Mental Health

Don

Mental Health

Don
clouds-68584_640First published October 11, 2012 on facingcancer.ca

Well that’s great.  WHO has designated today mental health day and advised that the theme is depression.

Now that sounds like a great party.

I have confessed to cynicism in this blog before and because it was my dear fellow blogger ‘bumpyboobs’ who brought this to my attention with her hopeful and thoughtful blog just posted today I am going to do my best to suppress my normal reaction which would be to declare that it’s about f&(king time!

First the ‘confession’ – I live with clinical depression.

Why do I write ‘confession’?  Because for many, many years there was a stigma of shame attached to such an admission.  While there has been progress on this front I believe it still attracts a perspective from many that those of us who live in this state should somehow just be able to ‘shake it off’, ‘put a positive thought in your head’, ‘consider all of the wonderful things in your life’, and ‘get over it’.  Not coincidentally, these are just a few of the comments made to me since I came out of the depression closet some 20 years ago.

I have often wondered, especially in last 11 months of our cancer trek, if the same people would suggest to Katie that she ‘just walk it off’?

Now, some will say – ‘very different situation – cancer vs. clinical depression – cancer can kill you.’  Well, guess what?  So can depression.  It attracts higher mortality rates and beyond that it kills many people who continue to exist.  When one is in the depths of a down cycle, one is in many ways dead to themselves and more importantly to those around them.  We become absent from life and we justifiably hear ‘I just want you back’.

Since Kate’s diagnosis my job as caregiver has been all consuming and I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever  - apart from the very real regret that my beautiful wife has had to undergo this journey into evil.  It has not been without challenge however and I know that challenge has been compounded by my mental illness.  There I said it – mental illness!

Two days ago I had a great conversation with a woman I love.  Not my wife but it’s o.k. as my wife loves her too.  She is working her way through anxiety/depression disorder and we were chatting about how those around us find it so very difficult to understand what we’re experiencing.  I am 100% confident that many of you reading this blog will embrace this notion since so many people fighting the cancer battle have a real challenge in self-awareness and understanding how to effectively communicate the anger, the fear, the hope and all of the myriad of emotions you’re feeling.  Nicole (Cancer Dragon) just wrote a great post on this site setting out a new emotional lexicon that I highly recommend.  It’s an insightful and yes, humorous look at what we feel.

Anyway, during my conversation with my loved one I mentioned that many of us try to manage our depression by compartmentalizing thoughts.  That does work for a while but then something happens.

Many of you will at least be familiar with the television reality show ‘Hoarders’ – the A&E show that documents the struggles of people who cannot part with their belongings and the roads they take to recovery.  If you’ve seen the program you will appreciate the absolutely shocking state that some folks descend into and how their homes become veritable tips full of all manner of what most of us would deem junk.

Since Katie’s diagnosis that’s what’s happened with my compartments.  As a caregiver you have to suppress emotion.  Of necessity you bottle up what normally would be vented and while the volcano occasionally erupts (see my post ‘When the top blows off’ , April 10, 2012) we most of the time keep the cork firmly inserted.  So I described to my friend that effective several weeks ago my head was full.  I have hoarded so many thoughts that there is no more room and as a result the downward spiral began and I left many parts of my life behind.

A benefit of recognizing your mental illness though is the ability to recognize the danger signs and if done in time you can manage the outcome to a degree.  To that end I am about to re-enter the world of psychotherapy.

While most of my issues revolve around a chemical imbalance which is pretty much moderated with medication there comes a point for this shotgun rider to fess up, to reach out and in a most unmanly fashion admit that the answers to finding my way back require outside intervention.  And you know what?  I already feel a bit better.  I’ve moved some of the boxes out of my cranium.  Some I’ve opened up for a better look and some I’ve relocated to external storage where, with work, I will leave them.

Listen.  We all have our roads to travel and none of us travel always on freshly paved highways.  We can though, with the love and support of our families and friends navigate the roads safely and most of the time take moments for little detours to vistas of great beauty.

That’s where I plan to go and with your help on the journey will come to a restful destination.  In the meantime, to all of you people engaged in the cancer battle and/or the mental illness reality, be brave enough to be transparent to those you trust.  They will help.  They will listen.  They won’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong but they sure as hell will cover your back.

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