Busy Signals


We each carry our own internal measuring device, to calibrate what is normal for us.
We each carry our own internal measuring device, to calibrate what is normal for us.

I have been very busy these last few weeks.  Tuesday while traveling into Portland for appointments I was thinking about time and phones. When I hold a cell phone with my left hand, and usually when I try holding one to my head, it looses reception. Full bars to zip in an instant. For me it is headset or static. Watches also tend to malfunction, and I once had an alarm clock burst into flames on my bedside. I am not joking. These sorts of thing has been happening for years.  It makes for some challenges at times, one downside has always been a tendency to be late to events- influenced by an incredible lack of time estimation skills. This had gotten somewhat better in recent years since Sam started wearing a watch, which has earned him the title of Time Lord in our household.

A friend suggested that this electromagnetic phenomoneon of mine might have use if I ever decided to become a spy, as I could just causally stand next to someone and disrupt reception of their secret transmissions. A sort of human signal jammer. I decided long ago that the universe has plans for me other than being a spy, but I am not sure how the whole time/phone phenomenon plays into those plans.

I have had migraine headaches since adolescence, and have noticed that during a migraine event my sense of time gets even more wonked out that usual, in fact I notice the migraine generated time space continuum disturbance happens prior to any visual sparkles or head pain. Time anomalies are a noticeable precursor to migraine pain. I am not sure how these things are connected but it seems like the time keeping, cell phone disturbance and migraine effects must be related.

At times we don't feel that we "measure up" to our own expectations.
At times we don’t feel that we “measure up” to our own expectations.

Enter the newest piece of the mystery, the lingering effects of the neuro-toxic cancer therapy drugs I received prior to surgery.  As I continue onward during this healing sabbatical year I am very aware of the many incarnations of chemo brain.  Word retrieval, or lack there of, memory degradation, lack of short term memory, diminished sense of direction and spacial awareness skills, and a general lack of linear time which is similar to the pre-migraine wobbly time sense but different. The doctors suggest I do brain puzzles to rebuild the neural pathways, however that would requires some time management skills to schedule, skills which are completely off line these days. For obvious reasons I don’t carry a smartphone, so no help from cute little alarms tones to remind me to play online brain games.

Don’t get me wrong, in most all ways I am generally feeling pretty damn good for someone in my position. In general I am in fact feeling so great that I tend to overdo it. However, the week post Herceptin infusion, I am more fatigued, and consequently my resiliency is lessened and the dimmer switch of my brain and body gets turned way down. This is that week.  If the Brain is a giant data processing center for consciousness, mine is riddled with 404 messages just now. Fatigue also makes things much less funny- I become very literal in my perception, immune to irony.  I have read that people on the autistic spectrum sometimes have trouble understanding humor- which points to a link between humor and brain function.  SO I feel a bit like an autistic person with dementia right now.


Also I am not getting much of anything done that I expected I would be getting done with my summer.  I know this is something I have whined about before- all I can say is that the neural pathways that dictate that I need to be productive seem to have survived the chemo blast, and that the “productive” part of my brain is acting like a tyrant.  The Keep Busy! signal coming from that productivity tyrant just makes me feel shame.  Which seems unfair, Because really when I feel good I am a huge overachiever.  When I am feeling better my enthusiasm for doing things is astounding. I am learning this about my body-mind; when I get fatigued, or too busy, Everything stops connecting up, Everything seems less funny, and I can’t remember much of  anything. Trying to do things when I am fatigued is pointless.

You might be asking, What is the point of taking a sabbatical if I just fill the time with other busyness?  or How productive is it to try to “Get things done” when my body is still doing the huge work of remodeling the watershed of my lymphatic system, and recovering from being poisoned?  The “real” work of the moment is probably just listening to my body-mind and resting. Cultivating that creative healing mode as much as possible. Perhaps meditating. I can’t help but think that if I squander this time away from paid work by; being too busy, failing to take time to contemplate my metamorphosis, and by ignoring the signals my body sends me, I will have lost a precious opportunity.

Martin and Mr. Sparky came in early one morning, and promptly fell back asleep, encouraging me to languish in bed longer.
Martin and Mr. Sparky came in early one morning, and promptly fell back asleep, encouraging me to languish in bed longer.

Today while I was in town I saw a guy with a shirt that said “I’m not LAZY, I just really, really enjoy doing NOTHING.”  My inner tyrant immediately had a lot of judgement to offer up to the situation.  Since I have been cultivating my baby meditation practice- I have found that I can sometimes observe my thoughts a bit more, and luckily when those judgmental thoughts flew to the forefront today, it was followed by my second thought, “Maybe he is a meditator?”  A small step forward. I can hope that while I remodel my brain with meditation I can find a way to lessen the ill influence of my inner Productivity tyrant.  To finally learn the difference between lazy and resting. Or productive and busywork.  Because perhaps making this sabbatical time “count” is best achieved by doing “nothing”as much as possible- at least during the weeks post Herceptin treatment.

Sparky the Cat is trying to teach me to set it all down and relax.
Sparky the Cat is seen here modeling how to just set it all down and relax utterly.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to wear a watch, or carry a cell phone- but when I try calling on my inner resources and just get a busy signal, because I am too dim and fatigued to function- I am slowly learning to take a deep breath, and try calling back later when my body’s land line is working.  Hurry up and Heal! is not a useful strategy for mending the damage of chemo brain. So for now I will try cultivating patience, and self acceptance. To learn to enjoy doing nothing.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. sharoin andretson says:

    Iris – Love this meditation! I have much the same experience with my own toxin-induced fatigue. NO sense of humor whatsoever…… There is no other sane approach than to recognize the fatigue and take time out. Being “retired” helps in that I am absolutely free to “do nothing” and can easily schedule my life around my fatigue. Any time that I slip back into the effort to maintain productivity (no matter what) I get extremely growly and that inner tyrant sends me into a downward spiral….. Patience and self-acceptance! A very real challenge is accepting that the nature of my contribution to the world is changing significantly… and that’s OK….. Much love from Sharon Anderson

  2. Ned and Lulu Heavenrich says:

    Learning how to just “be” is a challenge for us all Iris. Keep on healing and reflecting. Lulu and I enjoy your posts. Ned

  3. claire mcintyre says:

    How I enjoy your writing Iris (and kitty photos!) I am so glad your metaphor neurotransmitters are working. FIve months post chemo I too experience new questions in reality dealing with chemo brain, metamorphosis, and as Sharoin writes above, the evolving contribution we make to the world. Your blog is such a gift! Claire from Gearhart

  4. Amy says:

    Iris I’m glad you are meditating. For me it’s become as essential as water. Water for the vegetarian soul. Oh right no humor. I can’t really imagine you without humor! Please come visit when you are in Portland next. I love you no joke!( Happy birthday to Sam. How is it we have 2 sixteen yr old boys?)

  5. Julia says:

    Love your shares Iris, both the writing and photos! Thank you and much love to you!

  6. Sharyn says:

    I continue to read and love your writing about your journey. Thank you multifold. We continue to send love and healing.

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