I can’t believe I’m actually writing this…
I’m the last person I ever expected to suffer from clinical depression.
But I’m here now… and I have to talk about it.
Because that’s what I do.
I talk about things people usually try to avoid talking about.
So here we go…
Back in December, depression hit me like a ton of bricks. At the time, I of course didn’t think I had depression… in truth, I didn’t think much at all about how I was feeling. But I know I was more tired than ever before… like ridiculously tired.
I guess I figured I was recovering from the craziness of an amazing comeback year, and from the craziness of the election season and shocking outcome, and from the holiday hustle and bustle… maybe I was a little tired from having to constantly visit doctors because of an ailment or new side effect from Tamoxifen.
I didn’t think much about it until it didn’t go away… and when it started to get worse, I thought about it a lot.
And let me tell you something… depression is fucked up.
But it’s not like that ridiculous commercial that says, “depression hurts…” it doesn’t hurt, at least it doesn’t hurt me… it’s worse.
It’s like trying to walk through cement… nearly impossible to put one foot in front of the other.
You feel ashamed of yourself in the worst ways. Like when someone you love looks at you with genuine sadness and tells you how disappointed they are in you.
It’s the loneliest place on earth, because it forces you into seclusion… you don’t want to engage with anyone, you don’t want to talk on the phone, you don’t want company.
You feel like a foreigner in your own exhausted body.
All of the things I have always loved to do, I either struggle to do or can’t do at all… can’t go to the gym. Can’t go to the grocery store, even if my fridge is barren. Can’t write. Sometimes I can’t leave the house.
And I have no fucking idea why… I just can’t.
I could sleep for 24 hours straight and then sleep a little more… sometimes I don’t get up until 1 p.m. and then I’m up until 3 a.m. Even after hours of sleep, I yawn all day long and caffeine does nothing to keep me up.
My head is constantly in the clouds. I’m disorganized. I’m forgetful. I wait until the last minute to do most things.
I’m eating terribly because I’m not motivated to be strict with my diet and prep my meals like I did all last year.
And the worst part is… sometimes I care, sometimes I don’t give a shit.
I know this isn’t normal, so when I have a lucid moment, I ask myself, why am I acting like this? In those moments, I actually question whether I’m just being lazy… and this is where the shame comes in. It’s embarrassing to act this way and have zero control over it, and you wonder if anyone else has noticed the changes in your behavior… it’s a total mind-fuck to a person who’s used to being busy, constantly on the go and juggling a million things with no problem whatsoever. That’s the me I remember.
That’s the me I want back.
I think a small part of me can’t believe this is actually clinical depression, because in truth, I don’t have anything to be sad about… my life is carefree and flexible. My businesses are successful. I live in a beautiful house and am surrounded by wonderful, positive people. For the first time in my life, I’m truly happy with how I’m living it… until this started happening.
You know what I’m sad about? The fact that I have clinical depression that’s causing me to act and feel this way, and it’s all because I have to take a medicine that’s supposed to be saving my life… once again, thanks a bunch, Tamoxifen, for the crippling side effect… please mess with the chemicals in my brain a little more.
I didn’t realize that in order to live a longer, healthy life, I needed to trade in my sanity.
I’ve heard that some cancer patients and survivors get PTSD… I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I did not experience this aftershock as a kid who’d survived Hodgkin’s Disease, but kids are resilient. At 35, I know too much about the world, about myself, about my health risks and what I want in the future. But I am certain this is from Tamoxifen… there are limited clinical studies to prove so, but there are thousands of testimonials in breast cancer forums all over the Internet that claim once a woman stopped taking Tamoxifen, she was fine.
I’ve already said I won’t stop taking it… I’ve got to soldier through it.
What I find even crazier, is that more people than you’d ever realize are also suffering from various forms of depression… they’re just hiding it well, understandably.
Because that’s what depression does… it makes you want to hide under the covers forever.
More than 15 million Americans suffer from depression each year… just imagine how many more go undiagnosed. In the last couple of months, when friends or family members have asked me how I’m doing, I’ve been honest… I’ve told them, not so good. And then I’ve told them what’s been going on and that I’m pretty sure I have clinical depression… and more than half got real quiet… and then eventually they’d either shared their similar experience, the name of a great doctor or what they were taking to treat it.
One friend told me if he misses a dose of his Wellbutrin, you literally have to peel him off the floor.
You guys… depression is a fucking epidemic that nobody wants to get really real about.
I’ve spent so much time these last few months in my own thoughts, and it occurred to me that when depression is written about in the news, it’s usually when it’s too late… when someone’s already experienced a sadness so deep that they took their own life. A few years ago, it was Robin Williams, one of my favorite actors who shocked the world with his passing. And more recently, Chris Cornell, a brilliant artist, devoted husband and father with an unparalleled talent. A fellow blogger posted about Cornell’s passing and the struggle with depression, which he describes much more eloquently and accurately than my brain has been allowing me to lately.
