Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tarot Readings, Cancer, and Crippling Anxiety OR How to Choose Between Despair and Peace

This is a long post about how I unraveled fear and found my peace in a bad situation. And it's a really strange story I don't expect you to understand unless you've been there. But if you wage war on anxiety and depression, bookmark this. Because one day a crisis will offer you a choice between despair and peace, and I want you to read this. 

For the month of January, I drew three cards: My Blessing, My Challenge, and My Action. 

I was perplexed by what I drew, so I decided to fill out a Card-a-Day sheet for each card and let the month unfold.

The Card-a-Day sheet is a tool from the Biddy Tarot Foundations course. The idea is to draw a card in the morning, fill out the top half of the sheet, then at the end of the day fill out the bottom half.
Based on your personal experiences, events, situations, and the people involved, you synthesize the day and card into lessons learned and reflect on your new insights about that card’s meaning.

So I applied the exercise to the month's events and the cards I drew for the month.

Holy crap. I have a whole new appreciation for the intuitive method of reading the Tarot, let's just say that.

Let's break down the January 2017 reading that I did on the 8th (yeah, yeah, I know. I'll do February's on the 1st. Slow start to the year.)

My Blessing = 9 of Swords
 What the hell? Look at that damn card. That's waking up from a nightmare right there, with heavy worries (9 swords) hanging over your head. How is that a blessing? Ever wake up in the middle of the night and all your problems rush in? Or try to go to sleep at night when your mind is going a million miles an hour because you have a ton of worries? The 9 of swords usually deals with anxiety, depression, nightmares, despair, and feeling overwhelmed. Let me repeat: How the hell is that a blessing?? Turns out, it is. 

More on that later.

My Challenge = Ace of Cups
So my challenge for January was unconditional love? Compassion? Overwhelming emotion. Yeah. Okay. I can see that.

And it manifested in a way I never expected.

My Action = 10 of Swords
Um.... What? Was I supposed to stab someone in the back? Betray someone? Whaaaaat? Or...end a cycle. That made more sense. Throw loss and and a crisis in there and how does that add up to action? Hmmmmm...

So…I took the reading to mean my blessing for January would be waking up from a nightmare. 9s indicate a cycle is close to completion. That’s a good thing, right? So okay, blessing.  My challenge was to be compassionate.

And the action I needed to take was to end some cycle. That fact that two swords showed up in the reading and they were 9 & 10 did not escape my notice. That was significant, and drove home the ending of a cycle thing.

All in all, the reading for January was all kinds of confusing, amorphous, and read more like a cryptic joke than a guide for the month, as far as I was concerned. But as it turns out…wow.

I have a much deeper understanding of these three cards and I will never again be able to look at them without January 2017 and all it’s chaos and lessons coming to mind.

So here's how the month unfolded and how I synthesized the cards from the experience:

The 9 of Swords is a very appropriate card for me this time of year, and if I'm being totally honest, any given day depending on how well I'm managing my anxiety and occasional depression. But having it show up in the Blessings position was perplexing. How is chronic anxiety a damn blessing?

I've been working on managing the anxiety for years, and have made substantial progress but it's frustrating and disappointing to realize that being anxious may just be something I have to manage for the rest of my life. You know, manage but not cure. And that's where I was at the end of the first week of the New Year.  

And then a real crisis crashed over me and my family mid month: my mom was diagnosed with cancer. 

An incurable cancer.

Treatable. Hopefully, most likely, maybe.

But bottom line: she would never be declared free of cancer.

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a whirlwind of emotion, processing, and trying to figure out how to be there for my parents who live 4 hours away on a good day AND take care of my husband and kids. Writing and running my own business has taken a back seat. I mean, family first, right?

So…it’s almost the end of the month and I still haven’t figured any of this out. But I have discovered an amazing thing: I’ve found my peace. I feel more centered, calmer than I have in a very long time.
It kind of freaks me out.

What kind of monster am I? I mean, I should be beside myself, right? Anxiety through the roof, crying at inappropriate times, plagued by fear of the future. As my dad texted me that first night after mom’s surgery, “this is a nightmare” and I should be appropriately twisted up. (see the 9 of Swords)

And I was.

At first.

The first few nights I didn’t sleep well. I tossed and turned and had bad dreams. I woke up crying and confused about why I was so sad until I remembered...

But more quickly than seems plausible, I got a grip. I was prone to crying and that wouldn’t do while driving and meeting with the oncologist. So I made a deal with myself: no crying while driving, but I could sob my heart out when I was alone or in my husband’s arms as much as I wanted. I drove to my folks, talked to the oncologist, wrote down everything I could, and did a lot of research.

Dad and I learned real fast not to wander too far into the unknowable future because it only tightened the knot in our stomachs. I’m not sure what mom was thinking or feeling because she was under the influence of pain meds and residual effects of anesthesia. What I do know is she met it all with an exterior calmness and acceptance in the moment.

And we laughed.

Seriously, we chuckled at the absurdity of the diagnosis.

And we got irritated.

We shook our heads because hospitals are the last place anyone can actually heal. All that damn beeping and the roommates. Sheesh!

