I know we want lovely long lives, and isn't it funny how time can stretch? Although often only the difficult bits seem to be the ones that go on and on.
The books were right, my wedding day was a bright sky rocket flash, and seemed far less than 24 hours, but waiting for blood test results - those two weeks stretch out into agonising millennia more times than I care to count.
Waiting; be it for test results, surgery, to find out if a diagnosis is something serious, waiting at all can feel more agonising than the problem itself.
If there is a feeling of dread, and wanting to delay the inevitable news, we can be clinging to the perceived safety of our current state. We are torn between wanting to know and wanting desperately not to know.
If you have been waiting and then the big results you have been dreading are…. 'we didn't find anything', and more tests are ordered, then check out my article here on coping when you are ill but haven't got a diagnosis.
Anxiety can be a tricky situation. It's normal for you to worry about your health and test results and we aren't in the business of suppressing bodily processes but in dealing with them if and when they become issues.
When our health concerns are spiralling out of control we need to take action.
Allow It Out
Stop trying to push the fears back and create a space for yourself. Find somewhere you feel safe and are comfortable.
Open up to the worries and listen to them as they pour out, or free-write in your journal and allow all the concerns to flow out of you.
For now, just listen and feel the relief that comes with the release.
Go back through your journal entry and make note of your main concerns. On a separate page, reply to each concern and address it.
For example, if your worry is about how you would cope if you turned out to be very ill and unable to work, you could reassure yourself that you have no idea what will happen yet, but if that were to happen you would cope. Plenty of people are in that situation and live happy lives. Always remind yourself that you can handle it.
When your thoughts are going around and around just getting worse you need to break the cycle.
An example of a spiralling thought cycle is when the person you like didn't text you.
And your spiral thoughts begin, "I wonder why he didn't text back? It's because he is busy. Or because he doesn't like me. Perhaps no one does, perhaps I'm horrible and no one's told me. I'm never going to be ok, I'll die alone, what's the point?" Then the phone beeps and you smile again.
When spiralling thoughts come if you can recognise they are spiralling this is the first step to breaking the cycle.
If you know these are anxiety driven thoughts not rational thoughts then you can dismiss them more easily.
We all have fleeting irrational thoughts every day, but we dismiss them.
Choosing to let go of one thought and not follow and get carried away with it takes practice, but you can always choose to let that thought go (see it burn up in a fire far away from you) and choose a better thought to replace it.
Play What If?
I know what your most scary thought is.
The worse one is, 'what if?'.
What if I die and leave my children?
What if it is _____ and I don't get through it?
What if I can't walk or dance again?
What if I get progressively worse?
What if there is no cure?
In these terribly challenging times, I invite you to play The What If? Game
Pick a thought. How about, what if there is no cure?
So, what would happen? Well, you might struggle. You could seek out complementary ways to manage the diagnosis. You might get more ill and the way you live might change. Is it an illness which can be fatal? Ok, well in that case you might know what you will die of. And you might be torn up by the unfairness of it all, but you might not die as soon as you think. Fatal doesn't necessarily mean soon. You may die from this. In that case what do you think death is like?
I'm not saying any of this will be easy - just that when we face the unspecified panic we at least take away the uncertainty.
Death can never be a known quantity for us but it can be a part of life that we have considered.
And once we have faced it, trust me when I say that the blind panic is not so blinding after….
Yet Believe In Your Body
Connect to the idea that health is only one aspect of life and you have more control over it than you might believe.
You might be doing ok, not wonderfully but ok. You are carrying on (Dunkirk spirit and all that) and some unfortunate soul pulls you aside and quietly, (nosily) asks you, "What's wrong with you? Do they know yet?". And all your carefully constructed coping strategies come tumbling down.
Because you don't know what to say to such a question when you haven't quite worked out your own feelings on the topic.
These type of encounters can throw you off your stride and even lead to days of agonising and spiralling thoughts. Let's stop these struggles before they start.
Fed up of people saying, 'So, what's wrong with you?', we made a kit that helps you thrive in those sticky conversation situations.
Download your Pitch Perfect Beginners Action Kit now.
Give Yourself Meaning
"It does not cost much. It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world's sweetest smells….probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
? M.F.K. Fisher, How To Cook a Wolf
Please don't misunderstand me here, I'm not talking of simply 'keeping busy', that to me is just a form of constant moment until the hands reflect the disquiet of the mind.
No, what I am writing of here are the grounding, life affirming actions that remind you that you are here now, alive now, needed now and making a difference.
Even if that difference is simply a loaf of bread that wasn't here this morning.
For giving yourself meaning in the waiting process, stick to tasks that have concrete results. You want to be able to look and see the difference you've made.
How to Carry On
It can seem that waiting and the attendant anxiety can take up all your time and energy and rule your whole life. This is bad enough but if you have work to do then how do you do it when you are wracked with worry?
Here is my answer:
You are not waiting to feel ok before you begin. It's not going to fly, likely you won't feel ok right now.
But Begin Anyway.
Do your work as you are rather than waiting to be as you were. You are still you, you're no worse but the quality of your attention has changed.
Can you work at the level you are at? Can you be gentle and just begin to the best of your ability now?
Do a little bit, promise yourself a little bit. And then if you get on well you can always do a little more. But begin - that's the important bit.
Surround Yourself with Support.
You might need someone to call you each day to lift your spirits. Maybe cards or little treats or a Healing Box would help to distract you and lend some smiles.
Being with people who have gone through the struggles you are living with and come out the other side is invaluable. In this way you see that whatever happens - diagnosis, no diagnosis, negative test results - life goes on. If you are working with a group of people who are rocking their diagnosis's and living amazing lives, perhaps the idea of having an illness isn't so scary anymore.
We've created just such a community with Sick Chick to Trail Blazer and I invite you to join us here.