Psychologist, heal thyself

Sorry for the short absence there, folks. J. and I were lucky enough to be granted our first glamping experience. Generous friends, good food, beautiful surroundings, no internet access, and an RV roof over our heads. Who could pass that up?

But I’m back now, and ready to share more failures and inadequacies with all of you. How else can I keep this blog engaging?

People often use imagery to help them through cancer treatment and recovery, envisioning the radiation blasting the bad cells into oblivion, never to return. Me? Not so much. I am an abject failure at using visual imagery to manage my stress. I guess that’s not really true: I can visualize, but not in a way that helps me to cope. Some psychologist, huh?

I had a perfect opportunity to use imagery during that little health hiccup a few months back. During this episode, I experienced bone pain for the first time. Of course I did not look up possible sources of bone pain on the internet; I made J. do it. And she found that there are many possible explanations, including infection (the most likely cause in my case) and, of course, cancer. According to the internet, every symptom under the sun can be a sign of cancer, remember?

Around this time, Dr. Blood had been talking to me about my no-longer-dormant polycythemia, and the possibility that, if the disease progressed, I might develop fibrosis, or scar tissue, in my bone marrow. The tissue would take up the space where new blood cells are produced. Ultimately, my marrow would have a heck of a time keeping up with my blood cell production because there just wouldn’t be enough room in there to do the job. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how this story ends, but let’s say that it’s not happily ever after.

Imagine my hearing this news while I was dealing with this unfamiliar symptom. What kind of visual imagery do you think I came up with? Of course, I envisioned an army of minions building permanent residences in my marrow. Were I an effective visualizer, I’d see minions obliterating any structures that the bad pac men were trying to erect.

Men putting up complex scaffolding

Fibrosis in the anxious mind’s eye.

When Dr. Blood reviewed my recently discovered genetic anomalies with me last week, she dug the knife a little deeper: she noted that my constellation of mutations is associated with fibrosis. So of course I had to share with her my laughably ineffective visualization. Without skipping a beat, she responded: “You probably had them putting up scaffolding, didn’t you?” Wow, that’s a great image!

Now, some may consider Dr. Blood’s statement unempathic, but not me. I was thrilled. She wasn’t trying to make me more anxious; she was acknowledging my anxiety in her own empathic way. And in her way, she was giving me permission to be anxious about this potential progression. Or at least that’s how I chose to interpret what she was doing.

Funny enough, I’ve been feeling less anxious about the fibrosis since we talked, partly because the bone pain has subsided. Maybe it also helped to laugh with Dr. Blood at the craziness of my imagery. But even before our exchange, I knew, deep down, that those adorable minions would never want to hurt me.

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