Well dear readers, round five of the chemo-hormone inhibitor combo went by in August with the blink of an eye, or as long as it takes to overthrow an Australian Prime Minister. Hang on a minute, that’s not right. Chemo rounds take 21 days and the PM swap out took less than a week! Just after that unseemly political fracas I saw a funny comment on Twitter, claiming that Australian neurosurgeons have ceased asking patient’s emerging from surgery ‘Who is the Prime Minister?’ It appears this question is no longer a reliable indicator that the patient’s brain is functioning normally.
Speaking of brains, now that I’m deep into round six, I find my own to be inhabiting a very peculiar place – something akin to a cross between a trampoline and a swamp, the veritable love-child of a Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof and Sid the Sloth.
Cognitive sogginess is probably the most accurate way to describe the swampy feeling and, increasingly, my efforts to skate around it are proving irritating to my loved ones. Most commonly my tactics include:
- prolific use of closed captions on the TV (and not only during episodes of Shetland on the ABC, which really should come with subtitles as standard);
- incessant requests for people to repeat themselves and frequent instances where the word I’m looking for simply goes AWOL. What follows is usually an awkward silence while I sit there looking like the village idiot, willing the person I’m conversing with to telepathically understand what I’m thinking. Sometimes I even wave my hands around as if grasping at invisible straws, or click my fingers referring to something as ‘thingamy’ or ‘what’s-his-name’. Other times I just give up, sigh heavily and say, ‘Whatever it was, it’s gone – as you were’.
Any rational person might conclude that cognitive slothfulness should be conducive to rest and recovery, but here’s the kicker – as soon as I lie down or try to calm my roiling spirit with some meditation, that darned cat starts its confounded jig across that hot tin roof. It’s a very strange and frustrating feeling, a sort of ‘wired-tired’ if you will. I am fatigued, to be sure, but the sweet oblivion of sleep, or even just plain old rest, eludes me as my mind feverishly searches for a preoccupation to lock onto, like a radio scanning for a frequency.
Herein lies the paradox – inert yet restless, listless yet edgy, accepting yet struggling, Sid yet Cat. At the urgings of my ever-present, broken-record inner Methodist, I try to harness my jumpiness to ‘get more done’ work-wise and around the home. But alas, as Alice in Wonderland observed, ‘The hurrier I go, the behinder I get’, which invariably leads down a winding, rocky path lined with frustration and, I’m loathe to admit, a bit of self-pity.
I blame cancer, but as Sid the Sloth put it so eloquently in the first Ice Age movie, ‘I’m too lazy to hold a grudge’. Good thing too, if only I could wrestle this incessant jumpiness to the ground or, at the very least, relinquish my urge to conquer the to-do list. Who knew resting could prove so challenging?
I’ve always been crap at meditation and have recently turned to game-playing in a bid to herd my butterfly brain, finding some solace in the Lumosity app, Train of Thought. This game requires the player to direct coloured trains fed out of a mountain tunnel into their equivalently coloured stations over a two-minute timeframe. The more trains one successfully directs to the correct stations, the greater the number of coloured trains one gets to direct. I set myself a goal number of trains (OK, it’s 58 if you must know) and I aim for that figure each time I play. Because Train of Thought is so addictive, I have to limit this to three games at a time, which has the side-benefit of being a good discipline for boundary setting. Setting limits and boundaries for myself is another thing I’ve traditionally been rubbish at – so bonus!
Recently, while playing Train of Thought, I’ve noticed something interesting. True to Alice’s ‘hurrier/behinder’ theory, the more I push myself to go faster and to reach my goal of appropriately stationed trains, the worse my score. But if I consciously slow myself down, my goal score is more often within my reach plus, it’s achieved more easily and with less annoyance. Whoever said ‘a fast game’s a good game’ has clearly never tried to actually live life while undergoing protracted chemotherapy treatment.
With a bit of tweaking I’ve been able to apply this principle to my work and home duties as well. When I find my train-engine mind is careening down the rails at speed, pulling carriages loaded with overwhelm and anxiety, I remind myself that, as counter intuitive as it may feel, slowing down can actually help me get where I want to go. Prior to this, I’d never fully appreciated the true value of the ‘slow’ movement, like slow cooking and slow fashion, but now I could be a poster-girl for it.
This blog’s title, ‘Softly softly catchee monkey’, is an old Scottish proverb borrowed from the Ashanti people of Ghana. ‘Patience wins the day’ is said to be its meaning and as I’ve already cited cats and sloths in this post, why not monkeys? Searching for the origins of this idiom I came across others that resonated with me and I share them here because they might speak to you too, whether or not you’re having chemo (and I sincerely hope not):
‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ – Aesop
‘The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.’ – Moliere
‘More haste, less speed.’ – olde English saying
‘I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.’ – Abraham Lincoln
‘The more one hurries, the less time they have.’ – The Universe (www.TUT.com)
And my personal favourite from the incredible, enduring and outright adorable Lily Tomlin (last seen by me at least in Grace and Frankie on Netflix – well worth a look BTW):
‘For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.’
Until next time or round seven, dear readers – whichever comes first.