Archives for posts with tag: balance

As a person with “no evidence of disease”, I am grateful. I am also grateful that I continue to heal physically, emotionally, spiritually, and yes, cognitively. I have written of the attention, concentration, working memory, and organizational difficulties I’ve had since being diagnosed with cancer. (Some people call this “chemo brain” though I didn’t have I.V. chemo.) These difficulties have slowly but surely improved over time. A huge boost came after I completed a cognitive behavioral sleep program and then later, when I took gaba pentin for a few months to reduce my nighttime hot flashes. I have also had improvements through working to reduce my anxiety and grief through my mindfulness practice and personal psychotherapy. Last but not least, writing this blog is one of the most therapeutic endeavors I have ever undertaken. It, of course, has side effects like any therapy in that my posts sometimes worry my mother.

Although a good deal of my energy has returned, I still don’t work full time. I find that it is too hard to maintain my emotional and physical health when I do this so although I sometimes schedule a full time or slightly overtime week, my average is about 80%. Prior to my diagnosis and shortly afterwards (I had to cram my schedule in order to take off time for surgeries), my schedule varied from week to week but I worked up to 150% of what is considered full time.

Despite my reduced hours, I am quite busy. Although most of my day is meaningful and productive, a good portion of my day is being busy for the sake of being busy, doing trivial things that do not fill me up. And some of the trivial things would not be trivial if I stuck with them for more than a couple of minutes. But I spent some part of my day alighting from one activity to another in rapid succession.

I do this less than earlier in my cancer treatment. The main reason back then was fatigue, boredom, and the need for fun. Since I was having trouble with sustained attention, I flitted around lot. Although I have never written as much or as frequently in my life, I stopped reading books. There had been no time in my life since about age 10 or 11 when I was not reading on a daily basis, with some breaks for a few weeks during adulthood, when my stress was at its peak.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about accepting the things in my life about which I feel feel, grief, and anger. I know that a common fear for people impacted by cancer is fear of abandonment. My husband worries about losing me. My daughter, although she denies it, worries about it too, I think. She acts very much like other teen girls with whom I’ve worked, who have a mother with a serious disease. I worry about losing my family, through decreased participation in family life if I were to get ill again and through my own transition to death, which may not come any time soon, but will come some day.

I had a epiphany last week. Although I was aware of my own abandonment fears, I realized that I was continuing to give myself busy work to avoid feeling lonely. I have been filling up spaces in my heart and mind with filler. I have too often disengaged from my husband because I associate him with our fear of my cancer as well as the stress we have in parenting.

Since that epiphany, I have made some changes. Trivia is okay but not as a main course. And trivia is much better when enjoyed with a loved one. I also realized that a lot of my life is serious and difficult. I have a serious job as a child/adolescent psychologist. I have personal psychotherapy, our family class on mindfulness and emotion regulation, and couples therapy with my husband. Between my job and my appointments, I spend the majority of my waking hours in a mental health facility. Last Friday in couples therapy, which we have been attending weekly I said, “I want less therapy and more fun. John, I want to spend more time with you having fun.” Our psychologist thought this was a great idea. John agreed, reluctantly, because this scared him. But we’ve been spending more time together. Yesterday, I received a note from a childhood friend. Her husband “out of the blue” told her that he is divorcing her, on the day before their 27th wedding anniversary. This has also reinforced my resolve to continue to work on my relationship with my husband. Too often people live separate, lonely lives, full of activities, suffering in silence.

I am not by nature, a lonely person. Cancer has a way of whittling away at security, even for those of us with “no evidence of disease”. Breast cancer also has a way of striking women at the prime of life in terms of professional and family responsibility. Many of us have full careers, children who are not yet independent, and elderly parents who may need support. It is easy when juggling these balls, to feel fragmented and flittery, to feel engaged with everything but intimately connected with no one, not even with ourselves.

Balance right now means more fun and more depth.

Separation anxiety is common for children. And some of them have it really bad. They follow a parent from room to room. They won’t sleep on their own out of fear that robbers, bogie men, or bad guys from t.v. will get them. They have nightmares with separation themes like being kidnapped, one of their parents dying.

