One of the big challenges in facing my health through these years has been managing the relationship with my body, my mind, and my self-awareness. I have had times where I’ve broken those connections and taken myself to harm’s way without conscious intent. Whether that was living and eating unhealthily, or living in denial of progress towards mental illness. One of my biggest focuses in the time since I’ve finished treatment has been reconnecting with myself and forming a new understanding of how I work, and who I am.
The dark fear of living with cancer is like living with death on your horizon. For a long time, I let myself feel like that was a certainty. First, before chemotherapy, I took a stance of come what may. I did not try to avoid walking to that horizon, I took the path I felt best suited to me. Since then, I’ve taken a more active line in trying to move away and pursue a better, longer life. The truth was that until the appointments of this month I still had no long term vision. I was constantly repeating in my subconscious that radiation therapy was coming, to not be irrational and look into the future, but to stick in this moment and deal with it.
Just this morning when I was sitting alone, and suddenly felt my emotions run back into me and like I was going to cry, just shaking… It wasn’t sadness, or real happiness, just kind of relief. Things I felt and experienced in this time where I wasn’t letting myself feel them came shooting back through me.
A real battle in that has been understanding this phenomenon that has been called PTSD/Anxiety. The attacks, the dark mornings where I wake up and fight to pull myself together, or am suddenly hit by that feeling… They matched in symptoms, and in a lot of ways causes, PTSD or anxiety attacks. I always felt a bit strange about those names. It didn’t seem to fit my situation…
It’s not often I get into a clear enough place I can step outside of myself to recognize things like that. It’s been a question in the back of my mind for a long time, what is this experience? Where do these echoes so harsh they tear into my body come from? I did at first associate them with bad memories.
With a clearer view as I grow older, and learn more about myself, while some of those fears come shooting back out of my past the biggest cause of this stress is looking into my future. Anxiety, to me, carries a tone of it being an overreaction. This feeling wasn’t irrational, or about things, I could move past. Looking into the seemingly inevitable future of losing strength, ability, and eventually, my life was based on the scientific journals and their understanding of brain cancer.
The feeling of obsessively needing to live in the moment was a method of hiding my emotions from myself. Escaping through action and outward expression was what I use for managing my relationship with them.
When I have described my symptoms to psychologists they have diagnosed PTSD. At times, that has definitely been true, and really the worst of those mornings were in those times. These experiences I feel now when the stress is leaving me… they seem to fit that label. Those times where I’m blocking them off completely and fighting to keep them away… Is it PTSD, or just living in shock?
The state of mind I maintain around high-stress times and have been for a lot of the last couple years, is only so different from being in shock. I step out of myself, block my emotions off, and carry through semi-present in my day to day life. I occupy myself mentally at all times to keep my focus away from the stress and fear in the darkness. Hiding from the future is different than hiding from the past. I find the past hits me at night and the future I face during the day.
Living with cancer is only so different from living at war, where these disorders came from. It IS different. but both live with death on the horizon, never far from their minds. The state of mind that brings about is harrowing, and hard to explain or share with those around you. Sometimes even yourself.
I feel I need to acknowledge the biggest differences I see. That a soldier is responsible for not just their lives but those around them, and the challenges to ethics and morals of potentially taking another man’s life. I don’t know those, and when I speak about these feelings under names which have for so long applied to the military, I don’t want to present myself as understanding.
But for both, living with death in the front of their mind, there is perhaps no Post in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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