Spanish, Cedar and Surfacing (Or, PTSD – not just for the shell-shocked)

I knew something was up when I started to jump at loud sounds. I started to make a mental list of the new symptoms I was feeling a few weeks after the second ‘awake’ emergency surgery. It went something like this:

I’m not sleeping. I can’t nap. When my body tries to fall asleep I am jolted awake by what feels like an electric current, every time.
i have NO patience. I go from 0 to 100 in seconds. Things that I can normally navigate are making me exasperated. Angry. Irritated.
I can’t handle being around a lot of people at a time. I break into a sweat and feel twitchy and want out.
I am jumpy. Loud noises make me feel that electric current feeling. I physically jump and startle at anything unexpected, even a hello from someone that I’m not expecting. I want to turn the volume down on my phone.
I feel like I haven’t taken a deep breath in weeks.
My neck and back are so tight that it is beyond sore – deep tissue pain. I know this is where my body holds all of my stress. Usually.
When people ask me how I am, I am often unable to talk about it, and I cry.
I’m not writing. Can’t write.

My system has taken a hit, in more ways than one. When I went in for my physical with my doctor, I brought some of this up, and fell apart, completely, in her office. The words that kept coming out of my mouth were the same.
‘I’m not okay.’
‘I’m not myself. This isn’t me.’

40 minutes later, I left her office with prescriptions for massage therapy, physiotherapy, and an anti-anxiety medication. And maybe a little bit of hope.

I have some pretty strong feelings about these types of medications – I do feel that they are over-prescribed. I do think they can be bandaid solutions. Also, I like to think I’m strong enough to handle just about anything. And I am. I also think that there are some times when some sort of chemical re-balancing needs to take place in order to get ourselves to the state where we can do the things we need to do in order to work some stuff out and move forward.

Now is that time for me.

I was worried about taking it. I was scared it would zombify me, numb me out, change my personality, take away my fire, flatten me, kill my libido. The pharmacist suggested I start by taking half a dose, which is 5mg. I dutifully cut my first pill in half and told myself I would give it two weeks and see how I felt.

I really hesitated to share this part of my journey. Worried that others would see it as weakness. Concerned about the stigma I feared would attach itself to me. Now, a few weeks in, I think, like much of the other super-private-bordering-on-gory-personal detail I’ve chosen to share in this forum, someone else may find it useful. I have already had two conversations with people who are going to their doctors to check it out because they need a bit of help coping with the relentless anxiety that hovers constantly.
I have stuck with the half dose, because I like what it’s doing and I see no need to go to the full dose. My doctor agrees. What I have noticed thus far is this:
Four days or so after starting it, I was standing in my kitchen at about 4 in the afternoon and I yawned. Stretched. Felt like I could lie down and take a nap. In my pre-cancer life, I was always tired in the late-afternoon. It was the first time in almost a year that I felt normal fatigue, at a normal time for me. To feel my body relax enough to yawn actually brought a smile to my face. And some joy. It felt so normal! I took note of it and moved on with my day. Later that night, at about 9:30 or so, I felt it again. Normal tired. (!!)

Over the next few days, I did have a couple of dizzy spells. I had two days of persistent headaches. They’re gone now.

Here’s what I find really interesting. In the past two weeks:
I have cleaned out closets and drawers.
I cleaned out my basement.
I moved my son’s bedroom.
I filled 5 recycling bags and several boxes of things to give away to the Sally Ann.
I had a door that’s been broken for weeks repaired.
I did my taxes.
I have begun to learn Spanish and have completed 20 lessons and corresponding quizzes and oral labs.
I have done yoga.
I have done pilates.
I have walked approximately 50km in the past two weeks.
My television has not been turned on this week.
I feel productive.
I feel (most of the time) like I’m in control.


Having spent the last couple of months in recovery mode (anxious-twitchy-healing-bandaged-not-allowed-to-‘resume normal activity’-being-un-bandaged-and-then-re-bandaged-and-barely-keeping-a-lid-on-things), I cannot say enough about how good it feels to get back to doing the things I love. To sleep in in the mornings. To organize my day around exercise and getting into the woods or close to rapidly melting ice and fast-moving water. To cook. To plan. To look forward.


I was in the woods today, on a messy-muddy-icy-wet hike with two girlfriends, and I stopped in my favourite spot on the trail and told them this was the part I liked the most. One of them, in on a visit from out of town, noted that we were standing in a cedar grove. It’s funny; I’ve never even thought about what kind of trees they were. I like that it feels dark, haunted, that the ground is almost always black littered with yellow. I like that the trees are almost all uniform. I like the bark. I feel small there; the trees are tall. The light is at best filtered in that grove; in the summer it’s always just a bit cooler than on the rest of the trail. The air changes. It feels quieter, lower than the hillier part of the trail. It’s almost always a place where I stop and take a few really deep breaths, in through the nose, and breathe in the smell. There is something about the smell in that one spot. I have always been drawn to dark, woody smells. Sandalwood. Patchouli. Cedar. They make me feel connected. Being in that particular cedar grove, I feel like I’ve been invited in on someone’s secret. I love it there.

When I got home today I thought it would be worthwhile to look up cedar and see if there was anything new I could learn about it, something that would tell me why I am so drawn to it. I found some of the information interesting, and it made me smile.

Cedar trees often live a long time. (I like that.)
They are used for making canoes and other boats, boxes, bowls and baskets. (My nest is full of baskets, and the canoe is an obvious connection for me.)
The wood of cedar trees is very resistant to disease. (Sounds good to me.)
The wood of cedar trees has a very pleasant smell. (Maybe I’ll look into adding this to my perfume concoction in France?)
The part about mature trees cedars often having hollow trunks was not, I found, without its irony. (I can still find the funny. Check.)

I feel, overall, like I’m starting to surface. I feel, almost completely, like me.


5 thoughts on “Spanish, Cedar and Surfacing (Or, PTSD – not just for the shell-shocked)

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey…even the tough stuff. It just shows your strength and resolve. You are unabashedly honest and forthright. I laughed the other day, after making a bone head remark, waiting for ‘a shoulder punch’!

  2. Tanya, I have been following your journey through your blogs. Patiently waiting for a new story to appear, then finding a quiet moment to read it. I have to say that you amaze me! You are honest, funny, articulate…human! I don’t think you can comprehend how much you are helping people understand what living with cancer is like. For people who have never had anyone close to them with cancer, it is eye opening! I wish you nothing but peace, happiness and mostly health! You are an inspiration! Your parents must be so proud! God Bless you and your family!

  3. So good to hear your starting to heal….mentally and physically. I love your humor! We have to find a positive spin on all this crazy cancer stuff and not let it get the upper hand. I went back to Wpg last week for a check up and had the whole waiting room laughing. Everyone started to contribute a story of their journey and talk about all the crazy parts. I also brought a bag of rub-on nipple tattoos I purchased on line to give myself a little lift. Who else has more fun with a bag of temporary nipple tattoos than a room full of breast cancer patients?…..LOL Thank you for your inspiring story! Sending you peace and gentle hugs…..

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