Friday, February 21, 2014

Depression and the Mean Girl In My Head


Depression is such a liar. It can turn innocuous comments and twist them and turn them into offenses. It is like a fun house mirror that only reflects a wide, squatty body to counter a feeling of length and strength. The turn of a shoulder from a friend becomes a dismissive snub. Watching other people connect and enter focused conversation turns into a purposeful ostracizing. Depression is a mean junior high girl who hides in the deepest, darkest corner of your mind and criticizes every move you make to compensate for her own insecurities. She demeans you to the point of tears and ostracizes you to the lonely table of outcasts in the corner of the cafeteria.
I have spent the last two years wrestling with depression induced by hormone therapy I may be on for the rest of my life. Apparently estrogen was the key to calming the mean girl in my head. My cancer was fed by estrogen and within two months of starting on Tamoxifen, a drug that turns off the estrogen receptors that feed the breasts, I was shoved into a well of sadness. Actually sadness is too soft of a word. What I felt when I finally reached out and admitted I was not functioning was despair. A drowning despair that left me breathless. Gravity pulled at my feet with greater force and fear and fatigue reigned my life. Showering took more energy than I could muster most days. Tears came fast and hard without end. The mail, email and the phone became enemies that demanded more than I was able to give.
The mountain of mail and paperwork and list of phone calls and emails to return paralyzed me with fear. Leaving the house risked triggering a debilitating panic attack. Loud voices, animated conversations, crowded streets all swirled in a tornado of confusion that left my brain muddy and disheveled. All the strength and support I felt throughout chemotherapy and surgery vanished. Daily radiation treatments were the only reason I left the house. I was going through the motions of normalcy but each step I took was through molasses.
Depression whispered nasty lies into my ear - you are all alone, nobody cares about you, you should be stronger than this. Sleep escaped me. I tossed in a sweaty tangle of sheets as hot flashes burned inside me. I went to the office later and later and did less and less. I felt dull and uninterested in life, work, friends, family. Depression told me it was pointless to fight, I should just surrender.
I started seeing a psychiatrist and switched therapists after collapsing into uncontrollable tears of fatigue, fear and frustration at my weekly visit with my radiation oncologist. She responded with loving kindness and warmth and handled my emotional collapse as urgently as she would have a physical one. I started taking my first antidepressant. Some days I managed to push myself out the door to a weekly yoga class for breast cancer fighters and survivors where the guided breathing, the gentle but challenging practice and the room full of women who said "oh yes, I know that feeling, you can overcome it. You can shut that voice off with time." It gave me hope. But that hope was fleeting and getting to class involved a walk, the subway and Union Square pedestrian traffic. I started going twice a week, it was my group therapy.

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