It was my birthday a few days ago. Birthdays in 2020 are something different, aren’t they? I am sheltering in place in a small apartment in the “covid capital” of Australia aka Melbourne. But thanks to our state Premier’s leadership, the Chief Health Officer’s medical expertise, and my fellow Victorians (largely) doing the right thing, our daily case numbers have reduced significantly from more than 700+ cases a day a few weeks ago, down to less than 50.
But this isn’t where I was supposed to be for my birthday. Earlier in the year, I booked annual leave for the next few weeks. I had planned to be in New England, traveling first before arriving in Maine for the Camden International Film Festival with a friend.
But 2020 looks nothing like the plan I made in January.
Instead, I spent my birthday here with G, before having to rush him back to the hospital when a pain in his hip prevented him from walking. Scans indicated another infection. The news of a temperature spike after a procedure to drain fluid from the infected joint whacked me back into mid-August when he developed sepsis after his first round of chemotherapy dictating that he spend weeks in ICU in a critical condition.
We lurch from crisis to crisis, barely recovering from the last before a new one begins, with the original cancer somehow just a low background hum. Tonight, his temperature has settled. He is being flooded with strong antibiotics. Fluid is being drained.
I knew the cancer treatment and chemotherapy was going to be intensive. But nobody told me that it was going to be this hard.
Nobody told you that it was going to be this hard
Something’s been building behind your eyes
You lost what you hold onto
You’re losing control
There ain’t any words in this world that are going to cure this pain
Sometimes it’s going to fall down on your shoulders
But you’re going to stand through it all
Here comes the river coming on strong
And you can’t keep your head above these troubled waters
Here comes the river over the flames
Sometimes you got to burn to keep the storm away
Today, there is also a bonus song; I played this song as part of a meditation last night to remind me to get up, always.
In recent years, I’ve made many changes to the way I manage my mental health. Early intervention when required, the right tools and resources, and daily management have made a world of difference. But over the last few weeks, my husband’s diagnosis and hospitalisation, has tested all of my new strategies. My nervous system is non-compliant with the new tools under this much stress and my anxiety has landed me in the emergency room. As a result, I’ve been trying additional, more unusual things in an attempt to help me manage it. I can’t say they’ve all been successful and I can’t say I haven’t resorted to some of the old, comfortable coping mechanisms. But one thing that I’ve found that does help is shaking. On purpose. For fun.
I once asked my psychologist why I shivered when I had to have uncomfortable conversations and her response was “stress”. When adrenaline and cortisol are released into your body in huge amounts during a threat, they create neurogenic tremors in addition to speeding up your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.
Shaking is the body’s natural way to release tension and stress and return to equilibrium. Animals instinctively shake to relieve stress after a life-threatening event. This helps them to discharge the energy of the traumatic event. But when humans are conditioned out of this response we lose the ability to re-calibrate our nervous system. We are supposed to cope. We are supposed to be fine. Unfazed.
Unfortunately, if we can’t shake it off, trauma can get trapped in the body. This impacts our ability to respond to future stressors and can lead to a complicated ripple of life-altering impacts. The brain and nervous system can become stuck. They are rewired in a way that can make healing a challenge as they remain on high alert for threats, continually flooding the body with stress hormones.
So in an attempt to reset my nervous system, I am shaking. On purpose. For fun. It doesn’t work all the time but if I shake for several minutes a day, it definitely helps. A friend calls me on Zoom in the morning, and together we do a shake session. She picks the music, I just show up.
If you want any more information on the science behind shaking, this link has plenty!
And if you need a song, here’s the first one she chose. Obviously.