Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just When You Start Feeling Like You're Finding Normalcy

It happened again. Another horrible cancer related nightmare.

They wake me up at 4am and I lie petrified and unable to fall back asleep for fear of the dream continuing. They put the most horrifying pictures in my mind and the possibility of it coming true is a thought that lingers for days after. They haunt me and threaten to ruin my entire day with a consuming fear that causes anxiety, nausea and the most terrifying thoughts. I loath them. They make me afraid to fall asleep. And the realness of them is something I just can't seem to shake off.

Unfortunately my anxiety has been through the roof even before last night's cancer dream. Probably why I am having these nightmares in the first place.

I recently flew across the country for my older brother's wedding in New Brunswick. It was a very special time with family and I was happy to finally meet my two nephews and my brother's lovely wife. But the flights getting there were a bit of a struggle for me. I required a compression sleeve on my arm to prevent lymphedema from occurring (due to my 12 node axillary removal) and something about having that tight material on my arm caused an unexpected claustrophobic episode.

Queue panic attack. Bring in the Ativan.

I sleep off the anxiety for the majority of the first flight. I then feel the Ativan induced haze for the rest of the evening, into the night and even the next day.

I am not myself. I am out of it. I feel jet lagged and Ativan-hungover. I feel tired and foggy. I feel silly that I needed to take that pill. That I gave in and relied on it. That I wasn't strong enough to work through the panic and calm myself down on my own. I needed a drug.

And then I needed it again.

Randomly without warning I had yet another panic attack the morning of my brother's wedding. I wasn't feeling well when I first woke up and felt similar to how I feel after surgery. The hot sweats, the ringing ears, the shaking, the nausea, all that shitty stuff that I dread and fear. I fear it because I end up losing complete control of what my body is doing. And there is no turning back or convincing me that I am OK. And I don't know how long it will last and that thought scares me. A series of crazy out of left field thoughts then take over causing a hated anxious cycle. I require, once again, another Ativan to chill me out. And I sleep it off and thankfully made it to the wedding celebrations.

I thought I was passed this. I thought I was doing pretty good and learning to move through this life after cancer better than this. And here I was needing to take anti-anxiety meds twice in three days. This level of panic hasn't happened since surgery in April. I don't usually get that freaky before-fainting feeling unless I have just had an operation. Why suddenly was it happening now?

The unpredictability of these moments have me really nervous. Will this happen at my next mammogram in September? Will this happen when I am alone? When Mike isn't around? On the ferry? On a bus? At my desk at work when I return? When there isn't a cold cloth to throw on my neck for a bit of relief? When no one else is around to help me feel even the slightest bit soothed?

And then the nightmares. They add to my worries. They remind me that cancer is very much still a part of my life. As do these anxiety attacks. Because they never happened before. I never lost it like this before cancer. I didn't have to worry about panic attacks before. I didn't have to worry about recurrences. Or what it would be like to die from this disease. What it would feel like to know that there might not be another OK moment. No reprieve. No back to normal.

Not that I think about these ideas on a daily basis. Don't get me wrong... I was actually doing fairly well before all this anxiety stuff kicked up again last week. But it is this serious heavy shit that definitely rears its ugly head here and there that seems to put a bit of a dark cloud over me for a few days.

And that is what is so frustrating about this whole thing. Just when I thought I was doing better and moving forward through this cancer bull... I get slapped down again. It feels like a set back to me. A disappointment. A defeat. Like I am allowing the entire traumatic experience to rule over me.

It also doesn't help that the vertigo I had in the Spring is now back again. Not sure why that is happening but it keeps me from doing things that I love... like yoga and laying in the hammock. Another frustration to add to my pile of post-cancer 'gifts'.

Maybe this is just part of the process of healing though. Maybe this is all cancer-normal. Perhaps these are just residual effects from having to go through such an experience.

I know I am not entirely alone in this. And that at least makes me feel somewhat comforted.


  1. You my friend are definitely not all alone in this! I totally understand! The anxiety is just so hard! It takes up so much of our energy.. and please... you are brave! You are strong. No normal person can deal with all this shit we get thrown at us. It is normal to break down, even after months (or years I suppose). I'm glad we're both reaching out for help. That's a step into the right direction. Even if it is with medication. I wouldn't worry too much about that. If this is what gets you your life back.. then so be it! Love ya! XX Talk to you soon sweetie!

  2. Oh the feelings of defeat, disappointment and shame. I feel you Ashley. And it's so easy to say to you (and I really mean it), "You've been through so much, be gentle with yourself, don't beat yourself up" but it's a totally different animal to be able to say it to yourself right? Ciel's right, you are strong and brave. And you're not alone. Xoxo

  3. I reckon you are doing your darn best, and therefore you are doing well. But if you ever need help, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for it - maybe talk to a counsellor or someone along those lines who you can trust? Weddings have so much emotion tied to them, and you had to fly as well - chances are there were many things going on, particularly since your own wedding was planned during these hard emotional times. You're doing great Ashley, even if the panic. One day at a time - and remember, help is available when you need or want it. ~Catherine

  4. Talk to your doctor...I was worried that I hadn't found my "new normal" and still felt lousy, physically and emotionally, after chemo. It turned out that I was hypothyroid, which is common after breast cancer.