Before I walk in, I triple-check that I have removed my watch, earrings and wedding ring. They hand me small green foam earplugs. I put them in awkwardly, trying not to bend my left arm where the IV is ready.
I am wearing too-short hospital pants, but they let me keep my favourite Freddie Mercury T-shirt on instead of a breezy gown - so that’s a win. My feet are bare, my sandals discarded as I climb onto the table. My bright blue painted toenails seem strangely out of place in an otherwise beige room. The nurse tells me she likes the colour.
They tuck a large foam triangle under my knees as I lie down. The nurse puts a hair net over my hair and then the over-ear headphones before I lay my head in the cradle. Then, the two foam rolls are wedged in on either side to keep my head in place. Then the cage goes over top of it all. I also have a mask on.
It’s a lot, but manageable.
The nurse asks if I want a blanket, and despite the hot weather outside, I have a chill from the air conditioning, so I say yes. Goosebumps break out over my whole body as she lays it over me. The blanket is warm, and I’m grateful for the small comfort of it as I try to settle into a position I can hold steady for the next 25 minutes.
I take the deepest breath I can, consciously relaxing my whole body as much as possible, eyes closed as the table starts to move into the narrow tube.
I can see a sliver of the door as it shuts behind the nurse, and though I knew it was coming, I am slightly startled when her voice comes through the headphones, tinny and distorted.
“Ready to go?”
The machine starts up. It’s deafening, rhythmically vibrating at different intervals so forceful they make my teeth rattle. I do my best to breathe during the brief breaks between sounds, trying to keep as still as possible. Two-thirds of the way through, there is a brief respite where the table moves out of the tube so the nurse can inject contrast into the IV. It’s cold as it moves through the veins up my left arm, and the table rolls back in for the last stretch.
When it’s finally done, the nurses remove all the gear and the IV. I slowly sit up and swing my legs off the table, careful of the inevitable headrush. I thank them, collect my things from the locker, and change into my denim shorts.
I speed walk out down the halls, trying to remember the route to the main entrance. I am relieved to leave the stuffy, over-air-conditioned lobby into the warm sunshine. I remove my mask and take a deep, full breath.
It’s done. It was uncomfortable but expected. And it wasn’t so bad. And now I get to go home for Friday night pizza.😁🍕
How to get through the things you dread
As I was lying in that machine, I thought about how routine it had become for me to get a brain MRI and how, by and large, it wasn’t so bad now that I had done it several times.
I thought about the things you have to deal with that you dread.
The things you avoid or have anxiety about. The things you build up in your mind, imagining different scenarios, conversations, or calamities… only to do it and have it not be nearly as bad as you imagined.
There are all kinds of uncomfortable, unfamiliar, dread-provoking things that come up in life with varying levels of challenge. Things like:
- Medical checkups and procedures
- Public speaking or performing
- Starting a new job
- Hard conversations like performance reviews or firing an employee
- Business activities like cold calls or self-promotion
- Managing cash flow and finances
- Job interviews
- Learning something new
The first time you do them is usually the hardest, with the lead-up to doing them sometimes the worst part of all. But then… you do them out of necessity or sheer will, and suddenly, they are not so bad. Or even if they were terrible, you know what to expect and what you would do differently if you had to do it again.
New things eventually become old things. Sometimes, you settle into them with ease. They become habits or skills that come easily and with less discomfort. And sometimes they remain uncomfortable and never quite sit right.
They may never be easy, but they get easier.
It’s that first time that’s the kicker.
Here are some things you can do to make a hard thing, especially the first time, a little easier:
Find the familiar in the unfamiliar
It's easy to get caught in the fear spirals of something unfamiliar and uncomfortable and discount the many times you’ve been in a similar position and managed it.
You have gotten through every hard thing you have ever done.
Every one of the things you’ve been worried about and agonized over. All the experiences you didn’t think you could manage. All the things that have been thrown at you. You figured it out. You endured. Maybe you even got good at it. If not good, maybe better. If not better, you did it.
What are the parts of those past experiences that you can lean on?
Look for (or create) small comforts in the uncomfortable
When you take the step to do a hard thing, look for the small things that can make it a little less daunting, like:
- Wear your favourite or most cozy outfit
- Look for a friendly face
- Plan your route ahead of time
- Go early
- Ask friends or family to experience share
- Plan something fun or relaxing after
While whatever you have to do might feel like a lot, take control where you can to make it just a bit more approachable.
It’s better to do a thing than to live with the fear of it
This is a line from a trilogy I read recently. While the context for the words is not remotely related, their spirit is the same: It’s better to get something over with than spend time worrying about it.
Often, what you have to deal with is not as bad as you thought it would be and even if it is, there is the relief of having it done and not hanging over you anymore. That feeling is a moment in time, and that time will not last forever.
Next time will be easier
Familiarity and expectations go a long way to making even the most uncomfortable experiences more manageable. Instead of imagining what an experience will be like, you’ve already done it. You know at least the gist of what it’s actually like. You know what to expect and don’t need to carry the imaginary version anymore. You have data! You know what parts went well and what didn’t, so you can adjust if there is a next time.
Next time may not be easy, but it will be easier.
You are more resilient than you think
My first MRI was tough and filled me with dread. It was an admittedly scary situation, as unknown medical things are, but it had to be done to find out what was happening with my body, so I did it. I was unsure and uncomfortable, and it was one of the more vulnerable experiences I’ve gone through. But I did it, and it was fine, even if the results weren’t what I hoped for. After that first one, it got easier. Now, 7 MRIs later, they are barely a blip. Each one is part of my personal data for hard things that I dealt with, got through, and now can tackle with relative ease.
Next time you are on the brink of a new thing or a hard thing and start down the path of, “I don’t think I can do this” or “This is going to be awful,” pause a moment to remember there is evidence of how adaptive you are. You have gotten through every hard thing you have ever done. You have this incredible backlog of experiences to draw on that you can take a step back and remember. What are they?
Whatever the thing is, it might be very hard and uncomfortable, but you have everything you need to figure it out, manage it, and get it over with. Because you always do. You are so much more resilient than you think.
I offer 1-on-1 consulting. If you are feeling overwhelmed and on the road to burnout (or are already there!), get in touch!