I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell
Oh, hi again. I know every time I come back here I say it's been awhile. I have a life beyond my cancer journey you know. Well not entirely but still, life has been getting busy. Clara is wild! She turned two this week and I still can't believe it! It's also been over a year since I was declared cancer free! That's worth celebrating but that's not what I came here to talk about. I want to talk about anxiety, specifically my anxiety after cancer. I'm going to do my best to be real with you all, even though I know that will be hard as there is a lot regarding my anxiety that I have only told my psychologist and Ryan. So here it goes.
I mentioned in my last post that I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. Since that original diagnosis though my psychologist has also come to the conclusion that I have health anxiety as well. Both of my anxiety disorders are considered severe. So if you know nothing about anxiety like I did I will explain (to the best of my abilities) what all that means.
Generalized anxiety basically means there are many factors and triggers that set off my anxiety. Sadly, a lot has to do with being a mom. The unpredictable behavior of a toddler is a major trigger for my anxiety. Typically things like meal time or bedtime where I am trying to accomplish an end result with her and it isn't going well will set me off or trigger me. A trigger being the thing that pushes me mentally over the edge and I lose the ability to be reasonable and rational. So what does that look like? Ugly. Ugly is what it looks like. Screaming at the top of my lungs at a toddler is what it looks like. It's truly awful. It makes me feel awful. Rage is a very common side effect of anxiety. That's not just being angry, it's a blinding rage that comes from nowhere in a split second. I don't mean for it to happen or want it to happen. I have zero control in these situations. Sometimes it can feel like an out of body type experience, I hear myself yelling and know it is not the proper response to the situation but I can't stop it from happening. This is always followed by hysterical crying and apologizing to Clara over and over. I know she doesn't understand why Mom just reacted like that to her throwing food. It's not fair to her and it's not fair to me. It makes me feel like I am not the mom I could have been if it wasn't for cancer. It makes me feel powerless and honestly just kind of disgusting. It is not a good feeling to scream at a child like that. It's a big reason as to why I started on antidepressants (but I will get into that a little bit later).
The rage is the biggest piece of my generalized anxiety but it also causes other things like frustration, fatigue and something called over functioning. Over functioning means I do things to the extreme because I can't feel calm until I have completed certain things. This mostly came in the form of household tasks. I would vacuum EVERY SINGLE DAY, sometimes multiple times a day. I would spend an hour or so after Clara went to bed cleaning my house each day. I could not relax without it all being done. So imagine, you're already exhausted and then you spend unnecessary time cleaning up after a toddler who is going to take it all back out the next morning. I like my house to be clean and in order yes and I still tidy up but I don't make it a priority if I don't have the energy now. The frustration also explains a lot of the overreactions I was having to not being able to make things work. This is still happening some and some tasks are still very overwhelming but I am making progress. I've even been buying groceries. Which if you recall I have talked about this in the past and I would cry every time I tried to go to the store on my own. I've been able to go grocery shopping on multiple occasions without being super overwhelmed. It's progress but I'm not back to my full functioning self yet but I have a lot more hope now.
As mentioned, I also have health anxiety. This is exactly what you might imagine it is, anxiety related to my health. Shocking for someone who survived cancer to be worried about their health to the extreme right? My health anxiety is crippling. I cannot function when I am worried about something. I went through about a month of worrying about one small thing after another. The actual things that were wrong ranged from sore muscles to eczema. My anxiety convinces me that everything wrong with me is cancer. I have no trust left in my body. I lose my appetite and can't eat. During my month long spiral I lost 15 pounds and was a mess pretty much all day every day. I had trouble getting through the day and doing day to day tasks. I didn't feel present at all with Clara or in my marriage. I was consumed by fear. It led me to dark places, places where I wished the cancer would have won, where I wished I would have died and not had to figure out how to move on. That's something I have not shared with anyone really. It makes me feel really ungrateful and selfish. I'm ashamed that I've ever felt that way because I know how lucky I am to have survived and I know the alternative would not have been easier to deal with but my anxiety can tell me differently. Please don't confuse this with suicidal thoughts because that's not what it is. It is very confusing though. Luckily, I don't feel like that anymore and I definitely don't wish that was the case at all. I'm so happy to still be here and be cancer free. I'm happy every single day to be here with my amazing little girl.
