Coming up later this week I have a minor medical procedure…something that I knew I needed to think about carefully and clearly this week. As it so happens, said careful and clear thinking didn’t happen until today, when I realized I’d been sitting around all day worrying and not acknowledging the worry. Emergency clarity needed! Ack! So I sat down to have a conversation with myself.
Thursday! Doom! Needles! Ahhhhhhh!
Me: Self, how are you feeling about Thursday?
Self: Scared, scared, scared!
Me: interesting. Why isn’t the familiarity of this procedure a comfort?
Self: Because now I know exactly how much it will hurt! Anticipation is awful!
Me: I see. That doesn’t sound fun. However, if we’re familiar with the pain, what else are we familiar with?
Self: There’s a trade-off, I guess…because the office and the procedure room will be more familiar, which is a good thing. So just being there won’t cause as much nervousness.
Me: Wonderful. That is a good thing.
Self: Yeah, but I’m so used to familiar things being good and safe – and this time that’s not true. The whole idea of familiar things being scary is REALLY hard.
The phantom in the room
Me: I’m sorry it’s hard. It sounds like this is pretty big…I wonder, does this particular procedure remind you of something else?
Self: YES! It makes me think about what will happen if I’m in labor again! So scary. Going through that pain? Again? So intense. Such a complicated thing, labor. So many what-ifs…
Me: Let’s remember that we don’t have to think about that right now. Our task is to think about Thursday. And to remember that the injection is an infinitely less complicated procedure.
Self: Okay. You’re right. And I can let go of the connection to the labor thing.
Me: Great! Goodbye to that!
Self: Goodbye! Come back later when it’s time to think about that!
More, more, more!
Self: I’m not done, though…I want more reassurance!
Me: Okay! One reassuring thing is that we can leave work early on Thursday if we need to. In fact I think we should plan on it.
Self: Yes! That would be helpful. I’m going to write that email right now to let people at work know…okay, sent!
Me: Good for you! Another reassuring thing: we will be able to pick up the anti-nervousness medication on Wednesday night after class, since we’ll be near the pharmacy already.
Self: But…well, that timing makes me nervous…what if the pharmacy can’t fulfill my prescription for some reason? Or…
Me: Hang on, we don’t even need to worry about that. You know why? Because it’s not our job to get the injection; it’s our job to be safe. So if we can’t get the medicine to feel safe, and we can’t find any at home, all we can do is reschedule the appointment.
Self: (Incredulous) Even if it means waiting another month before we can get back on the schedule?
Me: Even if. Safety is your first priority. And you know what — if you’re feeling extra nervous on this, we could call the pharmacy tomorrow during the day, just to check.
Self: Safety is my first priority. Okay! But what else? I need more reassurances!
Me: How about this: you know that counting worked for you last time, so you can try that again, breathing and counting up and down from ten.
Self: Counting is easy. I feel relieved just thinking about it. You know, I’m feeling considerably less stressed about all this than I was before.
Me: I’m so glad to hear that. Can you tell me three things you will do to feel safe?
Self: Wear my pajamas again. Hold K’s hand again, and ask him to be in charge of the paperwork. And bring an emergency painkiller with me to take if the anticipation of pain is crowding my thoughts before I go in.
Me: Excellent. I know you can do this!
Warning: floating head syndrome
Self: Wait, wait, wait…knowing all this isn’t helping because I’m still feeling really nervous! It’s like a scratchy swollen hot feeling around my throat. And a buzzing in my stomach. And it feels like…my ears are dizzy. That doesn’t even make sense! Ugh.
Me: I think this is your body asking for more attention. How long has the anxiousness and the reluctance to think about this been sitting with you?
Self: ALL DAMN DAY! Maybe even all week!!
Me: Aha…maybe that’s the reason for the scratchiness and the buzzing and the dizziness. But listen, for starters let’s go ahead and acknowledge that the anxiousness is not going to go away completely until after the procedure is done.
Self: (Wailing) I don’t want that to be true!
Me: I know it sucks, sweetie, but it’s going to suck a lot less if you accept that this is how you’re feeling right now.
Self: (Very grumpy) Alright, but I get to stomp in my very stompy boots about this! As much as I want!
Me: Permission granted! As long as you’re stomping, I recommend you do lots of good grounding things with your body tonight, to get connected after this day of floaty weird anxiety.
Self: (Rolls eyes) Whatever, hippie. I’ll do some grounding…stuff. Later.
Me: (Gently) It’ll work even better if you really commit to it. Name three things.
Self: Okay, OKAY. After I finish stomping my boots, I will make myself a force field before I go home today, maybe some quick Shiva Nata. Then I will take a walk with the baby tonight and maybe go swing in the swings at the park. And I will roll around on the floor and stretch and do hip openers.
Me: How do you feel now?
Self: Less buzzy and dizzy, for sure. I think I need to go make my force field and go home for the day.
Me: Excellent idea! Remember, be safe, no matter what!
Self: Gotcha. (Disappears)
So there you have it. Some scary things are not really fixable through good, conscious self-talk and gentleness. And I’m learning to be okay with that. But the most important lesson, I think, is to be wary of how the deferred figuring-out has such power to send me intense signals. As I wrote this, the buzzy and hot feelings kept interfering every time I tried to complete the dialogue, like my body wouldn’t rest until it made sure I really got the message! Interesting and cool. And thanks so much to the lovely Larisa whose amazing Story of the Floating Head made me think of this particular metaphor today to describe how it felt to be in that place of anxiety, disconnected from my self.