Just at the point when I started to feel better after my breast cancer treatment, I became aware of incredible tension in my shoulders. It’s been six months since my last cancer treatment, and I’m feeling pretty strong, but this next challenge arrived when I thought I could finally relax. The sensation is something like the image from the film Black Swan when the feathers are trying to break out from under the skin on her back. As a metaphor it’s pretty powerful – renaissance, phoenix rising, letting go – and that’s how I try to think about it. The reality is pretty uncomfortable as it’s hard to sleep at night when every turn is painful.
Breast cancer is no longer in my thoughts and discourse all day, but there is always a residual fear that the cancer will come back. I am no longer ‘carefree’ – I am monitoring my health like a hawk with the added stress that this mysterious illness can be silent. The tension has manifested itself in my shoulders, like a soldier after the war has finished but still in fight or flight mode.
The upper back and shoulders is a classic area for people to hold on to tension and stressful thoughts. I could hardly move in bed because of the tightness. I craved to be massaged. I also knew I needed to cry. I was crying over small things – watching the news, listening to a song, imagining the pain of others, but it wasn’t enough. My theory is that once I release this tension through crying, I will be bien dans ma peau (comfortable in my skin) again.
I looked for sad films, but my tears would only last for a short period of time and the tears never felt powerful enough. Then I remembered a mantra given to me by my friend Robin, which is also called The Crying Prayer – Vajrasattva. Every time I listened to this, particularly the version I would burst into tears. I have also been doing Yoga with Adriene – a series of yoga programmes which are seemingly guaranteed to make me cry. She has specific routines for upper back and shoulder tension, which are fantastic. I also have a physiotherapist who massages this area too.
What’s happening in my upper body is a physical manifestation of the psychological tension I have felt throughout this process. I’m hoping that as my body heals, my mind does too. I keep thinking of those feathers trying to burst out of my back…..wish me luck.