Depression and Cancer

I never liked to hear that depression is like a cancer of the mind. I am a mental health advocate and a firm believer that mental illness is in fact an illness, not just moods. I never corrected someone for comparing depression to cancer as I know how hard it is to describe to those who haven’t had it. But I simply did not understand the link. Cancer is cancer, depression is depression, right? Well today I got it. I suddenly understood the link.

Hubby is fighting stage 4 cancer right now. He went to the doctor this morning who said “you don’t seem yourself today, are you feeling alright?” He said no, and tried to explain but couldn’t quite put it into words. They did see that he was dehydrated so got him hooked up to some fluids. They tried to talk and help while he was at the office. But eventually he needed to go home.

Worried about why the doctor kept him late I came home early from work and found him half asleep in bed. I asked how he felt. He said he didn’t feel well, but wasn’t sure why. He described his day. That the fluids didn’t really help him feel better but it’s good he got them. That he kind of just doesn’t want to move. I asked “is it kind of like the exhaustion and aches that come from the flu but without the actual flu?” Kind of, that sounds a little similar. “Does it overwhelm your body but dull your mind?” Yeah. And I just want to sleep. I don’t want to keep getting up and facing these things. I just want to lay here. I don’t feel good. “Honey, that’s depression.”

As the husband of someone with Borderline he has heard me say so many times “I physically feel my emotions.” But I don’t think that really registered until today, when I put a name to his ache. I explained that it becomes overwhelming and takes over. That he needs to start going to therapy and get back on an antidepressant. He wasn’t quite convinced, though I could tell he was listening. So I went on.

Depression starts in the brain, your mind feels it and starts spreading it. What started as some chemicals in one part of your body is spreading to other parts and making them sick. If not treated it will not just go away. It will spread through you and overwhelm your body just as your tumors are. And that’s when it hit me. Depression is like cancer.

Depression starts in one place. It begins mild but is often ignored which allows it to grow. Untreated it will continue to grow and spread until it overwhelms your body and drastically decreases your quality of life. My husband had mild symptoms of cancer that were ignored. Untreated the cancer cells continued to grow and spread until it was discovered that he had tumors covering his colon, liver, and lungs. The cancer overwhelmed his body and drastically decreased his quality of life. But cancer kills, depression doesn’t, right? Wrong. If he doesn’t get treatment and this depression continues to grow it is possible it can take his life before the cancer has a chance to. And that scares me more than anything.

I get it now. I get the comparison. I likely still won’t use this comparison, but not because I don’t get it. As someone who has faced severe depression and not understood the comparison, I can only imagine how hard it would be for someone who has never faced depression to comprehend the link here. So I’ll stick with other variations to try to explain what depression is, and what it does. But today I gained new insight, and better understood others in the way they describe things. And for that I am glad. I’m happy to better understand them and the intelligence and logic behind their explanation. And I’m glad to have enough insight to help hubby get the treatment he needs for mind and body.

That is the worst idea you have had

When your therapist of 3 years, the women who has seen you through panic attacks, self harm, suicidal ideation, and lord knows what else says “that is the worst idea you have had.” You should probably listen 😬

So what was this terrible idea? I went off my meds. That may not seem like much, but remember all the lovely things mentioned in the first sentence? That was during a period of time I spent months arguing with her that I didn’t need medication. Followed by a month of trying to stabilize on my new medications, some of that time spent in a psych hospital. She helped me understand that I need meds, helped me find a good psychiatrist after I had had so many bad ones in the past, she helped keep me safe from myself while I worked to find the right blend, and she helped me understand that the meds bring me to a baseline where I can then work on my self care to become healthy and stable beyond that point.

Recently someone at the office started telling everyone that I don’t care about things. Suddenly rumors where flying around that I am heartless, that I don’t care about my work or my team. This started spreading out of control until someone started trying to tell others I should be fired so they can have someone that actually cares. As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder I’d never been told I don’t care. I’m told I care too much, I care when I shouldn’t, I am too emotional, that I need to shut it off. My whole world shifted as I began to hear these strange rumors and I panicked.

I knew the “issue” was that I was stable, and that I wear an emotional mask on top of that. I also knew that I wasn’t going to lower that mask, so the only way to show emotions through it was to stop being stable. So for the next two weeks I cut my antidepressant and mood stabilizer dosages in half. When I didn’t end up completely crazy after that I just stopped taking them altogether. I went against my better judgement. I went against the advice I give others to never adjust your meds without first speaking to your doctor. I went against the advice I give myself, to talk over decisions I know are probably wrong with my therapist before doing stupid things. I panicked, so I ignored everything but the rumors at the office and I screwed myself up worse.

So at last Monday’s appointment we discussed the issues I’m going through right now, and eventually got to the dreaded question:

“How are your meds working?”

