Monday, October 14, 2013

Fear and the Flapper

I'm not even afraid of this weird ape creature!

I have to have my head encased in a cage and my body shoved into a dark tube. In other words, a brain MRI.

I want to be one of those people who can associate such a scenario with a relaxing spa treatment as opposed to, say, Silence of the Lambs.

I've had some claustrophobia, off and on, over the years. It has waxed and waned. I've read about and tried various techniques to allay it, and they've definitely provided relief. Even some things I used to loathe (because of that cooped-up feeling) I now enjoy, such as flying.

Enter claustrophobia smack-down: the brain MRI. I've undergone several MRIs over the year, sans cage, made possible by heaps of Valium or Atavan. But even those drugs don't work with the head-in-cage-body-in-tube scenario.

I realized the other day that the worst part is not the panic but the shame. I feel ashamed that I can't do something others do effortlessly. My mom, in her mid-70s, underwent a 3-hour MRI as a participant in Alzheimer's research. Three hours! I saw her relax into the tube and fall asleep, without any pharmaceutical assistance. Her head wasn't in a cage, but somehow I don't think even that would have mattered to her.

I mean, for god's sake, I've been fearless in so many ways! I've snorkeled in deep waters, zip-lined through treetops, hiked across a volcano, traveled alone internationally, flew down a double-diamond ski run, danced on tabletops, been jammed into huge crowds in New Orleans and Tokyo, taught high school (!), underwent brain surgery, and--like most people--suffered and recovered from great personal loss.

So, what's the big deal about allowing my head to be sheathed in a cage and my body to be pushed into a dark tube for half an hour, the roaring rat-a-tat-tat of the machine muffled by headphones? If I've endured the deaths of my parents, and my skull being drilled open, why can't I suck it up for a thirty minute MRI?

I watch my shame, a black cloud darkening the vast skies of my mind. I know this is an ego thing. I have an idea of who I am, and the MRI challenges that. This is why I'm coming out. Shame doesn't like a spotlight.

In the meantime, I'm seeing a hypnotherapist. After one session, I'm already noticing how focusing on loving my body--and truly inhabiting it--softens the trapped sensation. Awareness and acceptance of my body from the inside-out are clearly an important part of my evolution. I've explored this issue a lot during my surgery and recovery.

Yesterday at a costume party--where I dressed as a flapper--I met a happy-go-lucky guy. Oozing charm, he was dressed as Captain Stubing from The Love Boat. When I told him he spelled the captain's name wrong (two b's instead of one on his name tag), he laughed and rattled off a few stories and jokes. Somehow, in his charismatic chatter, he happened to mention he's afraid of heights. He said it in such an off-hand way, as though he thoroughly accepted this part of himself. He didn't seem to judge it. He didn't justify what could be perceived as a weakness. He just shrugged and flipped some burgers on the BBQ as he moved onto the next topic.

We all have tender spots. I'm working on giving myself a break. So what if I have to be anesthetized to undergo this procedure? I'd rather not have more drugs pumped into me. I'd rather not inconvenience Dave and me with the extra steps involved. I'd rather not have a fear I have to face.

But I do. Big whoop. Fear and shame only increase when you pretend they aren't there, or when you lash out against them.

Some things are just there. They're there. No need to push them away. They'll only get stronger by pushing back. I can let them float there. Be easy about them. Maybe chat them up a bit.  Maybe ask them why they're hanging around. Maybe ask them what they have to teach me.

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