Aztec 3

Friday, August 4, 2017

Living with Anxiety



Lyrics:
Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I'm out here living in a fantasy
I can't enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain

Watching the sunrise slash through the blinds
Dust in the room hovers over mine
Lying here in silence
Wife and child still sleeping deep enough to dream
And oh, I'm a lucky man today
But so afraid that time will take it all from me

Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I'm out here living in a fantasy
I can't enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain

It's the weight of the world
But it's nothing at all
Light as a prayer, and then I feel myself fall
You got to give me a minute
Because I'm way down in it
And I can't breathe so I can't speak
I want to be strong and steady, always ready
Now, I feel so small, I feel so weak

Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I'm out here living in a fantasy
I can't enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I'm wide awake and I'm in a pain

A crowded room is a burning battlefield
If I don't move, I'll come undone
My heart beats harder, a hammer striking steel
Will I walk now or be a "Wait and Run"?

Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I'm out here living in a fantasy
I can't enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain



When I first heard this song I was floored. I'd never heard anxiety so perfectly described. The line about "out here living in a fantasy" really resonates with me. My anxiety is never more apparent than when my life is going really well. Doesn't make sense, does it? For those of us with clinical anxiety (a chemical imbalance in the brain) versus situational anxiety (massive stressors in life), even when life is perfect we still struggle. Like the song above describes, we lie awake and feel pain for no reason. Our brain tells us lies and works in overdrive 24/7. We see a car swerve in front of us and immediately start planning our own funeral for after the inevitable wreck that's about to happen. And these thoughts happen all day every day. It's a miserable way to live. Other times it's like a gray smog. The harsh, extreme thoughts may not be there but there's a dullness in our brain, like a cloud hanging over every minute. We do the things we love, surrounded by those we love, and yet it doesn't bring joy. It just passes time. Currently I'm somewhere in between the extreme thoughts stage and the grayness. My brain has adjusted to the euphoria of my new meds, the ease and excitement they provided in my life. And now it's time to visit the reality of what's working, what's not, and what needs to be adjusted. It's hard. It's really hard. I just got back from an epic girls trip with SJ and though I look at the activities and time we spent together and logically know that it was an awesome trip, I kind of feel like that "meh" emoji from the popular new movie (which we watched and liked). I expected euphoric highs over fun adventures but all I got was gray. It's so very frustrating. I have hope that things will be better, possibly even soon. Maybe even today or tomorrow. Because that's what anxiety also is. Good days and bad. And it's usually unpredictable. At least this is my experience. So why share all of this here? Because so many people struggle with it and we don't talk enough about it -- in adults and even more so in children. And they experience the same thing. Did you know that? I know because I've experienced it all my life and now my son is in the same boat. I hate that for him but at least I know what it is and he's been getting the help he needs for a while now. So let's be there for each other. Let's admit that we struggle too. And if you read this and have no idea what I'm talking about that's awesome. I'm sure there are other struggles you have. And we can talk about those as well. I suppose I'm tired of the silence. There's a difference between privacy and hiding. Let's make a promise not to hide.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Now I'm Surviving

Yesterday I had my last appointment with my beloved oncologist. She is a precious person. She is brilliant, compassionate, and constantly reading, learning, researching, striving to gain the latest knowledge to serve her patients in the best possible way. You might be thinking, "Don't all doctors do that?" No. No they don't. Ours is a medical family and I've been around medicine for almost 20 years, long enough to know that doctors like mine are true gems. I've been lucky through my cancer journey to have had several -- my medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, internist, and oncology psychiatrist. But in my life I've had ones that simply saw the patient and not the person. When you've had cancer you need doctors that see the person.

It's been more than three years since my cancer diagnosis and I'm now considered a "survivor" at my cancer center. This means that by all accounts my cancer is gone and I'm on a 6-month follow-up schedule for blood work and med checks. I could not be more thankful for this! I'm well aware that many people have not experienced this same journey and it's humbling. 

My oncologist is moving out of state next month. She said she'd gladly take me with her but I don't need her anymore. She underestimates my sentimentality and attachment. Ha! In reality though, we put our lives in their hands. When I got my diagnosis and heard the words "it's cancer" my world stopped spinning and I lost all control. Then the sprint of labs, tests, doctors appointments, etc. had me clinging to life and sanity with white knuckles. My oncologist spent hours with us walking through different scenarios, possible complications and solutions, and treatment plans. She consulted colleagues and championed my cause. She and my breast surgeon were like a tag-team of a lifeline during that time. My life was in their hands, and although my cancer was stage 1 it was still the scariest point in our lives thus far. And they were there 100%. 

The funny thing about the attachments we feel towards doctors is that they don't often understand it. At least the good ones don't. Because they do their jobs so well that they are both wildly talented in their medical skills and bedside manner. They give patients what they need and want without extra effort. They're built that way as doctors and human beings.

I anxiously await this next chapter -- the one where I rarely go to the cancer center and my oncologist doesn't actually know me. And while I know logically that my cancer will likely not return the rest of me still assumes it will one day. Because that's what cancer does to us. It takes our control and fills us with doubt. But I won't let it win. I can't live my life that way and I need to believe it myself when I tell my kids it's very unlikely that my cancer will return. So I'm taking my meds, trying to be physically and mentally healthy, and making efforts to advocate for others touched by this disease. There are complications -- weight gain and fatigue from my meds, the heaviness of walking with others through hard times, the memories and anniversaries of my own. But these are necessary experiences and I'm thankful that I'm in the aftermath and no longer fighting. Now I'm surviving. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How I Became a Morning Person and Other Changes in My Life

Meds. The answer is meds. The end.

Just kidding, sort of. If you read my last post you know I've struggled for a long time with anxiety and depression. Some of it was situational but most of it is a result of the brain I was dealt. Yay! Thankfully, with the help of a wonderful counselor and psychiatrist I'm on a great track now. I've seen so many changes in myself that it's somewhat shocking to realize what parts of me were the result of my anxiety and what's different now that it's under control. So I wanted to share with you some of these things because I know many of you are where I was just a few months ago -- fighting to get out of bed in the mornings, wishing you could just stop the irrational thoughts just for one day, hoping that today will be the day you can just relax and enjoy life.

How life has changed:

1. I'm now a morning person. I'm writing this at 7:00 am on my front porch, curled up in a hoodie and blanket, enjoying the cool West Texas breeze and the sounds of birds as they wake and start their day, too. And I've been up since 5:45. WHAT?! Even as I read this I annoy myself. I have never understood you morning people. I literally thought there must be something wrong with you to enjoy waking up before the sun let alone do anything productive during that time. Seriously, I got up and started *looking* for something to do. This is the opposite of my life before meds. Before my anxiety (and associated depression) was "fixed" I would drag myself out of bed to get the kids off to school, fix myself my morning Spark, then sit and watch whatever was on my DVR. [Disclaimer: I don't work outside the home.] I'd do this all while procrastinating living life. Projects, deadlines, obligations, basic responsibilities -- they all got ignored because it felt like climbing a mountain to do any of it. If you've never experienced this you just won't understand. But if you have, right now you're yelling YES!!! at your phone or computer. Hi. I get you.

2. Speaking of procrastination -- I DON'T ANYMORE! For my closest friends and family reading this, pick yourself up off the floor and continue. Can you even believe it?! My entire life I have been a procrastinator. I thought that was just who I was, something annoying about my personality, the way I was born. And it was the way I was born. But it was a symptom of my anxiety. My counselor told me this truth months before I started new meds and I believed her then but didn't have much confidence I could change that trait myself. I did have some plans in place which helped but it still felt like a huge mountain hike when executing those plans. Now I'm on it. Totally doing life when I need to do it, and actively pursuing new activities and obligations with excitement and hope. Who knew? (Answer: My counselor and psychiatrist. Duh.)