“I’m not taking them.”

Pause… “When did you last see your Psychiatrist?”

“About 3 or 4 months ago?”

“So she doesn’t know you stopped taking them?”

“No.”

“How long have you been off your meds?”

“A week, I was on half dose for 2 weeks before that.”

Pause…. “Why?”

“They were making me stable so people thought I didn’t care. I needed stronger emotions at work or everyone would hate me!”

Longer pause (probably an effort to regain the peace she had found while meditating that morning before I had come in and ruined it) “That… that is the worst idea you have had.”

“They want to fire me!”

“You can’t just stop your meds.”

“I can’t be stable right now, they hate me at work!”

“Do you hear yourself?”

“Yes. But I don’t care. I need my job.”

“You are more important than just a job. You need to be stable for you and your husband and your kids. You need to be on your meds.”

So I’m back on my meds. I’m feeling better, more clear, more calm. But I still have moments of desperate desire to be off them. To let my crazy take control. I don’t know where this desire is coming from exactly, I don’t think it is just from work though that was certainly a catalyst. But something in me says I shouldn’t be stable. And this is a new fight for me, one I don’t know how to face.

When I was young and refused to acknowledge depression as a medical condition, or that I had anything more than seasonal depression, I would refuse meds or go off of them because I shouldn’t need them. I’ve fought that battle and moved beyond it. I’ve learned to ignore the occasional thoughts my brain throws at me trying to convince me of that lie. But this is a new lie. My mind says the meds are working, and they’re needed, but that I should stop anyway. I recognize the truth of my illness and my treatment, and something is telling me not to be treated. To let the symptoms take over. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know how to fight it. Have any of you fought that before? The idea that you can be stable but shouldn’t?

Sometimes the best explanation is none at all

I just started to listen to Stephen Kings It on audiobook. When Georgie meets Pennywise at the beginning and then suddenly turns from clown to monster the description of the monster is so freaky. Why? Because it’s not a description. It is a feeling and thought process from the point of view of Georgie. It is an explanation that the monster his imagination comes up with to fear in the cellar is nothing close to what he saw. And to hear this makes you fear this Pennywise creature more than just about any character in a book.

Once I got over the shock and tears of the scene I was hearing I realized, this is much like mental illness. Why is it so hard to describe to those who don’t have it? There really are no words for how terrible this illness can be. And the fact that science is still early in understanding it makes it that much harder. I often speak of my mental illness as the monster in my mind. And sometimes that monster is a creepy clown lurking in the shadows and I can mostly ignore it. And sometimes that clown turns into something so horrifying and overwhelming that it cannot be put into words. I suppose I’ll take my mental Pennywise over the one that Georgie faces, but that doesn’t mean my mental one doesn’t terrify me sometimes.

Socks to the rescue!

I’m breaking down, so I am knitting non-stop. I’ve never successfully made socks, and am trying again. Usually I wouldn’t try a new pattern when breaking down, but my current feeling of constant failure requires a victory. So far I’m doing well and it’s definitely helping. If nothing else I’m proud of the fact that I’ve gotten myself to a point that I can fall back on a self care technique.

I need a break from me

I’m trapped in my own mind, stuck with my own company. I live the day picking apart my every action and shoving my own mistakes in my face. I torture myself, I cry, and then I hate myself for the tears. I go to bed at night and the mean part of me takes more control, feeding into my insecurities and stress in dreams. Tearing me apart worse than while awake because now that part of my brain controls all. I want to sleep, but I fear my dreams. I want to cry but fear my response to those tears. I want to scream and push back the part of me that is so filled with hatred, but I’m not strong enough. Or at least that part of me isn’t. I need a break from my own mind. I need to protect that little hurting girl in my mind from the monster currently tearing her apart. But I am that monster. I am both, and so hate both. I’ve been living on energy drinks this week for fear of sleep and for lack of sleep. I need a break. The house is quiet right now, the whole family asleep. My energy drink is wearing off and the TV is no longer blocking out the voices in my head. I need sleep, but it won’t give me the break my mind needs. I refuse to keep sleeping pills in the house specifically for this reason. Because I know I will take too many out of sheer desperation to not dream. So I sit and struggle. I’m safe, but I won’t have a break. I just need a break.

The math is on my side

My father is a math teacher. There was a shooting at his school a couple years back. He knew the shooter personally, he saw the victims daily. He remembers fitting 60 kids in his classroom to protect them as shots went off nearby. He went through special courses on helping students through grief for weeks afterward.

I don’t know what can fix this type of thing. I don’t know how to protect our schools. I can’t solve this problem. I’m sorry. But being the daughter of a math teacher I know how to read my numbers.

