For When It All Gets To Be Too Much

On Black Friday, while others were out arm wrestling suburbanites for a great deal on Instant Pots, I was out for a hike. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear, the air crisp. I was excited to finally be able to explore trails I’d never hiked before. I was happy. I was content.

After a solid twenty minutes, my leg began to feel weak. I’d never hiked this far into the greenway before and was unsure of how far I had to go. From past experience, I knew I only had a certain amount of time before I would be experiencing pain and begin limping. I started to panic a little bit. What if I couldn’t make it out in time?

Newton’s First Law of Motion states in part, a body that stays in motion will remain in motion. That has alway been true of my leg since the surgery. Usually, if I just power through and keep going, I can make it, but if I stop at all it becomes that much more difficult to keep at it. So, I walked faster and faster. Head down, intent on getting out before my leg gave up, no longer concerned with being awed by the beauty around me.

In a split second, I went from carefree and happy, grateful for the ability to walk to tense and anxious, unsure of why I even decided to take this hike on at all. Thankfully, I made it out while still able to walk fairly well, but my mind had already shifted and was on its own path. Racing thoughts of the rest of my life having to be carried by a compromised leg, what life would be like if I had a recurrence and had to start chemo again. My head was spinning.

I’d like to tell you I haven’t been struggling since learning there was cell activity found in my latest MRI, but I have been and it has been more persistent than I was prepared for. I’m a big fan of falling apart now and again on the road of illness (I’ve written about it here and here). In fact, I think it’s an almost essential part of the process. But you can’t stay there. Falling apart is a pit stop. It can’t be the destination. Lately, I’ve been feeling myself teetering on the edge of parking my ass in the breakdown lane and I knew I had to snap out of it.

So, I went looking. I went in search of what typically breaks the cycle for me when it all gets to be too much. I found a few gems and I thought I’d share them with you, with the caveat that if you’re finding yourself unable to shake the cobwebs and the dark days and you need more that a little pep talk, do not hesitate to reach out for help. I have used both talk therapy and medication at different points in my life to help me out of dark places. There is no shame in that, my friends.

With that said, here they are, in no particular order, a few of my favorite happy things:

Kid President’s 20 Things We Should Say More Often: Kid President is a kid, but he’s not the President. I wish he was. He’d do a far better job than the orange toddler that currently holds the position. Kid President is Robby Novak and he has brittle bone disease. When I watch this video, a kid with magnetic charm so cheerfully spreading positivity, I’m reminded of the countless surgeries he’s endured and I’m forced out of my self imposed woe. Things are bad sometimes, for sure, but this kid will make it better for you. I promise.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: My brother turned me on to this show when I was a kid. It blew my mind that someone had found a way to make money doing exactly what we did at home, make fun of stupid television and movies. MST 3K is brilliant comedy. The basic premise of the show is a scientist is sent to space and forced to watch cheesy movies. He builds a few robot friends and together they rip B movies to shreds while we, the audience, laugh our asses off. And, really, any funny movie or show will work. If Monty Python and the Holy Grail is your thing (it certainly is mine), do that. Or watch Drunk History if that does it for you (it does it for me). Whatever works. Whatever show or movie makes your sides split, turn it on and tune everything else out.

This TED Talk (or any other TED Talk): Living in a body that is hellbent on destroying itself can be a little emotionally taxing. Physical problems can intertwine with our mental and emotional health. I find it difficult at times to separate them. One of the ways I’m able to cope is by marveling at the complexity of my disease. It’s not easy doing that when my disease causes my leg to go out from underneath me, but every now and again I can look at it from a fresh perspective and find the whole idea of my ‘scar tissue gone mad’ tumor pretty damn fascinating. Jill Bolte Taylor does that so beautifully in her TED Talk. She is a scientist who suffered a stroke while studying mental illness in the brain. She walks you through every step of her stroke in graphic and stunning detail and shares the superb lesson she learned from it all. It’s tremendously inspiring and heartwarming and well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Music: I have music, specific music, for every shade of all my moods. When I’m feeling pent up and need to get a few tears out I call on Jeff Buckley and Nina Simone. There’s Pink Floyd and Jack Johnson for relaxing. Amy Winehouse always helps me with my soul searching. Pissed off? Kendrick Lamar and Nine Inch Nails are only happy to assist with that. When I’m happy, Led Zeppelin or Tom Petty or Rush. But when I’ve got to dig deep, when I need a hand getting out of the darkness, there’s Sia. One day, during treatment, when I didn’t think I could carry on for one more second I did a google search for inspiring songs. Sia’s Alive was on the list and it became my anthem. So, whatever song or artist or album it is for you, listen to it and listen to it again and again and again and again until you don’t need to anymore.

Go outside: One of my biggest fears, should I ever have to go on chemo again, is that I won’t be able to hike. I found hiking after my surgery when it was clear I would never be able to run again. Running, before all this mess, had been my outlet. I felt strong and capable when I ran. It ate up my anxiety. Running set me free. When all that was taken from me, I mourned. Beyond that, though, was the gift of hiking. It taught me to slow down and savor the beauty around me. It made me grateful. One of the side effects of my oral chemo is a skin condition that makes walking sometimes very difficult. If my tumor recurs I won’t be able to hike as much as I like and that kills me, but I must remember there is beauty right outside my door. Open your door and sit in the sun, listen to the wind, hear the birds sing. Look for the sunrises and sunsets. Find it wherever you can.

Walked outside my door and found a gorgeous sky. The beauty is there. Look for it.

Now, you can add to the list. Tell me in the comments below what happy things you use to steer you out of the funk.

*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay