Last week, I had a moment at my oncologist’s office.
Well, several moments, actually, where my game face cracked, and my panic revealed its ugly self to Dr. B and his staff.
I went to the appointment with confidence I could pull it off, you know, the game face. As planned, I brought my toolbox and strategies to help me relax: a stress ball, music, something to read, something to draw, and deep breathing exercises.
I was all prepared, confident I could pull off the confidence game. After all, I’ve been NED for quite some time now. I reasoned that I should be “over it” by now, given the clean bills of health my oncologist has given me over the years. Besides, I feel so comfortable with my doctor, I sometimes feel we are friends.
The nurse took my blood pressure, and that’s when my plan for serenity went awry. I felt just a little nervous, but my blood pressure revealed otherwise. It skyrocketed, so much so that the alarmed nurse said, “Your blood pressure shouldn’t stay that way. This is a real problem.” I admitted to her, just as I told the social worker last year, that my being here was anxiety-provoking for me.
In that moment, my fragility revealed itself. The facade of relaxation, the facade of good spirits, the facade of my game face faded away. And there I was, waiting in the examination room with my mind racing about a possible new medical problem — high blood pressure. And I became even more nervous and agitated about my oncology appointment.
It was one of those I-want-to-call-911 and run away moments.
Enter my oncologist, and with a dramatic gesture, he grabbed the blood pressure cuff and said, “So, your blood pressure is high? Let’s see.” As he took my blood pressure I tried hard to relax. “Much better, much better,” he said soothingly, as he revealed it was now within the normal range.
“I have anxiety coming here,” I shamefully admitted as he examined me. “It’s OK, you’re OK, you’re OK,” he tried to reassure me. We chit-chatted a bit, and he encouraged me to continue searching for agents to get my book out. He asked about my teaching and my daughter. Over the years, he has gotten to know me well.
Through my shaking hands, I showed him pictures of Ari and gave him a hug for helping to save my life and realize my dream of motherhood. He reassured me, “You are just fine. And you’re a great mother, a great mother.” Then the appointment was over.
For days after the appointment, I was embarrassed and couldn’t calm down — even though the exam went well. After some soul-searching, I realized why I was so upset.
In the world of oncology, I am a success story thus far. And I feel pressured to act the part.
I hate being vulnerable, so I aim to be stoic at doctor appointments.
And I aim to please: I know that oncologists witness so much suffering that I feel obligated to cheer mine up, to show him a success story.
And part of my happy-at-the-doctor’s facade is because of hubris. Damn pride. I don’t want to admit there are any chinks in my armor.
My game face is nothing but a sham to cover up the fact that I’m human. And I’m a bad con artist, unsuccessfully trying to trick medical professionals into thinking I’m calm and confident and, dare I say it, relatively happy.
I must purge myself of the deeply ingrained illusion that showing emotions makes me weak. Easier said than done. But I’m beginning to realize, perhaps for the first time, that this kind of pride can be destructive. And that perhaps showing emotions and being strong are not mutually exclusive.
Over the years, putting overly high expectations of myself has plagued me.
Covering up my emotions isn’t working for me anymore.
After all, if emotions must be revealed, where better than in an oncologist’s office, a place rife with emotions — day in and day out?
And writing this post has reminded me how hard I am on myself. I beat myself up when things don’t go perfectly at the doctor’s, in my opinion, whatever “perfect” looks like.
My goal this year is to be easier on myself. There is no better time to start than now.
How do you fare at doctor’s appointments?
What relaxation tools do you use, if necessary?
Tags: doctor's and shame, game face, oncologist, panic attack, self-blame, stress at doctor's offices