Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Fear Becomes Obsession

I recently shared with a friend, about a time in my life that I had pushed aside (blocked out, tried to forget, etc... all those good ole defense mechanisms).  After speaking about it, I decided to dig through an old box, a box I might now name "The Fear Box", which contains all of my daughter's food allergy stuff and the folder that holds all the info about this crazy time I'm about to discuss.  Just a box of anxiety provoking shit, really...one that gives me a stomach ache when I sift through it.

OK, so this time period, this folder, this fear that soon became an obsession..Here it is:  I had my first melanoma, had my surgery, healed physically....and then the after-math happened.  It was marked by the moment that "normal fear" switched to an all-encompassing obsession.

Let's define it in its most basic form:
Obsession- noun. The domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea.  

Over time, I became consumed with each and every freckle on my body!  And when I say consumed, I mean that every time I went to pee, I would start checking my thighs, inspecting my moles, building anxiety, panic and the like.  Each time I took a bath, I'd throw out any possibility of relaxation, and fill it with obsessional checking.  Check, check, check.  It just went on.....and on, and on.

At first, I could justify this behavior (or so I thought...and did!).  Of course I should be checking my body as often as I can for moles (their color, size, shape, changes, etc.), I just had fucking melanoma!  Justify away...but this eventually turned into something that was creating an extremely small life, and really not a life at all. 

It got so bad, that I recall one day getting the brilliant idea of finding a plastic surgeon that would take off ALL of the moles on my body (and there are MANY!!!).  Yep, that would solve this problem, so I thought.  Of course, after one phone call to a plastics office, and hearing the response of the nurse when I inquired about this "procedure", I knew I needed help!  

And so I sought help.  And luckily, I found exactly what I needed- a behavioral therapist who specialized in "health worry".  I wasn't really sure what was in store for me here, but I was willing to try anything to feel better.  

That's where our (me and my new therapist) journey began...This was not a "talk about your feelings/dive into your family history/lay on a couch thing".  This was something I had never experienced before.  We met once a week for about 10 weeks, practicing a multitude of various exercises that help to "re-train" the brain.  As the student at heart that I am, I loved this- homework?  YES!  tasks?  YES!  I pounced all over it.

And, with work...it worked!

And life began to have more room.

Don't get me wrong, this was by no means an attempt to not be vigilant about my melanoma.  No.  I still do my once a month body checks (just not my once an HOUR checks), I still see my dermatologist every 2 months, and my oncologist every 6 months.  But, for the times in between all that, I am LIVING.  

We all handle fear in different ways.  We all respond to it uniquely.  But please know, that if it takes over to the point of NOT living at all, there is help.  This was what helped me, my experience, strength, and hope.  Just know, that it's OK to ask for help!  


Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's a Sign: We Are Truly Connected

My head is still spinning from the magic of yesterday's walk.  I'm still very much in the midst of processing such an unbelievable day.  But here is just a little piece of a very big experience... 

Connected- Adj. 1. Joined together  2. Fastened, linked

This is the word that envelops me when I think about the disease of melanoma.  We are joined together, not by choice, but rather by a terrifying, life threatening beast.  That sounds awful.  And it is...but, the connection that it brings is beyond words.  And sometimes, we don't even really know how connected we are...until being graced with extraordinary moments of clarity into this connectedness.

As the walk was quickly approaching, an amazing idea was put out into the melanoma community, and we were all given the chance to see this connectedness in action.  In brief, this is how it went: 

Rev. Carol Taylor of the Melanoma Prayer Center on Facebook had talked to a fellow fighter Judy, who was with another fighter Jen, who was supposed to be walking in the AIM at Melanoma Walk, but couldn't because she is currently in the hospital fighting for her life. Judy had the brilliant idea of "how to make them (Jen and many others who wanted to be there, but couldn't) feel apart of the walk" by making signs with the pictures of those who could not be at the walk, either because they have passed on or because they were currently in treatment, fighting!   Rev. Carol kicked this idea into high gear, creating a group message about this....and, as a CONNECTED group of remarkable people, we took an idea, and made it real....because really, when we come together, we seem to be able to make the ordinary, EXTRAordinary!

So, let me tell you this, living with something like melanoma, something that makes me feel extremely powerless at times...when given the opportunity to DO SOMETHING...something productive, positive...you jump all over it!  And that's what I did.  

I volunteered to make signs.  YES!  Finally, some action I can take that is helpful in this battle!  When I leaped at this idea, I had no idea what kind of a journey it would actually be. There is no way I can describe to you exactly what I experienced in this process, but I can tell you this- it was life changing!  Here is a sprinkling of it:

It started out with the printing of pictures.... pictures of faces of people I have never met.  20 pictures, 8.5 X 11 spread all over my office floor.  In the process of gluing, taping, sticking, cutting, creating, etc... I had a spiritual experience with these people. I know this is going to sound crazy, and I'm ok with that...because I already know I'm a little bit crazy... I would talk to all of these faces...sometimes laughing with them, sometimes crying.  I joked with Bob (who has passed on) about how he may not dig the tie-dye decor I had chosen for his sign, as his picture was of him in a suit.  I cried with Jillian (fighting stage IV) and her pup about how crazy life can be.  Again, there are no words.

Fast forward to the walk...20 signs were held by so many loving people!  Eric, Bob, Judy, Steven, Jen, Jillian, Leslie were all "at the walk"!  THIS is what WE do!  We make shit happen!  WE!  As the brilliant Helen Keller said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

Black is the New PinkMy Adventures with My Enemy Melanoma, and Respect the Rays all together!

And so it is, WE come together to fight, to connect, to make a difference.....to be WE!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now and Then. Then and Now.

Every now and then we are given the opportunity to see our own growth, our own progress. It's a gift, to say the least...although it may not feel quite like a gift at the time of "receiving" it.  

Yesterday I experienced two things that brought about this spiraling of thoughts related to progress.  I had decided to finally (after 5 years) organize my pictures on my computer.  I don't even really know what I had in mind when setting out to this, so I just started scrolling.  

I was taken aback by a sight I did not want to recognize!  It was a picture of me, in my surgical oncologist's office, awaiting PET scan results...but I was UNDER his desk (my husband took this pic, which I did not appreciate at the time...AT ALL, but now, I'm grateful for it)...

When I saw this, I instantly felt sick, and shocked, and was jolted back to this awful time...which was the very beginning of my melanoma journey.  

I remember the feelings so clearly...that of total fear, isolation, and impending doom.  But, now, sitting here looking at this picture, I am given the opportunity to see (and I'm glad it's as concrete as a picture) how things have changed over time.  

I still experience fear, of course.  But today, I have faith and many others tools that help me through fear.  As long as progress (slow as it may be) is happening, I am grateful.  Perfection (or total lack of fear) is not my goal...as I know it's not very realistic...for me.

Not too long after encountering that picture, I happened upon an amazing creation on Facebook...that seemed to foster some clarity in this whole "growth" epiphany.

I saw this and realized that back THEN, I felt completely alone.  And that NOW, I am happily connected to so much: faith, a melanoma community, family, doctors, etc.  Life is so much better NOW!

So, every now and then, we are graced with the gift of seeing things in a "then and now" way, and for that I am thankful.  Be open to seeing these gifts, as they can come in some unusual packages.

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
~Frederick Douglass