, and it was a helpful way for me to face fear head on. I’ve heard from other caregivers that it has been helpful for them, too.
Fast forward 5-1/2 years and Gerry’s still with us, we feel that we are the most fortunate family in the world, even though the anesthesia has long worn off.
And I am exhausted.
This past Autumn Gerry’s cancer came back (his numbers were slowly creeping up since last Spring) and a new round of a trial drug, Revlamid, seems to be working well. His test numbers are up where they should be, down where we want them to be, including the dreaded M-spike.
But during those 5-1/2 years, aside from the many joys that our family has shared, something started happening deep inside of me; the slow, steady, unrelenting rise of fear.
A deep, broad river of apprehension runs through my life, fed by tributaries of dread and panic.
The first fear is obvious; fear of losing Gerry. But in the time we’ve had since his diagnosis I’ve lost so many friends and family members that this fear has been wrestled into perspective. It’s an understandable fear.
Right behind that first fear are all of the regular fears anyone in my position might feel: fear that I won’t be able to earn enough to keep the family going; fear that the kids will be strongly affected in a negative way by our experience; fear that Gerry will have more pain. All understandable fears.
The less understandable fears are the ones that haunt me: Fear that I won’t deal with this graciously (I haven’t at times); Fear that I will be harshly judged by outsiders (I have at times); Fear that as I struggle through this adventure I’ll behave in ways that are erratic and incomprehensible (I’ve done this, too).
And these fears, in turn, breed next generation fears that often DO overwhelm me: Do folks look down on me because I’m unable to cope with the fear? Am I really just plain weak, deep down inside? If I ride my bike an average of 8 miles a day and eat fairly well, why can’t I get thinner? (okay, this last more of a whine than a fear…)
Enumerating these anxieties helps me understand how fear can spiral out of control, overtaking common sense with panic, shoving self esteem out the door and replacing it with it’s doppelganger, pride.
Unlike self-respect, which is positive, life enhancing and resilient,
pride can be easily bruised and shattered.
Then, on the worst days, terror comes in uninvited. It kicks pride to the curb and allows self doubt, self loathing and self hatred to make a house call.
All of this anxiety creates stress, which overwhelms me.
I’m certain that – to a large degree – the genesis of my fibromyalgia is rooted in this stress. I believe that my current week-long intense back pain is a product of stress.
Spinning my wheels is how I deal with stress; sometimes I spin my wheels with non-productivity (Tetris and Scrabble, anyone?) and other times I bicycle. The biking is much more effective, and has a double benefit of reducing stress and physical pain while increasing strength and overall fitness.
But it’s winter, not a lot of bicycling is going on, and my body and mind are paying the price. I do yoga in the cold weather, I was swimming but found myself feeling so panicky in the pool that I had to stop, but nothing is like my bike.
It’s been a very rough Winter for me, fearful and painful and so many other bad-ful things. I second guess myself, my work, my abilities, my looks; then I third and fourth guess everything just for good measure. I’ve been in a bad place, re-living every negative interaction I’ve had, replaying every nasty comment I’ve overheard (or over-read), and it hasn’t been helpful.
And because I’m in a rather fragile state, the casual nastiness of an online comment or a thoughtless action are weightier than they would be if I were in a more stable, healthy place of mind.
I need to cross Ol’ Fear Creek, which has so overfilled itself that it’s now a raging whitewater. I’ve tried several times to throw myself into Terror Rapids, only to discover I’m no good with a paddle.
And, at any rate, Terror Rapids is probably a better place to be than Sh*t Creek…
I need to build a bridge over the fear, high enough above the raging river that I don’t get wet as I cross. I’m not exactly certain how to do this, but I feel sure that I have the tools and materials at hand.