I’m depressed. I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life, so I know it when I see it. My mom had it and so did her mother. I have some pretty good coping mechanisms, but they aren’t working this time.
If you watched “Why Not?” you might have noticed that my right false eyelash was starting to come off. The old me would have reshot that video as many times as necessary to get it perfect. But the new me doesn’t really give a shit about a half-glued eyelash today. Because when you have cancer, shit happens, and some of it you deal with, and some, you just have to let go. That’s how I know I’m depressed. That’s just not me. My goal is always perfection when it comes to my appearance. Superficial maybe, but I own it.
I really dislike fur clothing. Yes, it looks elegant. But is it really worth some cute little animals being clubbed to death so I can stay warm? Nope. Fur is not for me. I have been anti-fur for as long as I can remember. I have friends who have gorgeous mink coats. I don’t judge my friends for wearing fur. I just ask them to make sure their fur doesn’t touch me. So why is there a mink coat hanging in my closet?
When I’m depressed, I shop. It’s what I do. Some people eat, some people retreat into themselves; I shop. I had finished cancer treatment almost two months earlier. I had a great Christmas holiday with my family and we were all feeling so thankful that I made it through my treatment plan and even a few unexpected complications. I still had reconstruction ahead of me, but, hey, a new set of breasts is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So why was I down? Cancer started the battle, but I had finished it. Hadn’t I?
Confident a quick trip to the mall would make it all okay, I bought a few things. As I headed out the door, the fur shop caught the corner of my eye. A store I would never be caught walking into. But today I thought “there’s no harm in looking or even trying on a few.” Other customers in the store were telling me that I looked great. So this was it. A mink coat would brighten my spirits. I teared up when I bought the coat wondering. “What am I doing here?” The salesperson thought I was emotional about buying my first one. She said, “Your first mink is always special.” She asked me if I wanted my initials stitched into the inside because that’s what people do. I said no, it wasn’t necessary. I wanted no proof that the coat belonged to me.
Even as I gently laid the bag in my trunk, I started to feel a knot in my stomach. By the time I got in the car, I started mentally reviewing the cost of “feel-good” purchases I had made that week. I had spent a little over $100,000. I don’t have $100,000, and I especially don’t have it to throw around. And to top it off, I was still depressed. I still cried. I still felt empty. I told myself to quit being a wimp, and put on my big girl pants and be an adult. No one has time for all this feeling sorry for oneself.
I went to see a psychiatrist. I expected him to tell me or give me the magic fix. I told him about my spending; that I didn’t have much energy or care about much, the hot flashes are killing me, and that I wasn’t happy. He asked me if spending $100K in a week was unusual for me. Isn’t it unusual for everyone? I told him I had fantasies of killing myself. He asked me if I ever would and I said no, my faith prevents me from committing such an act. By the end of the appointment, satisfied I wasn’t going to harm myself, he prescribed an antidepressant (for the hot flashes) and told me not to worry, I would be just fine. After all, I had just kicked cancer. I’m a strong person. I should be thrilled, he said. I smiled and said, “Of course I am.” It was a lie, but it was clearly what he needed to hear.
I returned what I could of the things I purchased, which was most everything. I haven’t returned the mink coat. It was a final sale.
I was speaking to a friend who I met when we were in treatment. She confided in me that she, too, was feeling off. She finished treatment months before me. Did that mean I had months of depression ahead of me? Months of pretending like I was happy and telling people how lucky I was that they found the cancer early; only in one breast; and just Stage 2? For how much longer did I have to keep up the facade? It’s exhausting! Were my friend and I unique in our feelings?
When people prepare you for your battle with cancer — they are helping you to get the right attitude to fight for your life. But who is helping us after, when we don’t know what life we’re fighting for any more or maybe we’re fighting for a life we don’t want?
I still have that mink coat. I don’t know why I haven’t sold it or gotten rid of it. Every time I look at it hanging in the closet, I feel bad. Sometimes, I try it on, and then I feel worse. When I told my 24-year old daughter about the coat (she’s also anti-fur), she looked at me and said: “Is it okay that I’m disappointed in you?” Those words cut like a knife. Maybe I keep the coat to remind me that in disappointing my kid, I realized I was disappointed in myself for trying to cure something broken inside, with something I could only wear on the outside—just another costume while I hide from the truth—life after breast cancer sucks.
Please read the article in Refinery 29 if you haven’t already and then come back here and let me know what you thought and felt after reading it. Did it resonate with you? What have been your coping skills? It would be great to have a section on this blog called Coping with Hope or something and sharing what others are doing to get over the hump.
P.S. Ladies if you are suffering from nearly unbearable hot flashes, I’ve found that the antidepressant Effexor can help. Ask your doctor.
P.P.S. If you’re feeling alone or just need someone to reach out to, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk. No one should ever feel alone or isolated while working through breast cancer.