The bottom line is, too many people succumb to depression everyday and this can be avoided. But I no longer look at related suicides as cowardly or selfish. Instead, my heart breaks for those who didn’t get the help they so desperately needed.
And let me be VERY clear, I’ve never had a suicidal or self-loathing thought… any sadness about my diseases has always been accompanied by the bright side that I’m a strong survivor with a mission to help others… but when I think about what I’m experiencing now, and the isolation that comes with it, I can completely understand how someone can get to that point of uncontrolled anxiety and sadness if you continue to let depression spiral out of control.
Depression has a ridiculously tight grip and the mind is one of our most underestimated tools.
If anything good has come from having depression, it’s a better understanding of my surroundings. It has reminded me to always be kind and to be less judgmental of others. It’s reinforced that challenges need to be dealt with, not brushed aside or ignored.
And so I decided to share what has felt like a shameful secret because I know more than half of the people reading this are feeling the same way. Or, they know someone who is. And when I started this blog, I promised myself, and my followers, that I’d chronicle my experiences, good and bad, with integrity and openness.
So, now let me tell you what I’ve decided to do about all this bullshit.
After my surgery in February, I visited with a family friend and Reiki healer, Tim, someone I saw after my mastectomy who helped me immensely. I visited with him because I felt blocked… creatively and physically. I was only just starting to figure out the problem.
We talked about the symptoms I’m having… insomnia, fatigue and lack of motivation. He asked me, what’s keeping me up at night, and what kinds of things am I thinking about while lying in bed. I told him, nothing cool, nothing crazy. Years ago I had insomnia due to work-related anxiety. Now, my mind wanders around absolute nonsense… nothing that has me worried or fearful. Sometimes I sing songs. Sometimes I daydream about weird shit. He told me to follow the things I’m seeing in my mind, playfully, the way a child would… because he equated where I am in life to being somewhat childlike… starting over in a lot of ways. A rebirth after having gone through two simultaneous traumatic events. My lifestyle is now vastly different from what I’d been accustomed to for more than a decade. For several years, I was always extremely busy, regimented because my career forced me to be. The job-related stress was insane, completely unhealthy. I’d become so used to living that way, that I accepted it as normal.
My life now is normal… perhaps my mind is in shock from it being too normal.
As I laid on Tim’s table, facedown with acupuncture needles in my back, neck and legs, he performed Reiki. His hands were hot, like he’d stuck them in an oven. He kept his hands on the back of my skull for about 15 minutes and I allowed my mind to wander. As I teetered between being awake and asleep, I saw an image of a little girl playing, which eventually morphed into my grandmother’s face, which eventually morphed into a bud blossoming into a bright pink flower. About halfway through, my face started to vibrate and I felt energy moving through the back of my head and down my neck. After the treatment, Tim and I discussed how I was feeling and he said, “You’re right, you are blocked… at the base of your skull.”
He was relieved to hear that I’d felt the energy move through that area… the Reiki was successful… but a big part of me also wanted to say, can we do this every day?
Sadly he hadn’t cured me of my problems… he’d just opened my eyes wider. I felt validated.
After that, I tried sticking to a strict morning routine, setting my alarm for 8 a.m., getting right up and putting water on for tea, washing up and taking all of my meds. I added vitamin D and B12 to my mornings. I drank tea with matcha for focus. I ate a healthy breakfast.
This worked when I stuck to it. If I woke up to a rainy, gloomy day, I was bedridden.
I thought leaving the tundra of the Northeast for Florida and California to spend time with family in the sun would cure me… I thought maybe I was just experiencing seasonal depression.
It did help a little.
I was surrounded by my family, people who were acting normal, getting up and going to bed at normal hours. It encouraged me to follow suit. When I returned home a month ago, I was thrilled to see that life had bloomed outside while I was gone. Everything was so green. No more winter to bring me down… it didn’t matter.
I’m pretty sure I spent more time in bed in May than I did out of it.
And so back to the doctor I went. My oncologist, who in the past has brushed off my complaints about the side effects I’m experiencing, perked right up when I told him what was going on. He ordered blood work, but told me what I already knew… I likely had depression and I should see a general practitioner soon to deal with it.
As much as I wanted to avoid prescription anti-depressants, I know I can’t. I’m desperate to feel like my old self and I’ve never been one to steer clear of proven science.
So I spent my Memorial Day Weekend getting acclimated to a new drug. Day 1, my body buzzed all day and I had a raging migraine, it was awesome. But every day since has been better and better, and today is the first day in what feels like forever that I got up at a normal hour and didn’t go right back to bed.
Maybe I’ll finally make it to the grocery store today… if I do, I’ll celebrate, because if this crazy life has taught me anything, it’s that you celebrate the small victories.
But my message to you is this… if you’re feeling how I’ve been feeling, you’ve got to speak to someone NOW. If you have nobody, speak to me. Life is too short and precious to spend it behind closed doors and under the covers alone. Don’t let the demons fester. This shit is too absurd to allow to take the wheel.
I’m taking it back… it’s time to slowly put one foot in front of the other and live the life I know I deserve.