The Monster in the Bed
When anxiety rears its ugly head.
I was always a nervous kid. When my classmates were jumping off the top of the monkey bars, I was worried about broken bones. I was cautious and timid. Really, I was scared.
If anyone had asked me what I was scared of, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Nothing? Everything?
But, I was a kid and had no idea about anxiety.
By the time my 20s rolled around, I figured I just had terribly realistic nightmares: I would wake up scared to death, unable to breathe. It always took me what felt like hours to orient myself. My waking hours were, in many ways, easier to deal with: I could compartmentalize and understand that I felt painfully awkward and nervous, yet not connect with the feeling at all.
Then, I was diagnosed with cancer.
My doctor immediately prescribed anti-anxiety medication to me. “You need this to get you through the time it takes to schedule surgery.”
I tried it – but, wow, I couldn’t stand how dopey I felt! I no longer had the energy to manage myself with exercise and endorphins, I went racing back to therapy, but a lot was going on all at one time. The waiting was so bad, I actually felt no fear or nerves: I was in a daily argument with my insurance company to try to speed along the process. Couldn’t they understand that time was of the essence?!
It wasn’t until my second round of chemotherapy that my serious anxiety decided to pay me a friendly visit. Chemotherapy triggers menopause in many women, and I was no exception. I knew that. Intellectually, I knew that. This one night, I had my first hot flash. I woke up from my weird, highly uncomfortable sleep to discover that I was boiling to death in my bed. The heat was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and then I had an anxiety attack.
That’s when I knew I was dying.
Of course, I wasn’t. It took my better half doing something like Lamaze breathing and yelling in my face: “It’s a hot flash! You’re okay!” for me to even start to understand that I wasn’t drowning or having a heart attack.
I had to find a way to manage, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of piling more medications in on top of a chemotherapy regimen.
Instead, I sought advice from a friend and a doctor about meditation. The doctor pushed for conscious breathing, and the friend helped me with some tricks to still my busy mind. I noted as many triggers as I could. I learned to stop, anywhere and anytime I needed to, and simply breathe. I’d shut out the noise and the triggers, and breathe.
Anxiety doesn’t disappear once cancer is in remission. It doesn’t miraculously get “cured” one day. It stays, and we learn to manage.
Or, we don’t, and the anxiety rules us. I choose not to return to my life when it was ruled by anxiety. I choose the quirky pauses that make strangers stop and wonder what the heck I’m doing. I choose my health. I choose me.
Caroline A. Slee is a mother, wife and author living in California. She is a cancer survivor with nearly 5 years under her belt. She’s a runner, swimmer, and hiking partner to a nervous dog.
Her non-fiction book “The Cancer-Free Gourmet” is available on Amazon, along with her fiction series.
Caroline manages her anxiety today with meditation, running, and a bizarre sense of humor, when possible.
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