A Happiness Reserve
Since my diagnosis two and a half years ago, I’ve had at least fifteen MRI’s.
I’m no stranger to spending an hour lying completely still inside a tiny tube with a cage covering my face.
In fact, at this point, I would consider myself a bit of a pro.
A few weeks ago I had my first full-body MRI.
The goal of the scan was to look for other tumors growing on nerves throughout the rest of my body. And it would only take 45-minutes.
My other scans usually take about an hour, so I assumed this MRI would be similar.
As I walked into the exam room, the tech instructed me to lie down while he started pulling out large panels.
Once I was settled, two techs started placing the heavy panels all over my body…and strapping me to the table.
I immediately started to panic.
My doctor didn’t prepare me for this…
Did they expect me to make it through this entire scan weighted down and strapped to the machine?
Normally, they stabilize my head with a cage during MRI’s, which isn’t the most comfortable thing, but at least the rest of my body is free to move slightly.
They also usually have music playing while I’m in the machine. I can’t always hear it, but it still gives me something to focus on.
This time—no moving and no music.
I would be attached to the table from head to toe with nothing to distract me.
I’ve never experienced a panic attack before, but as a social worker, I’ve studied and witnessed others having one, so I know how to stop them.
As I started a simple breathing technique, I felt a strap snap.
My deep breathing was causing the panel on my chest to come undone.
Plus, taking big breaths can blur the images.
Now I really started to freak out.
All I could think was, there is no way I’m going to make it through this test.
I would also like to point out that this realization came before they even started the scan. The techs were still calibrating the machine with me lying inside of it, so I still had 45 minutes to go.
As my new attempt at calming myself down, I tried visualizing my wedding.
That may sound weird, but it was the absolute best weekend of my entire life. So, if any memory would be powerful enough to prevent a panic attack, this would be it.
Mentally, I began replaying each event, starting with picking my fiancé up at the airport before our rehearsal dinner and ending with our father’s day brunch the day after our wedding.
As I focused on each memory, I couldn’t help but smile.
My breathing began to slow, and I stopped sweating.
It worked! I wouldn’t say the time flew by, but it went much faster than I expected. And I managed to finish the exam without having a panic attack.
Now it wasn’t a perfect fix—periodically I started feeling overwhelmed again, but each time I would bring myself back to the memory and focus on small details about each scene.
And this isn’t the first time I’ve tried this trick.
I also used it during my very first MRI, but that time I planned my wedding in my head. Even the happiness that the anticipation of getting married brought me was an effective distraction!
I’m a firm believer in the power of our thoughts and how quickly negative thinking can cause us to spiral.
It’s important to acknowledge our pain and fears, but if you let yourself sit there for too long, you can get stuck. And feeling a sudden rush of panic like I did during my MRI, is much more harmful than helpful.
This is why I have a happiness reserve.
These are memories I’ve pre-selected or things I’m excited for that make me feel happy.
Not only do they bring me out of my panic, but they also serve as reminders of the wonderful life I’ve lived so far.
When things get tough, it’s easy to feel like you’ve never had anything good happen to you and it pushes you down even further. But, if you have a few memories on hand to bring you back and give you a little hope, sometimes it’s enough to stop your downward shift.
(A little tip: make sure you pick which memories to put in your happiness reserve at a time when you’re not under stress—it’s a lot harder to imagine a time when you were happy if you’re experiencing a crisis. That way you have them readily available when you need them!)
Honestly, this may not work for everyone.
It may only work for me.
But, I think it’s important to share any success we experience when dealing with difficulties. You never know when something like this may help someone else.
I’m also excited that traveling this year has been filling my happiness reserve—now I’ll have plenty of memories to hold onto incase I ever have to get strapped to a board inside a small tube for an hour again!
What are some happy memories you have that you can put in your happiness reserve? Email me or comment below!
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