How Do I Deal With Fear?
Feeling scared about your cancer is entirely natural, but how do you deal with it, and live your life with it?
Wow!! There it is. The question of questions. Second in line to asking about your survival and how this whole situation will pan out for you.
The question is brilliant in so many ways.
Firstly, because it is something we ALL deal with at every angle of this road trip we are on.
Secondly, because asking how to deal with it will elicit a response from you and – if you can’t find one – hopefully, it will send you in search of one.
That response is very different to just accepting that you feel scared or fearful and letting that fear numb or paralyse you.
When fear overcomes you, a few things can happen:
- It can stop you sleeping (which is something you very much need at this point especially)
- It can mess with your appetite by either putting you off food or removing the notion of eating something more nutritious than sugar to get you through.
- It can play havoc with your relationships – your fear, seeping onto everyone else’s laps.
Can you prevent fear completely?
At a time like this, it’s important to recognise that fear is an entirely natural and normal response to what is happening to you. It’s a huge point in your life.
Every question around cancer you’ve ever had will spring forth sprinting heavily behind the fear you feel around your soul.
Fear can rear its head at any point, from your initial tests, to your diagnosis, through to your treatment.
Even when you’ve finished treatment and you are no longer under the care of your Oncology team, it can just pop up straight in front of you like full-beam headlights out of the darkness asking you:
‘Shouldn’t you be scared?’
Having that churning feeling in your stomach and the adrenalin rush it shocks through your body is not the best thing for you. Not just when it happens but on an ongoing basis; your body doesn’t need it, and it is hard to deal with it in a healthy way.
I have written several messages in 365 Days of Breast Cancer that cover fear. This one seems most apt:
It’s a shock to realise when you are scared as hell of taking on some of life’s bigger stuff. Of the big stuff, and the small at times.
There you are with your knees knocking. Trying to be all brave and put on a show for everyone around you.
It is more than fine to be scared from time to time when you are in unchartered waters and have no idea what the heck is happening.
Your mind will try its hardest to talk you into a bad feeling. Telling you that you are not good enough, that someone else would do it better, that someone else is more… well more everything!
Don’t be scared. Be brave and bold and roar the situation down.
And tell your chatterbox mind to sod off! You’ve more than got this!!
“That’s all very well, Deborah, but that’s easier said than done”
You’re right, often it is.
Some days you can claim your power in a much more straightforward fashion than others. On those days stride out, and be grateful for the feelings of wellness and enjoyment of life.
On the days you can’t? Well, you just can’t; it’s as simple as that. Be patient for the days that you can.
One thing that is still very much happening here is your life. Getting the enjoyment and fun out of it can – and must – always be, even though you feel robbed of it just now, a priority.
Changing your thinking to let go of your fear
But here’s something important to get your head around.
If you want to let go of your fear, you’ll almost certainly need to do some work on your mind and – specifically – the way you think.
Changing your thinking is a game-changer if you allow it to be.
You must do the work internally if you are to get a grip of this wretched place you find yourself.
Your mind is a potent tool. It is brilliant in every way. It produces all those great ideas, right?
When you think about it, is it your mind that produces excellent ideas? It would like to take the credit that’s for sure.
But the truth is that your great ideas and brainwaves come from deep inside you. Your gut instincts and your heart take a big round of applause here on many an occasion.
Once that idea comes into existence, it then pops into your mind so you can interpret it.
Your mind, ever on the lookout for the applause, takes the credit, but we know different: that idea probably originated from another place.
Now I don’t know about you, but I love an idea occurring, wherever it originated from. I love exploring it and my mind is at its creative best in those instances.
What isn’t so good is when my mind takes me down a rabbit hole of doom, and into a familiar whirl of creativity, that’s far more negative than positive.
Call it what you want, but today let’s understand it as a demon, there to wreak havoc and have its fun ultimately to your cost.
If left untamed, it will dive in at absolutely every opportunity. It’s the little voice that will convince you NOT to do something. The little voice that likes to ask you:
“Why do you think you’re so special.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“Let someone else do that, they’re brighter than you.”
“What makes you think YOU can come through a cancer diagnosis?”
Understand me, that last question is the very one that you must answer, and without it, you won’t have the clarity and understanding you need. But it is harsh, and once it is out of the box it needs addressing and taking hold of by the scruff of the neck.
That question is a great example of your mind doing something that’s not productive – talking to you while it takes you to the edge of a black hole, trying to push you down there.
It was doing that before you were diagnosed too you know. You heard it many times.
Now, it seems like a thunderstorm in your head that won’t move on.
I’ve stared into that black hole too, taken in the middle of the night when you don’t know the answers. On your own. Taken to the very edge of the hole, wondering should I jump in now and be done with it or wait and see what happens?!
The destructive power of the mind during chemotherapy
I had a lady write to me once. She was on round 2 of chemo and felt like taking her own life at that point. (Something I can strongly relate to on round 2 of chemo.)
She said she had waited for the daily message to arrive from 365 Days of Breast Cancer at 11:00am just for her to hang in there.
She remained like that for three consecutive mornings until it passed. Her mind was taking her on a journey she very much didn’t need. She finished very powerfully by saying “I am still here and so are 365s. Thankfully”.
