Living with Cancer: The Importance of Feeling your Feelings
Many cancer patients I have spoken to say it took several days, even weeks, for the reality of their diagnosis to sink in. They felt dazed, numb and often worried about the impact on their families more than themselves.
Few of us have been taught how to handle fear so we fight it, suppress it, deny it, control it, put a brave face on it or anaesthetise it with a few glasses of wine. Some of us save it for lonely nights when the family is sleeping and we are wide-eyed with terror about all that lies ahead. But it is vital to feel fear, not detach from it. It is important to take the wind out of its sails or it will drive your decisions and blind you to what's really possible. And the only way out of fear is through.
To process shock you need to feel - be it fear, rage, regret, anxiety, sorrow or despair
This is easy to say, I know. Not so easy to do. I spent several weeks wide-eyed with terror, night after night, not daring to close my eyes in case I never opened them again. I consider myself emotionally intelligent. I teach courses about how to pass through fear and feel feelings in healthy, healing and life-enhancing ways. But this seemed beyond my reach. My cancer was 'incurable' and the chance to raise my darling daughter was being ripped from my adoring hands. How is one supposed to feel in the face of such a realisation? Disappointed? Scared? Sad? Those feelings belonged to normality, wellness, being ordinary. They didn't count when I was dying. They shrivelled like old apples in the sun, expended and inadequate.
And yet those were precisely the emotions I needed to experience. To process shock you need to feel - be it fear, rage, regret, anxiety, sorrow or despair. If you don't, these emotions will cloud your judgment, drive your decisions and perpetuate your disease. It's simple: If you don't have your feelings, then your feelings will have you.
For the most part, this involves letting go of any judgements you have about emotions so you really get that they are not a sign of weakness but a mark of humanity. It takes strength and courage to engage with them – and a lot of breath!
Try sitting in a quiet place and breathing into any sensations you have in your body. Let your breaths expand. Open your throat. Give whatever is there permission to fill your eyes and mark your face. Express these feelings to someone you trust. Talk yourself into them until they overtake your words and leave you trembling, screaming, weeping, wailing or rocking like a baby in the arms of someone who loves you. Get the feelings out.
Above all, get support with this. There are courses you can take, there is counselling you can receive, and there are coaches you can hire. If you want to take charge of your treatment you need to be as emotionally healthy as you can be. If in doubt, find a therapist and make your appointments with him or her important as your appointments with your oncologist. There is no better time in your life to do this. I have a therapist and my sessions with him are beacons on my journey where I get to work through the next layer of fear, the next wave of grief, the next blast of anger and the next tunnel of hopelessness or despair. I walk in crying and walk out laughing almost every time.
Watch Sophie's TedX talk here: