I had a mini meltdown yesterday. I write for a political blog, covering (you guessed it) politics. If you spend anytime listening to cable news, you would think we are living in a giant insane asylum and the ones holding the keys (our elected representatives) are the ones who should be wearing straight jackets.
I planned to cover what I thought was a well planned political event in Los Angeles yesterday, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase. I traveled over two hours to go to the venue that was only forty miles away. When I arrived, I found out via a note on the door of the building it was supposed to be held at, that the venue was changed to downtown L.A. By now the freeways were even more congested and city traffic was at a stand still. I figured I would give it a shot and go to the new place anyway. I could feel the tension in the air from other drivers in a hurry to get to their destination. There was lots of honking and “red light” running.
I worked on my breathing, said my mantras and tried to focus on the present moment and “just be.” I am a sensitive person, meaning I pick up on the energy around me. I seem to be an energy sponge. It’s called sensory overload and I am susceptible to it, especially in city environments. I have to work hard to keep other people’s energy separate from mine. I left San Francisco after living there twelve years because I couldn’t handle the stress anymore. One day, while waiting for the #45 bus on Van Ness Avenue, I started screaming. The bus pulled up, the doors opened, the driver looked at me, closed the door and kept driving. I don’t blame him. Would you want a hysterical woman boarding your bus? I knew then I had to get out of the city.
So now I live in Southern California, Orange County, the home of eight million people. The difference is we are more spread out. I learned to stay off the roads during peak hours, but yesterday I had to enter the belly of the beast — Los Angeles, where it’s always rush hour traffic. I never made it to the venue. The need to cover a story was not as important as keeping my sanity. I left and sat two more hours on the 405 freeway to get home. My stress level felt better. I even laughed at the situation.
I finally made it home to my sanctuary. I walked and fed my dogs. I relaxed a little. Then I read my emails. I found out that someone I hadn’t seen in over a year is terminally ill. Stage IV colon cancer. I met him at the infusion center where I volunteer. He was a friend of someone else going through chemo treatment for colon cancer. I lost touch with *Mark after his friend completed treatment. Mark was a professional body-guard all his life. He has a black belt in Karate. Now he is fighting for his life. He was diagnosed this past January and lost one-hundred pounds in the last four months.
The news hit me hard. This was the first time I realized how serious stage IV cancer — of any kind is. I was stage IV. Next month is my three-year “cancer free” anniversary. I have to complete five years before my doctor says I’m cured. I am fortunate that my treatment didn’t last as long as so many others. I visit cancer patients who have been fighting for over five years. I had it easy, but people who knew me then said I looked bad, very bad. Our brain is a wonderful thing. It can forget troubling times. Memories fade but then something happens that rattles us. All of a sudden we are slammed with reality…
I felt myself spiraling so I did what I tell my patients, I called my “buddy.” A buddy is someone who had cancer or has cancer. We understand each other. We can talk each other down “from the ledge.” I’m lucky, this is only the second time I needed to reach out for help, but all I got was that person’s voicemail. How could he not answer his phone? I know my name came up on his caller ID. Here I was in crisis and no one to talk to. But then I remembered a quote, “All the answers I am looking for can be found inside.”
I do have the answers. You have the answers. We all do and the way to gain access is to go within. To meditate. To feel the fear. The anxiety. To be present with whatever emotion comes up. So that is what I did. I just went with it. That was yesterday and even though I am still contemplating things today, I feel better. I am more at peace. I cannot control the future. I am here right now. All that stuff I read about Buddhist thought comes in handy right now. Some people find comfort in other ideologies and religious beliefs and that’s ok. I find mine in different “spiritual” outlets and that includes Zen and yoga (they both teach the same thing, “Be here now.”) Life is impermanent. Every single thing we see right now will someday be gone. The key is to enjoy what we have right now, just as it is. Even if it looks messy. Life can be messy at times but that too is temporary. It’s called “Life.” There is no good or bad. It is what it is. Writing down my thoughts in this post helps me a great deal. I keep a journal but this blog is another outlet for me. I hope what I write about might speak to you. You are not alone. I am just like you deep down. We fight the same demons sometimes. Some of us are just better at hiding it from the public.
That crap about sitting in traffic is just that. It’s crap. There are plenty of people hooked up to machines lying in hospital beds, who would love to complain about traffic and disorganized people. They would trade me their problems any day of the week. Mark’s email reminded me of that.
It’s nice to know I do have a buddy I can call but that person has a life too. They won’t always be available right when I need them, but I can “go inside” anytime I want. The answers will always be there. I just have to ask.
*Mike is not his real name