Making Choices


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I spent some time talking to a young woman yesterday about her choices. Locked into a particular paradigm yet still struggling with depression, she realised that perhaps she needed to open her mind to other possibilities for healing. She was scared. Reasonably so. Because when we try anything new, it’s natural to be nervous, or cautious or uncertain, isn’t it. It’s just the nature of doing something we haven’t done before.

And it can be the same when we begin to reinvent ourselves. And that’s a necessary part of healing, isn’t it. Because when we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve always got. And there are some things we don’t want to repeat, aren’t there! Once in a lifetime is enough to experience some of the things we’ve experienced.

Most people don’t realise we actually become addicted to being ourselves. Every time we think a thought, or feel an emotion, we release chemicals in our body that form receptors on our nerve cells. And the more we repeat the thought, or the emotion, the more receptors that form and the more our body feels the need to keep repeating the thoughts, or the emotions, to get its fix. Being addicted to bitterness, or judgement, or anger, or anxiety, or stress, or sadness is no different at a cellular level than being addicted to smoking, or drinking or drugs. In fact, there’s a great smoking ad on tv that actually shows how it happens. We get into the habit of being ourselves. And because our bodies get used to being a certain way, they can kick up a real stink when we try to change. Like breaking any addiction, it has to be a multi-level approach. And that’s why we need to go below the surface, to focus our healing where the true problem lies. 

Shortly after chatting to this young woman, I happened to notice the date yesterday and it took be back two years to my own journey. My 14th wedding anniversary. And I remember being beside myself on that day. Breaking down. Because two years ago, I didn’t know if I was going to live or if I was going to die. I didn’t know if I was going to be around ‘next year’ to celebrate with my husband and my children. And the fear in these thoughts can be a terrifying thing, can’t it. But thankfully, now it is only a memory. And I no longer live in it’s grip. And it seems such a long time ago. Such a different life to the one I have now. Because the choices I have made have helped to reinvent myself. To break the old addictions. To help me get here to where I am today, a safe passage through the storm, and now more alive than ever…

I found myself thinking about pain yesterday. Not the mental and emotional pain that comes with our journey, but the physical stuff. The pressure of tumours on areas they shouldn’t be, the pain of recovery after surgery, the pain that can sometimes be ongoing. I remember once imploring my tumour to stop hurting so that I could get some sleep. It use to burn and throb in my breast. And to my surprise it did just that. It’s an incredible thing how much control we actually have over the way experience our pain, isn’t it.

In hospital recently, the morning nurse greeted me with ‘oh you’re the one who doesn’t take anything’. Well, not quite true. A bit of mild paracetamol works wonders in taking the edge off. But if I can, I’d rather find another way than the codeine that binds you up making life a little unpleasant, let alone the harder morphine derivatives. And so I get through most of what I need to get through using everything I know about managing pain in other ways. Having a great doctor certainly helps reduce the need for pain relief. And sometimes the deeper breathing helps. Because it’s hard to feel pain when you’re relaxed, isn’t it. Sometimes it’s in distracting myself with things that make me feel good. A hobby, a funny movie, a relaxation CD, anything really. I’ve read that Norman Cousins found that just ten minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Again, it’s about the choices we make isn’t it. Do we want to watch a funny movie that will help our healing, or do we want to watch the latest NCIS with it’s gruesome storyline? I deliberately chose to watch ‘Are You Being Served’ a few hours post surgery, and I’m sure this helped reduce my pain. I was too busy laughing to notice.

Sometimes it can just be in the reframing of the pain that I find it easier to manage. If I resist it, I just seem to tense up and it gets worse, but if I step back and observe it, notice it, where it is in my body, how it feels, what it looks like, what colour it is, it somehow seems to diffuse it. I remember hearing someone say that at least if they are in pain they know they’re alive. And I guess I’ve learnt to look at the positives of post surgery discomfort – at least I’ve still got some sensation in the areas I want to be sensitive!