Separation anxiety is treatable but it is intense because the way to break it’s spell is to prove it wrong. Children (and their parents) need time away from one another. They need separations. They need practice being alone and finding out that the world did not end and that everyone is okay. It takes a lot of practice to do this and you start with really tiny separations and work your way up. I typically have kids rate the stressfulness of different separation scenarios (ex. being alone for 10 seconds versus a minute versus ten minutes) on a 1 to 10 scale (10 being most stressful.) I tell them that with relaxation methods and the right incentives they should be able to face a situation as high as a 6.

A 6 can seem like a lot. So with little kids, I might have them give mom and/or dad a hug to “fill up the love tank.” Then it is his/her job to use whatever coping strategies they have to keep it full and stave off the anxiety that typically makes them run back to Mom or Dad, thereby reinforcing the spell of irrational anxiety.

I have been applying this concept to myself, not so much that of a “love tank” but to no longer think of myself as some limitless supply of energy, emotions, and thoughts. I need to do things that fill me up. It is part of my mindfulness practice and my commitment to better self care.

There are plenty of things I can do that fill my time. I don’t have the bandwidth I used to have. Maybe it will come back and maybe it won’t. Although I am getting stronger, there’s still a discrepancy between the amount of mental stamina I need to function the way I used to and the amount I actually have. I have not yet been able to return to my normal reading habits. I used to read a book everyday. I’ve done this since I was a young girl. Every once in awhile, I would have a couple of week period or even a month when I was not reading a novel or a work of non fiction. I have read very little besides blogs for the past couple of months. It is too hard to concentrate after I’ve completed everything else on my to do list.

After my brief barrel of monkeys experience with hyperactive Facebooking, I find myself striving for balance, once again. You know what one of the harder things about balance is for me? It’s not black and white. It’s about having some but not too much of one thing so I can have some, but not too much of another thing, and so on and and so on. It is simpler sometimes just to go without. I spent about 4 years of my 20’s never eating sweets. I just thought it was easier that way. It helped me keep down my weight. But I missed out on some good grub. Four years is a long time. I still don’t eat a lot of sweets but I eat some and have learned to be more moderate about it. And a little chocolate is good for the soul, people.

A problem with excessive use of electronic media is that it doesn’t fill people up. We can’t be healthy with chocolate all of the time, even if it is that tantalizingly delicious Dagoba chocolate. Excessive screen time just occupies minds. I see this with kids with ADHD all of the time. Contrary to appearances, they are actually typically under-stimulated. All of the daydreaming, screen use, jumping around, etc serve to increase alertness by increasing dopamine activity. And screen time is the easiest way to keep their minds busy and occupied. And they will play them forever if allowed to do so. And when the plug is pulled, there’s often acute distress. “World, stimulate me! I am depleted! This is too hard! I can’t entertain myself! Give me back my screen!”

There are so many aspects of blogging, social media, and just the Internet in general that are extremely valuable to me. But others, not so much. And too much makes me unable to deal with the quiet of my mind. “Entertain me, world!” But the quiet of my mind is important. Silence is important. It is important for me to be alone with my thoughts and to not fear where they will take me in this very uncertain time in my life. I can’t occupy my mind to fend off the what if’s and the what could be. I know that the more I avoid these silences, the harder they will be for me and the more I will try to avoid them. Avoidance of being alone, just alone with my thoughts, even the scary ones feeds a spell. It feeds the spell of separation anxiety, not just the fear of being separated from my family by death but the fear of being bored. That’s sounds ridiculous, right? But I ask you to look at a bus stop full of people tomorrow morning. You will see that all of them are looking at their Smartphones!

I don’t want an occupied mind. I want an active and creative mind that also knows how to tolerate the slow parts of life, the parts we need for restoration and peace. I am not leaving the land of screens. I am just trying to be more careful about how and why I use them. So I am now asking myself, “Does this fill me up or does it just occupy my mind?”

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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