Getting through life is hard. There are a lot of ups and downs. You never know when the unexpected will suddenly slam into you, leaving you struggling to just get by. We all have some form of coping techniques we use to get us through everyday struggles. Some go for walks, some sit on the beach, some do crafts, and so on. For those who are in recovery from mental illness, the coping techniques you learned to help you get into the light will stick with you and become helpful throughout your life and in different challenges that come up.
Even in the midst of recovery, life can throw you into the most unpredictable and challenging situations. Situations that can threaten to throw you back into the hole. You are never cured from mental illness. You must maintain your illness daily to stay above the hole, but what do you do when life takes an unpredictable twist and pushes you toward the hole? This is where your coping techniques you learned through your struggles become handy.
I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I have been in recovery from mental illness for a while and then suddenly I’m slapped with a serious illness. I’m on sleeping medication, but I keep waking up early in the morning with racing thoughts. I find myself crying for no reason and worrying about what’s next obsessively. I can’t even think straight and I make mistakes at work. I go to each of my appointments (there are many of them) with my mind whirling around in circles. I can’t even think of questions to ask. I feel like my brain is on overload with the information the doctors are throwing at me. I feel overwhelmed, angry, sad, scared, and so many other emotions I can’t even explain.
Right away I noticed the signs of depression slipping in. Who wouldn’t be depressed if told he or she had cancer? The first thought that hits me when I hear the words cancer is, “I have a death sentence.” I’ve heard the horror stories of cancer. I watched my grandfather die of cancer.
I knew right away I was allowing negative thoughts to take over. So I returned to my coping skills of turning negative thoughts into positive. I turned my death sentence thought into, “I’m going to beat cancer. If I can overcome my mental illness, stand above abuse, work around a learning disability, I can conquer cancer.”
Then I developed my support system. I often cry in my husband’s arms and snuggle up to him while he whispers positive words in my ear. One day when I was feeling pretty down, he bought me roses and candy and had my manager deliver them to me on register while at work. My husband gives me all the support and extra attention I need. He listens to me and reminds me to stay positive and not to worry about the future. He goes to all my appointments with me.
Then there are my friends whom I can text and call when I need to. My friend Denise took me for a two mile walk at the Peninsula we have in Erie, PA and to a festival. My friend Karen invited me over to paint rocks. Keeping busy helps me forget for a little while that I have a serious illness. My other friends offer support, prayers, and strength through texts, cards, and gifts. My friend Amy got me an adult coloring book to help keep me busy.
My family also is very supportive. I can call my parents anytime and my siblings are also available when I need them. My Aunt Joan messages me to see how I am doing. My cousin on Lou’s side is willing to listen and encourage whenever I need it, and Aunt Fay on my husband’s side is always sending her love just through a phone call.
Lou works early in the morning and goes to bed early. It would be easy to sit alone and allow my thoughts to overtake me and rip me apart. Instead I keep busy. I journal my feelings and I color in my adult coloring book. As soon as I get through paper work and reading about my illness, I will get back to working on editing my memoir. I’m writing this blog post.
I’m also being careful of what kind of people I talk to. It’s important to be around positive people. I need people who will encourage me and support me and who focus on the bright side of life. People who dwell on negativity, who are dramatic, who are stuck on their own problems, and who like to talk about the worst side of my disease I try to stay away from.
I am suffering from minor depression along with my cancer, but my coping techniques are keeping me from falling all the way to the bottom of the hole of darkness. Instead I’m dangling between the light and darkness. I’m holding on tight to the roots of hope, strength, and courage. I think I am stronger because of my fight with mental illness, and because of my coping techniques, I will fight cancer with all I have within me. I am proud of myself for how well I am handling my illness so far.
With the help of my coping techniques and inner determination, I know in time I will stand not only in the light of recovery from my depression, but also from my cancer.