But of course there are days I can’t do it all myself and I am happy to have a little bit of help. A good massage last week, took the burning out of the muscles of my shoulder that are learning to work differently. It’s also brilliant for breaking up adhesions. Physio exercises when I am disciplined to do them also help to rehabilitate. And I remember once, a few years ago, my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore. I bent over and locked up and the pain just kept ramping up until I was vomiting. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And this is when I am most grateful for my husband’s knowledge and training. After watching me for 20 minutes or so, he simply gave me just one adjustment and the whole thing shut down. I went straight to sleep and when I woke up, the pain was gone. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. An open mind opens up a whole world of options, doesn’t it.

And probably for me the most healing has been the healing of painful emotions which has brought me such physical relief. In healing my feelings, I am no longer pouring these inflammatory chemicals through my system, minute to minute, day to day. And so my body copes with things so much better. Because, what I’ve learnt most about the management of pain, is that if I can take the physical, mental and emotional stress out of my body, no matter which path I take to do this, everything just relaxes and the pain just seems to melt away…

How many people get to live their dream life? Today I realised once again how perfect my life is, just as it is. Sure there are a few little things I might wish were different, but all in all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was standing at the bus stop this afternoon waiting for my girls, watching the sheep with their lambs in the paddock across the road, and that deep sense of knowing that I am living my dream came over me. There are so many little things that fill me with such joy. The morning light that illuminates the spiders webs in the paddocks that have been spun during the night. It’s an incredible sight. I didn’t realise what I was looking at the first time I saw it. The white frost that sparkles as the sun hits it. The new born calves, the filly born on Melbourne Cup day. The old church across the road in the middle of nowhere, where the dogs chase the rabbits. My neighbour who turns up on my doorstep with the regular gift of two dozen freshly laid eggs. Our beautiful bus driver that cares enough to bring flowers the day I finished radiation treatment. That my life is full of people I love and work that fulfils me.

Years ago I could only dream of this life. But it seems it has now found me. And I feel with every ounce of my being that this is my special, healing place. It is such a gift to live here, waking up to this life everyday. While I was going through surgery and chemo, it helped me to know that even though things were a bit crazy around me, I had my safe place to retreat to. It would be the same beautiful place regardless of what was happening with me. And it blows my mind that seven years ago, I described the very home that I am now living in. An old rambling farmhouse on a hundred acres, big open rooms with small cosy nooks, surrounded by mountains, snow sometimes. Well it’s all come to pass. It’s snowed twice in the last two weeks, reminding me I am exactly where I am meant to be. I was like a kid in a snowdome. It was beautiful. I put it out there and this special place found me, the very year I said it would. Many people don’t realise we all have a special part of us that seeks out what we set our hearts and minds on. And it’s happened so many times in my life, I’m now very conscious of where I put my focus. And I encourage others to do the same.

Because it’s so important to surround ourselves with things we love as a part of our healing, isn’t it. I wonder how many people realise that when we feel good, we release healing chemicals into our body. Our own drugstore, the pharmacy we carry within us. Not something we want to take lightly, is it. Because our feelings are actually some of the most important biochemicals in our healing. And the wonder of our minds is that even when we can’t physically be in our special place or with those we love, when we choose to focus on the people or places or things that fill us with joy, those healing feelings are released anyway…

 

If the sight of blue skies fills you with joy

If a blade of grass springing up in the fields has the power to move you

If the simplest things of nature have a message that you understand

Rejoice

For your soul is alive

http://www.affirmations.com.au

I am reading Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book at the moment, Man’s Search For Meaning. Heavy reading? I guess it is, in one way. But I am so inspired by people’s stories that speak of greatness. Because they can teach us so much, can’t they. This book is Dr Frankl’s autobiographical account of his imprisonment during World War II. And he talks about how life in a concentration camp could be called a ‘provisional existence’. With no known end date to their imprisonment, some prisoners were unable to hold on to future goals. They simply stopped living for the future. And without a future and without a goal, the decay set in. In mind and body. And what struck me is how similar this experience can be to the experience of cancer. Because sometimes it feels like there is no end, doesn’t it. Treading water. An uncertain future. Life on hold.

