Our bodies are great at remembering hard times: The smell of alcohol in a hospital makes my heart race. I can’t wear turtlenecks because they remind me of the compression bandage on my throat after my thyroidectomy.
But the flip side is that our bodies can conjure great experiences too. Here’s one: My body remembers the days when I was a dancer. Heat and humidity meant my muscles were always flexible, pliable, and ready to go. I could enter the studio and launch into the fun stuff with little need to warm up. Now whenever I’m in heat and humidity, I feel totally motivated to do physical exercise. (Crazy I know.)
Before my second surgery, I requested to speak with a chaplain. I got a Lutheran minister. I was born Jewish, but I’m not religious, and don’t believe in god. Still, I love hospital chaplains. In fact, if there were such a thing as God in my mind, he/she might appear to me in the form of a hospital chaplain.
He got me to start visualizing what it was like to relax in bed with my husband. Yes, it sounded kinda trashy and weird coming from a minister, and freaked me out at first. But I realized that he knew I loved my husband to pieces, it was really hard being in a hospital in a different city than where I live, and he was trying to make me feel at home and relaxed. He asked me all about my bedroom. I told him about the pale yellow walls, my mahogany bureau that belonged to my grandma, and how great it is to dive into bed and put my head on my husband’s chest. It totally worked. When the chaplain left I didn’t want my husband or family to come back into the room. I was so peaceful and relaxed I wanted to be alone.
The words visualization and imagery sound so hokey and new agey to me. But I guess that is what it was. And it totally worked.
Have you ever used visualization or imagery to coax yourself into a better mental space during illness? Was it useful? Did you use the generic peaceful river scene or a place you had actually experienced before?
Many of you have said your favorite part of my book is HollyAnna’s kick ass cancer and river visualization scene read. Read it in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.