Ugh, it’s scan time again. Usually in the weeks leading up to scans, the voice in my head will spend a good part of the day (and most of the hours when I should be sleeping) imagining and narrating all the potential outcomes of these tests and just generally winding me up into a hysterical pitch.
Not this time.
This time I’m armed with a Cognitive Behavior Therapy tool which I have catchily dubbed The Five Minute Freak Out.
A nice therapist I work with sometimes thought it might be useful in managing the stress around my upcoming scans and I honestly don’t know what it’s really called, or if it even has a name—but it works like this:
Whenever I have a thought related to my scans or their results, oh—say something along the lines of, “I bet I’m going to find out that everything’s worse. It’s probably going to be terrible news. Oh my God, my pinky feels weird. I bet I have mets in my pinky. Ow, my pinky hurts. It didn’t hurt yesterday. Yep. My scans are definitely going to show that I have cancer in my pinky now. Oh my poor, poor pinky finger. WHY, GOD? WHY?”
— Rather than slip sliding into that somehow satisfying yet terrible whirlpool of conjecture, I stop that thought cold, and say to myself, “Self, you stop it right now. It’s not time to think about that. I am not going to think about my scans until X o’clock.” The idea being that my scaredy cat subconscious will pipe down once it is assured that it will have a platform from which to broadcast its hysterics.
So, at the appointed time each day (in my case, a time when I am alone and not wearing mascara) I allow myself exactly FIVE MINUTES to freak the fuck out. I let my mind run wild. From the morbid, not-even-remotely-grounded-in-reality potentialities to the much more likely—I set the timer and I set my mind free.
Five long minutes later, I wipe the snot off my chin, dry my eyes and switch mental gears from negative— to neutral statements. It’s not as easy as imagining the worst case scenario, but I force myself to ponder a few reasonable thoughts such as, “There’s no possible way for me to know for sure what is going on inside my body. I will find out only when my doctor gives me the results.” I roll those around the echo chamber for a bit and then finish off with a grand finale of of pie-in-the-sky positive daydreams, such as, “These drugs are working like a charm! I am kicking cancer’s ass!” Because, why not?
And that’s it. While I might be using it to cope with scans, I’ve been told that anyone could use this strategy to train their brain to deal with all sorts of unwanted recurring thoughts. I’ve only been at it a few days, but I can honestly say it works. Somehow, I find my inner alarmist piping up less and less often, content to cram a whole day’s worry into five sweeps of the second hand; leaving me 23 hours and fifty-odd minutes to actually enjoy the here and now. Which is all any of us really have, anyway.