Writing this blog is helping me get out of bed of a morning. The writing is proving a cathartic exercise but coupled with the sense of connection it provides, it has become more than just an outlet for my thoughts.
My mood has been like an emotional rollercoaster of late. The first week after learning I need surgery; I became preoccupied with the thought of my death and what I needed to do before that. My psychologist says I am what is known as an ‘approacher’, meaning I turn towards my difficulties and tackle them head on rather than turning away. I get that, I have had years of practice at working out how to live within the storm, doing what ever has been needed for my recovery (except of course stopping work!).
While thinking upon my possible death, after some painful days, I realised that death actually affects me the least as I will be gone, all pain ended; but this is not so for those whom remain behind (so to speak). Once I understood this, I knew that the best I can do is make my near and post death wishes known and help prepare my family and friends for the possibility. I came to accept that death is inevitable – we are all in the process of dying even as we continue living. Death is the one great certainty of life, yet we flee from discussing it, planning for it, embracing it.
Once I had this understanding, my mind then became overwhelmed by thoughts about pain and how much I will endure post-operatively. I know something about pain and managing it but in this instance, it was as though I forgot all I know and was suddenly consumed by terror at the thought of suffering intense physical pain.
Upon reflection this is interesting to me because all my studies of Tibetan Buddhism are centred on understanding suffering and transforming it. I have in times past used the notion of ‘willingly accepting or enduring suffering’ for the benefit of others.
Whilst in the midst of my fear-induced terror, I met with my psychologist. She is seeing me weekly in the lead up to the operation so as to provide me with support. I am grateful for this as she knows me well from my stroke recovery and knows my strengths and weaknesses. I have been working myself tighter and tighter, my mind whirling in ever-decreasing circles. She asks what exactly is it I am afraid of. This makes me think, but all I can feel is blind panic, we dig a little deeper, what is it specifically that worries me. I eventually find a way to communicate my fear and it takes the shape of past experience – me in a hospital bed after surgery (my second in three weeks), I hurt, there are tubes and bandages and monitor leads all over and around me, my mum and Jason are sitting in the visitor chairs and I try to move and do something to make myself more comfortable, I feel miserable and trapped. I get tangled and manage to cause myself more pain and my visitors just sit there watching. I feel rage and it rears up out of no-where and I am suddenly snapping nastily at my loved ones. It’s not my finest hour (& I apologised afterwards) but I relive the misery of that moment and fear feeling like that again, unable to find comfort.
My therapist leans forward, signalling that she wants me to take notice of what she says next. She reminds me of all the work I did during my stroke recovery using mindfulness meditation and guided pain management resources to overcome pain, learn how to co-exist with pain whilst not becoming distressed by it. She then reminds me that the brain is very good at prioritising pain. This reminder about the way the brain works when we suffer serious injury reaches me. I know from experience that when you suffer a serious injury or have an operation, our brains prioritise that site and its related sensations and it can literally feel as though any other area of pain or discomfort simply ceases to hurt. I have also found that the body needs and wants to rest and sleep often comes easily after a big operation, that and all the pain meds. What a relief to remember this and that I have lots of experiencing handling pain and still have those resources to draw upon them – I just have to take a deep breath and remember to use them.
Since then I haven’t been freaking out anywhere near as much but last week, I started waking at 4am and don’t get back to sleep until after 6.30. Initially, I tried just waiting it out in the hopes of returning to sleep, then I tried using the time to meditate; either way, I was tired all day, exhausted by the afternoon. I am astounded at how tired I am of late and mention this to my therapist (after she comments on how tired I look). This and my newfound addiction to anything sugary and sweet are troubling me and she explains it is because my brain is working overtime trying to process everything. Feeling overwhelmed is apparently completely normal and I will continue to burn through my body’s energy reserves while under the stress I am currently. While it doesn’t change anything, just knowing why I am driven to distraction by cravings for pastries and cakes is a big help. I figure if I was ever going to embrace ‘eating my feelings’ now is the time!
So, yeah things are a bit nuts in my head at the moment and from time to time I get so overwhelmed I can’t even work out what I need to be doing next. My exercise and meditation regimes are all over the place and if I get it together enough to plan dinner, have all the right ingredients and start cooking, well, that’s a good day. The thing I have come to understand though: that is actually ok.