Part One: Bad times
TRIGGER WARNING: anxiety of surgery. You can try reading, its not as bad as “Port Day,” but I reference the experience and other surgeries.
I had a creative block in November. I had two excuses listed in Infrequent from November 16, 2022. And they weren’t lies or exaggerations, but not the full truth. I was paralyzed by fear and anxiety. I was almost connecting the dots and knew that I had a particular anxiety to sort through before I could get back to writing. But I was not ready to face those fears while I was beginning to feel well after the effects of Adriamycin and Cytoxan exited my body.
Early in November, we confirmed labor induction is scheduled for January 5, 2023. That cemented a deadline to dread. Now, if you’ve ever been my boss or supervisor or teacher, or coworker, you know that I love the sound of a deadline as it whooshed past me. I was actually gifted a mug that said that in college. I cannot be bothered or motivated by a deadline unless you instill me with the fear of God in it. In which case, I may still hear the whoosh fly past me because I’ve become frozen and mute. Its an awful glitch in my programming. Anxiety meds help. But I suppose its only reasonable that they might not cut it when my literal survival of my life and my daughter’s is on the line. High stakes.
So I spent the month of November worried about healing enough to labor and deliver my child. Worried that if I get too exhausted, they’ll pressure me into a C-section. Which is the very last thing I want. I don’t want major invasive surgery three weeks before another surgery under general anesthesia.
Surgery sucks. I feel so weird coming out of it. The painkiller drugs are so heavy and opioids completely shut down my digestion which causes so much discomfort and pain. I had knee surgery to repair my ACL as a fifteen-year-old, and the Tylenol with codeine had me blacked out for three days, and constipated for ten.
Then a few years later I had a dental procedure to remove my four wisdom teeth while they were still buds in my jaw bone. There was no general anesthesia, I don’t know what I was given, but I woke up while they were stitching me up. Before we started, I was gifted a pill by the receptionist who signed me in. It removed my ability to care and depleted the use of my limbs. So it wasn’t a big deal in the moment. However, I’ve now had a few decades to relive the experience and shudder when I recall the sensation of getting stitches in my gums.
Then I went several years, decades almost, without surgery or pain-blocking interventions. In 2021 I labored and delivered my first child. I had an epidural placed, but I had no clue what to expect. It never felt like it fully eliminated any pain, but I had timidly mentioned that I’d like a light epidural. My thinking was that I could actively participate in labor. However, what I got was not helpful for pain and limited my participation. L&D wouldn’t let me into positions off my back without nurses, and there were so many laboring moms pushing that I’d go long stretches without visits. There was miscommunicated expectations by L&D and me. But before the end of the day I had my baby and I locked that traumatic experience away without sorting it out.
This year I had my port placed. And that was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I had surgery while awake, completely sober, freshly afraid of my recent cancer diagnosis, and my anxiety rendered me mute and unable to express the severity of my anguish. The surgical team tried their best to comfort and reassure me that I’d be ok, I was doing well, keep breathing, when they realized the dangerous panic I was locked inside of. But I cannot forget the memory of a nurse’s quavering voice before she stepped away from the operating table to collect her emotional reaction to my suffering. I’ll hang on to that horror for a while, as will she.
So. We have a pattern of poor to extremely awful surgical experiences spanning decades. The least worse experience was under general anesthesia for the ACL repair. It makes sense that I want to return to that option if I have to have a C-section, right? Right. But I don’t want a C-section. I want a vaginal birth because I must have surgery to remove and biopsy the cancer in my breast. I already know that I must have one surgery in 2023. Let the only surgery be my lumpectomy. And good God, please let someone prescribe me a valium or other potent chill pill to take in place of my breakfast the day of the lumpectomy. Please, please, please, let that anxiety be temporarily cured on a day that I have been dreading for months amidst a cancer diagnosis and pregnancy. And oh, by the way, we can be completely certain the anxiety will be extra spicy because of my postpartum hormone fluctuations. I will have that hell to battle at the same time I prepare for the lumpectomy.
At least I’ll be out of work by then. Instead I’ll have a newborn baby waking me up every three hours to be fed formula, and a toddler crawling over my smooshy body begging for the attention of an only child.
I paint a bleak picture. I was in a bleak place for a few weeks and didn’t want to face it. So I did not come here where I help my anxious self process my emotions by writing. I’ll not say it was a disservice to myself, I became very present for George. We played and engaged and grew closer. It was avoidance well spent.
