20 May Managing Fear
In 2013 I went through a dark tunnel into the light. For the first time in my life I was confronted with man’s greatest fear: death. What started as vague muscle aches evolved into agonizing pains within 5 months.
The first half of 2013 was characterized by consultation and tests with a myriad of doctors and medical specialists. The rest of the time I spent in bed, due to the horrible pains. None of the doctors could pinpoint my pain complaints only until after 6 months I was finally diagnosed with lymph node cancer. The tumours had eaten their way into my spine, hip and ribs, causing a looming quadriplegic. But in spite of this tough diagnosis I just felt relieved to finally have an answer, narrowly escaped life in a wheelchair, and start a cure.
I took 6 chemotherapy treatments. It is invasive, but the idea that the tumours were being attacked back gave me a lot of comfort. Even the temporary hair loss didn’t bother me. By November I was back on my feet. Throughout the cure I was optimistic and lively. But at times it was hard for my friends and relatives to relate to my positivity. How did I cope?
All the united brainpower couldn’t resolve the issue for a long period of time. The biggest emotional trap then is to expect the worst to happen. It is common human behaviour: the mind, our neo-cortex*) subconsciously conveys a kind of negative, fatalistic thinking as an emotional insurance policy, which aims to spare the disappointment (when the worst happens indeed). So I learned to adjust my frame of mind and in order not to sink into depression, I had to ‘disconnect’ from the part of my brain that was trying to find answers. Throughout this process, coaching proved a powerful remedy. With the help of my coach, I profoundly experienced something that is known as detachment. In my condition of pain and uncertainty, I had difficulty with “accepting”, something she had tried to teach me. But I soon found out that it doesn’t mean you ‘give up’. It basically means you accept -full stop- that this issue is something you cannot resolve now, that there are no answers.
„Now” is also a powerful meaning in spiritual teaching. „Now” or being present means that you accept the situation as it is. You focus on what is right in everything you experience in stead of what is ‘wrong’. Accepting enables space for faith and faith fuels hope. One of the most important lessons I learned is that accepting is the ability to only observe the naked facts and to leave it at that. And that only when we give subjective meaning to such facts (the voice in our head adds its dramatic interpretations or speculations), we suffer. This approach is no panacea; it involves a continuous mindful practice and self-reflection. Some meditate, others pray. I write like I wrote my friends and family throughout my recovery process. And although the intentions may be different, the mental effect manifests the same: peace of mind.
Yet every now and again I do loose control. When I feel an ache in my bones or when my sense of self-esteem is being challenged. It is at those moments that I return to the teachings I received: Distinguish in what is fact and what is drama. The voice in our head, the fear-fuelling saboteur that leads you astray is always there, but you can learn to silence it; it is then as it is.
*The neo-cortex is the outer part of the brain that ‘filters’ information and as such interprets our reality. It is designed to solve issues through logic and contributes to our sense of awareness and identity.