I haven’t been as “post happy” on social media lately as folks may have gotten used to. When I look back on this time last year, I feel like I was making the effort to flood my friends’ timeline with cancer updates and uplifting reflections on my journey. Posting and writing always helped me to sort out my thoughts, and I felt like I was giving something back to the many of you who have supported me and cheered me on during some pretty difficult days by sharing some positivity. Plus, I love the holidays, so I just ride that high for as long as I can.
This year has been different, though. And I haven’t known quite what to say or who exactly to say it to. I don’t like to post content that is not positive, because I’m intentional about spreading and receiving joy. That’s important to me as part of my “healing from cancer” journey as well as my ongoing “meaningful (to me) life” philosophy. So, when I struggle, I’m not always sure how to put a positive spin on it, which means sometimes I don’t say much at all. But as much as being positive, I also want to be real. Because we don’t do each other any favors as humans when we pretend that our lives are perfect all the time and only share the magnificent moments on social media. Part of the reason I’ve been so open in sharing my cancer journey is because I want other people to know that life can go on during extreme difficulty, and that involves being real about the bad moments too.
So, here it goes. *Deep breath* In December, I felt myself struggling with life in a different way than I’ve ever quite struggled before. I found myself feeling so exhausted that I couldn’t muster the energy to do the things I need to do to properly take care of myself. I had no energy for healthy eating, housekeeping, mothering, wife-ing, daughtering, sistering, friending, working, writing, moving, Christmasing, or really doing anything that I wanted to do. Worse yet, I found myself losing interest in even wanting to do my things. I just wanted to do nothing, all the time, and not feel guilty about it. Beyond that, I started feeling hopeless on many days, in ways that I have not felt at all during my cancer journey. Looking back, I have definitely been down or lonely at some of the lower points of my life (looking at you, law school), but I was always busy. Way too busy to really stop moving and let things sink. And way too full of interesting ways to distract myself from very negative emotions (looking at you, wine). But now we’re in a pandemic. So I’m home every single day, and I have cancer. So I don’t drink anymore, and I’m not too busy for any of “the things” to sit right down next to me on the couch and have a long, ugly stare in the face. It’s different, y’all.
So, what of it? How do you fight back? How do you crawl out of these spaces? For me, this is what it has been looking like. First off, I realized this was not me. I knew something was off, and that I did not want to continue feeling this way. I tried to be honest with people in small moments when the opportunity presented itself, just to get it out there and let myself recognize the problems. But I’m not great at asking for help, and I think depression is an area where most people struggle with knowing how to be helpful even we do need help. There’s just not an open culture around discussing mental health and knowing how to serve ourselves or each other in that realm. Fortunately, I was also able to discuss it with my oncologist, and she very gently suggested that it might be time to try an antidepressant. I’m not a huge fan of medications or “relying” on anything to feel “normal,” but honestly at this point, I felt like I had nothing to lose by trying. I didn’t want to let pride keep me spiraling downhill if there was a chance I could feel better by trying something else.
So, I started taking the antidepressant, and I also started leaning into the self care. For me that was sometimes as simple as asking myself “what do I feel like doing right now that I can actually accomplish?” without looking too far into the future or trying to make a commitment out of anything. It meant spending a little extra money on a massage or takeout or something else I could safely do that might lessen stress, anxiety, burden or exhaustion, even for a little while. It always meant focusing on now and saving “later” for “later” so as not to get too overwhelmed. After three weeks or so, the antidepressant finally started kicking in. First I just started feeling more like myself and finding that my interest in things was returning. Then I was pleasantly surprised to find my energy returning.
I’m finding myself feeling a little more “normal” every day (if I could ever have been considered normal to begin with! LOL). My energy for taking care of myself and my home, and giving to my relationships feels like it’s there more, but I’m still not exercising and my diet is sometimes great, sometimes not. I’m trying to allow myself the grace to get there organically (pun intended). I find that continuing to lean into the self care and focus on the present, one moment at a time, is working for me for now.
So what’s my point in all this? One, let’s normalize being real with each other. I want you to know that my journey is not all sunshine and roses. But because I’m a self-proclaimed “eternal optimist” I will do my best to get back there as quickly as possible. That’s who I am, but I do not pretend to speak for all cancer patients, all lawyers, or any other group going through whatever. I want to be honest about what I’m going through and how I deal, so that other people know they aren’t alone, even if their moment doesn’t look exactly like mine. If my “solutions” resonate with you, excellent – run with them. If you’re not getting feeling like your best self, and don’t see yourself getting back there anytime soon, that’s ok, too. You can still talk about it. Which leads me to my next point: Two, let’s figure out how to support each other. I don’t have the answer here, but I’d like to start the conversation. We don’t always know what we need even when we know we need something. So asking for help may seem impossible. And we sometimes tend to gravitate toward trying to solve other peoples’ problems when we sense a need for help, though simple presence and safe space might go a longer way. So let’s just try to make the first small steps. Try to figure out what we need in any one moment and who/how we might ask for it. Even a small part of it. Try to find a gentle way to reach out when we sense something is wrong and someone else might need something. Ask what others need, and even if they say nothing, try to find a way to gently provide something. Which leads me to my final point: Three, spread empathy like wildfire. These are tough times. Everyone has something on their plate or under their rug that they are struggling with. Overcoming life traumas is an everyday work in progress for each of us. All we have is each other, really. So, let’s do everything we can to expand our understanding and compassion, even when people seem too different for us to truly understand. If I’ve learned one lesson on polarization lately, it’s that when I feel the most opposed to someone, the next thing I learn is something that we have in common.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for letting me get all this off my chest. I hope being honest is a big step in me being able to re-engage with social media a bit more, because I’ve missed you all! Anything you’d like to share that you feel like has been holding you back a bit lately?