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?

You’re asking me?

I rarely feel like I’ve got my shit together. Most of the time I see the shit and no togetherness whatsoever. Yet at work I’m fairly good at faking it, you have to be as a manager. So this morning one of our newer employees began asking me at what point does a job become a career. Wow, now that is a tough question to be greeted with before the second cup of coffee!

We chatted for a bit and it turns out he is at a point in his school that he has to choose a major and he’s second (and third, and fourth) guessing himself. I explained that that is entirely understandable. I changed majors 3 times before finally completing school (less than a year ago, and more than a decade older than he is). I explained that to me a career is about having growth opportunity. It’s about knowing that there is a path and you’re not stuck. That maybe job vs career means something different to others, but that’s what I needed for me.

It was not what he was expecting to hear and seemed to really make him think. I asked what he did and didn’t like about his work. What he did and didn’t like about his current classes. And then gave him a few things to consider where studying through that path left options open as he fine tuned his skills and desires. But I think what he needs to know more than anything, and what I failed to properly explain today, is that no matter what he’s very likely to succeed. I’ve seen how fast he learns at the office, how calm he is regardless of situation, and how he actively works with his team. As long as he keeps this dedication and work ethic nothing will hold him down.

So to everyone wondering the same thing please remember that your wonderings prove desire and dedication. Your thoughtfulness on these questions shows determination and intelligence. And that is what will bring you far in your career, more so than anything else.

Oh, and one more thing to remember. That manager in the office who you think has her shit together so can answer these questions and help guide you, yeah she’s lost too. You’re not alone in your fear and confusion. But I guess that means I’m not alone either.

Questions about your boss with BPD?

From day one the most common search term for this site has been “my boss has borderline personality disorder.” That hasn’t changed. In fact it’s become even more frequent. I spoke on this once before, but am not sure it actually answers anything you want to know. If you are coming to this blog trying to figure out how to work with a boss who may have BPD please feel free to post a question in the comments section. I will do my best to answer.

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?

Am I really though?

Something’s been bothering me for quite a while, and I can’t answer it for me. Maybe you can, and feel free to be honest. I’m on good terms with my meds at the moment so I can take it.

I shared my Misconceptions about BPD post with my therapist a while back and as we discussed she called me a mental health advocate, or something to that effect. But I’m not certain that is accurate.

I Googled “define advocate” and the definition that came up was “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.” My blog is public, but I am not. And that bothers me. I stay fairly anonymous, I can’t imagine what my office would think of me if they found this blog and knew it was me. But doesn’t that get in the way of my message? I speak to the stigma of mental illness in the office yet don’t speak to my office about my mental illness.

I often feel that I am part of the problem. I fall into the trap of keep it quiet so I’m not judged. I fear the repercussions of going public. I’m not ready to go public, but I hope some day I am. I want to think I’m a mental health advocate but I don’t know that I can at this time.

Sit down and shut up

Since the age of 10 I have been told there is a limit to how far I can go. To what all I can do. I push to live up to my own dreams and expectations, but continuously hit a point where someone tells me to stop. I’ve gone too far, done too much, I’m not good enough so step aside for someone else. For over 20 years I have fought this. I have told myself I can reach my dreams, I just need to work hard, listen, learn, try. But once again I find myself in a spot where just as I’m learning, I’m pulled away and told someone else will do it. What have I done wrong? No one can say. What could I have done differently? Nothing.

It’s stupid, it’s probably for the best as I have other things to do anyway. But how long can I continue to tell myself to keep trying? How many years does it take before I give up and believe what everyone else believes of me? I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not reliable enough, I’m too slow, too loud, too active. I need to just sit down and shut up. Do what I’m told without question. Don’t try to live beyond my abilities as predetermined by everyone else.

I’m too exhausted to keep fighting. At least for now.

Who needs energy anyway?

I’ve been abnormally tired lately and am not sure why. Usually I would worry about upcoming depression when this happens, but I’m going through a pretty stable season right now (only 3 rubber bands today! Woot!). So instead I first assumed I was still just getting over being sick, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue. 

Then I blamed my meds. I was supposed to take part of my dose of Lamotrigine in the morning and part at night, but a few months ago essentially told my psych “screw that, I’m taking it all in the morning”. Recently I switched to the morning/evening plan to make it last in my body better but it gave me crazy dreams again, so I switched back to morning cause there is only so much crazy dreaming I can handle. I also hoped the lack of crazy dreams would help my sleep be more effective. Alas, it did not.

So now I have no idea. I’m getting enough sleep, I’m sticking to a standard daily schedule, I’m taking my meds and doing my therapy practice. I have NO IDEA what is going on with my energy levels. Hopefully it’ll work itself out soon because I hate knowing effect without knowing cause. The confusion pisses me off more than the lack of energy honestly.

When better is worse

This is why I hate meds. It takes so long to figure out if anything is even working. Not just the time for it to kick in, that’s expected, and the psych always warns you of that waiting game. Not even the addition of the time waiting for side effects to clear, I know my body well enough to expect that too. No I’m talking about the waiting game to see if better really is better. That’s what I’m struggling with right now.

Once the side effects went down I started feeling better, then last week I started feeling worse. At least I think it’s worse. When I hit a rough depression I think the deadness inside is the worst, and desperately want to feel again. But when my emotions take a turn to anger, anxiety, and just plain overwhelming, I long for the depression that shuts it all off. 

Currently I am having more panic attacks, and my anger is hitting hard. My emotions are easier to trigger and harder to control. My sleep and my dreams are out of whack. But on the plus, I am able to more successfully meditate right now so that helps a lot to keep me going. 

I’ve faced this so many times before with med changes that need further tweaking so am quick to blame that. But I also have a lot of stress triggers from actual life right now. So is it life or meds? I can’t tell. How do you even tell the difference? I’m honestly asking, and all advice is welcome! 

I’m stuck right now in a cycle of being on top of the world and then completely hating myself. My self esteem is all over the place. I can snap from joy to anger and back in just minutes. I can panic at the drop of a hat. I don’t want to tell the psych and get overmedicated, but I don’t want to ignore it if it’s not just factors of life. I wish my therapy appointment was before my psychiatrist appointment. I’m so confused.

Mixed signals 


You told me to keep my head down, then made me a leader. You said that trying did nothing but close doors then asked me to try again. If I ask and you say no, why would you set me up to ask again? Am I being set up for faluire? Am I just too stupid to understand what is happening? Is it all in my mind?

You lecture me for an hour on everything I’ve done wrong, and then ask why I’m crying. Am I emotional because of you or because of my disorder? Should I give up like you told me to? Or try again as you asked? Why do you give me mixed signals and get upset that I’m confused and ask questions? 

You push and push and push and yet wonder why I’m stressed. You tell me I have something to offer but say I need to remain quiet. You tell me to stay low but that I shouldn’t hide. I can’t do both, I can’t meet these demands. I don’t know how much is you and how much is my disorder, all I know is it’s getting to be too much.