3. I'm not "sick" anymore. Again, my entire life I've been "sick." Not actually sick with specific ailments like my friends with auto-immune diseases or certain infections. I mean, there's my blood clotting thing and my sleep apnea thing and the cancer thing, but none of those things caused me to feel sick. I just felt sick almost everyday -- fatigue, headaches, nausea, dizziness, etc. I would often cancel plans with friends, forgo parties, shirk obligations, and more because I just didn't feel well. That's all gone now! Praise tha Lort! But really, praise the Lord! Before my meds were changed I'd start my day around 10 am and be exhausted by 2 pm. That's a really short window, folks. Anxiety depletes mind, body, and spirit. I spent so much energy just getting out of bed in the mornings and focusing my body and mind on basic daily tasks that by the time I had to do something real like play with my kids or go to an event I just couldn't do it. Now I'm up for it. I'm up for yoga. I'm up for lunch with new friends. I'm up for bike rides. I'm up for a last-minute party. My friends and family are confused reading this because you're thinking that's always how I've lived. True. Sometimes I could follow through with such things. But it would exhaust me to the point of needing two days to recover. That's no exaggeration either. Now I don't need to recover. And I'm not climbing that mountain to execute either. I'm on steady, level ground the entire time.

4. I'm a better wife and mother. I think I was pretty decent before but it's hard to live up to your potential when you're trying to manage anxiety and depression 24/7. It was torture to play with my kids. And they're awesome kids. Unless it was something I really enjoyed and was at just the right time they didn't get my attention. Even typing that makes my heart hurt. My kids have heard "no" literally hundreds of times after asking me to do something with them. Don't get me wrong, I don't think parents need to be their children's playmate every time asked, but I do think we've missed out on some memory building and bonding because I just needed to be left alone. Now I'm up for it. No, not for Pokemon or Minecraft or the other insufferable things kids are into these days, but I'm up for swimming, painting, crafting, backyard campouts (we did this one just last night), and family movie time. We have a long list of summer activities and I'm up for all of them! I don't work outside the home and the last few summers I scheduled so many camps and activities to keep the kids busy outside the house. This summer we're all about Camp Mom. And though we're just on day two I think I can handle it. As for being a better wife, bless BHE's kind, gentle heart. God chose the right person for me to marry because I don't know many others who would put up with me. I'm like the duck floating along looking peaceful but whose legs are going nuts under the surface. Those legs are my brain. Or how my brain used to be. To cope I would shut myself away whenever possible. I would avoid work functions, social things, even parties with our closest friends. I just couldn't slow my brain down enough to deal with it. He was nothing but patient, loving, and understanding through all of it. I am truly blessed by him.

5. I'm much better organized now. I'd always been somewhat organized out of necessity but I'd slack off with it and procrastinate and then things would pile up. You should see me now! Even the kids are super annoyed by my calendars, schedules, and lists. At least they act like they are. Well, little SJ actually loves it. Tween-angst-monster CB waged a massive protest in which he slept all night in the bathroom (we gave zero cares). Now even he's getting on board with the schedule. He's my mini (poor buddy) so he also struggles with anxiety. He flourishes with structure but he thinks it's the enemy. He just doesn't see it though everyone else does. CB is the sweetest, most affectionate kid but if you poke the beast you better watch out! And other people exerting control over his schedule definitely pokes the beast.

Lest this sound like medication has made my life perfect let's not forget side effects, because every medication and treatment regimen has them. I'll talk about those in my next post. If the things I've written here ring true for you and you're ready to get some help with anxiety and/or depression shoot me a message. I can recommend locally or even do some research and help you find resources where you are. And please, if you know of friends or family who are struggling with these things -- or breast cancer -- share my blog. I firmly believe that I need to use my experiences for good in order for them to have meaning. I've seen God use them in my life so I want to be on board with that.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

3 Years Later...I'm Doing Just Fine, Finally

I don't know why I've taken this long to blog. In fact, I've written several posts and not published them because I either couldn't find the right words or I just had too much life going on. Life is still going on but it's just recently that I've gotten the help I've needed to see that it's not "too much." I suppose one of the main reasons I'm writing tonight is because for a long time now I've worried that strangers might visit my page and wonder what's happened to me. I know this because I did the same when I was first diagnosed. I'd find women who blogged through their cancer experience as a form of therapy and then nothing. And my stressed, anxious mind thought the worst. So, here it is -- I'm officially alive and doing just fine! I don't say that lightly. Since my diagnosis three years ago I've had several friends and many acquaintances diagnosed. Some walked a very similar path to mine. Others didn't. That's the reality of cancer. I'm thankful for what my reality is. I've had the luxury of abandoning this blog for a long time because I've been physically healthy. 

