So this is a post I've thought about writing for a while but never got around to it. It's about feelings...appropriate for a social worker/therapist, yes?
I put on a good face most of the time. I project a positive attitude about my circumstances. Most of the time, it's a true portrayal.
I want to be a bit more upfront. I want to talk a bit about the downside of cancer, about being pregnant and getting the diagnosis, about the toll it has taken on my mental health. I don't think we talk about it enough.
First, I want to say that I try really hard to keep a positive outlook because it's critical to my well-being, both physical and mental. I also often find it easier to be more positive because I have so many amazing people in my life, and you all make it much easier to cope. Kevin is the most supportive and loving person I could ever ask for, and our incredibly amazing and healthy little boy gives me all the encouragement I need to keep going.
But there are days when the monsters creep in. I'm not talking about The Monster, my adorable snuggly puppy dog. I'm talking about the depression and the anxiety monsters. Depression is no stranger to me. But around August, I really started noticing the anxiety. It was new to me, at least the intensity of it was, as was its presence without my usual depression symptoms. At first, I thought it was just normal new-mom stuff. I'd zoom in on the video monitor every time I woke up during the night to check that Finn was still breathing, and if I couldn't tell, I'd go into his room and make sure. I couldn't stop imagining scenarios, horrible scenarios, where something happened to him, or something happened to Kevin, or something happened to me. I kept fearing my cancer would return (it wasn't even gone at this point), and I'd imagine Finn growing up without his mother.
I felt on edge; it was difficult to stay still. I had physical symptoms as well. I'd get a pit in my stomach that wouldn't go away. My chest would feel tight.
It didn't get better. It got worse.
Finally, I called the cancer center and asked to talk with the social worker. I met with her a couple of times, and she referred me to a psychiatrist who works with the Breast Center. I didn't want to take medication. I figured that if I just talked with a therapist for a while, started processing through all I'd been going through in the past six or seven months, it might be enough.
But after a couple of sessions, I decided that I'd go ahead and talk with the psychiatrist. If the therapy wasn't enough (which seemed relatively likely, given my history) and I ended up needing to go on medication anyway, it would be another six or so weeks until the medication would start working. I didn't want to have to deal with that. The anxiety was interfering with my daily life, and I needed some changes.
I met with the psychiatrist, who was shocked I wasn't taking something already, especially something to quell intense periods of anxiety. She said she rarely prescribes those to patients from the breast center, because they've usually been prescribed it already by the oncologist. I assume I wasn't even offered it because I was pregnant, but I also did really well for all of my pregnancy, and even several weeks after.
So she gave me a prescription for Ativan and another for Lexapro. She suggested I take an Ativan before I needed it, to get an idea of how I'd respond to it. I took it on an evening when I didn't have anything to do and when Kevin would be around should the baby need anything. I didn't really notice any difference, but I did sleep pretty well that night.
A day or two later was my radiation simulation. I knew from talking to others that I'd be exposed from the waist up for a couple of hours. I knew it would be hard for me, especially when they said Kevin wouldn't be able to be there for all of it, so I took an Ativan. It helped a lot, and after my second or third radiation treatment, I didn't need it anymore.
The Lexapro has helped immensely. I'm feeling more stable, and I'm much better able to reality check myself when I start going goofy.
There are still rough days. When I found the lump (that ended up just being scar tissue), I was definitely glad for the Ativan. I've used it a few other times, when life just gets overwhelming, and it helps me to find calm.
People like to hear positive stories, positive experiences. Cancer sucks. I try to be positive. I try to be uplifting. It usually works, and I can keep a sense of humor about it. But really, it just fucking sucks. And I'm grateful for the psychiatric help.