THOUGHTS…Thinking, reflecting, musing

THOUGHTS…Thinking, reflecting, musingBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

THOUGHTS are funny because they seem to have a life of their own. During the night, sometimes it seems impossible to turn THOUGHTS off. Strangely, at other times it seems hard to turn THOUGHTS on. What are your THOUGHTS? Have you bothered to get to know them?

As a person who has encountered cancer, I know thoughts can also be fairly harassing. Thoughts like, “Am I going to die?” “Will it come back?” “How will I know?” “What can I do?” Look at those thoughts. They really are not thoughts, they are questions. Questions need answers and the funny thing about the brain, almost any answer will do, because we seek closure. The cycle needs to come full circle so the brain can stop asking the same question over and over again. The answers to the above, (once you stop being terrorized) are quite simple. “Am I going to die?” is answered, “Yes.” “Will it come back?” The answer to that question is, “I don’t know. Maybe, but I will deal with that when and if it happens.” “How will I know?” “If it comes back, I will know. If it doesn’t come back, I will know that too. I am not symptomatic now.” The last question, “What can I do?” will be answered when and if it comes back. Questions are the entrance to a great ocean of worry, if we don’t take the time to answer them. But it is often a terrorizing cycle. We don’t answer the questions because questions create anxiety and anxiety creates fear. Fear immobilizes our brain and we become more afraid. Learning to stay with the question until it shifts and we can let go is the key to turning our questions into reflecting and from reflecting to musing.

Reflection is the art of slowing down the questions and thus redirecting our thoughts toward truth. Truth is not always absolute but in some cases it is. For instance, the answer to the question, “Will I die?” is “Yes.” We all will die as no one gets out of this world alive. And if we die of cancer is that any better or worse than other ways of dying? Reflection allows us to normalize scary words like dying. Normalizing anxiety is like taming a herd of cats. Once you get one question answered, usually a million more will follow. Thus, again taking the necessary time to stay with the question will allow you to come to a resting point. Staying is a quality of meditation and reflection becomes the outcome of staying. You may feel powerless over the outcome of your treatment, but you are not really powerless over your thoughts about it. However, in order to experience empowerment you will have to teach yourself to stay with the question until it abates and washes out to the horizon where you can no longer see or feel it until next time. Here is a little model that I use that you may find helpful. Notice I said, “Stay with the question until it abates and washes out to the horizon where you can no longer see it or feel it until next time?”

One question I have wrestled with, breathed into, transcended above, journaled about, colored about, gestalted, and used any number of other techniques to get it to go away, is the question, “Will it come back?” Thus, this question has taught me the art of staying.

Now, when I first notice that nagging question running on default software in the back of my head, I begin a gentle dialogue with it. I sit with my journal and say, “You are back, my good friend. You must need some of my attention. Are you trying to tell me something I need to know? Do I need to adjust my diet or change my exercise routine? Is there anything that I need to be paying different attention too? In order for me to get into this sort of abstract dialogue I allow my question to take a believable form, such as a scared child, an ugly deformed monster, or even a small pesky mosquito. I am a visual person, thus I need to see who I am talking to before I can hear a response. Once I address the question with more questions, I allow myself to freely write the answers to what the image is trying to tell me. If, the image has brought me information, I thank the image and then tell it that it must go for now and I use my breath to watch the image take the next wave and continue to assist the image with my breath until it disappears over the horizon. I go about my day unafraid, making any necessary adjustments that have come to my attention. However, more times than not, this question, “Will it come back?” has nothing useful to offer me. I believe the question is part of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that a cancer survivor lives with. By staying with the question until it abates I am allowing my brain to create new pathways, endless options, thus gaining insight and courage each time I stay with that pesky question.
The art of staying includes:

  1. Stop and take time to be with the question.
  2. Create an inner image of the question. (What form does the question take?)
  3. Dialogue with the question through journaling or active imagination.
  4. Advising the question (image) that is now time to go.
  5. Assisting the image with your breath until it is completely disappeared over the horizon.
  6. Greet the question with acceptance when it returns and repeat.

Since thoughts are going to come and go, you can either continue to be harassed by them or learn to stay with them until they become manageable. Taking time for yourself is the most important tool of self care, so spend some time with yourself today learning to stay with your thoughts until the inner fear dissipates. Enjoy your creativity as you become your own best healer. Healing is within you, not out there somewhere.

