Worry never kept the rain from falling
I was a worrier as a child. I’d worry so much that I had stomach aches and fainting spells. As a 1st grader I’d get so anxious about LIFE that I’d go – whoop! Black spots would appear before my eyes, my knees would buckle, and down I’d go. I was also terribly shy. People would say, “Cat got your tongue?” which made me cry. I was a ball of anxiety in Buster Brown shoes.
Fortunately, I discovered cheerleading in 6th grade and theatre in 7th grade. They helped a little. In 9th grade, when we started doing scene work in drama class, it helped even more. A memorized script is a wonderful thing. Inhabiting a character is even better. Most audiences are generous, and they don’t want to see you run screaming off stage. They are rooting for you to succeed. So, while it may seem paradoxical, a lot of a very anxious people feel most comfortable before a live audience.
Still, one can’t always be on stage, and I spent the first 30 years of my adult life “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. Holding my breath. With the loss of my brother (2006) and my mother (2012), that which I had long feared had come to pass. The shoes I had dreaded dropping had dropped.
Then a remarkable thing happened: I slowly stopped worrying about the future so much. It began to sink in that there are things within my control and things outside my control. There are also things that do not exist yet, so there’s no point in worrying about them. You might want to make some contingency plans -- for rain, for example -- but there’s no benefit to worrying about it. Worry never kept the rain from falling.
It's like the serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Dalai Lama concurs:
Mindfulness meditation has helped: Stay in the moment. Let go of the past and don’t live in the future. Let your breath bring you back to the Now.
Granted, I’ve been a slow learner, but somewhere along the way this mindset has begun to stick. This pandemic has been a great test; I am doing my best to stay in today TODAY. In fact, on Monday, after my mammogram, I was congratulating myself on how far I’d come in handling worry.
You see, I’ve been taking care of some basic health exams this summer. Last month, I found out I do not have high blood pressure, diabetes, or cervical cancer, nor am I anemic. The girls were next on my list. It wasn’t my first mammogram, and so after Monday’s I went on with my day and didn’t give it much thought. Check. Another thing off the list.
On Tuesday the phone rang. They’d like me to come back. Some areas of my right breast weren’t clear. Oh, and I should also have an ultrasound. Could I come in on Friday? All this in that reassuring voice professional healthcare workers use. “Would you like fries with your mammogram?”
I didn’t tell anyone. After all, there was no cause to worry until there was something to worry about, and my sweet husband is a worrier. He and everyone I know has enough on their minds right now. So, I got up this morning and when Alan asked me what was on my agenda, I said, “Oh, this and that.” After he left for work, I drove to the clinic and a perky woman named Dawn set me up for another mammogram. She gave me a gown to wear and told me to remove my shirt and bra. I slipped into the backless gown thinking how silly it was since I would be removing it within seconds to expose my tatas. It’s even more ridiculous when we put our feet in the metal stirrups but drape a gown over our lap. And yet – I would feel naked without that thin, cotton gown.
Dawn knocked and re-entered the room. She complimented my hair. Did I dye it this color? Was she serious? The flattery worked, however, and I was ready to let her touch my breasts. I'm easy.
Then she noticed we both wore similar bracelets, the beaded kind with the volcanic stones. At this point I was going to ask her if she wanted to have a glass of wine after work. But Dawn was done with pillow talk: She asked me to slip my arm out of the cotton gown. That’s when things got hot and heavy, and wine was not on the menu. Dawn gently placed my right breast on the plastic shelf of the machine. “Hold your other breast back and raise your chin.” Dawn proceeded to smash my right boob into a pancake. It hurt, oh, not unbearably, but it wasn’t my idea of foreplay. Then Dawn told me to hold my breath.
That’s when I realized: I had been holding my breath. I’d been holding my breath all week. I had a 24-hour migraine on Thursday, probably from holding my breath. The funny thing about holding your breath all the time is that as soon as someone tells you to hold your breath, you have to exhale so you can get a deep breath to hold.
After the mammogram, I went to ultrasound, where another sweet soul gently rolled a wand with goop over my right breast. She took her time. I lay in silence thinking not about breast cancer but about the happy ultrasounds I’d had when I was pregnant. Ultrasounds that revealed healthy babies. Ultrasounds when I’d heard their beating hearts. I focused on those happy ultrasounds as I held my breath.
When it was over, she told me I could get dressed and gave me a towel to wipe off the goop. (The goop is a little too much like -- well, I'd like to suggest a nice shea butter, perhaps?) The radiologist would let me know the results right away. I dressed and did not have long to worry because in less than 10 minutes the technician returned smiling. It was all clear. I exhaled. Then I said, thank you. Thank you for taking such good care of women.
And that’s how it should be. Every person should be able to receive excellent healthcare and not have to go into debt to do so. Every person should receive speedy results, so they don’t have to waste today worrying about tomorrow. Every single person.
Writing challenge: They say the worst part of a health crisis is the waiting. Do you think this is true? If you or a loved one has experienced a health crisis, what was the worst part? Do you remember the healthcare providers who showed compassion? What do you remember?