For anyone out there currently struggling:
Me, too. Brain fog is a bitch. Mornings are better than afternoons.
Healthline defines brain fog in a kinder way, “a symptom that can be caused by stress, sleep changes, medications, and other factors.” This totally applies. “It can cause confusion, memory issues, and lack of focus.” Check. Check. And check.
Then due to symptoms and medicinal side effects, I swing between anger and sadness. I’m tired of tearing up at school. I’m terrified of unleashing on a student or co-worker or even worse a friend. Lucky for me, the screaming and computer screen punching only happen at home. Something has got to give.
After lunch on school days, I find myself staring at my attendance screen not knowing what button to push. Students swarm me to say things of dire importance that I may or may not remember—one hands me a late essay (now to delete the zero from my gradebook until I can grade the work), one asks what she missed when she was absent (which is all online), one needs help with his paper, schedules an appointment, and later no-shows. Twenty-five chat like the teenagers they are in the background. The bell is ringing. Five more walk in late. I try to write things down. I try to decipher my notes. I try to remember to take attendance. I try to teach the Tragedy of Macbeth. Meanwhile, since lunch, here are three e-mails from parents and five e-mails from students and seven e-mails from counselors requesting updated paperwork for students with accommodations. Where are my accommodations? Can’t I get some *%#@-ing accommodations? Then I stare at the stack of 190 research papers. I exaggerate. I’ve graded 33, and 30 essays are late, so it’s a stack of 127, plus the one just turned in 128. How will I find the energy to contact those parents, not to mention the energy to grade the rest? For now, I’m a warm body in the classroom who can still teach Macbeth and throw the rest of my balls in the air.
I’ve been told a person with cancer should stick to a routine. Routine these days means taking a shower and going to school with wet hair unless I feel like lifting the hair dryer above my head. Most mornings I’m sweating my make-up off before I leave the house or I’m nauseous or both. I can tell when my blood pressure is elevated. I’ve spoken to my doctor about all of this and said I need help making it to the ends of my days and to the end of the school year. My medical team has suggested a psychiatrist. They threw around the terms—depression and anxiety—and compiled a list of doctors. I haven’t made an appointment. I’m not opposed. Just tired. If someone would make the appointment, I would show up.
Meanwhile, I’m seeking healthy ways to cope and finding.
Back in February after finishing my radiation, I watched a documentary on Netflix called STUTZ. If you’re struggling with your head space, I say, “You must-see.” Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill spotlights his own psychiatrist Dr. Phil Stutz and his approach to self-care. Together they share tools that take a normally unpleasant experience and make an opportunity. Dr. Stutz gives his patients notecards with visuals that “turn big ideas into simple images.” During my second viewing, I took notes:
Dr. Stutz and Jonah Hill discuss the concept of Life Force and how a person can always work on that. It’s the part of yourself “capable of guiding you when you’re lost.”
“If you think of it as a pyramid, there’s three levels of the life force. The bottom level is your relationship with your physical body…The most classic thing is [people are] not exercising. Diet is another one and sleeping.”
Dr. Phil Stutz
“Your relationships are like handholds to let yourself get pulled back into life. The key of it is you have to take the initiative…You could invite somebody out to lunch that you don’t find interesting, it doesn’t matter, it will affect you anyway, in a positive way. That person represents the whole human race, symbolically.”
Dr. Phil Stutz
“The highest tier is your relationship with yourself…get yourself in a relationship with your unconscious because nobody knows what’s in their unconscious unless they activate it. And one trick about this is writing. It’s really a magical thing. You enhance the relationship with yourself by writing. The writing is like a mirror. It reflects what’s going on in your unconscious, and things will come out that you didn’t know you knew.”
Dr. Phil Stutz
Dr. Stutz says if you work on these three things, “Everything else will fall in place.” Quite frankly, my relationships—self, others, body—have suffered in the last six months or so. I don’t feel like going out after work or talking on the phone. I don’t have much brain power for texting or writing. I don’t care to eat or exercise. I know these things have strengthened my Life Force in the past. I know…
Regardless, I talk or text with my daughter almost every day, and she means everything to me. In my passing death fantasies, I focus on my reason for living. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a plan for ending my life (I’ve discussed this in detail with my medical team), but I’m struggling. So—last Friday after school on Minute One of Spring Break, I hopped in my packed car and drove to Oklahoma City. I broke out of my cocoon to spread my wings for a mother-daughter weekend with Lauren and a perfect storm of culinary experiences and shopping, binging TV and deep talks.
On Sunday, we dined on Thai with my two cousins. One had COVID in November, which caused her to wake up dizzy in December. She drove for the third time since her illness just to meet us and hasn’t worked in almost four months. My other cousin said, “Savage women…” our moms are sisters born of Catherine Savage, “have always had a way of sacrificing themselves for others. Be kind to yourself, Crystal. Don’t work if you don’t have to.”
Dr. Stutz says that when adversity comes, we face a judgmental part of ourselves called Part X. I’m happy to have a clinical explanation of this. Part X is an antisocial part of ourselves that wants to hold us back from changing or growing. Part X almost told me to stay home and not attempt a seven-hour, one-way road trip. I’m happy I didn’t listen to that inner voice.
“Part X is the voice of impossibility. Whatever it is you think you need to do, it’s gonna tell you that’s impossible. ‘Give up.’ It creates this primal fear in human beings.”
Dr. Phil Stutz
When my cousin said, “Don’t work,” I remembered Dr. Stutz’s 3 Aspects of Reality:
- And Constant Work
Clearly, there are more aspects of reality including good things, but these are probably the ones that cause his clients to make appointments. I thought he was talking about coming to an acceptance of pain, uncertainty, and constant work, but he says we have to learn how to LOVE the process of dealing with them.
“What will make you happy is the process. You have to learn how to love the process of dealing with those three things. That’s where the tools come in. Because the highest creative expression for a human being is to be able to create something new right in the face of adversity, and the worse the adversity, the greater the opportunity.”
Dr. Phil Stutz
So while I’m learning to love cancer, symptoms, side effects, uncertainty, and constant work along the way, allow me to share one more memorable visual tool. The String of Pearls. Dr. Stutz says this is “probably the most important thing, motivationally, you could teach yourself.”
Picture this: Line. Circle. Line. Circle. Line. Circle.
Each circle is an action. Each action has the same value. The String of Pearls is about taking action. No one can put a pearl on your strand except you. Last Friday, my pearl included a seven-hour drive to see Lauren and my Grand-Pup. On Saturday, my pearl was a shower, lunch with Lauren’s friend, and arts-district shopping. On Sunday, my pearl included cousin-time, Panang Curry, and the strength of my roots. On Monday, my pearl was making the trip home and brunching with a friend along the way. On Tuesday, I wrote for the first time in a while. On Wednesday, I posted. Creation in the face of adversity. Opportunities around the corner.
Today comments are closed. I must grade.