I’m not really sure yet just what being mindful means but I caught a glimpse of something tonight that I though was worth writing about. Two weeks tomorrow I go to have a basal-cell carcinoma removed from my forehead. I’m a bit worried about it – a little about how bad it might be, a little about how bad the scaring will be, a little about the days immediately following. It is a busy time. Four days after the surgery, I have a gig with my band and another three days later. A couple weeks after that I’m going on a week-long trip to visit family, then come back to four “pit band” performances for a local high school musical, and then a week later another performance with a local choir. And work, and practices for all those things in between. That’s feeling like a lot. It occurred to me in an unfocused moment during band practice tonight just how much I love singing and playing with my friends and just how good it feels. And I realized that if the hole is bigger or deeper than I hoped, if the stitching or prognosis is worse, if there’s bruising and I’m covered in bandages on stage, being mindful of the goodness of this gift I’ve been given is what will sustain me and give me the energy to do my best. Maybe I should incorporate some mindfulness practice into my music practice.
I don’t know what it is about my physiology but under certain conditions of stress I ache all over. Like dozens of hot little needles deep in my muscles. I’m actually kind of fascinated by how quickly it comes on. Within a minute or so of a trigger, I can feel it run through me. I’ve been pushing through, figuring if I got the job done or dealt with the issue, it would go away. I doubt I’m very effective or efficient when it is at its worst so I’m feeling the need to reinterpret my response. To step away, but not run away, from the problem at hand, and take a bit of time to calm down and find some peace. Interestingly enough, I’m feeling a little bit of gratitude for the fact that I have my very own built in alarm system. Now I just need to pay attention to it.
Finding the time to unwind is a puzzle, between demanding work hours and a long list of interests. One of my things-to-do today was to get a picture describing “warmth” for the Dogwood Photo Challenge. The result is on this post. The enticing hot bath never got used; I went on to do other things that were on my list. I got in a workout and practiced some music and watched a bit of television. The music is part of a busy spring of music. In fact, only four days after I am scheduled for a carcinoma removal, my band is playing two gigs in three days. I’ll need some energy to heal and do well at those gigs. And here’s my first opportunity for learning in that adventure; I need to be more aware of my ability to step back from all the busy-ness, to put my work down from time-to-time, get good sleep, unwind, and be mindful.
I turned 56 last spring. Shortly afterwards I received a diagnosis of arthritis in my toes – no wonder I sometimes have trouble walking. So I’ve learned to be more careful with footwear and paying attention to the warning signs. But I kept hiking and walking and moving. In late November I found out I was pre-diabetic (if that is a thing). I immediately made drastic reduction in sugar and a less drastic one in starch and started getting more exercise. I ate almost no Christmas treats except the Christmas pudding with hard sauce. I haven’t had a cookie or piece of cake or brownie since then. I had another test later in December and the sugar was totally normal and, interestingly enough, the arthritis has not once flared up. Today I had it confirmed that I have a basal-cell carcinoma. A somewhat rarer infiltrative kind which carries more risk. While I was tempted to title this post “F*** Off, 56”, I decided to approach this with curiosity and wonder what new lessons I’ll learn this year.
I’m not entirely sure what to feel right now. I received an appointment letter in the mail today for surgery, but never received the actual diagnoses from the biopsy I had in the fall. I’m hoping that means basal-cell carcinoma. Being totally honest, I’d hope for something non-cancerish but that’s not likely. But I hope it isn’t something worse! I’m a little afraid of the scaring – which is mostly vanity because I have a couple of gigs around the time of the surgery. I’m a little embarrassed that, apparently, I haven’t been wearing enough sunscreen. I’m a little scared now because, what if I’ve left it too long or what if it is something worse? And I know that if I wasn’t so darn tired from working too hard an not getting enough sleep my emotional space would be better. But I’m feeling gratitude for a socialized medical system. Tomorrow I’ll phone the surgeon for some clarity, see if I can work around the gigs okay, and start finding some positive vibes.
A friend of mine, who often suffers from depression, today posted a plea on social media for people to tell him why they cared about him. It offered an interesting moment of introspection because I’m pretty sure the words he uses to talk to himself in those times are very similar to the words I’ve been using in my own head. I said a few kind words but pointed out that my words to him are mostly meaningless. And so are the words in his head. They’re just stories from a primitive spot in our brain that’s trying to save us from potentially life-threatening mistakes. He, and I, can change those stories when we are mindful of the fact that very little of what our brain tells us in those times is true.
Now I’ve identified this problem of failure (which is totally normal and can be handled quite well in small doses) and its cumulative affect I’m noticing it everywhere. I went to a small concert tonight, saw a great act. These things usually inspire me and I typically resist that “I can never be good enough” feeling; I can be inspired to improve to what I can be even if I never get to the level of a gifted performer. And yet, tonight, I’m feeling utterly flat. I recognize, intellectually, what is going on (at least, I think I do) but my emotional train has left the station leaving the logical part standing forlorn at the platform. I’m thinking, despite myself, that there is a way through. With a little care and good emotional hygiene I’ll find it.
While exploring this whole idea of failure as akin to pneumonia I also came to a self-realization that I was, well contagious. I was forwarding it on to other things and people. The job, my partner, my colleagues. I’d have a vague inkling that it wasn’t their fault and I’d feel bad, guilty, ashamed, and then take it all back on as another failure. Which turned the failure pneumonia into double pneumonia with a helping of scarlet fever on top. None of that is helpful. The only way to deal with this is personally and constructively. Yes, the job has some demands that make failures inevitable. My partner and I disagree, and sometimes that may seem like a failure. But preventing those day-to-day “failures” from becoming full blown psychological damage is entirely on me. That realization is pretty exciting because it means I have some hope of controlling the degree of the infection.
I realized, over the last few mornings, that I often wake up thinking about what a failure I am, or how stupid I am. Nothing even has to have happened yet. I may have gone to bed feeling great. And yet, there it is, unbidden. Emotional First Aid likens failure to a cold, something we get all the time and throw off with a bit of rest. If we don’t take care of ourselves we can end up with emotional pneumonia. It is an apt analogy. To wake up every morning afraid of one’s upcoming failures is pretty depressing. The good news is that I’m now aware of it. Ironically, perhaps, that’s a success!
Today I registered for a membership at a local trails organization and while browsing the list of volunteer needs ran across “Trail Steward”. I love hiking and I love the local trails but in the moment I was struggling to see how I could possibly fulfill such a role. I realized that most of the struggle was because, today, the arthritis in my foot is hurting. So how could I possibly be a trail steward if I can’t walk? The reason, however, that the arthritis is acting up is because I did a pretty challenging 11km hike yesterday. I also did two 7km hikes during the week. I’ve been here before; sometimes the pain is absolutely debilitating but, with time and care, I recover. It highlights just how important it is to remember that though there is pain, and no matter what the source; physical or emotional, it will eventually go away.
Note; the accompanying photo is of a year old forest fire burn area. It, too, is recovering.