Not freaking out anymore. And here’s why. (Plus an update)

Note: The administrative update of biopsies are at the bottom, so if that’s what you’re here for, just scroll on down. Continuing on…

Thank goodness for a good therapist. I had plans of writing about my therapy and why I’ve found it to be so helpful, in the hopes that it encourages others to seek help if they need it. You don’t have to be depressed to see a therapist.

Before I get there, thank you SO MUCH for your words of encouragement and love in the comments (and calls and texts) on last Friday’s post. They were a salve to my heart and softened my fear.

I remember hearing once to consider your mind as a car and that all the emotions are in it. Fear can be in the car, but it’s never allowed to drive.

Which is exactly what my wonderful therapist helped me to remember last week.

But let me back up.

Those of you who know me, know that I’m an eternal optimist (if you’ve been reading this blog for sometime, you may have already figured this out). I’m a Type A Overachiever. That didn’t stop with cancer and it certainly hasn’t stopped after. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, I’m merely making the point that I was GOOD. Life was moving forward again.

Which is why having a panic attack in the middle of dinner out of nowhere was rather unexpected. And terribly unpleasant. This was in October.

For me, it was a total loss of control, the inability to concentrate or focus on anything around me. I could barely get the words, “I think I’m having a panic attack” out. I felt nauseated and light-headed, and my chest felt like it was clenching in on itself, yet vibrating as rapidly as my heart. If I had to draw what feeling is like, it would look like this:


Luckily, I was with friends who understood and I had an emergency Ativan that brought me down 20 minutes later.

When I had another panic attack the following weekend while visiting my best friend, I knew it was time to do something. A quick email to my oncologist got me in to see behavioral services and I was paired with an unknown psychologist (that’s the Kaiser machine rearing its ugly head). Thankfully, he was great and continues to be so.

Talk therapy has been incredibly helpful (no surprise) as my brain catches up with the trauma of what I’ve been through. Now, I’m retraining my brain that we are no longer in “flight or fight” mode. I’m also acknowledging that I’ve been in that mode for longer that just my cancer treatment and the anxiety I feel, and have felt constantly since childhood is going to take time to overcome. The cancer survival has magnified that anxiety, and news like last Friday only adds to it. My will alone is no longer enough and frankly, I needed to allow myself to feel the emotions and thoughts that I had been hiding from.

This is where the psychiatrist comes into the story (December). (If you need to know what the difference is between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, go here.)

The Ativan was starting to work less and I was needing more to get the same effect until eventually, it wasn’t even touching the anxiety. I was a crying, emotional hot mess. (Note: I firmly believe there are few things worse that a crying headache.)

An email on a Thursday to my therapist got me a recommendation to a psychiatrist and I was seen the following day (the Kaiser machine for the win!).

My psychiatrist asked me why I was there and I immediately started crying again and replied “This.”

We came up with a game plan for medications and let me tell you, it’s been like MAGIC. The anxiety is still there — I still have work to do on that — but it’s taken down to a level that allows me to use my brain instead of being overwhelmed by it. And I’m using that brain to build new pathways that remind me I am safe and I am loved and I’m not in survival mode anymore.

That’s part of what my therapist helped me remember last week, in addition to the fact that I only need worry about the things I can control, and let go of the ones I cannot. Having that session with him literally an hour and a half after getting that news couldn’t have been better timed.

Because now, instead of being full of dread and “what ifs” I’m enjoying my time in Oregon with my husband and our friends. I can control my attitude. I can control my thoughts if they start listening to that little voice of fear. I can acknowledge that little voice, but remind it that it doesn’t get to drive.

There are a lot of people I know and love who would greatly benefit from some talk therapy. I’m not calling you out individually; some of you know who you are and some of you probably have no desire or have never thought of therapy as an option. Often, the biggest barrier to therapy is the cost and time it takes to do effective work. I highly recommend a service called TalkSpace. It’s cost-effective and incredibly flexible.

Biopsy Update: I did try to finagle a biopsy in Portland both through my current oncologist and through my former one (who works in Portland) but it’s not gonna happen.

A CT-guided biopsy for both areas will be done at the same time on Thursday, February 16. I’ll meet with my doctor the following week to go over the results. Staying positive. Because I can control that.

6 thoughts on “Not freaking out anymore. And here’s why. (Plus an update)

  1. I’ll come hold your hand when you have an anxiety attack if you’ll hold mine when I do. Yes, I have a psychiatrist AND a psychologist. Yes, my medication helps keep things within a range that I can deal with. And yes, I’m using alternate methods of maintaining my calm, like deep breathing and meditation. I know of whence you speak. Sucks pretty bad, doesn’t it? 😦
    But as with many other things in your life, you’ve got this. And you’ve got Kenji. And a fabulous community of friends and family. And those are the important things: love, kindness, being with others. Everything else is details.
    I appreciate your keeping us in the loop and I am sending you a new supply of blue healing energy for your body and your mind.
    Love you, hugs to you and Kenji


  2. Awkward back-pat Jess!

    Sorry to hear this experience is weighing on your mind, but I’m glad you’re finding treatment for it. Brains are so complicated :-/ As someone who spent years (a decade? I can’t remember) working with psychologists and psychiatrists during his adolescent and young adult years (admittedly for different issues than what you’re going through), please hear me when I say it gets better. Maybe not from any one thing, but with practice, some leaning on your support group when needed, and all kinds of other things you find that work for you, it will get better.

    A+ #1 Jess, the fighter!


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