It’s like a really miserable game of “duck duck goose” in my head right now. I can’t figure out if the depression is making me anxious, or if the anxiety is making me depressed, but it’s probably a combination of both. The doctors told me during the first round that it was normal to have a dip in energy levels around nadir, because that was when my blood counts were at their lowest. Accepting that is what is happening, has been a lot harder though.
I don’t feel like myself. When my hair started falling out during the steroid taper, and I cut it shorter and shorter, I kept trying to find a new identity along with it. Coloring it fun colors, and denying that my life was changing as the diagnosis got more severe, and the treatment options more debilitating. When the first round of Cytoxan left me holding clumps of hair, I felt empowered for about a minute after having what hair remained, off. Then I felt lost. My wig doesn’t fit me well, and though I can go to the wig shop and have a new one made, and fitted, the process of getting myself there is difficult. (The shop is about half an hour from me, and I cannot drive.)
Friends have fallen from my life, and the people I expected to reconnect with upon returning to San Diego a year and a half ago, haven’t all been understanding regarding my limitations. Why would they be? Some get it, but some don’t, and almost nobody understands the emotional aspects of it all. I have no hair. My once clear skin is red and bumpy. My weight fluctuates 10 pounds constantly due to not eating, then eating whatever it is I happen to be hungry for.
My primary care doctor increased my depression medication upon my request, but I haven’t found a psych doctor that I like yet. The practice that takes my insurance and is within reasonable distance cost wise for commuting, has really odd opinions on medications. Mostly they push what the drug representatives drop samples off of. They are making a move away from controlled substances, despite the fact that I do well when I have Xanax or Klonopin to take as needed. I will get my medical marijuana card renewed so I can get new marijuana strains that work better for my specific needs, but even that wouldn’t help me much right now. I can use it to cure nausea and help me sleep, but it doesn’t do much for depression.
Nothing really can, because my reasons for being depressed are completely logical. I don’t look like myself. My divorce has become bitter and hostile, despite the fact that we initially were in total agreement regarding terms. Things with “the guy” are still comfortable, but as I become uncomfortable in my own skin, I risk everything around me, including our situation. Both of us tend to be anxious people, and when my own anxiety and depression mounts, I have to distance myself to spare him added stress. I know he’d do his best to cheer me up, but ultimately be brought down in the process.
Is it really depression, though, if someone is going through all of what I am going through? I’m positive that I’m chemically imbalanced, given what I take for my Behcet’s and PTSD, and my limited diet…but how does that differ from depression in someone who eats normally and has no other underlying medical conditions? Depression in the chronically ill, or terminally ill, isn’t a new issue. There is a reason that mental health questions are asked prior to each chemotherapy infusion, but that doesn’t change the internal struggle I have with myself when these moods come on. I’ve lived with PTSD for a little over 10 years, and the symptoms have decreased, only to increase with this recent loss of self identity.
For so much of my life my identity was defined by what I did for others, and who I was to others. Now that I’ve finally been forced to focus on myself, there is a shock value associated with it. Suddenly I’m thinking about where I want to be, and go, in life, and then I see where I am now, and it all becomes overwhelming. There are things we can do as people to get where we want to go, but there are so many things out of our hands. When your health becomes a roadblock to success, you feel vulnerable, and exposed. A huge part of me feels unloveable. A friend has suggested that I have been uncomfortably comfortable in the situation with the “guy” because I don’t think I deserve more.
But how could I look for more? Right now I’m barely capable of maintaining myself, let alone a relationship with another person. Financially, emotionally, physically, I’m struggling, and while there is a huge part of me that lusts after the comfort of having someone there for me in a more concrete manner, I have to recognize that I’m not in a place to return what I would take out of a partner, at least not without sacrificing some of my own health in the process.
It boils down to wants versus needs. I have to recognize that my body is a need state, I need to do what I need to do to knock Behcet’s down, so I can pick up the pieces and build the life I want. I just wish I knew how to kick the depression that bogs me down in the fight. This last few weeks has been absolutely miserable. The treatment is never fun, but this time around it was more painful because I went alone, on very little sleep, with a ton of stress mounted on my shoulders. Going alone made me realize that “the guy” could and would be there when and if I asked him, and if he were available, but that I had to lean on other friends, and myself. In that moment, I wasn’t strong enough, though. I went into that treatment on the brink of collapse, having shaved my head the night before, and dealing with stress from my ex.
I am depressed. I am anxious. I am chasing both of those conditions around and around, to the point where I must look somewhat manic to the few people who choose to still remain close to me. As I focus on my needs, and give into the sleep my body craves, I hate my body for it. I pretend pain that I feel doesn’t exist, and that I can do things I know I can’t do simply because a huge part of me wishes it were true. That I were capable of achieving whatever I set my mind to. I pretend that it is me walking my dog for an hour along the bay. I pretend that it’s me, dancing downtown, and living it up. I can only pretend for so long though, before I succumb to the sad reality of the four walls of my bedroom.
There are inspirational quotes around, and jokes, and funny photos and movies…but there is also reality. Sometimes it’s just too much to deny. Sometimes you just have to cry, and accept the raw pain of a chronic illness, and serious medical treatment.
Then there is chemo-brain, which I almost forgot to mention (ironically.) Some people have said that the chemo-brain scenario undoubtedly contributes to depression, because you’re in a fog, an you’re operating slower. It’s definitely a real phenomenon, and I’m grateful I’m only taking anthropology during chemotherapy (thus far anyhow) because the professor agreed to let me audit the course from home versus come in and do the labs. (I still need to sit in on the course in six months when it’s on campus, but that’ll be doable, hopefully.
If there was anything I clung to, it was that I was in graduate school, and I had a plan for myself. When that all went out the window, I lost my identity as a student. Now that I have one class, I’m thrilled, but I’m still freaking out. What if I don’t do well in this class? What if they can’t fix the filing grade I got from taking an incomplete and not finishing within six months? (I took the course during Rituxan, couldn’t finish, and then the first month of chemo fell RIGHT on the six month mark, so I obviously missed making it up.)
I’m the one who tells everyone where everything is, courtesy of PTSD hyper vigilance now I’m the one running late due to misplaced keys, or sim,ply running into a room to get something and forgetting what I came for. My identity has been stripped to the bare bones, and it truly is a struggle for me to figure out what I’m going to do at the end of the day to define myself i na positive way. Right now I just feel like that “sick” girl.