Today is #BellLetsTalk Day, a day where, here in Canada we have a chance to talk openly about mental health. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be talking about it every other day, but on this specific day Bell Canada will donate 5¢ for every mention of (#BellLetsTalk) in social media. So please share this, a text, or a tweet for mental health.
Even before being diagnosed with cancer, I battled with depression and anxiety. As early as my late teens in high school, when it felt like I had an elephant on my chest, or when my heart would beat so fast it would take my breath away. I didn’t know it back then.
It came around again after a time I had gone through a number of changes and losses (the diagnosis and death of my father from cancer, the break up of a long term relationship, changing universities and losing a year, graduating, finding and losing a job, finding another albeit crappier job) and hadn’t realized I was depressed until much later. It literally took not being physically able to get out of bed for three days for it to click that there was something very wrong. When I did get up, I promptly sought the help of my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist and put me on medication. I chose to go to therapy in addition to medication, which helped me reclaim my life.
So when I received the earth shattering news that I had cancer, I anticipated that depression might creep back into my life, so I wanted to be proactive, because frankly, life is too damn short to be depressed with or without cancer.
Initially, I was so focused on treatment and getting better, I didn’t think about how I felt. I knew logically that I should allow myself to feel whatever feelings I had, but what happened was the opposite. I felt so blessed that I was supported, loved, “healthy” and tolerating treatment so well that anytime I did start to feel “negative” emotions or feel sorry for myself, I’d quickly beat myself up for it. I mean how dare I feel bad when I was so lucky!! Once I completed treatment, I found myself with a lot more time, and consequently, a lot more time to think. This was when I began to feel the emotional fallout of my diagnosis.
As open as I was about my story, I always held back what I really felt. I went around with a smile on my face all the while hiding my fear and anger behind a mask. The only time the mask came off was when I was in the presence of other Young Adult survivors.
All the emotions that were suppressed around everyone else bubbled up and escaped when I would talk to other survivors. I was able to express my fears to them and not be afraid that they would fall apart, or become fearful for me, I knew I wasn’t burdening them like I would with my family. They got it, because many of them wore the same mask, they could see past the BS of “I’m fine” and they called my bluff.
To try to circumvent depression I was proactive, by seeing a physiologist. I went religiously hoping that I’d avoid the “blues” but it didn’t feel right, so sought help through my hospital. What I really wanted and needed was someone who had experience with cancer patients. The second time was the charm, but still I found myself to be extremely volatile. I imagine living with me at that time would have been akin to living in a minefield, you never knew when I’d explode.
I thought that depression would come to me in paralyzing sadness like it had before, that way I could recognize it, but it didn’t, it came to me in red hot anger. I don’t know where all the anger came from, but it burst out of me, for the trivial minute things, and was usually directed towards the people I loved most.
Again I was oblivious that I was experiencing depression until I wanted to physically hurt someone out of anger. It was that moment that I realized I needed more help. Talking wasn’t cutting it and as much as I didn’t want to take pills, I knew I had to. I am not advocating anti-depressants, they are not for everyone. In my case, they really help me function and regulate my mood so it’s not as extreme. In addition to medication, I seek counseling regularly, attend a Young Adult support group as often as I can, and meditate regularly.
There is no road map out there to navigate cancer*, no right or wrong way, you just do what you have to do to get to the other side, the truth is, what has happened is a trauma, a loss, a life altering event. Despite being grateful for being alive, we still have to mourn what we lost, whether its opportunities, time, or the ability to have a child, denying those feelings will only come back to haunt us. So please, allow yourself to grieve and feel. Seek help, talk to your peers, talk to your doctor, find a support group, reach out. Life is too short to be depressed but even cancer warriors get the blues.
*This statement is true for so many situations, from post-partum depression to the death of a family member to the end of a marriage. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but if you are not your normal self, talk to some one. If you are in crisis please call 911 or go to your local hospital.
Bell Let’s Talk Dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk promotes awareness and action with a strategy built on 4 key pillars: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research, and leading by example in workplace mental health.
Canadian Mental Health Association As a nation-wide, voluntary organization, the Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness. The CMHA accomplishes this mission through advocacy, education, research and service.
KidsHelpPhone Kids Help Phone is a Canadian and world leader known for our expertise and continuous innovation as Canada’s only 24/7 counselling and information service for young people. Since 1989, our trained, professional counsellors have been listening to kids, often when no one else can or will. We are always there – supporting young people wherever and whenever they need us most.