Last night around 2am I woke up with the panicked feeling—kind of like choking, except nothing in my throat.
I’d fallen asleep hard—my head on John’s shoulder—without brushing my teeth or washing my face or taking my socks off.
But then suddenly: All the Things.
The school voicemails I haven’t listened to. The overdue library book on the table by the front door. An unmade kennel reservation for the dogs. The recycling that won’t fit in the container. Incomplete work. Unreturned emails. Unwritten thank yous. Unfinished parenting. The universe coming apart at the seams.
Yesterday was my last day of spine radiation. This round—although thankfully short—has been harder than the last. Exhaustion on a level I’ve never felt before, and then just a general ill feeling. I’m glad to have it behind me, as much as I’m afraid of what comes next.
I feel like I have cancer, I heard myself saying to John the other day.
There still is no concrete plan. I didn’t end up getting to see Dr. Cavanaugh when I was scheduled to—she wasn’t ready for me yet. Which is fine. I want her to have time to figure out the options. But I also wish I had some sense of what to expect of the coming months. I feel this churning uncertainty at the core of everything that makes it hard to find peace.
When I was in the hospital, I was paid a visit by a nurse who moonlights as a stress management guru. Nurse Jon—or Relaxation Jon, as my friend Tita who was visiting me when he came in quickly dubbed him—had a hypnotic voice and an almost unsettling command of the vibe of the room. He talked (or purred) to me and Tita and my dad about breathing techniques and mantras and allowing ourselves to be held by the bed or the chair or the world. I think he put us under some kind of spell. Time stretched and bent. Nurses and techs seemed to hover at the door, but were uncompelled to disturb us.
It happened that the Queen herself stopped in to see me when he was doing his thing, and even she immediately deferred to him, saying Oh, it’s you! I’ll come back! Your work is far more important than mine!
I cannot stress how unusual a stance this is for Dr. C.
No, no—please come in we all insisted. So she joined the four of us in my closet of a hospital room. She was noticeably different in his presence—a little fan-girlish—even as she did her normal shtick and he waited on a chair in the corner.
Listen to what he has to say she said as she left. And when she was gone, the spell resumed.
Since the hospital, I’ve been following his techniques as often as I can: calm, soft belly breathing, accepting the support of the chair/world, a positive mantra embedded in the inhale and exhale (Right now / I am ok) of each breath.
So, forty minutes into last night’s freak-out, I summoned some Relaxation Jon. Instead of the jumble of “undone”s, I began to visualize this swirling current of gratitude that flows from me to so many people in my life. For the love, the caring, the support, the emails and cards and letters, the donations, the meals, the amazing array of gifts and gestures.
Just yesterday I opened a package from my cousin Elise with a remarkable container of sand and shells collected from my favorite beach in the world.
I have received books and scarves and charms and the world’s cuddliest blanket and a bracelet of jade prayer beads that I now wear every day and a hand-painted potholder and a copy of a letter of recommendation once written for me by a most beloved professor and a perfect handknit pink cozy to house a hot water bottle for my back on the flight to Paris.
If I owe you a thank you, please forgive me. I promise it is not a lack of gratitude or appreciation. It is deep fatigue and a lack of focus.
But last night, I allowed every one of those things to flow through me, and it felt amazing. My mantra shifted to a simple Thank (inhale) / You (exhale), and with that came peace–and finally sleep.