Health. What a complicated thing. I went through a phase about a year after my double mastectomy and reconstruction where I deemed it insane if I didn't do everything possible to get/stay healthy. I joined a gym, got a trainer, and learned how to use my chest, arm, and ab muscles again. Because a mastectomy changes all that. I ate a low-fat, high-protein diet and lost 15 pounds. Then I saw the results BHE (Best Husband Ever) was getting with a low-carb diet and switched to that. I lost another 20 pounds. I was doing things I hadn't done in years. I was playing with my kids more, taking on physical challenges, and making an effort to support others like me struggling through the aftermath of breast cancer. I was in a really great place. Or so I thought. 

The thing about trauma is that it disrupts your life and forces you to focus on survival. When I was diagnosed my entire world turned to tests, appointments, procedures, surgeries, and recovery. It was perfectly normal to be anxious, angry, depressed, sad, lonely, and anything else I wanted to feel. Because grieving trauma is complex and we're allowed a lot of variation in how we deal with it. The problem arose when I realized all those feelings existed before I even knew I had cancer. I had been struggling for a long time and I knew it. The cancer just gave me a legitimate reason to say I was struggling. 

So what happens when the cancer is "fixed" (that's not really a thing, by the way)? For me I attacked life. I got on that treadmill and literally chanted "f-you cancer" while I ran. That should have been a red flag that I was perhaps dealing with a deeper level of anger than was healthy. I lifted weights and progressed to levels I didn't think I could. And I would leave the gym convinced that I was doing my job to keep the cancer away. It felt amazing. People commented on my weight loss, on the way my body was changing, on the inspirational way I was handling recovery. And inside I was both loving and hating it. Every day it felt like climbing Mt. Everest to get to the gym and within six months I stopped climbing. The fear of commitment, of failure, the way my brain has been wired since birth -- it all caught up to me and I was back where I was before cancer entered my life. I was struggling to function and "be." All the while, even now, friends reading this would have no idea that any of this was churning in my mind. So I kept at it, getting the kids off to school, doing nothing for half the day, throwing clothes on to pick the kids up, and occasionally gathering myself enough to look like I had my life together. During this time I was also taking our son to counseling and finding the right meds to help his severe anxiety. He is my carbon copy and I hate that for him. After three years of doing this with him and telling him how important it was, how his brain is just wired differently, how it's nothing to be ashamed of or hide, I realized that I was lying to him. Because I wasn't getting the help I needed. So last November I asked his therapist to recommend someone for me to see. 

It was painful taking that leap. I didn't want to talk about hard things -- cancer, childhood, expectations, failure, the irrationality in my head that I know constantly tells me lies. But I knew I had to. It's been several months now and it's helped. I just kept telling her how I shouldn't be struggling so much. There's nothing in my life that warrants this feeling that every single day is like running a marathon. And she agreed, suggesting that maybe the med I've been on for the last eight years was no longer working. And maybe the Tamoxifen (my daily hormone-blocking cancer drug and major mind screwer) was changing it's effectiveness. I discussed it with my oncologist and she referred me to a new oncology psychiatrist at my cancer center. I thought it wouldn't hurt to try this thing out, especially since the onc/psych would be more aware of what would/wouldn't interfere with my cancer med. I left my first appointment with her more hopeful than I'd been in the last few years. She was a breast cancer survivor herself and listened and affirmed every emotion and hardship I was facing. She changed my one med to three different ones and instructed me to do yoga as my first task. I thought only people with serious mental disorders -- schizophrenia, bipolar, etc. -- took these types of meds but in the last several weeks I feel like my eyes have been opened. I'm playing with my kids again. I'm getting up in the mornings excited and ready to tackle the day (and doing yoga). I'm not skipping out on social things and I'm actually seeking them out instead. I feel like the self I always knew I was but couldn't make me be. Again, anyone reading this who knows me will probably be shocked by much of this. Why? Because I've been crafting my mask from a very early age. But I'm done with it. I'm still seeing my counselor, psychiatrist, oncologist, and taking my new meds and I'm more hopeful about life than maybe I've ever been. It's hard to describe unless you're been there. 

