Disclaimer: This will be a difficult read if you and your life have been affected by depression and suicide.
When my mammogram and ultrasound came back as highly suspicious for malignancy, my mental heath took a deep dive. If you know me, you know I am positive – glass full – see the best in everyone until they give me a reason not to – kind of person. I couldn’t stay down in the dumps if I tried. Sure, I have my down days, but I never stay there.
I really do say “What a beautiful day!” every day that I walk out the door, regardless of the weather, the world or what’s going on in my own life.
But when my “perfect” life cracked wide open with the spectre of cancer, I not only needed sleeping pills but anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. I am still taking them.
My body betrayed me and my mind took a very scary deep dive.
While I tucked this away in a corner and hid it from most of you, I had moments where I was curled up on my bathroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably. Ugly tears. I was too paralyzed to move or think. I couldn’t work. I still can’t focus and string work thoughts together. I felt abandoned. Undeserving. Unloveable. Fear. Panic. Huge tears wracked through my body with such intensity that I couldn’t breathe. Sobbing and hyperventilating alone on the bathroom floor, my arms wrapped around myself as I rocked back and forth.
Will I survive Triple Negative Breast Cancer? Will I be the same person? Physically … no. I was forced to grieve for myself immediately. I was already saying goodbye to the Lisa I knew.
Sherri hugs me and tells me that people are drawn to what’s inside of me, not just what is outside, but I don’t believe her. I am terrified I will go through this and look five years older overnight. I shake my head sideways in disbelief to say no … when I hear inspirational stories of women who said they looked and felt better! Their hair was healthier! Their skin glowed. And for sure … they were changed for the better on the inside.
I worry about my hair falling out, ashen gray skin, chemo brain and the fact that there will be long lasting and lingering effects. And more risk for cancers.
I have one dear friend who has battled one of the worse kinds of cancer. And she told me that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to her. It completely changed who she was … for the better. I am in awe of her and her journey, and will try to follow her lead. But I don’t feel worthy yet.
While driving into Toronto one morning, I had to pull over. I couldn’t stop crying … and I was horribly ashamed because other drivers were noticing. One lady motioned to ask if I was ok? The kindness of strangers. Thank you whoever you are. I had the steering wheel grasped tightly in both hands and laid my forehead down on it to hide the torrents of tears. Hiccups forced me to sit back up with my head resting on the headrest, eyes closed.
There was a loud knock at my driver side window. A police officer. I rolled it down and he asked me if everything was alright. I told him why I was crying – newly diagnosed with breast cancer and was trying to come to grips with my new normal – and he asked me if I needed assistance. No, I said, but thank you. I just needed a few minutes to collect myself and make sure I was calm enough to drive. He didn’t seem so convinced, so he stayed with me for fifteen minutes.
If I wasn’t breaking down in tears, I was seething in anger and pushing people away.
I raged. I snapped. I didn’t eat. I didn’t answer the phone. I crawled into a corner and sat … almost catatonic for hours. I locked myself in my bedroom and rarely came out. Offered God a deal … Willing God to take me.
Why me? After all the hardship I have been through? An abusive relationship. Divorce. Walking away from everything. Custody. Raising Matthew physically, financially and emotionally on my own. Taken advantage of. Broken romances. Orphaned … my Dad died of cancer on November 7, 1995, and my Mom died of heart failure on November 7, 2013. I have no close family left. No one to lean on. I have always been the one who cared for and carried others. And for just once … I need someone else’s strength. Matthew has no contact with his father or his side of the family … their choice. I have a stressful job that could be gone at any moment. My paycheck is the only thing between us and the street.
And now cancer. I had most of the Top Stressful Life Events … but I knew … it could be worse.
How can I do this alone? How will Matt and I manage? Will I be alone forever now? Who will want me with a sliced up breast? Hairless. Sick. Deathly thin or extra weight from the steroids.
I got totally bombed one night and called friends and told them …
I was going to kill myself.
That I couldn’t do cancer. I didn’t want to go through treatment. It was easier and quicker to check out now. I did NOT want to move this mountain.
As you can imagine, it really unhinged a few of my friends. I love them to bits for caring enough to help me get through this terrible time. Just please understand that it was a normal progression for a newly diagnosed cancer patient, and I needed somewhere safe to dump those horrible feelings. They couldn’t stay at home.
If I didn’t like how they handled it, I told them. This is my journey and right now … it’s all about me … and I need to play it out the way that works for me.