Part Two: I fixed it
I worked up the courage to discuss these bad surgical/anesthesiology/pain management related concerns with my counselor, Anna, in November. We explored why I was so anxious about it. She validated my fears, and it was the first time she had seen me panicked and breathless expressing raw anxiety. I admitted that I felt like a nuisance asking for reassurance or just asking clarifying questions, and I certainly felt it was inappropriate to make demands of my medical professionals who know more than I do. We didn’t do much trouble shooting the first day we opened my Pandora’s box, which left me edgy and volatile for ten days between counseling appointments. But when it came time to make a plan of attack one the second session, I had sat with my fears out in the open long enough and I was ready to make them go away.
Anna helped me decide that I should at least try to discuss my birth plan fears first with doctors, and then again and again if at first I don’t succeed. I realized that when I feel afraid and uncertain of the thing causing me anxiety, there has always been something that I need clarification on. I need education or explanation to justify or make sense of what happened to me. From there, I already feel less afraid because the unknown is clear now. And the next step might already be part of my plan, I just needed to pause and examine the scary thing to understand it so I could move only the next most logical step. I usually have that planned out already. But the anxiety keeps me from getting to the next step because it feels like a threat.
Picture a stream with stepping stones making a path to the other side. I either follow a stone path that someone else made, or I’m overcomplicating my life and building a new path (that is another can of worms that I will address with counseling in a future chapter of my life). I leap from stone to stone and in midair I get startled by the memory of a stone that wobbled as I landed. I tense and anticipate an unsteady landing, and the fear I experience manifests as an unbalanced Brianna landing on a sturdy stone. I’m left with my arms waving like wind mills, wavering back and forth. Sometimes I catch my balance, but I’m left too afraid to move on. Sometimes I fall into the water and remain fallen and shaking, too afraid to stand up on the stone. Sometimes I’ll be resting on a stone before leaping to the next one, and I’ll spend a long time wondering if that rock is steady. I think about it too long, and wonder if the next step is worth the risk; do I face my fear and take a leap? Or do I just stand here and ignore the decision?
Now recall the anecdote about deadlines whooshing past me. In circumstances where I am racing across the water, racing to keep ahead of the deadline coming to get me, I may very well come to a stone that has failed me before, or come up to a stone that resembles a risky stone and freeze. I might freeze indefinitely until another person comes along and moves me or moves the deadline, or changes some aspect of the path for me. There have been countless times in my life where this is the only way for me to move past this obstacle.
But I don’t want that. I’ve never wanted that paralysis. I want it gone. I want tools to test the stones, or stronger muscles to catch my balance on a wobbly landing, or at the very least strategies to encourage myself to try jumping. You know what else I wouldn’t mind? I wouldn’t mind gaining some confidence in getting into the water to probe and explore the base of the stone. Find out about it. Get messy, be okay with imperfection and learning some answers before I get back up on the previous stone to make the leap. Or maybe, I just want to climb onto the next rock using grit and determination to pull myself up from the water.
As I do more counseling, I’m exploring these strategies and recognizing how to use past successes on current obstacles. As much as I did not want to get off the sturdy rock on which I stood in November and think about taking on the next stone, I did it. I turned aside and asked Anna for help. I showed her the previous paths I took which I didn’t want to repeat, and she suggested I find out more about the obstacle: ask questions, talk it out with a professional who does this day in and day out.
Seeing that my avoidance strategy would not work because this approaching childbirth deadline is not avoidable. It will happen whether I’m ready or not. I’ve really got to do something about this birth plan if I want to feel better about it. So I took Anna’s advice.
The outcome of the conversation is detailed in Racing Questions. Further context can be put like this: the very busy doctor changed into a very engaged doctor. I do the same thing at my job: I hustle through all the routine business, then I slow down and focus on the person in front of me. Doctors can be relatable, who knew? I bet the same quick-quick-slow pattern can be applied to the L&D nurses during labor. They’ve got regular stuff to get through, and then I can dial them in to my specific needs and concerns.
I’ll tell you what helps me, is having a template to use for every situation. I was troubled and stumped because I’ve never seen this medical interaction modeled for me. And here we are amidst some real good exposure therapy to practice different crossing methods. I guess I’ll be splashing around a bit to find a good course of action.
But in summary, I feel better about it: drafting a real birth plan, revising the birth plan, presenting the birth plan over and over again until all the team members that care for me on January 5th and beyond have clear expectations. And as a result of this new confidence, I don’t have creative constipation right now! I can express my feelings here and look at them without feeling sick.
I am proud of myself for putting this on the internet. I can come back here and see my progress. And maybe my perspective can help someone. I’m working hard on myself, there’s no need to keep the progress private.
Leave a Reply