For people who have or have had cancer, it has been especially difficult. I’ve had people reach out to me on Twitter to share that it’s been triggering their PTSD, that the uncertainty around it causes anxiety, and that the social isolation required has been difficult to manage.
If you're struggling to cope during these crazy times, I feel ya. I am reminded of the 2.5 years I spent stuck at home because of cancer treatment and the endless loneliness I felt then…. I’m reminded of what it felt like to go through the H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic when I was going through treatment...I'm reminded what it means for life to be uncertain and for my health to be at risk….I’m forced into a position once again where I feel like I have no control over my future because my fertility preservation procedure has had to be cancelled until all this ends and there’s nothing I can do about that….I’m more than 15,000 miles away from my parents and brother, with my dad being 61 years old and having to continue going to work in a cancer centre in a major city in the US….there's just a lot to manage.
Initially, I tried not to think about things too much and focus on my work. But that almost made things worse. So, in the past week, I’ve tried to focus on more concrete strategies to manage the mental and emotional impact of this chaos. So, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been doing to try to cope with this chaos:
- Expressing my feelings to my support people - I’m not good at this. I tend to be a people pleaser and try to act super happy and smiley for as long as possible. I don’t like to admit when I’m down because I, for whatever reason, tend to perceive being sad or anxious would make me become a burden to others. But this doesn’t go too well when so much bubbles up because you eventually explode. And I do know I tend to explode much more quickly when stuck at home with few distractions, compared to when I lead a busier day-to-day life, going to work, seeing friends, and going places. Many thanks to my lovely husband for supporting me when I do explode, but I’ve realised in the past 2 weeks that things go much better if I just express my feelings and seek support as they come.
- Writing about my thoughts and feelings - related to the above, writing has always been a useful outlet for me when dealing with stress or difficult situations. Coming back to this blog and to my journal, I find that writing is such a wonderful way to get what is inside my head out onto paper. When I was going through treatment, I always had trouble acknowledging thoughts that scared me. I didn’t always want to share those things with my parents because I knew how they were already filled with so many worries of their own. So, writing has served as a great release for me. I've found it helpful to count the number of things that might be bothering me in my mind, things that I'm actively worrying about. Being more aware of that has helped me be more mindful in managing my anxiety.
- Exercise: this is something I rarely did on treatment, but find so helpful being stuck at home now. It re-energises me, clears my head, and helps me sleep better. I also feel so accomplished afterwards. It’s also been really nice to get out at the end of the afternoon for some fresh air.
- Staying connected to friends: this time around, I feel fortunate to have good friends who are working just as hard to stay connected to me as I am to them. I've been trying to incorporate lots of video calls and messages so I don't lose the feeling of being connected. But, it has become all the more obvious how easily I was out of sight and out of mind during my treatment, because other people didn't need to worry about staying connected for their own benefit and they could continue on with their normal lives without me. I hope that maybe these recent events will help others understand how difficult it is to remain isolated at home or in hospital when you're the only one doing it, and how much it can mean when someone reaches out to you.
- Dedicating time to things I enjoy: this is so important. For me, this has meant doing more baking, colouring, and knitting. It's a different kind of mindfulness to writing because instead of thinking through the things that are bothering me, it helps me to focus on enjoying myself and immersing myself in something fun.
But, it's important to note that different coping strategies work differently for different people. I'd love to hear from anyone who has found other strategies to help them cope during this chaos. Feel free to share and comment below. And as always, feel free to reach out via email or through this website for any questions or comments related to anything I share!
I wish everyone good luck during these challenging times :)