Getting Rid of the Boogeyman ...

People who live with chronic physical illness are unfortunately often too familiar with the unexpected, unpredictable, and downright frightening. I do not think many get used to the idea that a symptom or a diagnosis may or may not come back after it has gone, or that new symptoms of the illness may emerge at any time. It is almost never easy to remain unaroused when out of the blue one ends up in the emergency room and is told s/he needs surgery, or when someone is told that the only treatment that might work is a treatment that may or may not cause some very disturbing neurological or psychological side effects. As if one's psychological state has not already been affected enough...
The experience of living with the constant fear of "will my condition progress, will my cancer come back, or will this treatment leave me with neurological damage" is similar in many ways to the experience of a frightened child who has been abused and wonders if the abuser will return, or from a survivor of war who wonders whether or not s/he will have to return to the war zone, or from any survivor of trauma who contains the fear of the boogeyman; whatever that boogeyman may be for each individual.

Does that boogeyman always return? How many faces does the boogeyman have? Is the boogeyman the lump one finds that makes one wonder if the cancer has returned? Is the boogeyman the fatigue ones feels that leads one to wonder if a autoimmune flare is on its way? Is the boogeyman the news from one's doctor that an organ must be removed? How can these all be the boogeyman if there are so many different faces? The common experience of all these examples is fear of a negative potential, the feeling that doom is always lurking around the corner--this is the boogeyman. That awful boogeyman fear who steals your moments, your space for joy and immersion in the present. It is that horrible fear of what could possibly happen in the future (based on actual awful past experiences of course) that places a dark cloud over the present moment. The boogeyman shows people mirrors of the past and distorted fun house mirrors of the future, tricking people into believing there is no present and there is no goodness. And yes, sometimes the present is pretty terrible and maybe the future will be, but sometimes one does not really know. Sometimes because of that fear, that presupposition of doom, one is prevented from really examining the right now and may miss out on some very beautiful things.

One may wonder how in the world can that boogeyman fear be destroyed once and for all? The fear may not necessarily go away forever but there are many things that one can do to strongly defend oneself. Like with survivors of all types of trauma, things that remind one of the trauma are likely to invoke a feeling or fear or even flashbacks of the trauma or even a somatic reexperiencing of the trauma. Given that being diagnosed with a chronic illness is a traumatic experience that involves bodily change, there is no way to avoid some of the traumatic triggers, as by virtue of just being human our bodies do strange things sometimes. Many times, even when living with an illness, these bodily functions (e.g. stomach ache, cough, etc.) are just passing things; however, for a person living with a chronic illness they can trigger the feeling of doom--the boogeyman fear. This does not mean that the boogeyman fear cannot be managed. It is very important to take each moment, one step at a time. For example, if you feel the fear cropping up and you start to find yourself fast forwarding into the future, stop yourself for a minute and take stock of what actually is real in that moment. OK you feel fatigued but how do you know that means you will have a full flare? You don't. What do you know in that specific moment? Is there something positive around you in that moment? Are you spending time with your best friend? Are you not enjoying that moment with your best friend because you are worrying about fatigue that may pass after a nap? Are you going to let that boogeyman steal your moment or even steal your life? The fear can be crippling but with the right support you can send the boogeyman back to the dark cave where he came from. If the boogeyman is quite strong, you just might need a bit more muscle...get help! I cannot stress enough that being diagnosed with a chronic illness is a trauma like any other and requires a strong support system whether it be psychotherapy or a support group. You don't have to fight alone. There are many ways that psychotherapy can help heal the wounds of fear, even while still battling the physical illness itself at the same time. Fear does not have to win.

I would like to share a story of inspiration. This is a story of a courageous woman who found her own way to tell the fear to take a hike! She found a way to literally crush some frustrations, found a way to find joy and belongingness, and created meaning out of something very traumatic. This brave and inspirational woman had a lung removed surgically because of mesotheleoma seven years ago. On the anniversary of her surgery she takes part in Lungleavin Day a celebration she herself created. This is a day to overcome fear, where fears are written on plates and then tossed into a fire. Anyone can participate in the event which takes place on Feb 2nd and will also be webcasting live. If you'd like to participate or learn more information about Lungleavin Day check out: