Saturday, April 11, 2020

Time With an Old Friend in the Midst of a Pandemic

Ok, so I know, I know, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. And I know the fore-mentioned PANDEMIC is creating, uncovering, accelerating, and exacerbating anxiety.  For everyone. And for someone who is living with the experience of cancer, that anxiety feels like an old friend – on steroids.

You see, a cancer diagnosis comes with a friend. That friend is anxiety. Manifested on the
spectrum of “Am I going to die?” to “I am dying.”, ol’ buddy anxiety is always present and accounted for. It goes without saying (but no one says it to you), to cope with a cancer diagnosis, you MUST cope with anxiety.

“Is THAT a new lump?” “Why does my shoulder hurt?” “Has chemo affected my heart?” “How do I know it hasn’t returned?”  Sure, you can - and should - take up a myriad of measures to manage your anxiety: mindfulness practices, search for medications that help you, be truthful to your daily medications, increase your medications, etc., but your pal, anxiety, well she's always lurking around.

With the news 24/7 blasting out the horrifically sad number of humans infected with Covid-19, the even more devastating number dead, and each figure GROWING exponentially every day, I have been feeling that something is coming to get me. Much like an army of very bad things it is on the move and it will soon reach my home, infecting everyone in my family.People aren’t taking this seriously!Beaches are crowded!Too many people in one place!The Government is clearly inadequately prepared to manage this!We will all end up on ventilators - wait, NO! there aren’t enough ventilators – so, instead, I’ll die laying in a busy hospital hallway – alone.

Yep, that’s it. In a fucking terrifying nutshell, isn’t it? 

Early on in this pandemic, I found myself falling back to my mental place post treatment. After being pushed gingerly – albeit cold turkey – out of the comfort of the chemotherapy stage (hovering nurses, consistently comforting and encouraging as I made my make way through the weeks, months of chemotherapy) and into a new normal life without a safety net. A new normal life that is accompanied by uncertainty and fear. And that’s where I met anxiety.

As my tool box of anxiety management skills develop, I have enjoyed a long-distance relationship this past year with anxiety. Unfortunately, and without invitation, she's now flopped on my couch in the day time and creeping under my bed at night. She’s been particularly annoying since late February and she’s shifted into 4th gear-with-a-tail-wind, pain-in-the-ass house guest as of mid-March. My chest is tight, my breathing is swallow and quick, my heart rate has settled into a dizzying, quick-as-a-bunny rate. I feel as if I will going to pass out or have a heart attack. I sleep like shit. In short, I am a mess.

Look, I don’t have a magical cure for anxiety in the face of a global virus pandemic. There is no simple answers on how to manage the feelings and fears at a time like this. Most of us have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. But I know, after going through a very grueling cancer treatment protocol - and now living with knowing the disease could return to kill me at any time - the ONLY thing I can count upon to manage my anxiety adequately is ME. 

So that army? How can I possibly stop that army of bad things from coming for me? Well, it turns out I have command of the best and the only defense needed – yep, me. I practice meditation every day. I never skip a day. I purposely focus and calm my mind. It feels comforting to be able to quell my thoughts when everything else around me seems bat-shit crazy. I make use of the medications afforded to me and I’ve increased their dosage and frequency when I need to. 

I have the ability to build and sustain a fortress of safety around me and my loved ones by washing my hands, physically distancing, wearing a mask, staying home. These are the things I’m told by medical professionals will keep the army of bad things away. So, I do them. My family does them. Doing them gives me some sense of control over a crazy, fucking time right now.

And I listen to my wife. She sings to her mother - now kept from family visits and hugs, she sits alone in a memory care facility in update New York - via FaceTime every Friday. And that – that gives me hope.

 #KeepRooting4Me #KeepRooting4AllofUs #StayHome