The antidote to fear
The lady who wrote to me had discovered how to deal with fear, and I feel privileged that I played a part in that process.
And if you’re anywhere on the cancer journey, you’ll need to learn to deal with the same thing.
And it won’t just help with cancer, but all fears about all aspects of life.
So. My antidote to fear (because you must find one) is…
Get used to hearing from it.
Fear that is.
Know that it will come back time and again, wrapped up in the voice in your head.
Clever little sucker. Waiting to derail you.
Recognise it and then banish it. Pack it off into the long grass.
Tell it to sod off.
Properly speak to yourself. For every down talk the little demon gives you, give yourself a bigger one in an upward direction. If you find that hard, imagine your closest friend talking to you and talk the same way back to yourself.
Get used to hearing from yourself regularly, enough to drown out the demon chatter.
Get accustomed to hearing from yourself endearingly and kindly to give yourself the support out of this. It doesn’t serve you in any way to kick yourself and least of all, now. Not during this very moment in your life.
Care for yourself on a level you haven’t done before.
I don’t know about you, but I know for sure that I wasn’t looking after myself before I was diagnosed. I was running on fumes. The more I ran on fumes, the more my mind put me down.
In your own quiet moments of reflection, you might feel the same.
And it makes sense that the mind can do that because when you are tired and not looking after yourself, your demon mind ends up running the show.
When you are just letting that happen without knowing about it, all hell can break loose.
With a breast cancer diagnosis, you are tired; some days you are not even physically on the map!
And that’s when your mental health needs to come to the fore – when you are not on the map or a stable mental health journey, you end up with a double whammy to handle.
You must be super ready for the negativity and down talk that will fly your way. It’s a full-time job some days! But remember, this is all about you and whatever it takes to make that work is all-important.
After a while, you realise it is happening less and less; your demon is less present, and fear is kept under control.
Why is that? Well, because you have done the work. You are listening in more acutely to your thoughts. You are all over it and actively get rid of the rubbish that doesn’t serve you much more quickly.
Can we be good at it all the time? I think, and this is just my thoughts on the matter, that you can train yourself to a good 90% of decent mind talk regularly.
It’s fun trying to get there.
It’s fun learning about yourself.
It’s fun when you catch your mind feasting on negativity, and you can send it packing.
It’s fun when it becomes easier.
It’s fun when you hear yourself saying something useful before the rubbish chatter even starts. That on its own, right there, is cause for celebration!
The final part of looking after your mind is to have a damn good look around you and fill your world with love and things that you love. It is what your body AND your mind need right now.
It doesn’t need to ‘fight it’ as all of your friends and family will say. The oncology team are doing that for you.
It doesn’t need to be ‘positive’ because that covers up and masks things you need to deal with in a healthier way.
Being positive is what your friends will think you need to do. I worked with a guy years ago that said being positive is like covering dog shit in icing and calling it a cake! Boom!!
Here’s what you DO need to keep the demons at bay
It DOES mean to keep an open heart.
Keeping love around you.
Watching good things on TV, not a pile of doom and gloom.
Now is the time for a hobby that you love.
For engaging in good conversation that fills your soul. Resting your body. Nourishing yourself with good food. Surrounding yourself with good friends and family.
While you are teaching yourself to become better at this, why not teach your children too?
We teach things we most need to learn, and it’s an excellent way of getting something embedded in your head, heart and soul.
Your children, or those you care about, can carry this with them as a lifelong tool.
I caught my daughter berating herself on how she couldn’t get the hang of something and how hard it was. We deconstructed that thought and discovered that indeed she had improved immensely and that with some further learning how much better she would become.
I made her find something kind to say to herself and then explained how she would improve with greater ease if she were to be kind to herself. Her mind and body would yield better, and life would become easier.
Take a 360 and have a good look at what you let into your mind. Imagine there is a door and you are the bouncer on the door. If it doesn’t suit you, ‘Sorry, you can’t come in’. On your way with you!
The vital role your friends will play
A little word about your friends and family here: they too will come at you with a myriad of comments that slice you in two. They don’t mean to do that. They wouldn’t want to be a cause of angst for you, but sometimes they are.
Your friends can’t be everything to you. They haven’t been in your shoes and often don’t have the right words or understanding. Be careful you don’t implode your friendships by expecting too much from them.
Your friends can be another source of love, and some of them can be a source for your little demon voice to feast. Protect yourself from this. This time is about you and getting through a challenging experience until you can find a more robust version of strength to draw on.
So, can we banish fear? Yes, we can.
Will fear come back? Yes, it will.
Do the tools here help? Yes, they do.
Will I get better at using the technique? Yes, you will.
The key is to talk about it. Communicate with the wiser souls in your friendship circle. Find friends you can crash into when you need it. Have people around you that you know well, and when it comes chattering back at you, they will be able to help, not add to the whirlwind of damage.
Most importantly, don’t give up on doing internal work.
It will always serve you.
Stopping the chatter can’t be learnt overnight. It can take years! But know that little by little you are getting better at it.
And finally, please let me tell you why I wrote 365 Days of Breast Cancer. It is to help with precisely this. To keep your mind upheld. To support you in a way your friends can never understand.
Wishing you well x