I am still walking down that long yellow brick road to recovery with many friends and family along the way to help me along. I suppose my use of the word still implies a certain degree of impatience and/or frustration at the length of the road and the pace at which I am walking it. And I think this is a reasonable or predictable experience for what I've been through... also a good sign that I'm chomping at the bit to get back to the life I was living.
I've been meaning to write for a few weeks now especially as the last post was back at the start of May. My Dad and Myrna's 80th birthday plus a host of visitors in May meant for a busy and fun filled month. After this though I was really struggling with self acceptance over the feelings I was experiencing as a result of processing what has happened, walking the golden brick road each day, and thinking about when I will reach the end and what the end will look like.
I was experiencing depression and anxiety and wasn't having much compassion or self acceptance for having these feelings. Like most people I don't like feeling either of them, especially for periods longer than a half a day or a day and I also kept thinking that there was something wrong with me for experiencing these feelings... It was like I had forgotten what I had been through over the last 6 months and was assuming I had had a normal winter. I was in a place of not much compassion for myself which didn't help the feelings of anxiety and depression. There were other contributing factors such as one of my medications for the desmoid tumours causing me stomach pain (I've since gone off the drug and am on a new plan which I will write more about later).
Without this self acceptance I found it difficult and/or near impossible to write a blog post to all of you about how I was doing. Even with this acceptance I find this blog post a bit uneasy to write. I find the topic of mental health to be taboo in popular discourse and also viewed as being very binary. Either one falls under the clean bucket of no mental health issues or one is labelled as someone who has a mental health issue and the person is put in the “other” bucket and if the topic comes up it is whispered about and the person is always defined or seen through the label of their mental illness.
Very different say then someone who has a bum knee or a weak shoulder. Where for the most part the person is seen first and only if say the individual is playing a game of basketball or baseball is the physical injury seen in the person.
Part of my fear in writing about this topic, my path through anxiety and depression, is that others might treat me differently or worry more about me thinking that what I am going through is permanent or here to stay. Or that some might feel the need to try and fix the feelings that I am experiencing out of concern for my well being.
I realize that this is my fear and that I am projecting it out onto the world AND I also get that those of you who I am sending this out to have quite a bit of life experience and have most likely experienced anxiety and depression and/or known someone who has... i.e. this is a safe place for me to share.
My experience through all of this is that mental health is not always binary or black and white. I am learning that as I go through life there will be moments of sadness and anxiety or sometimes depending on the situation a period of depression and then I will recover and move on and according to society I will be put in the clean bucket of “no mental health issues”.
I have learned that extended periods of sadness that start to feel like a short period of depressing myself shows up as very low energy, apathy, and a withdrawing into myself where I can find some comfort and escape from reality. I have also learned that anxiety can either feel paralyzing where I find myself caught in a continuous circle of analysis paralysis which leads to an inability to make a decision. Or it can feel like a volcano erupting that powers me through the whole day to get something done only to leave me feeling frazzled at the end of the day.
At the peak of my feelings of depression and anxiety I decided to see a counselor on a regular basis to help me walk this yellow brick road. Someone who can for a change provide some expert advice instead of the all to common response from my well meaning doctors of “Well I hardly ever see someone like you so you'll learn just as much from me as I will from you.”
I also decided to put some horsepower into creating a support network of folks in the cancer community and have gone to a couple of meetings for adults living with cancer. This hasn't “fixed” anything AND it has helped me lower my feelings of anxiety and has helped me feel more supported. For years I have avoided making any inroads into the cancer community for fears that it would somehow increase my chances of getting cancer... fear based magical thinking I know.
Both of these efforts have helped and while the anxiety and feelings of sadness/depression have not disappeared, their frequency and duration have lessened.
So perhaps the biggest learning for me in the last month has been to tell myself when I am experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression, or sadness is to stop and remind myself that given the situation I am in these feelings are to be expected, that they are part of the healing process and that with time and work I will learn how to navigate them with more ease.
A friend I made at one of the support groups, who is a cancer survivor, gave me a good image to help me with this. After I told her my story she said "Wholly sh*t it's like someone dropped a nuclear bomb on you and then a tornado swept you up and then slammed you into a brick wall. Congrats" and followed it up with a fist bump.
Dan and Company
We got this... This has been the mantra of Dan's friends and family as they help him navigates a difficult medical rodeo ride. This blog contains entries from Dan as well as his friends and family.