“May you awaken those parts of you that have fallen asleep, open the parts of you that are thirsty, and discover anew the magic of growing.” rbdilley

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

What Is PTSD And How Does It Affect Breast Cancer Survivors?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Breast Cancer

Dr. Robin Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and licensed psychologist

Prior to my personal diagnosis with breast cancer, I was unaware that I had PTSD. I never had to examine my belief that everyone who gets cancer dies of cancer because that belief seemed normal to me. But in 1999 when I was diagnosed with Stage II estrogen positive breast cancer that belief was seriously in my way. This is what I learned about myself. Prior to the age of five I had a black nanny, Matt, that took care of me when my blue-collar hard working parents were working. I remember her sweet scent to this day. Before I could spend most of my hours at school, Matt had to leave me to take care of her sister who was dying from shhhh, “cancer.” Of course at the age of five I did not know this because the word cancer was not spoken nor at five could I have comprehended what it meant. I do know that Matt was replaced with skinny, old, white woman who did not smile, grumbled under her breath and whom I thought was mean. Later, when I was old enough to inquire why Matt left, I was told she had to go to take care of her sister who had cancer. Somewhere in that process the synapse in my brain put together that cancer causes people to leave your life permanently. Thus my fear of cancer killing people was written deep within my personal script.

It took some interpersonal work as to how I began to believe that people with cancer leave you but I finally connected the dots and it became crystal clear. Insight in and of itself does not change belief systems or the symptoms of PTSD that surround the beliefs. In order for me to get a new perspective I had to grieve Matt and say good-by to her sweet scent and plump cheeks. Then space inside of me opened up and I began to put adult emotions, feelings, and beliefs with this big C word, “cancer.”

PTSD, Post-traumatic stress disorder is a DSM V diagnosis in the mental health world. You have probably heard of it in relationship to war veterans returning home. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that causes the brain to fire in irrational and obsessive patterns after someone has gone though an extreme emotional trauma that involves a threat to his/her life or perceived threat of danger. Cancer, whether it is yours or someone who is close to you sends off alarms into your central nervous system bringing in hyper-arousal and says, “threat is on board.” Cancer and the very threat of cancer create the war like environment for PTSD.

Thus what can you do to cope with this threat in healthy ways to in order to respond to real or perceived threat of cancer in order to manage PTSD symptoms.

First, give yourself a break and acknowledge the truth. Cancer is scary and creates rivers and avenues of fear within. Don’t try not to be afraid. Being brave is not the same as not being afraid. Being brave means that you know and understand the risks involved and respond to each risk with positive action, regardless of your level of fear.

Second, get enough rest. PTSD symptoms are intrusive showing up in nightmares, disruptive sleep, and early morning dread. Discover which tools are going to help you rest. If you need a night -light because the dark is all of sudden too scary buy a soft light positive action night- light. One that makes your face smile when you see its glow in your dark room. Experiment with some night- time organic herbal teas, such as chamomile to see if tea will assist you to sleep. Melatonin can be tried as well. If you are in treatment and it is too uncomfortable to sleep lying down, then sleep in a recliner chair or propped up with a bouquet of pillows. Rest is your friend. When you worry, the very biology of worry breaks down your cells. If you are in chemo, radiation or both, then your healthy cells are getting beat up, so rest as much as you can.

Third, have an assortment of music at your fingertips. One day you might really want to hear angry heavy metal music blaring through your house because that might be reflecting your inner state and pleasant massage music is just too annoying when you are agitate. Let music reflect outwardly you inner state.

You can also inexpensively decorate or redecorate your environment. Make it bright, colorful and full of art that makes you smile. You may want to create a wall of 8X11 pieces of paper with one word on each piece of paper, such as hope, fight, care, do, and be. Use colors that make you smile. If something in your environment makes you growl or frown each time you see it, toss it immediately. Even if it is that ugly putrid green vase your mother gave you. Don’t keep stuff around you that you have to look at just because you feel like you should.

Other things that you can add to your environment to manage your PTSD symptoms are journaling your feelings, aromatherapy, funny movies, and good friends. Go to support groups, seek counsel from a professional who works with cancer patients and read to educate and inform your self. It is important that you come to this cancer well prepared and ready. Knowledge is power. Do not be afraid to learn about just exactly what is going on with you. Of course, it will be scary but the knowledge will help you make the best-informed decisions about your treatment and your life style.

Last, remember that you are priceless and valuable. Nothing you did caused this to happen to you. You are not bad. One day there will be a blog about shame and life threatening illness, but for today comfort and manage those PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Robin Dilley

Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

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