So Saturday, I went climbing on Mt. Baker. I will be honest, as much as I love getting out in the woods, it’s like my sanctuary and provides me with my inspiration and drive, it has been much harder to get out than it used to be. I have to admit that after a couple of challenging years, it has taken a toll on my physical health as well as my drive to push myself to my limits. I have been kicking around this idea in my head the last several weeks, that one of the most challenging parts of my journey with cancer is what I call “subtle paranoia”. Basically it’s when something happens, like I have a weird feeling in my head or I find it difficult to do something that used to be easy, etc. My first thought is “Oh no, its the brain tumor.” It’s the haunting concept that everything out of the ordinary is due to the tumor. The idea that Goliath is just sitting in the shadows waiting to pounce on me when I least expect it. It’s not sitting next to me, but just off in the shadows, always there, always following me, waiting, ready to attack, but not close enough for me to be in constant worry.
Earlier this month, I was experiencing some spells of vertigo – short periods of intense dizziness. The world would start to spin out of control, yet I was not moving at all. It would come and go, but when it would hit, I was basically left incapacitated – I would have to stop what I was doing and just sit and wait it out. Of course my first thought was that Goliath was back at work. That is the paranoia part kicking in. If I get a headache, the first thought is “brain tumor” – not that I just have a headache. It is not an overwhelming or all encompassing feeling, but sort of that back of the mind feeling. The feeling like you get when you just left for a trip and are thinking that you forgot something. Do you turn the car around and go back, or not worry about it? The hard part is that haunting feeling that you forgot something. Most likely what ever you forgot won’t be a big deal, but that worry and paranoia tells us that the issue is larger than it really is. Then we get paranoid and it starts to affect our mood and our outlook on our trip. We can’t relax, we can’t enjoy the ride to the airport because we think we forgot something.
Back to the vertigo. So I spoke with my cancer team, I also went and visited my primary care doctor (to rule out an inner ear infection) – they didn’t have any ideas as to what was going on. They suggested that I bump up my anti-seizure meds and see if the vertigo goes away. Which is the exact opposite of what I have been working towards. I want to be off all medications if at all possible. I then had an MRI (it was my normal 3 month check-up). It checked out just fine. My Doctor was quite positive about the scan and suggested that we push out my MRI’s moving forward, based on the fact things look good. Yet, that thought always wants to stay in the back of my head. That “subtle paranoia”. Everything was fine, actually quite good, but I was being impacted by this paranoia that was totally a non-factor.
I think climbing is an antidote for subtle paranoia. At least it was for me this past weekend. The key to success and surviving in the mountain is to keep your cool, to block out fear, and that subtle paranoia. It is the only way to thrive when you are on the sharp end (on lead) of the rope – whether on a glacier or on rock, you must block out the paranoia if you want to succeed. Let all the noise around you (the exposure, the lack of a secure hold, the thought of a hidden crevasse, the constant threat of avalanche) fade away and focus on your breathing and your feet placement. That is it, nothing else matters. I have had my moments of panic on a mountain. Once you lose your cool it’s hard to reel things back in.
On Baker we went up a cool ridge to the top of Sherman Peak. An area that is for sure a no-fall zone. It wasn’t a knife edge ridge by any means, but for me it was a great reminder to let go of the paranoia, the fear of Goliath, the constant waiting to hear the doctor tell me the bad news – that he is back, that it’s time for more chemo or worse yet radiation. Subtle paranoia is not the way to live, it is not healthy, it is not how we we’re intended to live. But it is hard to shake, it lurks in the dark, it is a leech that tries to suck the joy out of life.
Subtle paranoia is not just about cancer, it can be all of those things that we let hide in the dark, waiting to take us down, waiting for their opportunity to pounce, to strike to bring destruction.
But we must keep our cool, keep our focus, and carry on. We defeat the paranoia by not allowing it to exist, by not letting it affect our lives, our choices. We need to focus on our feet and our breath and let the subtle paranoia fade to the back. I can’t be afraid to face Goliath, I can’t be afraid that it will return, I can’t let the thought of it change my outcomes. Only then will I defeat the subtle paranoia that rules my life.
For me I know that true remission is not something that is possible for me – thus I will be dealing with “subtle paranoia” the rest of my life. So it is time to push it back and not dwell on it. Time to take control, to shine a light in the shadows and force the paranoia to come out and face the music, the reality that it does not have power over me.
Me coming down the Ridge leading to Sherman Peak on Mt. Baker
Looking at the goal, Sherman Peak
(Climbing photos curtsey of BD 2013)
Also Happy Father’s Day (This past Sunday) to my Dad – miss ya!:
He used to sign off MEH, I got that from him.