18 July 2007

Distraction and Solace

"Her mind lives tidily, apart From cold and noise and pain, And bolts the door against her heart, Out wailing in the rain." ~ Dorothy Parker

I just ate an apple without washing it. Do you suppose it will kill me? Big ironic smile here. My dark sense of humor has grown much darker the past couple of years.

I finally broke down and called the radiation oncology office yesterday. They were busy, of course, and the recording suggested I leave my name, number and what hell I was calling about. I did that. Have I heard anything? Hell no. With the help and encouragement of my online friends, I overcame my fear of seeming like a crazy hypochondriac and called. Thanks so much for getting right back with me about the pain and swelling, cancer guys. I guess they figure those two things don't necessarily mean anything that will result in imminent death, so no rush.

I can't recall whether the oncology office recording said they'd get back to me within 24 business hours. That's the usual standard these days. It's been 24 business hours now. Maybe I'll have to call back, just to check. I don't want to miss the opportunity to give people an enormous amount of trouble about breaking the 24 hour rule.I'm generally such an empathetic personality that I'm willing to cut people an enormous amount of slack. However, woe be to those who overestimate my level of good will. Ask the folks at Holiday Inn. They can attest to that fact.

As far as I can tell, I'm not overcome with anxiety anymore. God only knows what's going on beneath the level of ordinary consciousness, though. Nothing like having a brain that walls itself off automatically to protect against unwanted emotion. Generally speaking, though, it requires that I put some active effort into it.

There are all kinds of thoughts and fears that I examine, then put aside into little individual compartments in my head. "I'll just get back to this later," I think. It's highly conducive to the ability to function, no matter what. Thank you, crappy childhood. Of course, it's not the most mentally healthy way to deal with things, I've been told.

From time to time, when I talk about moving problems over to their own little room in my head, my therapist asks me how I do that. I have no idea. I do know that there have been times when keeping things in those compartments requires visualizing many locks and an occasional barricade. I've been able to count on the locks and barricades when it's absolutely necessary.

All of that is a clearly pragmatic decision to put things aside until later. As I mentioned before, sometimes my brain kindly moves fear and anxiety directly to secret places without any effort whatsoever on my part. Sooner or later, though, the gates somehow open and I'm flooded with the memories, thoughts or emotions that have been hidden from me. The surprise is invariably unpleasant.

I think everyone does that to some extent. There are all kinds of nasty things floating around in what Freud would have called the unconscious. I'm not a big fan of Freud's view of the world, but when he's right, he's right. Carl Jung (among others) agreed. He's much more palatable to me.

For instance, I suspect that each of us harbors ill-will towards others, even though we may never perceive it. We might vehemently deny it, as a matter of fact. When I clearly see into what Zen Buddhists call "Hatred Mind," I always find some previously buried hatred, resentment or anger. It requires "opening the hand of thought" to find Hatred Mind and what lies within it. I try to be benevolent towards everyone, but I'm not seduced by that desire.

Freud would say there are shameful desires, primeval fear, unassailable rage that we're incapable of confronting because they pose unspeakable danger to our psychic wholeness. It's sort of like the mind-splintering direct encounter with the divine, alluded to in every spiritual tradition of which I'm aware. The infinite, though blindingly loving, is too much for us to bear. Wholeness can lead to madness just as surely.

Notice how I veered off into theoretical exploration? That's my brain offering up distraction and solace. Every once in a while, I can see it as it happens. It no longer matters to me, at this moment, whether the sacred 24 hour rule has been violated. I'm still stuck on the idea of hatred mind and the mystical meeting of humanity with infinite love.

17 July 2007


"I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can," "Things Have Changed," Bob Dylan

I tried calling in sick to Life. "Hello, Life? I'm not myself today, so I won't be coming in. I'm sure I'll be back tomorrow." Life does not accept those kinds of calls. I'm reduced to living on the outskirts of consciousness, tamping everything down and floating around the edges where nothing serious lives.

I'd love to take a vacation from myself. I get that old claustrophobic feeling I had after my last surgery. If only I could rip some part of myself open and step out of this body for a while. Or if I could just scream long enough, maybe all of the anxiety would drain away.

I've written several posts and abandoned them or saved them for some day when I can concentrate. I haven't been visiting my friends online. It feels like half of my brain is dead. Maybe more than half. I spend my Crazy Land days trying to work on the database, but it all seems so complex and unfathomable. I haven't accomplished much.

I've been crying at the smallest of things. Even writing that sentence makes me teary. I become enraged at unpredictable moments. When I'm not enraged, everything irritates me. So, let's see...crying, then being enraged, then being irritated, then back to crying with a little irritation mixed in. I've got my own private Crazy Land going on in my head. No one pays me for showing up every day, though.

My mother seems to call me every 15 minutes. I love my mom, but get off the damn phone already. I had a psychobitch meltdown with Hubby yesterday. I'm sure he'd like to get away from me almost as much as I would. Crazy Land is easy. I'm in my office where I pose no danger to anyone else. If I don't see them, I don't yell at them. I don't crumple up into a little ball and cry at the copier. I don't expect them to understand where I'm living these days.

Most of the time, though, I'm able to keep it together. I chat with people, I read, I listen to music. I do not talk about fear. I try not to engage fear on any level. My inner debate continues: Am I being crazy about the mass under my arm (and the pain and swelling) or does it make complete sense that it terrifies me? The question arises regularly and just as regularly, I push it away.

It's one of those times, I suppose, when no one can help me out of this. Why don't I go to see my radiation oncologist, people ask me. I don't know. I don't want to. That would require that I allow fear a free hand in my consciousness. Maybe I just don't really want to know what's going on. Maybe it's stupid to even think I need to see him. If I see him, won't he just tell me he doesn't know what's causing the problems, that I should give my oncologist a call? Or maybe he'd tell me to get over it. Hell, I can tell myself to get over it without having to shell out the $15 copay. Maybe if I just wait a little while longer and keep the panic corralled, my logical brain can get control over things and I won't have to go at all.

Anguished. That's the word. If I had to sum up everything going on inside me, that would be it. Feeling it is almost more than I can bear. As I type these words, there's a voice inside reminding me that my problems are small compared to most people's. There's a whole lot of suffering going on in the world.

I either need to get some greater perspective on my problems or open my heart and mind to the anguish. I should observe the fear and rage and sadness. I should note how they feel to this physical body. Mindfulness meditation. Maybe I can get around to that later on. Not now, though. Right now, I'm going to summon the energy to push it all away again.