I remember, back before I returned to work, and the fast paced world, seeing a CBT therapist who had herself had breast cancer. She was four years post treatment, and wise to how the promises you make yourself will be tested and the pressures of normal life would wind back around your ankles and attempt to pull you under. It was a great help, having someone that had trodden the path before and didn’t tell you, you need to avoid stress, and in fact give up anything that is stressful. She was more like Liam Neeson in Taken, ‘the stress will appear, the pressure will return but you will need to find ways to manage it.’
So, that’s been my challenge, finding balance post treatment and it’s a challenge indeed. My old habits including tearing off, not pacing myself, setting unreasonably high goals and expectations of myself. On top of this drive, if this isn’t enough,I also don’t cut myself much slack. Beating myself up for not meeting my high expectations is all part of a vicious circle. The ghosts of your past behaviours and memories of your pre diagnosis self. Warpy thoughts alert.
I watched a fascinating documentary this week, The Crash Reel, about Kevin Pearce, the professional snowboarder, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in the lead up to the Winter Olympics. It showcased his road to recovery, and the intense desire he had to have his life return to what it was prior to the accident, back on his board, his whole life had been about snowboarding, it defined him. Watching him find acceptance over time, that his life had changed and that part, competitive sports, was over really caught my attention. It’s a process, it didn’t happen over night and he had to even try to regain his past life in order to accept he couldn’t do it any longer, it no longer fit. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, in Kevin’s case, coming to terms with his disability he had used this to support others with acquired brain injuries, become a motivational speaker and fund raiser, like Bethany Hamilton who lost a limb, surfing. I noted in both cases, they mourned their loss before they were able to find real acceptance and move on.
It was a message I needed to see, that acceptance, full acceptance of what you have ‘survived’ takes time. That being diagnosed with cancer, means you have a warped sense of time, you are fearful that you are wasting time and not using it wisely, that it could come back and steal away your regained energy, and abilities. So in this warped presence, you can over do things and burn out, exhaust yourself with your enthusiasm and expectations. Beat yourself up for being tired or not eating healthily, resting, avoiding stress, etc, etc….Another vicious circle.
Additionally it’s common post treatment to hit this lull, it’s well documented that many women struggle with dented self confidence, impaired self image and acceptance of the changes treatment of cancer brings. Depression too, I read an article by a woman, reporting that she felt almost embarrassed that she felt so low after successful treatment, it seemed wrong, when you should be celebrating and living life. And yet in a way I can totally relate. It’s surprising how during treatment you cope so well, you don’t have time to dwell on changes, and accept what’s thrown at you provided you survive. After treatment you surge to get on with life, grasp the second chance with both hands, in fact re reading my blogs from earlier in the year, the momentum and motivation is apparent, determination and gratitude. I guess sustainability is hard and cutting myself some slack is required here too. It takes time, to recover from anything that was suddenly and unexpectedly inflicted upon you, it takes time to adjust to physical or emotional changes, and time too to work through loss, grief and find acceptance.
Cancer is so common now, there are thousands of people every day trying to discover their new normal year after first trying to cram themselves back into their old form. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, a piece that you turn around and around hoping that it’ll fit, and trying to squeeze it in, although it’s got a slightly different edge. People too are a little dismissive or caught up in their own lives can’t imagine what recovery means, it’s in the past, so last year, shouldn’t you put it behind you ? Reading a blog on a widower’s one year anniversary he nails it completely, there are no limits to grief, it lasts as long as it lasts and I think the same must be said about recovery, there is no defined time period, it’s individual and takes as long as it takes.
My jigsaw puzzle is no exception. Piecing back together my life, disposing of pieces that don’t fit or placing them on the side in a hope that over time they may fit back in. My old image vs my new image, finding acceptance of the changes, instead of trying to get back, it’s better to move forwards this takes time to rebuild your self image. My self doubts and confidence lapses, moments of impaired concentration, fatigue and even physical imbalances, things I need to accept are part of the new me, for now, they aren’t necessarily permanent, nothing is after all. Approaching an interview for my job is challenging me, it’s 6 months since I returned to work, the initial months clouded with fatigue, lack of concentration, impaired judgement I’m sure and difficulties at times finding the correct language. Jumping back on board the fast paced track at work, get up to speed with developments, cope with increasing pressures and now promote the best parts of me is feeling very difficult. I’ve never doubted myself before an interview so much in the past as I do now. A marked difference, for me, perhaps my highest self esteem or confidence was found at work, it was something I excelled at. Sports too, that was a strength and now feeling uncoordinated and overwhelmed at times and unable to process information.
So this post is a reminder to myself to treat myself kindly, don’t judge myself by old or past appearance or behaviours. Embrace the new me, be proud of what I have lived through and what I am able to do now, and hope for the future. To work on discovering what pieces fit, to treat myself kindly and if I’m to throw away bad habits …..beating myself up is one that definitely needs to go.