There is an exciting body of observational research demonstrating almost all of us humans settle at a particular level of happiness regardless of life’s triumphs and tragedies. “Hedonic Adaptation” is the theory that after either a positive or negative event, people may have a temporary spike in happiness or sadness but eventually return to the same baseline of emotional state. One subjective study found that 18 months after winning the lottery, people were no happier when compared to a group who did not win the lottery.
The theory works in the opposite direction as well. Evidence suggests that losing a limb, losing a loved one, or getting diagnosed with cancer can have a powerfully negative effect on emotions near term. Still, as the months and years stretch on, people return to the same baseline level of emotional wellbeing.
I’m pretty sure this model applies to me and my treadmill of emotions. Looking back, since being diagnosed almost a decade ago, right up to my battle now, I am about the same level of happiness as I have always been, which is pretty darn happy and satisfied (I’ll give it an 8 out of 10). I’d even go so far as to say that because I had no choice but to adapt to my situation, I learned new skills (meditation immediately comes to mind) that I think have made me even HAPPIER than I was before given the cancer news (maybe an 8.5 or a 9).
A typical cycle of emotions for me with one of the toughest mental challenges I deal with: The dreaded PSA blood test, sometimes every month. The only time my PSA has EVER gone down was after surgery and during hormone treatment. Hopefully, my next blood test will show a decrease with the hormone therapy I just started.
Let’s say my PSA was at 3.2 at my last blood test at some point in the past. My doc probably told me to have it done again in 8 weeks. The wait begins. I carry on with a pass for two months, but about a week before the next blood test, I begin to become anxious. I go in for the 4570th time to have my blood drawn at Quest, which is quite simple. Then my anxiety clock begins to ramp up. On a scale of 1 to 10, my anxiety level is around a 5 right after the test. I know I won’t see the results for at least a few days, so I try to not think about it, but my anxiety continues to ramp up each day I wait for the results. Sometimes I get it done on a Friday, so I KNOW I won’t see the dreaded text from Quest for at least two days. Enjoy! After waiting a few days, I usually check my email and texts on a minute-by-minute basis—anxiety level: 7 at least. When I get the text notification that the results are in and I need to log on to my online chart, my heart is racing, and I can barely type in the user name and password to access what is almost always bad news.
In this example, my PSA went from 3.2 to 4.7 in 8 weeks. I see the number, and I am crushed—Head in hands with pissed resignation. I am NOT HAPPY at this point. I am in a depressed state that feels like a car in one of those car smashers at the junkyard. Mindy consoles me, we talk, a few hours of pissedness (that should be a word), take Mylo for a walk, and a few hours later, we are both back into our routine, and my mood almost always returns to… the same level of baseline happiness, which is at least an 8.
This emotional cycle that accompanies my blood test is like clockwork, and it happens every time. I thought it would get easier over the years, but I don’t believe it has.
Anyway, if this sounds familiar, let me know! I would love to hear how others with cancer handle this situation!
Day 7 of Orgovyx, and I feel fine. Even woke up with a woody this morning!