(EDITING NOTE: Sorry about the run-together editing fail on this post; I’ve tried a couple of times to fix it and can’t seem to figure it out at the moment, and have run out of chemo-patience to keep trying at the moment. enjoy the post anyway and I’ll try to make it prettier tomorrow.)
One of the repeated lessons of cancer (of course it can also be learned elsewhere) is how impactual and overwhelming the body’s memory can be. Apparently according to the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “body memory” is often used to imply repressed memories of physical abuse, but that’s never been how I use or even conceive of the phrase.
This is not to deny that sometimes, some kinds of touch can cue legitimate, real memories. However, to infer abuse from physical symptoms in this way is utterly invalid, as is the inference that conscious, recallable memories can be stored in muscle tissue.
That last phrase is the part I think I disagree with, based on personal experience, though I concede that there could simply be a better or different phrase to describe the phenomenon to which I refer. (Or more likely, a part of the brain that runs so deeply it never shuts off even at densest sedation.)
Last year, for example, I recall the first day coming home after the mastectomy surgery, where there’s no possibility of actual, full-night’s sleep, sitting propped up with pillows all around with my mind in a twilight state. These strange images and feelings of sharp lines being drawn across my mid-chest, and dark shadowy forms looming over me kept recurring. It wasn’t at all like a normal “dream”, and at some point in some story I’m sure I’ll try to better describe it to delineate the difference. It very much felt as even though my mind was under general anaesthesia, my body was remembering the experience of people standing around me cutting me open and removing pieces of my body — which was indeed what was happening at the time.
This time around, I find that even though my mind is certainly ready to go home, be with my family (including new baby!), and continue my LIVING, non-hospital life with joy in every day and every breath, my body experiences a hitch of panicked feeling when trying to think about the process. This totally feels like it’s happening because my last memories of being at my home are of being partially paralyzed — stuck in the kitchen, unable to move my leg unless I was physically picking it up, crying and terrified with no help and no way to fix it, (TMI WARNING AHEAD) wetting myself because I couldn’t get to the restroom because I was literally unable to move my left leg forward no matter how hard my brain sent the signal to my body.
And of course I know that won’t happen this time. The reason for the paralysation is literally no longer there (the culpable tumor that was pressing on my spinal cord is according to the doctor “gone gone gone!”); I’ve been walking in the hospital around my room for weeks now without assistance (from people; I’ll be using a cane and walker for a while to come). I’ve been working with physical therapists while here to relearn what proper movement and alignment feels like. I’ll continue that work when out. We have live-in help lined up to make sure that in a sudden resurgence of worst case scenario (that won’t happen because of regular scans and constant work and vigilance) I won’t be stuck with no help.
And still there’s that hitch moment, that brief flash of panic, that seems to come from the body itself, its own memory of what happened, overriding any rational thought or mind memory. Of course I’m talking about it in therapy sessions, and working through it, and it won’t stop me or slow me down any more than the rest of this has, and less than most of the bad things slowing me down.
Life is a strange, strange thing. Does anyone else out there have their own “body memory” stories to tell?