What do you do, when your favourite place is also your absolute worst? When I remember having cancer I am always in one of two places. One (as you would expect) is the hospital, the other is in bed at home. Both were accompanied by dark emotions of fear, anxiety and discomfort — physical and mental.
Although it was more comfortable being in bed at home, it was also scarier. The security of having medical staff, diagnostic tools and the (seriously good) painkillers nearby would be stripped away and I would feel so much more vulnerable. I couldn’t press a little buzzer and say to someone within a matter of moments; Is this normal? Should I be concerned? I think something is wrong. I had to determine those things on my own and would be constantly double guessing my own judgement.
If you follow me on social media, you will probably know that over the last few months I have had a number of bladder infections, kidney infections and Sepsis. The most recent being last week when I ended up in A&E — again! Each time these illness’ have seriously knocked me for six and I have ended up back in bed for days whilst the medication does its thing. Immediately I am thrown back into a very strange headspace.
I don’t worry about it being cancer or anything like that, but being back in bed is still very triggering for me. Those feelings of fear, anxiety and discomfort come back. The vulnerability of taking responsibility for whether I am OK or not and the constant double guessing of myself, overwhelms me. The ability to see an infection as just an illness being easily treated is lost as I fall headfirst down the emotional rabbit hole.
Being in bed whilst sick gets me so upset and tearful, even though logically I know I am being ridiculous. I know I haven’t got cancer. I know once the antibiotics kick-in I’ll be fine. I know that unlike before, I’m not going to be stuck in bed for months on end with a complete lack of control over myself and my health. Even so, it still triggers all of these negative emotions and connotations.
There is a reason for this. It is caused by the way our brains hold onto emotional memories and create shortcuts. Once the brain associates a ‘thing’ with an ’emotion’ — in my case, being in bed sick = fear, vulnerability and very long-term, severe illness — the brain will quickly recall that emotional memory when in a similar situation.*
As horrible as my sickness recalls are, they are nowhere near as bad as they used to be. I’m getting better at saying to myself – this is just an emotional memory, it’s not what’s happening now, but it’s not a flawless system. Sometimes I’m so in the depth of despair, I’m not able to remind myself, but I do try and I am getting better. Plus, as I continue to get ill and recover, my brain will start to create new shortcuts and I will have a different set of memory recalls. It will just take time.
I think this story serves as a reminder that cancer isn’t over and done with as soon as the doctor says, you’re all clear. As with anything, it takes time for the emotional fall-out to settle, for your emotional resilience to build back up and for your brain to create new shortcuts. It is also a great reminder that it is not a straight upward line from feeling shite to feeling fine all the time. Like life, there are up’s and down’s, followed by one step forward then ten steps back, followed by a few stumbles along the way.
So if, like me, you are feeling all the things right now, logical and completely illogical, just know that you’re not alone – I’m right there with you!
Nicola is the author of ‘The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer’ part memoir, part guide for people going through, or supporting someone going through cancer. Nicola has also published creative fiction and non-fiction, and copyedits and writes for others. Nicola also runs online Writing Workshops throughout the year, sharing her love of reading and writing with everyone!
*You can read more about emotional memory here…