Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Mindful Shmindful

Frankly, this is not an area I ever thought was important or needed for me personally. I thought, bah! I am managing everything just fine and day to day stress is all normal and expected, right? I'm holding it down. I'm a good person. I'm being deliberate and graceful and kind and intentional and present and authentic and all the buzz words that surround positive mental energy.   

I posted a shorter version of my insights today on my IG and FB but it all really got me thinking and I needed to get some more meaty thoughts out about it for my sanity’s sake, so here we go. 

Let’s rewind to yesterday when I had my Integrative Oncology appointment at the Mayo Clinic. Integrative oncology, or integrative medicine, is the use of complementary, or integrative, therapies along with conventional medicine. These therapies work together with standard treatment methods (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) to treat the patient's body, mind, and spirit.  

To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about the idea when my oncologist referred me to have an integrative medicine consult, because really, another appointment, and it's all a little touchy-feely for my taste. But, I am committed to maintaining an open mind and continual learning, so I agreed. I am happy to report that I am very pleased with my experience and grateful for the nudge. 

The doctor made a few adjustments to my supplements but was overall very pleased with my nutrition and physical activity. I was told recently by my oncologist that three hours per week of physical activity is as effective at reducing recurrence as the year-long immunotherapy trial I just wrapped up so that was a big a-ha moment for me. I already get at least eight hours per week, but that news really settled in regardless. She said the only feedback she could really give me was that I needed to give up my foo-foo creamer (✔) and no more plastic water bottles (also ✔). It was good to hear that I’m doing everything I should be doing.

Most importantly, I wanted to share one of the tools that was given to me. I’ve been struggling with non-productive stress (stress about the things I can’t control). It's a lasting gift from cancer along with chemo brain and numb fingers and toes and all the other wonderful things. 

*going to be oversharing and vulnerable here so plug your ears if you don't want to hear it*

My two biggest non-productive stressors:

The vulnerability I feel (and the anger and negative self-talk that comes with it) regarding the changes to my body and how that relates to and  shapes my perception of self, whether that means my overall health, my longevity, my relationships, my reflection as I look in the mirror and see the side-effects of having zero energy for workouts the past two years while in treatment, having nothing left inside or out that medically defines me as a woman when I have always identified as very feminine. Or, my sexuality, desirability, and being emotionally prepared for a meaningful partnership.  I have had post-cancer relationships that have showed a glimmer of hope and for some reason or other have not blossomed into more.  Then sets into motion what I know to be the completely irrational but at the same time understandable, “was it the cancer”, “was it my scars”, “was I too needy/not needy enough”, “it’s because I’m not a ‘complete woman’”, “what is wrong with me”, “what did I do”, and/or the “I am not worthy or loveable” narratives and they can eat me alive.  I feel like pre-cancer relationships were so much clearer on why they were successful or not.  Maybe it is just me but I do know what I deserve. Anyway, I am happy and content for now.

Cancer blew up my connection to my previous self and redefining and reconnecting all the dots is frustrating, and sometimes very devastating, especially when it's shoved down your throat. As confident as I am in myself, I would never talk to anyone else how I talk to myself at times and although I am incredibly intentional about extending grace to myself, it can be an all-out battle. AKA non-productive stress.

Additionally, and most frequently, my fear of recurrence which can absolutely paralyze me. Am I doing enough to prevent it? How would I deal with that? Who would take care of the kids, the dog, who gets what, is my will up to date? A constant barrage of what-if's and rabbit holes. That, and I am terrified of dying and my odds of doing just that before what I feel is “my time” are spoon fed to me almost every day.  Exhausting. AKA non-productive stress.

In a nutshell, my mind is often out of alignment with what my heart and my body feels and ultimately, wants.  I know I am healthy.  I know I am happy.  I know I am beautiful.  I know I am kind.  I know I am thoughtful.  I know I create joy for myself and others.  I know I am funny.  I know I am honest.  I know I contribute value. I know I’m successful.  I know I work hard.  I know I make a difference.  I know and believe all of these things in my mind and yet that very same mind is yelling at me about all this other non-productive stuff.    

Introspectively, I know the things I choose to allow in and create stress for me are the things I cannot control. Because the timeline of my life, since my formative years up until recently, is comprised of more than its fair share of sadness and loss, all of which were things well out of my control, I crave control over all aspects of my life. Which, as you know is a lofty yet impossible goal. I pursue only happiness and joy for myself and the people I love. When shitty things happen that I can't control (like cancer), it's not because it just happened, it's because I failed. That is a heavy burden and letting it go is not as easy as one might think.

Hence, I’ve begun reading Dr. Amit Sood’s book and subscribed to his daily insights and practice (which are based in science and art, and less in the "kumbaya", which is a must for me) to help me develop muscle memory around intentional attention and a resilient mindset. This is a stretch for me as I’ve always been a little, well, skeptical, but I also recognize that this resistance is likely contributing to more stress. 

A few things that I found surprising (and quite relatable) about his research at Mayo Clinic found on his website:

1. The human brain spends >50% of its time with a wandering attention processing neutral or negative thoughts; this predisposition fatigues and stresses our brain.

2. To recharge, the brain needs rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation every 60 to 90 minutes.

I found today’s practice particularly insightful due to what’s going on in my life and the state of current events: “validate and love, particularly to children and the vulnerable”. Like I said, a truncated version of this hit my social media today and I really believe it's worth a share here too. I had someone I had worked with years ago call me out of the blue today and I believe I have this concept, in practice, to thank. 

Moral of the story: this kind of stuff really wasn’t ever “my thing” and it may not be yours, but I am prepared to acknowledge and embrace that I will be better with it.

I hope you enjoy and find something to take with you!  I feel much better unpacking all that and getting it out into the universe. 

Thanks for listening.


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