Sunday, January 11, 2009

Coping Mechanisms

Sometimes, to overcome a temporary moment of pain – small pains, like getting a shot, a burning injection, removing medical tape, etc - I like to think of specific pleasant thoughts or images in advance to distract me. Devoting my mental energy toward conjuring this image is empowering, and allows me to feel some modicum of control over a situation in which I really have none. In the weeks between this re-diagnosis and starting treatment, the weeks leading up to the election, my positive image was clear. Right before the needle went in, the test began, the barium was drunk, I would picture: Barack Obama, standing on the balcony of the United States Capitol, with his hand on the Bible, being sworn in as President of the United States by Ruth Bader Ginsberg (I know, I know, she's just an associate justice, but this was MY positive image, and John Roberts was not welcome). During more drawn out physical challenges, like scans that require staying perfectly still for an extended period of time or biopsies and other surgeries and procedures where I am only partially sedated, I try to visualize images that keep me calm. Usually the image I conjure up is rooted in a memory from camp: sitting in Mosh field or on Bayit Hill on a warm, sunny day with a nice breeze. Other images and moments cycle through: a snowball fight during the first big snowfall during my Freshman year of college, laying on a beach in El Salvador looking up at a star-filled sky so different from the one I was used to seeing, the slow movement of the Negev desert as I walked on a silent hike, my mom waiting by the baggage claim area at O'hare airport whenever I come home. These are the images that are most potent, most powerful and most soothing. I feel so lucky to have those memories that fill me with so many positive feelings.
And in between those moments of conscious coping, I suppose I employ a hundred other coping mechanisms without realizing it. Regretfully, I use avoidance, transference, distraction and denial. Thankfully, I utilize friends, family, funny movies, good books. I hope that when I look back on this time, I will feel as though I was living with an awareness even as I let myself fall back on the coping mechanisms that are easier, but not always better.

12 comments:

Jessica Braunfeld Turnof said...

Coping mechanisms can be powerful tools in so many situations and as long as we are able to step back and understand both their source and their power, they can be wonderful tools. I have no concerns about you getting stuck in a pattern of avoidance or getting lost in a world of denial. Just enjoy the good coping mechanisms (I vote for Disney movies, Hershey kisses and free-flow writing) and all will be well. As for your Obama/Ginsberg image...I have a feeling Pres Elect Obama would enjoy that one as well :)

the mol said...

I don't think that there's any problem with just thinking about something else when you know that something is going to hurt or be unpleasant.

It isn't as if you spend most of your time walking around saying "No, I don't have cancer." Or, in my case, I don't walk around saying, "No, my kid doesn't have cancer" and we don't spend our time trying to drown unfortunate situations in other bad habits.

Barbara Agdern said...

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be.

Gideon Bob said...

Heya- I just finished my birthiright trip and am sitting in Abbys apartment in jerusalem. Clearly, we're both thinking of you a lot- and it is good to ctach up on missed blogations. I will be home in 2 days, and will come visit you ASAP. Are toys allowed in your room- chess boards? Guitars?

Also, I loved your list of positive memories. Hmmm, so nice.

Carole said...

I love your coping mechanisms. We would all do well to focus on these kinds of memories and thoughts more often. You are an amazing woman and we are all very lucky to be able to share in your wisdom.

Keep that focus (I especially like the Ruth Bader Ginsberg substitution!). I'm hoping to get by soon...

Carole

Rebecca said...

How bout this one if you ever need a laugh - Josh running screaming from the room as you me, Rach and Becks are all possessed by the "no self." Sending my love from New York!

amy said...

the only image you'll ever need to lift your spirits when you're feeling down...

http://profile.ak.facebook.com/object/1523/88/n2200506503_32731.jpg

Debbie said...

I've got an image for you -- and you even have a pic of it on your cell phone, I think, if you need to jog your memory. Baby Matty wearing your mom's pumpkin hat!

Emily Goodstein said...

i just loved this post. thanks for sharing this with us! i'd like to add the moment that the chocolate PB pie from unos arrived at our table junior year and the time on the tzedek mission bus when i made sure everyone had met you (perhaps this is only positive now, but i always laugh when thinking about it). i just put my oprah autographed keychain on my work keys and EVERYONE is jealous.

Gloria Froman said...

When I need to cope, I just think of you. Images of you, at many different times in your life. When you were four, asking me if we are all real or just a part of God's dream. When you were five, your "friendship pot" story was performed by a visiting acting troupe at grammar school. The amazing part of the story was that the pot itself was in pieces but shared was the strongest bond between two friends. When you refused to participate in unfriendly acts between children and tried to stop others from being hurt. These are some of my images and you can borrow them any time. About Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lissy you always follow your own path. Mom

Harboring thoughts said...

Elissa,

Your mother's comments were so beautiful as she spoke of your innate goodness that I do not even feel I can follow her with this response.

Please, please, do not ever worry about the coping mechanisms you utilize to get through this ordeal, and ordeal it truly is. This is not childbirth where we are actually trained to use coping mechanisms and we hold a beautiful little Elissa at the end. A little more training for cancer patients in the coping mechanism area would be great, but sometimes we have to move so quickly on the medical end that the equally important emotional end gets left behind.

What is the matter with a little avoidance, denial, and transferance? Makes the world go round. Your list has inspired me to adopt a few more coping mechanisms in my old age.

Obama is asking all of us to host a Neighborhood Ball on Inaugural Night so that we all can participate in the festivities. You can also text in messages about what you are doing to celebrate the night--see www.pic2009.org! I expect to see a wonderful picture of your hospital room, complete with the famous six garbage cans, embedded on your blog the next day--transformed into a sea of red, white, and blue streamers. I have a feeling that your Neighborhood Ball will be The Neighborhood Ball to attend! The nurses on duty will love it.

What is Flat Froman doing for the inauguration?

Thinking of you.
Nancy

Gregory said...

Nothing at all wrong with diverting your attention from the tribulations that reality poses for us--its perfectly healthy and its what you should be doing! After you do a little reading of cancer shmancer, just ensconce yourself in a good movie, such as Beautifican and The Beast(yeah I still think about Fran Drescher too much, don't I), and think about January 20th, and imagine someday simultaneously meeting Obama and Bader Ginsberg(or Ruthie B-as me and my friend LJ affectionately refer to her as--we actually were so obsessed with her ourselves one time, that we imagined a funny dialogue between her and her husband, Martin--don't ask). And when you want a good laugh, just think about Michele Obama's mother-in-law moving into the White House, with both her and Michele showing Barack who's really the boss!