The Sonia Show

Writer. Mocker. Beer drinker. Old movie watcher. Mother. Goober.

The Art of Mentally Tidying Up

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Yeah, so, in the spirit of the New Year and fresh starts and shit like that, my mighty, mighty good man David read “The Art of Tidying Up” and has been going through all the closets, boxes, drawers, and random piles of stuff in our house and asking himself, “Does this spark joy?”

I am happy to report that mighty, mighty good boy Calvin, the dog and myself have made the cut … so far.

My mom was kind enough to let Calvin spend all day Friday and most of Saturday with her so we could have a full 24 hours to do whatever we want. David chose to go through all of his things and declutter his life. He does have a lot of boxes of random things, a ton of clothes he doesn’t want (mainly T-shirts with tech logos on them) and books that he read but was never going to read again but you hold onto, because we’ve been trained to hold on to books for some reason. I, on the other hand, chose to throw a few books on the pile, watch a little TV and write this blog post.

I have a lot of clutter, too, but most of my stuff is mental. So, while David went through boxes and got rid of things that don’t give him joy, I went through my mental boxes and tried to cast away the thoughts that don’t bring me joy.

Last year was a tough year. I lost three friends; two of them to cancer. The year started with my second breast cancer diagnosis, which resulted in a mastectomy, followed by almost six months of chemotherapy and a breast reconstruction surgery. After the mastectomy in January, I was told I was cancer free. I did chemotherapy as an insurance policy, because – unlike the first time when I had breast cancer in 2009 – there was more cancer and it was more aggressive.

Chemotherapy was rough, but I tried to keep a positive attitude and focus on the good things in my life – my amazing family and friends who rallied around me. It’s difficult to be down when I’m surrounded by the best people on the planet. It reminds me that I’m doing something right. Throughout chemotherapy I was relatively good spirits. I watched a lot of TV shows and movies, and spent time with friends and family. I did have one stay in the hospital and suffered my first-ever panic attack. It was very scary.

I didn’t really let myself deal with how shitty my year was until recently. Actually, that’s not accurate. It’s more like I still wasn’t dealing with what happened to me, but my subconscious mind and my body was like, “Hey asshole! It’s time to deal with your shit.”

I’ve had three panic attacks in December.

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The first one was triggered by a small brown spot I found on my back. It was new. Instantly, my heart started pounding. I felt dizzy and faint. “This brown spot is totally cancer, and I’m going to die,” I thought. I saw a dermatologist. She removed it. Kaiser tested it. It’s an atypical mole, but it had a few abnormal cells that could turn into melanoma in situ. It’s not melanoma in situ. There’s just abnormal cells. They are going to take a bigger piece of my back around where that mole was just to be safe, given my history. I’m fine, though.

Of course, this is the third time I found something in/on my body, and the third time it’s resulted in me hearing the word “cancer.” At least this time it’s not cancer. I didn’t even let it get to that point. You guys, my advice to you: Know your body, and advocate for yourself. I’m really glad I didn’t ignore it.

Still, while this mole turned out to be pretty much nothing, it has played on my greatest fear: That I’m going to die and leave my husband and boy all alone. Also, in December, a friend died of melanoma. She was my age. We went to her memorial service, and I had a panic attack that lasted all day long. It was like my nightmare was playing out in front of me, and I was so broken hearted for her husband, one of David’s oldest friends, and their family. All day long my heart was pounding, my feet and hands were tingling, and I felt dizzy and faint. I thought there was something really wrong with me, and that I was going to die, but I didn’t want to be drama queen. I kept it to myself. Well, until now.

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I told good buddy Kate about what happened next day, and she said, “That’s what a panic attack feels like. You’re not going to die. You just feel like you’re going to die.” It was a relief to told, “You’re not going to die.” It’s mental, not physical.

I can handle it.

Then it happened again last week, and I have no idea what triggered it. I felt dizzy and faint. My hands and feet were tingling. My heart was pounding. I recognized what was happening, because Kate has described it so well. I got myself a big glass of water, sat on the couch, breathed deep and waited for it to pass. When it was over, I started crying.

I can’t handle it.

I don’t have the tools to handle it. So, I went to my first-ever counseling appointment last week, and the second I sat down in the chair I started crying. It goes against my very nature to talk about my shit before I’ve worked it out for myself. I like to talk about my shit after I’ve figured out how to handle it. I don’t like to burden people with my unprocessed thoughts and feelings. But when I sat down in that chair it was like the entire year just washed over me and the tears wouldn’t stop. I described my panic attack symptoms, and she handed me a pamphlet that basically says, “So, you’re having panic attacks” and it listed every symptom I had just described.

We talked about how common it is for cancer patients and cancer survivors to suffer from post-traumatic stress. She offered some advice on how to deal with the attacks if they should happen again, and I want to work on dealing with my shit so maybe they won’t happen in the first place. I’m also debating whether I should have some Xanax on me at all times. I hear that one of the things that can trigger panic attacks is the fear of having another panic attack. I think having the pills with me would lessen that anxiety.

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I debated whether or not to write this post. I actually wondered if panic attacks are a dirty little secret that we’re not supposed to talk about. But that’s not what I’m about. I like to talk about shit. Literally. Remember the time I wrote about how I took a shit on the delivery table while giving birth? Why hold back now, am I right?

What about you guys? Do you have panic attacks? How do you deal with them?

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Author: The Sonia Show

I'm a writer/mocker/goober/mother in San Francisco who likes to drink beer, shop, laugh and make other people laugh, podcast, watch old movies, feed my unhealthy obsession with pop culture, kick breast cancer's ass, wear orange and root for the San Francisco Giants, participate in general jackass-ery, talk about TV, eavesdrop on strangers' conversations, make nerdy “Star Wars” and “Simpsons” references, and post personal things about myself on the web for all to read, which makes me some sort of literary exhibitionist.

17 thoughts on “The Art of Mentally Tidying Up

  1. Hey you. I didn’t know you were dealing with this, but with all you have been thru, I’m not surprised at all! Not sure if I have told you all about my history with panic attacks, which led at one point to me not being able to drive over a single bridge for an entire year. It passes, but it’s very hard in the moment. I am here to talk if you need a shoulder, anytime!

  2. Ah, Sonia, we should get together and talk. Between the boys being diagnosed with the autism and now the panic.. yeah. I had a massive round of panic attacks lasting a year or more after my divorce, and another big round of panic attacks and depression after Dashiell was born. Just seems to be my default when things get tough.
    I did the cognitive-behavioral therapy groups that they offer through Kaiser and found them helpful. Also they have a great mindfulness class which is aimed at people with chronic pain but really helps with anxiety and depression too. Yoga can be good, although I’ve totally let that go. Making sure you get way more sleep than you think you need. That’s a big one.
    Also found a great talk therapist who I loved (Sue Hirsch, if you’re looking for names). But probably the biggest thing was figuring out which things in my life were causing the most stress and making it hardest for me to cope and trying to change those things. Which is pretty much why I ended up leaving the Examiner, although I guess I didn’t advertise it that way at the time.

    At any rate– different situations, but I know how much panic attacks suck. The good news is, they do pass, you do survive them. I think that’s probably the most helpful thing at this point, is just being able to recognize it and know that, ok, this sucks, but it will end, I’ll be ok, I just have to ride this out. That helps.

    • We should get together I am so sorry you went through all that, Sara. You know, near the end of my time at The Examiner I would break out into a cold sweat and get the shakes every time our crazy-eyed boss would yell at someone. It was awful.

      The therapist mentioned going to a cancer survivor support group, but I just don’t think I can do it. I’m way too shy to talk in a big group like that. I’m better sitting behind a keyboard. Ha!

      The trigger usually is “I don’t feel well” and then it turns it into “I don’t feel well because I have cancer again” and then it goes from there. I think talking about it with a counselor and writing about it (writing always makes me feel better) will really help me get a handle on things. Also, I will be returning to yoga. It’s long overdue.

  3. Had a couple when I lived in NYC. I lived through them somehow, and decided to move to SF. It worked. They’re the worst. So sorry to hear that you’re having them. If you find a good therapist, that should help immensely. Never taken meds for them, so I can’t speak to that.

  4. I am so sorry they have increased!! I have only had one and I thought I was dying as well.. What SAVED me (I truly believe I would have died without it.. Heart attach caused by the panic attack sorta thing) was the app headspace. If you subscribe to it for a monthly fee you will access a button called “panic Patton” and a guide is just walking you trough it, urges you to calm down, sit down and breath. It is a meditation app and it really is amazing. I hope it will help!

  5. Please continue to talk about this, as many times as possible. I have found that the only method, truly, the only method is talk and talk some more. It breaks my heart clean in two that my Mom still subscribes to the notion that depression and panic attacks are something to be brushed under the carpet and not talked about. I tell her that I am here for her 24/7 and that I WANT to hear about it, and somehow offer her a measure of solace and hopefully peace. Can’t imagine NOT talking about something so very personal and painful with a loved one. It is so very easy to just shut down and tell yourself that you “don’t want to be a bother”, but please don’t. We want to hear, we want to share, we want to offer a safe place………………

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