So why am I pouring all of this personal information our there? One, because I don't think we talk enough about mental health. I was born this way. I was raised by two parents who were raised by fathers struggling with PTSD from WWII. My own father had untreated PTSD his entire adult life after two tours in Vietnam. My siblings all struggle with some degree of anxiety and depression and we're starting to see it in our children as well. These are not the brains we would have chosen for ourselves but it's what we have and it doesn't make us any less valuable to society. Trauma is generational and I refuse to willingly pass it on to my kids. 

Another reason I'm posting this is because cancer treatment, the surgeries, diagnostics, and drugs can subtly or profoundly alter our brains and ability to cope with even the slightest stressors. I'm thankful that it's now required that cancer centers screen for mental health stress at every appointment. In fact, I indicated a very high stress level at my last appointment because I had to wait forever for lab work and they sent a clinical psych intern to talk to me and make sure I was ok. Haha! It's a start. 

I don't know who reads this blog or if it helps anyone. But hear this, friends -- whether you are someone I know or a complete stranger I am here. If you made it through this entire post (bless you) you did me a huge honor by listening. If you're struggling with cancer, either in the current throws or you're a 20-year survivor, take that leap. Say "screw it" to our culture that looks at mental illness as weakness. Did anyone tell you your cancer was a weakness? No. (Unless they were a horrible person.) Take care of your brain just as you would any other organ. If it needs help go get it. And if you don't know where to start or fear you can't afford it talk to your doctors and make them fight for you. They will. And if they don't they're not good doctors.

Tomorrow is Easter. In the Christian faith Easter is everything. It's the entire basis of our faith, the resurrection and new life, the chance of rescue from evil and pain. Whether you are a Christian or not, why not use this opportunity to commit to a rescue. If you are struggling it doesn't have to be that way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The First to Know

When BHE (Best Husband Ever) and I first tried to start a family, it didn't take long before I was pregnant. We were surprised and thrilled and terrified all at the same time. I was sailing along in a doctoral program, BHE in medical school, and everything was right in our world. I miscarried a week after discovering the pregnancy. Six months later the same thing happened again. We were beyond devastated. After each miscarriage, we locked our doors, turned off our phones, and took time to deal. Our lives had stopped for a moment and we couldn't bear to see everyone else carrying on with theirs. That's the nature of difficult times. It goes like that for everyone -- the cruelty of knowing what it feels like to suffer loss. Although we were in our later twenties at the time, we were the first in our group of friends to know what a miscarriage felt like.

A few years later, as others began families, I remember a good friend taking me aside and apologizing for not understanding before what we went through. Unfortunately, she had recently been added to the group of "knowing." There's a strong familiarity among sufferers, and even stronger when your suffering is so similar. Something I've been thinking about since my breast cancer diagnosis last year is that this whole scene will eventually replay itself. Years from now a close friend will be diagnosed and will say those same words. She'll apologize for not understanding what I had gone through this past year. It will be a completely unnecessary apology, but it will still come. I hate that reality. It's the last thing I'd ever wish for someone. I don't want other women to understand what I've been through because it means that they are now walking that road. That's the difference between sympathy and empathy. Over the last year, I've been the recipient of both, and both have their merits, but when you're in the midst of suffering there's little more valuable than empathy from someone who's been there. My doctors have been fantastic but their comfort only goes so far. It's the women who bear the same scars as I do who gave the most comfort. Specifically, another mom in my son's class who had been through it all just a few years earlier, and my plastic surgeon's wife who was in the midst of treatment when I was diagnosed. These women answered personal, detailed questions, validated my raw emotions, and laughed with me at the absurdity of it all. Because of the empathy that they showed me, I can now show it to others. I never dreamed that this is the way that I would be able to serve people, but the service is a blessing. It's something good that comes out of something so very ugly and brutal. I'm not aching to be a major fundraiser, turn my closet pink, or pass out ribbons every chance I get. I'm just trying to help other women like me -- those who are shocked, terrified, and trying to navigate the tightrope that is breast cancer. I know that there will be plenty more women in years to come and I hate that fact.

