Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
One year ago, I fell down a rabbit hole known as acute myeloid leukemia. As I lay weak, nauseous and miserable in the midst of chemo and radiation treatment for the transplant, I felt I would never be able to do anything useful, productive, or fun ever again. Everything felt impossible. As I wrote last week in the first recovery post, recovery from AML is long, slow, and frustrating.
Part of my recovery has been about keeping myself busy, and taming the demons of Depression, Anger, and Frustration. I've always been a busy and productive person, and the idea of a year "just recovering" wasn't going to cut it. I may not be working and auditioning, but I'm sure as hell going to have something to show for it when I'm back to my Before Cancer Self.
Developed out of necessity to stop myself from going stir-crazy during the initial 100 days post-transplant (the arbitrary and rather useless marker of the commencement of "normalcy"), I created a list of things I wanted to do that weren't aimlessly scrolling through facebook and twitter for hours on end.
I now have six things that I try to do every day that take care of me mentally, physically, and spiritually. Sometimes I don't do all of them. Sometimes I do none. But I know that when I do them, I feel better. Every Thing is something I can do at home, away from the germ-ridden masses, and most Things I can do from the comfort of my couch.
1. morning pages
One of the principle exercises of Julia Cameron's rather amazing artist recovery book, The Artist's Way, is morning pages. First thing every morning, hand-write 3 stream of consciousness pages. You can write anything you want. You can write "I hate writing" for three pages. You can write "I'm bored." You can write "I hate cancer". The possibilities are endless. If you are an artist, if you want to be an artist, if you just want to be a little more creative, this book is a must. Morning pages help keep me sane.
I've been meditating for over five years, and I know that when I practise regularly, it helps take the edge off. Most days I'll do twenty minutes of silent sitting. Other days, particularly when I'm depressed or anxious, I use guided meditations. I particularly love Susan Piver, Petrea King, and music meditations.
Getting moving is one of the hardest things for me to do - the pull of couch gravity is strong y'all. The illness and treatment wreaked havoc on my body, and my fitness level has plummeted. Becoming active again is an important part of recovery both physically and mentally. I'm slowly getting back into yoga, learning taichi with Aaron, and through the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults have started running again (more on that next week!).
Before Cancer, I was in a good routine of practising singing every day. After Cancer, physical fatigue along with thyroid problems means I've lost a whole octave and even basic exercises leave me with a sore throat for several days. For the same reasons, flute practise is also off the cards for a while. The ability to sing and play will return with time and increased strength/energy, but in the meantime, I want to be developing my skills. I've been delving back into music theory, and finally started learning the piano. I have the most wonderful, kind and patient teacher, and the joy I'm getting from playing is immeasurable. It's frustrating in that I want to be brilliant yesterday (story of my life, even without AML), but I am loving it.
I speak un poco español, and understand a smidgin of Italian, but I've always wanted to be more fluent in a second language. Duolingo is a wonderful website and app that allows you to learn new languages for free. I'm currently learning Spanish (ancestral duty), French (for when Aaron and I go help my aunt paint her country house in France), and Danish (because Borgen). The site monitors your progress, and rewards you with points for maintaining consecutive days of practise. It appeals to my inner nerd, and need for reward, immensely.
Since starting a journal when I was ten years old, writing has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I signed up to a free program through MSK called Visible Ink where patients are assigned a writing mentor. You can be in touch as often or as little as you'd like, and work on whatever writing project you choose. With guidance and encouragement from my wonderful mentor Caren, I've actually managed to finish a first draft of my one woman play "First Lady".
I also did a seven week free online course, How Writers Write Poetry, through Iowa University which re-inspired me to write poetry and even helped me get published in StepAway Magazine!
In addition to the morning pages, I try and work on a bit of writing every day - my play, poetry, blog posts, and of course the movie musical project.
So these are my six things that a year ago felt impossible. As I continue on this journey down the rabbit hole that is AML recovery, the impossible becomes imaginable, and even doable.
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rehearsal & show diaries.
For other writings,
Breathe, Just Breathe
For a chronological journey through every movie musical ever made, check out