I am pretty sure I have situational depression, and I am sure that I am quite entitled to it.
I finished my fourth and last chemo treatment this past Friday, but I have had a cloud over my head since my third chemo treatment a little more than three weeks ago. I can only describe that cloud as depression- because it is not nausea, it is not fatigue, it is different than “sad.” Even after the deaths of each of my parents, I didn’t feel like I do now. Like someone has taken over my personality. A little voice in the back of my head keeps asking, “is this your new normal?”
I know it is not, but that voice won’t shut the f%#k up.
I was not prepared for this, because you simply cannot prepare for this. I actually thought I was going to sail through this chemo thing, because I sailed right through that mastectomy in the fall. But chemo is different.
I felt weird for 4 days after my first chemo treatment, and then I woke up the 5th day and felt absolutely fabulous. After the second treatment, it took 8 days. After the third treatment, it never went away.
Duh, the chemo is cumulative. Everyone knows that. But knowing doesn’t help when you feel like Debby Downer everywhere you go. I am currently not a fun person, and that makes me not want to be around people. And that makes it worse.
“Does the chemo go to your brain?” I asked Emily, my fabulous nurse at Dana Farber, as she sat by me pushing the last syringe of the Adriamycin into my veins.
“It goes everywhere. And that means to your brain, too.”
I pictured the pink poison flowing through my brain capillaries.
“Well that explains it,” I said. “My brain is not my own. I’ve never been a depressed person. I’ve changed, and I don’t like me.”
“This is definitely not your new normal,” she told me.
Tears welled up in my eyes. It doesn’t take much these days.
“It better not be. I think I would hang myself,” I laughed through the tears. I was kidding, of course, but with the crying and all, she offered to call social services.
And why should I feel good now?
I am stuck home with low energy, bald and ugly, feeling cold then hot then cold then hot, sweating profusely from the top of my head, in waves, during the bad times. I’m totally constipated, and looking forward to 5 weeks of daily radiation just when I will start to feel better. My lips are chapped and my nose is sore from the cold I picked up despite washing my hands 100 times a day, and I have a bad canker sore in my mouth. And I can’t even scream about it because of my raspy chemo voice, which no one told me was a thing. But it is a thing.
“Can you give me a drug that causes diarrhea?” I asked my oncologist the other day.
“Why would you want that?”
“To counteract all the constipating drugs. Everything you have given me, from the Tamoxifen to the chemo, causes constipation.” I sang to myself (mostly), “Every thing causes constipation” to the tune of the Joe Jackson song, “Everything Gives You Cancer.”
“What’s the deal with that?” I asked. She didn’t have a good answer. But everything does cause constipation (except medical marijuana, bless it’s heart.) It’s a fact.
I am figuring things out on my own. Prunes, stool softeners, Miralax, Ducolax, you name it, I’ve tried it…and for the depression, I’ve got a few tricks there too:
I put on my wig, which is hot and sweaty and miserably itchy, but otherwise pretty awesome. I get out of my sweats and put on some real clothes, don a cool pair of earrings and go out with the girls. Better to look good than to feel good. For a few hours, as my mom used to say, “I fake it til I make it.”
I drag myself to exercise class. The endorphins kick in. I feel bad ass during class, and for a few hours, I have energy.
I cry as needed, when needed. No one sees it. No one knows. I mostly reserve this for my husband at night, but I actually sobbed through a Soul Cycle class the morning of my last treatment (in the dark, anonymous.)
I write about it. It feels good to show I am as vulnerable as anyone.
I take time to appreciate all the wonderful people in my life. The friends and relatives I can call and complain to, the ones that force me to go out, and the ones that write me cards. The ones that are able to make me laugh despite the cloud. The ones that somehow know to check in with me at just the right time.
But most of all, I take the time to appreciate that I have a husband who takes me in his arms every night, rubs my bald head and has one good shoulder that I can cry on. I have no idea how I would get through all this without him.
So that’s how I’m feeling today, except it seems that the last chemo treatment has zapped my cold away. I am hoping, and thinking, tomorrow…or the next day, it will start to get better. I’ll drink to that…as soon as I can.