I've alluded to this for a while, but I haven't written anything about it yet. It's hard to write about it while you're suffering from it and when you're not, well you really don't want to think about it for fear of bringing it on. It's depression.
There's more reasons not to want to write about it. I still think there's a stigma associated with it. I didn't want my daughters (who sometimes do read this knowing this part of my story). Knowing it happens, makes me feel weak - and everyone thinks I'm so strong dealing with breast cancer, especially out in the open as I have, it made me feel worse not being completely honest about it. Plus, every time I think the depression finally done and gone, and I string together weeks or months without issue, it raises it's ugly head again.
But I promised me that I would be honest and forthright about what I was experiencing, and I don't like feeling like I'm hiding something or leading you to believe I'm something I'm not, so here we are. I'm writing about it.
This may not be the most elegant or best written post, but it will be here for everyone to read.
The irony of the depression for me , was that it didn't start with the diagnosis. Sure I was scared and sad but not depressed. I could function, I could laugh, and I think as you'll all agree, I pretty much laughed my way through treatment.
The depression started after I was done.
I have a friend whose daughter had a serious illness when she was young. My friend was strong during the weeks we did not know whether her daughter would survive. She had another child to care for, doctors to talk to, schedules that still needed to be coordinated and she did that. But the moment the doctors told her that her daughter would be fine, she collapsed. We laugh about it now, how they literally put her in a padded cell until they could get a psychiatrist to talk to her. It was as if she had all her walls, defenses up and the minute she knew she didn't need them any longer, she crumbled.
I feel sort of the same way about how the depression hit me. Once they told me to go ahead and live my life, and the activity related to the breast cancer ceased, my defenses deserted me and I crumbled.
I had to go back to a life that was destroyed in a way - with a mind that no longer worked as it used to, huge gaps in memory, scars and tattoos on my body (with more to come) as constant reminders in the mirror, extra weight that I had worked so hard to take off once, and now I would have to do it again, and heart and muscles that grew week from inactivity. It overwhelmed me and sometimes still does.
I read somewhere that cancer survivors go through a sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Not to belittle our armed forces, but I kind of agree.
What does it feel like
It feels as if a shadow covers my brain - like there's no sunlight in my mind. So much so, I think of these periods as dark days, like night in my dreams all shadow, no light. It's hard or I forget how to breathe deeply. I feel 50 pounds heavier (and that's no exaggeration - I know what 50 pounds heavier feels like and that's it). Seriously, when I walk up the stairs my heart pounds like it used to. I feel frozen, stuck in mud, unable to focus for any length of time.
What brings it on
I've been thinking about this lately. I guess I'm hoping that if I can identify the triggers, I can either avoid them, or weaken them. Wasn't it Hermione Granger who said something like, "Giving a name to that which we fear, weakens it" in regards to Harry calling Voldemort by his name? Well, that's I guess that's what I'm hoping to do here ... Oh and these are in no particular order...
- Hearing about someone else who died of cancer. Not someone in their 70s or 80s but someone my age or younger. It raises my fear factor (can probably do another entire entry on that) and the fear, not controlled leads to the depression.
- Cluttered office/mail - I know this is crazy. But it took me so long to dig out from the piles upon piles of bills, statements, magazines and now I feel like I need to do this again. Honestly, this one is a catch-22 or a chicken-egg situation. When I'm depressed, things pile up, then I feel better, see the piles I have to deal with and get depressed again - crazy, no?
- Mammograms/MRIs - it's the waiting for the results, the not knowing if this will all happen again. From the time I know I have to schedule it to the time I actually schedule it. The week leading into the actual test and then the days after waiting for results (at least with the MRIs)
- Cycles - is it possible? Could this be happening with the phases of the moon or does my body still have phases though I no longer menstruate? I should keep track to just see.
- Careless words - everyone has been so fabulous with their love and support (see below) but sometimes someone, will say something thoughtless that belittles what I'm going through or what I went through. They think that by telling me it won't be so bad, for example, they're supporting me, trying to ease my fears, but they're not. Things like that either anger me or depress me. They anger me because unless you've walked in my shoes (and unfortunately too many people have), you have no idea how bad it will be. They depress me because when it is bad for me, I feel weak for not handling it better. Sometimes just listening or holding my hand is all I want or need.
- Talking about the future. Chris wants to speak to a financial adviser to plan for our retirement. Boy did that send me into a tizzy.
- Memory - the irony of chemo eating holes in my brain, I didn't remember much of the side effects. The irony of recovery and getting better, chunks of my memory return, and it's like living through the pain and discomfort all over again. I still don't know what brings the flashes of memory back. I'm grateful for the good memories returning but I can live without the memories of the nausea and pain.
- Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomy - yeah that scares me a bit and depresses me a bit too.
- Relapse - I try not to go there but how do people keep from wondering if it will come back?
Okay - I do feel better about listing them. And I'll add to to the list as I think or discover more triggers but I want to focus now on the getting better.
What cures it for me...
There are a lot of things that work. The problem is that when I'm in the depths of it, it's hard to remember them. Again, in no particular order...
- More chicken-and-the-egg stuff. Eating right and exercise. I know this sounds crazy but I find if I'm doing both regularly, I don't get depressed as often or as strong, but if I slack on either, it's like a crack in the armor and depression seeps in. But I'm never really sure because is it possible depression seeps in and then I don't eat right or exercise? Either way, crazy as it sounds, this week's dark days seem to have been cured by a 63 mile bike ride that had me climbing Sourland Mountain four times. I dreaded doing it, which fostered the depression, but once I did, without barfing, I felt pretty good.
- Family and friends - I know people don't get when I'm in these moods, but sometimes, I just need to be dragged out of them. I may not want to go out but forcing me to go have some fun, or hang, take a walk does help. The mementos I have too, my "I Will Survive" plaque, Bozo the clown, my flying monkey, colorforms, my Disney medals - all things that remind me of the love and support I have out there. I'm very lucky.
- Chris actually said something to me on Friday when I was stumbling again that made a whole lot of sense. He said don't look at your entire to do list, pick five things you can do today and go do them. He actually gave me five things and that worked great (so yes, my mammos are now scheduled - still need to schedule my surgery and some doctor check-ups though), and I did some other things too. I guess sometimes, not focusing on the big picture but just on a small part of it, helps too. Hope he remembers that for next time.
I know there's more but honestly I'm getting tired of writing this, of wallowing in it. And you're probably tired of reading this self-absorbed B.S. (good sign for me though when I recognize that I'm feeling sorry for me and stop).
So, I'm going to stop now. I promise if I have any more grand insights, I'll let you know. But for now this is enough.