The likelihood of having someone I love in a school shooting twice is significantly lower than having a loved one in a shooting once. The numbers tell me my children are safe because this won’t happen to my family again. Perhaps I sound selfish or stupid, but everyday I watch my kids get on a school bus and I say goodbye. And some days when the world is dark and I begin to fear for them, I have to rely on the numbers. Math helps me cope with the darkness of this world and the uncertainties in life.

When you fear, find that something you can cling to. Maybe you feel you know an answer to solve the problem, cling to it and share it. Maybe you are strong in your religion, cling to it and have faith in it. Maybe, like me, you have math, cling to it and rest in its certainty.

What ever it is that guides you through the terrible things in this life, keep it close. There are still good things in life, we just need our filter to see them sometimes. My filter is math, and I will use it as best I can.

If we were having coffee…

If we were having coffee we would be drinking it and munching some bacon. Hubby’s making bacon right now and the whole house smells yummy.

If we were having coffee you would notice that I’m making my way out of a depression. I still have those days of “I can’t do this anymore.” But I also have days of “wow, I accomplished things!” So I’m clinging to those days to get me through the tougher ones. I’m crafting more and talking more, but still fairly exhausted most days. I’m getting there. And I appreciate y’all being around even when I struggle to write.

If we were having coffee we would color or knit or something else that keeps our hands busy and our minds light. Bring whatever craft you want, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. I have a fairly large collection of colored pencils, and tons of yarn. Maybe we’ll learn to finger knit together!

Counting down

As others have been counting down the days, hours, minutes until New Years, I have been counting down to my next therapy appointment. I’ve spent the last 2 years working my ass off to be stable, or at least to pretend I am with some amount of calm under the surface. A few months ago everything took a nose dive. Life said “fuck you!” and everything went nuts. It’s enough to add great deals of stress to the normally stable people, so you can only imagine what it’s doing to me. The biggest problem right now is that the issues are as time consuming as they are stressful. Which means that during this time of my needing the safe space of my therapists office more than anything, I haven’t been able to keep a single appointment. Every time I have scheduled one something has gone crazy that required my time and I had to reschedule.

I go on Tuesday. So far nothing has come up that can’t be handled without me or wait another day. I only need to make it until Tuesday. People have been asking me what my New Years resolution is. As I smile and make some non committal answer to move the conversation off of me, my brain screams in response “survive!” I want to survive. I want to survive this time both mentally and physically. I want to come out of this with a limited amount of new scars, no trips to the hospital, and nights with sleep. Even if that sleep is restless and filled with nightmares, at least it is a night safely asleep and not awake and lost in dangerous thoughts of “my family is better off without me” as I sit alone in the dark.

Two years ago I don’t know that I would have made it through. I have come a long way, and my ability to see that reminds me why I fight. Why I force myself to get treatment for my illness. Why I can keep getting up, even when I fall. So I will cling to this hope that snuck its way into my depression and follow it to my therapy appointment. Almost there. Just a couple more days. My countdown continues and with each day marked off brings more hope.

Happy New Year Y’All… cheers to us, and to therapy. May we all be blessed with many good and non-canceled therapy sessions this year.

Broken Heart

I was 13 and you cancelled our plans again, and it broke my heart.

I was 14 and you took me to dinner because my brother told you you didn’t spend enough time with me. You promised to do better. You didn’t. And it broke my heart.

I was 15 and hadn’t seen you in months and you heard from a family member I was in therapy. You called to find out why, saying you feared that you had “screwed me up.” You didn’t understand my depression or how to even try to speak to me about it and it broke my heart.

I was 16 and you tried to make decisions for me on driving, school, and work. You felt being right was more important than acknowledging your x-wife might have better ideas. It broke my heart.

I was 17 and angry with you. Speaking less, doing less, avoiding you more. And you didn’t notice. Didn’t try to bring back the communication. And it broke my heart.

I was 26 and hadn’t seen you in 2 years. I decided not to be angry, just to accept. The decision broke my heart.

I was 30 and trying to give you time to spend with your grandkids. We were pushed away by your new wife who told me to leave. I saw the look on your face as you felt hopeless to stop her. That look broke my heart.

Last week I cancelled our plans, as infrequent as they are. You had been drinking and I was exhausted. I choose to stay away. You say it broke your heart, that I would cancel on you. But why should it take you this long to feel our distance? Why have you not seen the countless ways you have not been my father these many years? And why, upon hearing your pain, is it again my heart that breaks?

I knew I would need it

I wrote a post to myself a while back. Knowing my ups and downs, I knew that I would need my own encouragement at some point. I’m trapped in a depression and getting worse each day. So I went back and read my letter to me. I don’t believe all it says, as I knew I wouldn’t. But what I do believe is that it was real to me when I wrote it, so it will be again. The strength and positivity that I felt existed then and so can exist in the future. I just need to wait. I need to continue what little self care I can manage the energy for, and make it through this time.