But I want to address the dark side of dealing with huge mountains of fear and disappointment with your life. My burden in this world (right now) is dealing with my breast cancer. Yours may be finances, or lack of appropriate employment, or addiction or maybe loneliness and grief... or it could be a million other things. What the specific burden is doesn't matter as much as how we deal with it. We all have something in our lives that bows our backs, makes us feel weak and small... and for a few of us -- those who have fought the demon of depression -- it makes us consider ways to end it all.
[I am speaking from my personal experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts. I am not a clinical counselor or a medical professional. If you feel that you may be depressed or if you are having thoughts of ending your life... please take a moment and talk to someone trustworthy about your thoughts.]
Recently the news was buzzing about a young female celebrity who attempted to take her life. As a fan of her music, hearing the news of her suicide attempt really broke my heart. Some of the snippets of conversations that I heard and participated in reminded me that a lot of people do not know or understand about the mindset of a suicidal person. As someone who has in the past considered (never attempted though) suicide as a possibility... I have to say that it is not the simple exit theory that many folks believe that it is.
Well, it is and then it isn't. Statistics show that breast cancer survivors are more likely than other women to contemplate and attempt suicide. And of those survivors, African American survivors lead the pack. It is so very sad....
But I understand. The reality is that no matter how much inner strength you have, feeling vulnerable inside of your own body is a wholly betraying feeling. Wondering whether you can go on with the treatments, or go on with the fear of recurrence takes a heavy toll on you emotionally. My cancer was diagnosed at stage 3. But I often wonder how I would have dealt with being diagnosed stage 4. For those who don't know... stage 4 is the final stage of cancer diagnosis and means that your cancer has metastisized to your bones. Usually, it means that there isn't much that can be done to cure you and the treatment is to make your final days/weeks/months/years more comfortable.
How do you face knowing that you're dying? At no fault of your own? And with a small sliver of hope for a different outcome?
Being diagnosed at stage 3 was close enough to the door of stage 4 for me to seriously wonder why me? And to ask the hard questions about whether or not it was worth it to go on? I know for many folks... I am being blasphemous by even uttering that I considered suicide. But I'm going for raw honesty right now... and yes, I did. Yes, even though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am loved abundantly -- more than I could ever repay -- I thought that the pain and the burden of being a cancer victim was just too much.
How I got through it.
I am lucky (interesting choice of words, I know)... to have gone through a period of clinical depression a few years ago. That experience taught me how to recognize when I'm slipping into a dark abyss and what to do to pull myself out of it. Please believe me when I say this, depression is not the same as a funky mood. And... dealing with depression along with breast cancer is HARD. Because people actually give you an "out" when you are a cancer patient. They are afraid of you, because they are afraid of geting whatever unlucky vibe that you have. They are afraid for you. They are well-intentioned but sometimes fumbling. And meanwhile, you're more afraid than you've ever been and you're out of control of what it will take to correct the situation.
It is a tough time, to say the least.
One thing I have admitted to myself is that facing my mortality by going through breast cancer treatment has changed me. And changed my family and friends. Before I knew in a surface way that life was big and great and awesome... but crawling through the valley of cancer treatment -- chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, breast reconstruction, breast reduction -- brought it down to a cellular level that life is as big as you allow it to be in and around you.
Tough times will come. And they often come when you don't expect it, falling right behind some other tragedy... before you've had a chance to catch your breath. But if you have a breath, you have a chance to do better. To make things right. Or just to enjoy your friends and family for just a little while longer.