The doctor used the C word. It wasn’t like I would have argued with his suggestion to go for further testing; I was there because I was ready to take action. Still, he played that card, invoking cancer and thus setting in motion a train of thought that can’t help but pass by wigs and weight loss and end up somewhere near Last Will and Testaments.
I never write about my health. For me it is like dropping the veil, admitting that I’m not a “rope muscled ballgown wearing superhero,” or, as I was recently referred to when my dogs all sat with their noses pointed up at me, a “devotional object.” I live a certain duality as a psychotherapist too, maintaining enough distance from my patients to not really exist as a full human being but to be a blank slate and a safe and permanent presence. I am my patients’ rock, I am my dogs’ rock, I am my own constant. Being ill just doesn’t jive with that.
The past few nights have been intense. Awake in the early morning hours, pain sharpens awareness to a single finely-honed point. Each breath is careful, slow and mindful. Each breath is a prayer of sorts. Each breath is fully experienced, laced with hope and ultimately filled with acceptance. There is nothing beyond this moment, this breath, and this pain. I am just present, anchored right here, right now, experiencing this and nothing else. Last night Cinder shoved her head under my hand when I hit the couch for the fourth night in a row. She checked on me, ears laid back in supplication before padding quietly back up to her own bed, satisfied.
Ill equals defective. That’s what my judgmental brain tells me. I know that the human body is full of design issues and vulnerabilities, flawed and miraculous that it functions at all. I know that our time here is limited and that being embodied is fun and cool in some ways but it ends. And I have my ideas about what happens after that; I’m sure you have your ideas too. I struggle with being here and being ill: part of me insists that it is not necessary, that proper care and feeding will keep all ailments at bay, that somehow this pain and frailty is my fault and failing, and that I should quietly endure. I struggle with just plain acceptance – sometimes things just happen. Bad things happen to good people. And then I struggle with some ever-shifting notion of healing and the belief that I can “fix” this. So far traditional medicine (including hormone balancing, medication, and all the recommended lifestyle changes) has not offered much relief. Acupuncture, chiropractics, yoga, and supplements have relieved me of plenty of cash, but no lessening of symptoms. A witch doctor (I call him that to his face) has helped more than anything else, reducing the frequency of these overnight sensations, but even he has not been able to wave a magic wand and eliminate them. The specialist says surgery will fix this. I cock my eyebrow and he adds, “but I don’t recommend it.”
My mother-in-law has recently had the C word land squarely in her lap, with a few additional C words close at its heels: Cancer, then chemo, then critical condition. Within the space of a few days, she went from being her “normal” self to being hooked up in a chemo ICU. Among the thoughts and feelings that inevitably pass through the hearts of those she has been close to is the thought of how complete her loss of control has been. How shockingly fast and how utterly complete.
It is the being out of control – the sudden loss of normal functioning replaced by inability to manage the most basic of human tasks (eating, sleeping) – that bothers me the most. And the pain. I can handle headaches, period cramps, tendonitis and toothaches. For whatever reason (physical or psychical) this particular flavor of stomach pain crosses the line into something intolerable. I dread going to bed; I actually experience panic attacks in anticipation of the pain returning. Sometimes it doesn’t return for months and I ease up a little. Then blammo, it’s back and I am perched on the couch in the wee hours, sipping breath and waiting.
I wandered in the woods today, took a million photographs of small things that charm me and let myself feel content with that. I believe that is what the doctor ordered. The rest will all come out in the wash.