Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mind-Games~How to Finish the Race

On this 21st day of November, my assignment for National Health Blog Post Month from WEGO Health is to write about the mental effects of the illness that we live with every day.  I could talk about Evie's anxiety, because that is pretty off the charts, and quite typical of WAGR/11p Deletion Syndrome.  I could talk about how so much medical intervention at such a young age can affect the self-esteem of a child as she grows older.  I think, however, it's more important for me to talk honestly about something I, as a mother,  experienced when Evie was being treated for cancer. 

About 2 months into Evie's chemotherapy I had a panic attack in a movie theater.  I had been experiencing migraines on a daily basis and had medication to take that would help minimize the pain.  Unfortunately, the medication I took had a high quantity of caffeine in it, and I had compounded that by drinking coffee, diet soda, and eating some chocolate covered coffee beans.  I had created the perfect storm.  It was the preview for the movie Cars that created the intense feeling inside me of insecurity and danger.  My heart started racing, I felt a tremendous pressure on my chest like a big weight was pressing against it.  I just wanted to be in a bed, safe, with someone taking care of me.

I made it through the preview of Cars, but then the movie we were there to see started.  It was Narnia.  In the opening scenes there were helicopters flying in the dark of night, dropping bombs.  I felt the panic rising within me with each bomb that exploded; as if the deep-bass rumble of the explosions had its impact deep inside of me.

I leaned over to my sister and said, "I don't feel safe.  I want to jump out of my skin."   She took me outside of the theater.  We sat in the hall and she tried to calm me down.  I remember saying, "I need someone here.  I need someone to keep me safe."  Eventually, when we realized my feelings weren't passing, my sister went back in the theater and found my friends who we had left in there.  I used my cell phone to contact an on-call nurse from my clinic.

The nurse asked me what had led up to the attack.  I explained about my migraines and the medication.  We talked about the fact that I was likely dehydrated as well as over-caffeinated.  She recommended I speak with  my doctor about switching medications, and then asked, "Is there anything else going on that may have caused your anxiety?"  I said, "Oh, well, my daughter has cancer...."  I maybe even said it more like a question, as if I wasn't really sure that it was a legitimate answer. 

"Are you seeing a counselor?" she asked.

"I'm working 30 hours a week, and my daughter has cancer.  I don't have time to see a counselor, let alone squeeze in a doctor's appointment for myself." I replied.

"I think you need to.  At least you can talk to someone about your feelings, and they won't be involved in anything, and you won't feel like you're letting them down."

Truth.  That was truth.  I didn't want to admit that I needed counseling.  No one else was getting counseling.  Everyone else was handling Evie's sickness just fine.

I called and got an appointment to see a counselor.  Some of the appointments I went to didn't feel all too monumental to me, but others brought me some peace through just knowing I could talk about my fears and frustrations and not feel like I wasn't meeting others' expectations. 

The appointment that helped the most, however, came close to the end of Evie's treatment.  I said to my counselor, "Is is weird that I'm scared for Evie to finish chemo?  Does that make me one of those moms who wants her kid to be sick so she gets attention?  I'm just scared.  Why am I so scared for this nightmare to end?" 

My counselor gave me such a reassuring answer.  She told me that I wasn't weird.  The feelings I was experiencing are actually quite normal for patients and caregivers as treatment is coming to an end.  The reason for this is surprisingly simple to understand:  We were told our daughter had cancer and since that day we have been "doing" something about it.  The chemotherapy was giving us a bit of a reassurance that we were fighting the disease with all that we had.   The chemotherapy was a sort of security for us that we weren't going to find new cancer growing in Evie~at least not while the chemo was there.  But once treatment ended, we would have to sit, and wait.  We were going to be waiting for the next scan, the next "all clear", the next confirmation that cancer had not returned. 

What a relief it was to realize that there was a reason for my feelings.  This was an area that had plagued me for weeks.  Why wasn't my faith in God enough to get me to feel comfortable with where we were in our journey?  Almost to the end of the race, and I was feeling terrified to cross the finish line.  It hadn't made sense to me, but my counselor helped me turn that around. 

What I really wanted to express is that going into therapy or seeking wise counsel is not a sign of weak character nor weak faith.  It's a decision to look to another party who is not as close to one's situation and can help an individual rationally understand some of the feelings that she is experiencing.  I want people to know that even all the courage and faith in the world may not be able to slow a brain down so the body can take a breath and look at one area of life at a time.  Our minds seem to run further and faster than our bodies could ever carry us, so we often need  a voice of reason to keep it in line with the reality in which we live. 

My mind is often my own worst enemy. I have to utilize all my resources to keep it on the right race track, and focused on the finish line. 

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