A common question that people ask when they see good come from tragedy is whether the affected would change history if given the chance. My honest answer? Of course! If I could go back and somehow never get cancer I would in a heartbeat. I am so blessed by the friendships, insight, and perspective that I've gained through this but I'd just hope that those things would somehow evolve without this dreadful cancer stuff. So I'm telling you, it's okay to wish it never happened! No person has to be a hero, a martyr, or anything else in the face of hardships. You just have to live. Don't just exist through it -- live through it. Do the best with what you have at the time. For current cancer patients and survivors still coping, sometimes your best is staying in bed and crying. We all have those days and it's normal, expected, and perfectly fine. If you can't get past this point though, reach out! Contact me, a close friend, a stranger in a support group, someone. You are not in this alone! Millions of women are empathizing and millions more are sympathizing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Practical Matters: Mastectomy Prep & Useful Gear

Something that I never thought about before I had cancer was the preparation that goes into surgery and/or chemo. I didn't have chemo so I can't personally speak to that, but I did have quite a bit of time (two months) to prepare for my bilateral mastectomy. I scoured websites for advice on helpful tips and gear and here's what I came up with. Obviously, every person is different with varying timelines, access, and means, so take this list for what it is -- what was helpful to me and may be helpful to you or someone you love.

Must Haves

  • Front closure sports bras (zipper or hook & eye -- I found mine at Walmart but have seen ones at Academy, too)
  • Ice packs (the little round ones for kids work great!) -- Only use these if your doc okays it. Some don't want patients to use them because you won't be able to tell if your skin is getting too cold. I didn't have issues with that and found them to be immensely helpful in relieving muscle pain.
  • Loose fitting button up shirts
  • Loose fitting button up pajamas and/or oversized tank tops that you can pull up from your feet
  • Lanyard with clip (to wear in the shower and hang your drains on). I ordered and used a product called the Prody Drainage Bulb Holder (http://www.amazon.com/indivdually-Individually-0814-8220-Bird-Cronin/dp/B00IK4PD9Q) and it was by far one of my most useful post-surgical items.
  • Face wipes -- it's difficult to do anything, let alone lean over a sink to wash your face in those first days after surgery.
  • Baby wipes -- for everything else when showering is too hard
  • Alcohol swabs (to clean drain port after emptying)
Might Make Things Easier
  • 4x4 cotton gauze pads (the drain sites hurt so I covered mine with gauze and that helped keep the pressure from the bra off of them)
  • Surgical tape (Nexcare makes a cushioned tape that is awesome)
  • Neosporin (in case your drain sites need it)
  • Dermaplast spray (this makes any hurting incision feel better and disinfects)
I slept in a recliner for the first two weeks. It had an easy to access and use electric button. There's no way that i would have been able to reach or have the strength to manage a traditional/manual recliner lever. If a recliner is not an option you'll need lots of pillows to prop you up since laying flat will put a lot of pressure on the drain sites. You won't be able to sleep on your stomach or side for a while.

I used a waterproof pad under my sheets in case the drains leaked. The only time this happened was in the hospital but it made me feel better about not messing up a mattress/recliner.


Do you have any advice for surgery prep or recovery gear? I'll add more as I think of it but please feel free to leave comments so I can add your info as well. And please ask questions if you have them!

And...One Year and One Day Post-Op