I was listening to a piece on NPR a few months ago about how Anger and Depression go together. I’ve heard that a definition of depression is anger turned inward, so this link is not surprising to me. As an introvert, I’m pretty familiar with the inward turning concept, that’s my normal modus operandi and I’ve a bit of a temper, so anger is not an unfamiliar concept, depression, though, that’s a new one.
I’m aware that there is still a stigma around mental illness, that anyone who relies on medication to manage their pain, mental or otherwise, is viewed differently. I’ve also heard that cancer patients don’t often tell their medical providers how they are feeling, during or even after treatment. There is huge pressure to be “fine,” to leave the experience of cancer behind once the active treatment is done. That leaves so many men and women in a dark place without hope.
Yep, I just used the “f” word.
I don’t curse often, but this is a subject that I feel rather strongly about.
I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and I’m taking medication for that since early on in my diagnosis, which occurred in mid-2017. My normal coping mechanisms weren’t up to the task when I received a TERMINAL diagnosis and I still need help to manage my emotions. I need help to get out of bed in the morning and I need help to deal with the bone deep anger I feel. I need help to be able to be present for my children rather than wallowing in a deeply dark place.
My terminal illness is invisible at the moment, at least when I’m wearing regular clothes. You can see about half of my scars when I wear a bathing suit. The scars on my legs show where I was cut to accommodate the rods inside my femurs and the screws to hold said rods in place as well as some of the tattooed dots from radiation. My bathing suits usually hide the scars on my belly from the robot assisted hysterectomy, the oncoplasty reduction where the cancer was removed from my breast, the rest of the tattooed dots from radiation and the two C-section scars. These scars tell the story of some of the physical affects of my treatment, but they don’t tell the story of the mental and emotional affects.
It’s hard to put into words how difficult a terminal illness is on the psyche. It’s hard to put into words the ambiguity of continuing to live life and deal with the minutiae of “real life” while dealing with constant pain and scans and the threat of progression and death at any moment. It’s hard to put into words the affect of watching friends die every day. It’s hard to put into words how dealing with medical professionals and my insurance company and all the stupidity of the medical system can be infuriatingly complicated.
I can handle most of this most days by compartmentalizing the hard stuff and focusing on what is in front of me. I also take a good amount of medical marijuana. Before anyone freaks out that I’m high while driving or taking care of my children, relax. I am responsible about this. I take CBD during the day and use THC at night to pleasantly float to sleep.
There are days when I can’t deal. Literally, can’t.
I don’t feel shame at admitting that I need help, chemical and otherwise. Seriously, no one is naturally equipped to deal with finding out that death is a heck of a lot closer than one originally thought.
I’ve become accustomed during my life to pushing the bad stuff to the back of my mind and making myself move forward, one step at a time. I’m actually better at this than I thought; however, being diagnosed with a terminal illness has been a different experience for me. I’ve had to learn new coping mechanisms and I’ve had to learn to give myself space.
I’m not good at self-care.
I’ve gotten better, but I’m still not very good at it.
Here is my list of the things I’ve utilized to help cope with living while I’m dying, in no particular order:
- Yoga. The combination of physical exertion and the focus on mindfulness, breath, and being present has so many physical and mental health benefits. If I don’t go to yoga regularly now, I really feel it.
- Sleep. Sleep has really always been a core value of mine, but as a mother and a business owner, sleep started to take a back seat at times. Now, I consider sleep as part of my medication regimen, it’s an integral part of my self care.
- Support. I’ve dealt with a lot of stress over the years and, frankly, been around a lot of people who I didn’t like and didn’t particularly like me. These things aren’t healthy, especially on a long term basis. Now, I focus on being around people who are supportive of me and avoiding situations and people who are toxic.
- Medical Intervention. I see my psychiatrist and pain management doctors regularly. They help me evaluate where I’m at with my pain and how I’m doing overall, as objectively as possible. I trust both of these doctors to notice and intervene when necessary.
- Family. I spend a lot of time with people who think I’m amazing. My family watches me closely and they are quick to notice when there is something bothering me.
- Medication. When I learned I was Stage IV, I started taking anti-depressants. I’ve taken a few different ones now and experimented with the dosages to get them right. Right now, I’m taking medication that both helps with my mood and also the hot flashes resulting from my hysterectomy.
- Advocacy. I’m a product of my German genetics and upbringing in the Midwest. Being useful, helping others, and speaking up when I can makes me feel as though I’m utilizing my diagnosis to make a difference.
What is working right now for me is not what will always work and won’t necessarily work for others. Perhaps this list and my description will at least spark a conversation for others. Dealing with the weight of a terminal illness amongst the regular stresses of life cannot be discounted. If you or anyone you love is suffering in silence, please speak up. Help is available, but you have to ask for it.
Love and light.