The thing is … I didn’t really mean it. I have learned since then that there is something called passive suicidal thoughts. Meaning I wanted to die … but hadn’t really made any plans. I had moments where I guess I was afraid of what was coming, and maybe it was easier if I was gone. Maybe it would be better for my son if I was gone. I was worth more dead than alive. The only backward step I did take was to investigate the status of my benefits if I did.
I know how crazy that sounds. But let me tell you … when you are faced with cancer, you think about dying and death. Sooner vs later.
My father was diagnosed with stomach cancer on February 6, 1995 – the day I resigned from one job to join a new company. I had to start my new job and fight for a spot at the top (we did Basic Sales Training and successful completion was a condition of employment) while my father underwent surgery back home in Montreal. They removed 100% of his stomach and attached his intestine to his esophagus.
He tried so hard … then gave up. He wanted to die. And I railed at him, cried, fought with my mother. My 25-year-old self couldn’t understand why he would give up!
He died nine months later.
It’s much clearer now. It’s a tough journey … and some people do give up.
But I could not and will not do that to my son Matthew. He is – and I tell him this – the person I love most in this world. A mother’s love. I would only give my life to save his.
Let me stop right here and say something. I am not trying to take away from the seriousness of suicide. In fact, I am trying to do the opposite. I admire #bellletstalk and their commitment to bringing mental heath into the conversation, but I want to take it a step farther and really pull it out of its dark corner. Let’s REALLY talk about it. Not just throw some hashtags around.
I have seen the path of devastation left after a loved one commits suicide. The shock, the guilt, the blame, the despair, the desire to understand why? The feeling of abandonment. The feeling of anger. The loss. The lives destroyed.
For some of you, this will be a horribly difficult read … and my love, my thoughts, and my prayers are with you.
I could not do that to my son. I can’t leave him alone in this world. I am the only family he has, so I HAVE TO SURVIVE.
The reactions were polar opposites. Friends who have battled cancer nodded and understood. Yes, they all said … they had those thoughts as well. It was completely normal. Normal?! How?! What level of hell have I reached if this is normal?!
Other friends reacted as you can imagine … wondering if they should call the crisis line. I had drugs and booze, and they were worried that I might really hurt myself.
My GP asked me when I saw her if I had thoughts about hurting myself and I told her the truth. We talked for a few minutes and I told her that I would not do that to Matt. I was concerned enough about him, that I had brought him in to speak to her as well. I was worried that my mental health was affecting his. She nodded and decided that I was not a threat to myself, so she refilled my prescriptions, then spent 30 minutes speaking with my son.
Grief is not a linear process for me. I had to jump back and forth through fear, denial, bargaining and depression. It is only recently that I have had some acceptance.
And talking and blogging has helped me tremendously. All those toxic thoughts bubbled to the surface and popped. If left in the corner – denied and unacknowledged – those feelings would grow, I think, rather than be a brief expression of my vulnerability.
Suicide is rarely about one thing. It’s a pile of things. It’s a perfect storm. It’s an illness.
I have promised to be authentic in this journey … so that is what gives me the courage to put this out there. It ain’t all sunshine, unicorns, and rainbows and cute doctors.
I am no longer suicidal. I will fight this fight with every fucking ounce of strength that I have. But I did have some very deep and dark moments, and I bet there are more to come. I needed to crawl through that deep and dark place. Why? I don’t know. Fear. Cowardice. A taste of death to remind me to appreciate my life? Preparing myself for the pain and suffering ahead? Mourning an end to one chapter in my life. Finding my own strength and bravery. I had to dig deep.
I understand that it was incredibly difficult to watch me walk that dangerous path alone … but I had to do it. I know how helpless my caregivers felt.
With all my medical appointments, I have not had a chance to see my Psychologist – Dr. D – but I do have an appointment scheduled soon. I will verbally dump all of this at his feet and allow him to help me sort it out.
And why expose you to all of this? What is my hope? It’s that by being completely vulnerable and honest – and putting this out there – this will help someone else. Life can be crushingly difficult these days. All of us have our burdens to bear. Reach out and really talk about your mental health. It’s ok. We all have days like this.
It’s not a storm coming. I AM THE STORM!
By the way, I hate to be told that I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it, so don’t quote that one back to me! I will roll my eyes and say “Oh ya … kicked to the curb by life again … ya thanks!”
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© Lisa Jobson 2017