One gal didn’t have the presence of mind NOT to contribute to our private conversations through the curtain.

And we got angry.

At the diagnosis. Because mom had done everything you're supposed to do to screen for cancer. That the biopsy came back benign 2 years ago. That the new state-of-the-art 3D mammogram caught NOTHING. That she'd been given the all clear just TWO months ago. When her hospital roommate hosted a rather loud group of visitors when my mom desperately needed to sleep.

And I made jokes.

I cracked jokes about the hospital party posse so I wouldn't tumble down a very angry, dark hole.

The next day I had no problem laughing as a vase of tulips toppled over, soaking the carpet in my brand new car. It was especially funny because the florist had so conscientiously packaged the arrangement precisely to prevent such a calamity.

Looking back, I realize I was managing my emotions pretty damn well. I made deals with myself and am still making them: you can fall apart, dear, but not when you’re driving or attending your son’s basketball games.

I can feel all the fear if that’s what I must do, and I make time for it. I literally set aside time in the morning or evening, or midday, whatever works. And I time it. I’m allowed to feel everything to the fullest extent, but the feelings are not allowed to take over my day. Unless that’s what’s needed, and that’s a whole other blog post.

And I surrender to the overwhelming emotion. (see the Ace of Cups)

The bizarre thing, the strangest thing I never expected is in the crisis, during the process of managing my emotions about it, I have found peace.

My heart is at peace. I’m not conflicted. I’m not constantly overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and fears or imprisoned in the nightmare.

As a matter of fact, I am the calmest I’ve been in a very long time.

And I think the 10 of Swords has helped me understand the reason why.

Through conscious, spiritual awareness and unconditional love and compassion for my mom, my family, and myself (Ace of Cups) I have processed the nightmare. In so doing, I have ended a long and vicious cycle (10 of Swords), a way of dealing with the world that wasn’t helpful at best, a betrayal at worst: a cycle where anxiety ruled my life.

In case you've never experienced it, anxiety is worrying and the resulting fear that may or may not hinder your ability to enjoy life or even get out of bed. It can lead to depression and can be a life-long struggle.

Worry is the brain’s attempt to “prevent” horrible things from happening. And since 99% of what we worry about never happens, in a twisted sense we learn that worrying is effective. What we worry about for the most part, never comes to fruition. Ipso facto: worry prevents tragedy. But then the 1% that we never worried about happens. What does that mean? The brain attempts to make sense of it and comes to this conclusion: Bad shit is going to happen whether I worry about it or not.

And then we can do one of two things with that information: 1) become utterly depressed at the hopelessness and helplessness of our situation. Existential crisis, anyone? OR 2) we can acknowledge that life can be utterly random, surrender to what is with deep compassion and unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves and others. When I chose #2, I achieved a sense of peace. (ha! yes, I see that, but I'm leaving it there because it's somehow appropriate)

And we can do both. Actually, I think the existential crisis is inevitable and maybe even necessary for most of us in order to get to the heart at peace. Maybe some lucky souls don’t need the crisis, but apparently, I did.

As I look back at my January 2017 Tarot reading, I realize the cards definitely guided me. Did they predict the future? Well, I don’t know and that’s not really what I was aiming for, anyway. What they did was help me tap into my subconscious, the Higher Self, the Universe, or whereever all the wisdom I need to get through this crisis is stored.

Any nightmare (9 of Swords) has something to teach us: that is the blessing. In my case, I had been looking for the “cure” to my anxiety for years, but what I really needed was to be deeply compassionate towards myself (Ace of Cups) and acknowledge that I had been allowing my anxiety to run amok, instead of finding some way to take the reigns. That was my challenge.

The crisis pushed me into a do or die situation where I had to choose: either be my emotions’ bitch or make my emotions my bitch. It’s a dark thing to face cancer, not knowing what the days and months ahead hold, but it’s an even darker thing to be shackled by fear.

I’ve chosen to let myself feel whatever I need to, but my emotions serve me now, not the other way around. I'm no longer a life support system for my emotions.

And that’s new.

That’s totally new.

And I see the light of dawn on the horizon, the earliest fading of a black, starless night. The cycle of torturing myself is over (10 of Swords). It died a painful death, for sure. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, but it's the choice I had to make the action I had to take. And it was my choice. I just needed a kick in the pants to make it.

Life is not a walk in the park. And it never will be. But fearing the future, making up ten thousand possible ways for things to go wrong, is like praying for what you don’t want.

Does this mean I’ll never experience anxiety again? Oh, hell no. But I’ve learned something that will turn the battle into a dance: I’m the master of my emotions. I can take the lead whenever I want. Anxiety can’t destroy me. Emotions are meant to serve a purpose; a fearful thought is meant to help prepare for a possibility. They are not meant to be in charge.

They are meant to alert, to inform, to process, and to follow my lead.

***Side note***: If you want to learn to read the Tarot intuitively, this kind of processing is a must. The cards become imbued with deep personal insight and I'll never again be able to look at these three cards the same. Ever. Think about what that means for future readings!  

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