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?

I’m back… kind of

Sorry for my sudden disappearance. Life went a little crazy all of a sudden. And by “a little crazy” I mean we moved, I started a new job, and my husband was diagnosed with cancer all within the span of a week. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to focus and keep things moving. So I plan to get back to posting on a semi regular basis, but things will be a bit slow.

Why is your face grey?

Because I’m doing a charcoal face mask. My son literally just walked into the living room and asked “why is your face grey?” I explained I was doing a face mask and so he asked “um, is it a real mask or just paint?” Well not the type of real mask your thinking of. It’s basically a thick goop. “So paint?” Um, I guess so. Kind of.

So I’m sitting here with charcoal face paint and eating chocolate ice cream. As weird as my face seems to my child, it is cleansing. As is the ice cream. Ice cream is always cleansing. And hiding in the house is cleansing. All in all a very nice evening. I hope you all are having a nice and cleansing evening as well.

Clingy but Hidey

I’m a bit on the agoraphobic side recently. Hiding in my room, or nearly completely under a blanket on our comfy living room chair while playing video games. I would much rather fight monsters in Hyrule than go to the grocery store for the bottle of wine I desperately want. The problem, however, is that my kids need me in the outside world. I needed to be at 3 Cub Scout events recently, only one of which I called in sick to. But it was difficult to get myself to these. So I found the most comfortable parent for me to be around and clung to her. Not physically, that would be weird… I’m married. But mentally I drew from her energy, I existed in her bubble of calm, I let her overshadow me so as not to draw attention to myself. My hope is to get out of this clingy and desperate to hide phase soon. I need to get back to real life. But for now I will keep a worry stone in my pocket, an anti-anxiety pill in my purse, and a friend to cling to.

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.

Hiding away

I’ve hit one of my phases where I want to disconnect completely from the outside world. I’m virtually non- existent on social media. I can barely bring myself to blog. I wear my earbuds at work, or hide in a small conference room. I simply want to hide, to disappear temporarily. These phases frighten me because they can lead to worse depressions with time. So I continue to force myself out where I feel stable enough to do so. I’m focusing on self care and distraction. But that doesn’t mean I’m succeeding at these things. I’m falling much more than I care to admit into this pit of depression, fear, and self hatred. I will continue to fight through. I am mentally awake enough to know there is a better and a worse, and that the better is truly worth fighting for. I’ll make it through. I’m a stubborn bitch, so will continue to fight the monster of my mind.

I will not

I will not rage quit my job today.

I will not allow a single email to determine my career.

I will not allow this bitch to get to me, even after nearly three years of her hacking away at my mental state at work.

I will not rage quit my job today.

I will not stay up all night.

I will not be up all night afraid of the dreams that will haunt my sleep.

I will not allow my stress from the day to determine whether or not I will sleep that night.

I will not stay up all night.

I will not spend the day in tears.

I will not hide and cry all day over the devastation in this world.

I will not dwell on my personal experiences of loved once trapped in past shootings and replay the fear in my head while others face this new terror in their own lives.

I will not spend the day in tears.

I will not give up.

I will not forget that this day is temporary.

I will not allow the insanity of my current life and stress levels to destroy the future I am always fighting towards.

I will not give up.

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.

By a robber in the woods

A very dear friend of mine attempted suicide this weekend. She survived and is safe in a psychiatric hospital right now. But I spoke with her today and she still seems overcome by the depression and the sorrow she faces. I looked briefly through photos of us over the past few months and can see, now with clarity, the smile on her face and the sorrow in her eyes.

I am in hermit mode while I safely heal my own broken heart as she exhaustedly fights for hers. I await to see the success of her fight because I cannot bear it to think she may lose. She is strong, though she doesn't see it. She is brave, though she sees only her fear. I will see the truth of her on her behalf while she navigates the dark woods of her depression.

I do not claim to be religious but have studied numerous scholars of numerous religions. One of the things that has always stuck with me was the idea by Martin Luther in the 16th Century that suicide did not mean that the soul was damned. That having your life taken by the despair the devil attacks you with is no different than being murdered by a robber in the woods. I believe that to be true.

My friend was attacked by a robber in the woods. She survived but continues to fight through these horrifying woods of her mind. I hope she receives the guidance she needs to make it out. Whether through a god, a therapist, a friend, or a family member. I want her to come safely out, back into the sunshine that will heal her.