Archives for posts with tag: Psychologists with Cancer

I had a great first day back at work yesterday. I’m so glad that I took off extra time to recover from this surgery. I have two more full clinic days and then I have Th and Fri as paperwork/healthcare visit days.  

That’s actually a full-time schedule, which was not the plan. The was a scheduling mishap by either a parent or myself, which I resolved by scheduling a full day of testing with a teen on Weds.

Now before you start wagging your finger at me, keep in mind that next week, I have no one scheduled! I had cancellations and did not fill in the spots. And although the schedule snafu family could have come in next week, they have already waited 4 months to see me and the mom says they’ve been ‘marking the days off on the calendar’ until their appointment, which they had thought was yesterday when I was scheduled to see someone else. Fortunately, the snafu was discovered last week. It meant a lot to the mom to only have to wait an additional two days instead of seven.  

My popularity, while good for business can be stressful. There is a shortage of specialists in my area coupled with high demand. But I love my job and after all, I got three hugs yesterday!

This post was inspired by the Health Activist Writers’ challenge for the month of April. I write “inspired by” because I have yet to use one of their suggested daily writing prompts.

As a child psychologist, I am often advising the mothers of my patients to take more time for self-care. A frequent response is, “I know, but I just don’t have time,” to which I reply, “If you feel you have no time for this than you have been without time for yourself for far too long and this is even more reason to do it!”

I know I am asking a lot of moms who are already taxed with parenting, work, and household responsibilities. I have struggled with the same life balance issue myself over the years, especially since becoming a mom 14 1/2 years ago. One of the valuable lessons I am continuing to learn as a breast cancer patient is to take care of myself, I mean REALLY take care of myself. It’s not that I was living a martyr’s life but I was not taking sufficient care of my health. To do this properly, takes time.

In 2002, I was laid off from my very first job following the completion of my post-doc. To make a long story short, the job was ugly. It was the first time in my life that I was treated like I was incompetent. Down deep I knew that I wasn’t incompetent but to be treated this way for nearly three years in my first “real job” and right after becoming a mom was a major blow. The lay off itself was done in a fairly nasty and unfair fashion. It was toward the end of that job that I had my first of two incidences of Major Depression. (The second incidence occurred a couple of years later but only lasted 2 weeks because I got back into treatment immediately after recognizing that I was not myself). It was BAD. It wasn’t just sadness, which is what a lot of people mean when they say, “I’m depressed.” I had no appetite. Food was flavorless. I lost 10 pounds in a week. My sleep was messed up and I had to will myself through each day to have enough energy to parent Zoey who was a toddler at the time. She has always been an empathetic girl and at the time, was learning to read facial expressions. I remember feeling heartbreaking guilt and sadness one day. She was sitting in my lap, looked up at my face, used her fingers to push my mouth into a smile while anxiously asking, “Mama happy?”

Being laid off and depressed was a major wake up call for taking care of myself. And since I was laid off and able to collect unemployment for a few months, I was able to make use of the time to figure out what to do with my life professionally. At that point, I decided that I would never rely on one source of salary again if I could help it. So in 2002, I applied and tested for my psychology license in Washington state and in 2003, started my private practice. Meanwhile, I was writing research grants and ended up being employed through two of them, the longer one landing me on the research staff of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington. I worked there until 2007 until the research money ran out. I was unable to secure funding for more grants. As the money ran out, I expanded my practice and then by the time I left U.W. in April of 2007, I was able to build up my practice to full time. Although being in private practice had not previously been an aspiration of mine, it ended up being the perfect job for me.

So although I would not have taken that job had I known what it was going to be like, I got some very positive life lessons out of it. Also, I made a number of friends at that crazy job including my dear friends, Jennie and Lisa, whom I’ve mentioned in my blog. Hmm, taking the opportunities afforded by crappy life circumstances to glean important life lessons? Gee, that kind of sounds like my breast cancer experience thus far.

Fortunately, I was able to use some of those life lessons from my crappy job experience to cope with my breast cancer better and to avoid getting depressed again. Sorry, I hate being depressed. And yes I have grief, but healthy grief and clinical depression are not the same thing.

So having breast cancer and especially the time off after my major surgeries, has given me some time to revise my life plan so that I am a happier and healthier person. As I mentioned previously, taking care of myself takes time and emotional space. I will not always need this much time and this much emotional space but right now I do. At first, this was a hard adjustment for my husband because healing has meant my being more emotionally distant than usual. (And no, I don’t just mean less sex.) We had to develop different ways of spending time together, for example, John started accompanying me on my walks on the weekends. He also eats all of the healthy dinners I make ahead of time in reasonable dinner-sized portions and freeze. The walking and the diet change have been part of the reason that John has lost 22 pounds. My taking care of myself has also meant that John had to take on more responsibility and learn how to take care of me after surgeries. It has also meant John taking care of some of his own health issues better.

For Zoey, my cancer has meant worrying about a parent’s mortality at an earlier age than average. It has meant seeing me less energetic and weaker at times. But overall, I am very happy to report that Zoey has more than risen to the challenge. She fairly quickly snapped out of the angry, eye rolling teen stuff that she was directing toward me and started treating me much more respectfully and affectionately. She is often there with a glass of ice water when she sees me fanning myself during a hot flash and she secretly changed my screen saver to a banner that reads, “I love you, Mom,” just because. Sure we have our moments and she is still able to be disrespectful and her eye rolling muscles aren’t totally lax. And having a mom who is a breast cancer patient when she is a 14 year-old girl makes her life harder. I wish she didn’t have to go through this. But she has grown enormously.

Finally, by taking care of myself, ultimately, I will take better care of my patients. Some of them are feeling a little anxious and impatient because I am off work again for an extended time. But if I don’t take care of myself, I will not have enough energy to do a good job. And as my dear friend, Nancy points out, by taking care of myself and coping positively with a major life stressor, I am modeling valuable skills for the families I see.

So even though the villagers were not initially happy with my changing my life to have a stronger focus on self-care, ultimately, my self-care is reaping benefits for the villagers.

I do believe that there is more than one good solution to every problem but perhaps this lesson could be helpful to some of you readers out there.

 

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