I recently as of this week had some scans done because of another freak out over my health, I was sure I had cancer in the other breast so I went for an ultrasound and mammogram (on both sides). The scans came back clear but my anxiety still tries to tell me that they missed something. I was a complete mess before going for them and have had a really tough week. I am feeling better today though. I have been going to therapy about every 3-4 weeks. I've been learning ways to manage my anxiety and retrain the way I think when I'm feeling it come up. I mentioned that I started on antidepressants as well. I tried one that did not go well, I was very sick and felt even more anxious so it was determined that the medication was not a good fit and I switched to a different kind which I have now been on for about six weeks. It is making a difference, especially with my generalized anxiety. I don't have the same kind of rage responses and like I mentioned I am able to do some tasks I previously wasn't able to. I'm working up the dosage slowly so I feel like I am not at the end result yet as the health anxiety has still been harder to control. The issue is that the two types of anxiety display in very different ways so I can tell the difference in what is setting me off. A lot of treating anxiety is just trying different things to find the right thing or right combination of things that help. I have also started meditating and using mindfulness to try to calm myself a little more. I think it works to an extent or at least helps bring down my anxiety a little. I'm not sure what my perfect fix is just yet as I'm very much at the beginning of my journey.
I know this is getting long but now that I've explained a little about my anxiety and what I've been dealing with I just want to talk about anxiety in general. Now that I know all these things I have been experiencing are anxiety and not just who I am now, I have been trying to be more real with people. A big struggle that I have heard a lot of cancer survivors talk about is having support after you have beat cancer. When you go through treatment you have people checking in on you daily, everyone wanting to help you and provide love and encouragement but once you beat it there is this sigh of relief from everyone and they just go "okay, so you're good now". I most certainly am not good now. I'm not saying this to make anyone feel bad or like they let me down. I totally get it because it's not something we talk about much. Mental health in general is a hard topic that lots of people don't understand. Telling me that I just have to stop worrying and be happy that my life is back to normal isn't helpful. I can't turn my anxiety off and yes I know that I am not being rational but I can't stop it. Even when I know I sound ridiculous about whatever I am worried about, my anxiety talks so damn loud that it drowns out all rationality.
I have made a point to tell people about my anxiety especially when they ask how I'm doing. I know it's awkward when people ask how I'm doing and I'm honest with them about my struggles but I don't know how else to be heard. You know what else, since I started doing this I have found six of my friends who suffer from anxiety many who are also on medication. To me this shows just how common anxiety is but if we don't talk about it how would anyone know or know who to ask for help. I know that talking about your personal problems and medical issues is really hard but I wish more people would because you could help someone else. This is the entire purpose of this blog. If you are struggling and don't know where to turn, I will listen. After my last blog where I mentioned having anxiety I had a close friend reach out and say she experienced things she thought maybe were anxiety and we have been able to help each other a lot. Even if it just means someone who checks in on you every now and then. It honestly has been so helpful and made me feel more seen in my journey after cancer. Sometimes I just need people to ask because it's hard to bring up unprompted. I've been through a lot and for most of my treatment I was in survival mode, now I'm dealing with all the emotional damage that comes with that. I want to do the work and get better mentally. I just want people to know that this is a huge part of a serious medical event.
If you made it through this thank you for reading, seriously because this is important and this needs to be heard. Mental illness is hard and so confusing. Having anxiety because of cancer feels like cancer is taking one last stab at me. It was bad enough to go through all that I did but now I have to not only relearn to be me but also learn to manage anxiety. It's exhausting and it's hard on me and my family. A lot of it hasn't been fair to Clara, this is not the mom I was supposed to be and for a long time I was not the mom I wanted to be. I believe that has changed now and I feel like I am more the mom I pictured but it was really painful feeling like cancer took that from me too. I don't say this a lot to him but I know it has been really hard on Ryan and I have been really difficult but he always does his best to be understanding and to be supportive. It has been a struggle for us and our marriage but I feel like we are in a really good place now. I would not be able to get through any of this without him and Clara. I am slowly getting to a better place mentally and will continue to work hard to be back to my full functioning self. So stay tuned because this ride isn't over yet.