I woke the other night thinking about how hard it can be to keep living with a dark shadow hanging overhead. And there are days it can be tough, I know. In the struggle to survive, Dr Frankl describes how  easy it became to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, ‘opportunities which really did exist’. Pretty amazing, huh! That the horror of a concentration camp could secretly hold opportunities for something better. But it happens all the time, doesn’t it. Strangely, it seems that in these most difficult of circumstances, we often find the opportunity to grow. Because it’s only when things are tough that we can realise how strong we really are, isn’t it. The difficult stuff gives us the chance to develop our inner strength. And that is an incredible feeling, isn’t it. To know how strong and capable we really are. It dawned on me we’d be a bunch of wusses if life were always easy.

So thank God, they finally say ‘living with cancer’. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it. Living. Living with a challenge, yes. But living all the same. And it seems that when we acknowledge and accept the possibilities – all of them – and remind ourselves that we are okay, right here, right now, it somehow frees us to truly keep on living. And it’s important to keep living, isn’t it. To resist the urge to put life on hold ‘for next year’. Because this is the only life we’ve got. And it’s only when we define this as ‘bad’ that we run the risk of putting our life on hold. Because if we step back and look from another angle, it just may be that the experience of cancer can be a wake up call to do something different for ourselves. To finally give ourselves permission to do those things we have always wanted to do. To live for ourselves for a time, rather than for others. To heal our lives. An opportunity to do something special for ourselves, just for us…

I wonder, have you ever noticed how good things can come out of the most difficult of circumstances? I can honestly say it’s happened more than once in my life. And so I am learning to trust the bigger picture.

The truth of this was again made real to me a couple of days ago. Minus 8 degrees overnight and as we warmed the car to get the ice off the windscreen, I suddenly noticed the ice crystals on the window. They took my breath away. Stunning little mandalas of such beauty. My daughter captured them in a photograph. And I realised that without the extreme cold of the night before, they would never have been created. Out of something as plain as a drop of water, it took the cold darkness of the night for this beauty to be born …

Note to self: next time be very vague about surgery information when boarding a flight.

Irritated as hell I was yesterday. Arriving at the check in counter 3 days after surgery, busting to get home to my family, I simply asked for a bit of help lifting my carry on luggage into the overhead locker. Due to surgery, I said, couldn’t lift. The smiling, oh too caring, check in chipmunk (at half my age, I don’t think she had much experience of real life) asked about my surgery. As I am a trusting person, I answered honestly. Surgery was Tuesday. ‘What did you have done?’ she asked, feigning caring interest. ‘Breast reconstruction’, I said. ‘Oh, just let me look and see if you can fly’… furious, does not describe how strongly I felt! So she checked her very large manual and decided that I suddenly needed a doctors letter to board the plane. They didn’t tell me that when I booked the bloody ticket. So, happy to take my money, but not happy to let me get home. The airline shall remain nameless – they have been wonderful on other occasions and I am not into slighting. And I understand the need for protection against litigation. I offered to sign a waiver, but that was not acceptable. After consulting her medical advisor they said I needed a letter. So, in 15 minutes I had to get ‘permission’ in writing like a small child to board the aircraft home. So humiliating to have one’s right to exercise their freedom to move around their own country overridden. But as ‘patients’ this often happens, doesn’t it. We suddenly lose our basic human rights to make our own decisions. You can tell it has hit a raw nerve. I mentioned how frustrated I was, because if I hadn’t said anything, she would have been none the wiser. ‘Ah, but you disclosed’ she said. ‘And now I have to act on it’. Only because she led me to it. Duped I would call it. And not quite honest. Leaves a bad taste. Steve mentioned it might help to get it off my chest. I responded with humour. No thanks, I don’t want to get anything more off my chest.

And so with a letter in hand (thank you Dr D), I brought my precious cargo home. Two bumps. And I can’t describe how it feels to have some balance back. To sit in my pyjamas, balanced on both sides. A rounded softness on my right side where for the last year and a half there has just been hard bony ribs. Tears of joy. I keep putting my hand on the roundness, just to experience it again. The hardness has disappeared under this lovely round bump. And it’s only the first stage. I am so delighted. A little bit sore, probably a bit like a footballer after a hard game of rugby. Combined with that delightful sensation of the extreme pressure of your milk coming in on the third day. But nothing a few panadol and a bit of rest can’t handle. ‘Brave’ a woman said on the plane home. Maybe a little of this. But I know I’m in good hands, and with faith and trust, it’s easier to be brave, isn’t it…

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