I’m at the skin cancer clinic having my moles checked.
No big deal, you might say, but I’ve been here before and the Pavlov’s Dog syndrome has struck, and memories from last year are flooding back.
In fact the memory of a cancerous melanoma (“Help It’s a Melanoma”) that was spotted and removed last year under local anesthetic has left me with a deep dread of this bright light surgery with it’s bamboo floors and shiny vinyl, black furniture in neat soldier rows. I reach around to touch the top of a reasonably long, white scar on my back, and shudder.
At the surgery
My doctor is lovely, we have countries in common, we chat. He can put you supremely at ease if you let him. It’s not him that makes me anxious.
But right now I’m in the waiting room looking through the open archway to the other section where I know there are cubicles, and raised beds and people right now having skin cancers cut away. I know. I’ve been there. My heart is thumping and my tummy is doing back flips, oh crap I feel queasy. What if he finds another melanoma today?
I can’t tell Dave, who’s sitting beside me, about my anxiousness because he’ll think I’m a wimp. Of course I am. I know a very brave young man who’s had over 30 metastatic melanomas removed, many of them at advanced stages. He’s a hero, you can read about him here: Clinton Heal, Melanoma WA.
I wipe my clammy palms on my neatly pressed dress and pick up a magazine. The first thing I turn to is an article about looking after your skin in the sun. Have I been doing enough of that this summer I ask myself?
Have You? Do you slip on protective clothing, slap on the sunscreen and slop on some sunglasses? I’d like to add a fourth suggestion – slurp. I certainly don’t drink enough water in the heat, and definitely should drink more. Err, water, that is, not wine 😉
But if I’ve been protecting my skin as I should, then why am I so anxious?
It’s because of what might be.
If I think about what might happen I can feel my blood pressure dropping and my face draining of colour. If my Doctor finds another melanoma it will be excised – what if it’s not in the early stages – what then?
The anxiousness bubbles like a witch’s cauldron threatening to spill over. There’s no return once the wicked spiral kicks in.
How to stop feeling anxious
So I’m practicing ways to handle these moments of stress and anxiety which appear to occur far more often now that I’m over fifty. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky to have lived a great many years, and statistically have more experiences to draw upon.
Anyway. A fab fifty friend of mine said that she often feels anxious about things too, so maybe it’s more universal than I thought.
For my friend, and for me, and for you too if you ever feel anxiety strike, here are a few tips I’ve learnt to help quell the cold sweating monster.
Own that feeling
Don’t try to ignore the feeling because once your mind is set in action it’s not going to let go of the thoughts that are making you feel anxious. In fact the drunk monkey in your mind will have a whale of a time if you’ll let him. Mine does. He can set me into plummet mode.
Realise that worry isn’t fact
Worrying doesn’t mean that you know something. Or that something will happen. And it’s not going to prevent something from happening either. So somehow you need to get rid of that worrisome feeling and put it to one side.
Give the fear a face and voice
Grab that feeling or that fear and turn it into something tenable. Perhaps give it a face and a voice. A horrible face if you like. An alien monster – or a grizzly cartoon character with a stupid way of speaking.
Externalise the fear
Imagine standing up to that grizzly monster and shooing it away. Yell at it (though keep your voice down in public!) Remove the monster, or lock it up. I picture myself chasing it away with a pitchfork! (Must be my country upbringing!) Try it yourself, and see if it helps take away the impulse to worry or faint or feel anxious.
Take yourself to a happy place
With the monster out of the way, vamooshed, imagine yourself lying, or walking, or just being in a happy place. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and out ever so slowly through your mouth. Picture that place, and keep it on file in your mind for when you need to conjure it up quickly in times of stress or anxiousness.
Peace. You are where you’d most like to be. No worries. And no ugly green monster watching over you either!
Well, dear Lifestylers, I hope this helps you if you’re ever in a tight spot and being pursued by the ugly cold sweating monster. If you have any other strategies, I’d love to hear them. Please do share in the comments.
Alternatively, I’ll catch you out cold … on the vinyl.
(Oh, and I’m happy to report that I was given the all clear for another six months. So why the heck did I expend all that energy worrying anyway?)
Until next time,