PTSD…As you know is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. About 80% of women suffer from PTSD Symptoms after a breast cancer diagnosis. 80%!!!! NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT!!!! Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can be brought on by a traumatic event. PTSD can happen after a life-threatening situation, such as a breast cancer diagnosis or cancer recurrence. PTSD can affect your ability to cope with life’s daily chores and inconveniences and make it difficult to function.
So what is PTSD like for me? I, personally, have triggers. My triggers vary and unfortunately, I have many of them. Discovering a new pain, hearing of a recurrence or death from a breast cancer diagnosis, certain smells, locations, and times of year are all a few of my triggers. This is what happens. Lets go with smell. About 1 year after my diagnosis, it was fall. Halloween to be exact, and I put a sweater on that I hadn’t worn since chemo. At the time, I had just started therapy for my PTSD so I was new to that feeling. We used to wash our clothes with this Febreeze scented Tide. So I put this sweater on and it immediately took me back. I started thinking about everything I had been through. Sitting in the chemo room, the beeps from the different chemo machines going off, the one time I had a bad reaction to the chemo, the weight loss, the fatigue, the stomach issues I had, the loss of my hair. I put that sweater on and I had cancer all over again. It all came back and I was drowning myself in a sea of thoughts. It was like I was being pulled in to an undertow. I didn’t have cancer but in that moment, I had to convince myself of that. I left the sweater on for about 10 minutes because I was really trying to be stronger than my PTSD. I didn’t want it to control me but it did…and the sweater came off. I was upset and in a matter of a minute I went from excited to give candy out and scare kids to I am going to die of cancer. I went through a conversation in my head and even spoke some thoughts out loud. That I was here, I was ok. I was healthy. I touched my head to remind myself my hair was growing back. I had to consciously bring myself back to the present moment and not the moments from a year ago. Without the previous therapy I had been through, I am not sure I would have been equipped with those tools to talk myself out of it. I did though. The whole episode lasted about 30 minutes and our night went on as planned.
PTSD and Anxiety are a very similar feeling to me. It’s basically a flood of emotions that for a period of time become uncontrollable. For me, they go hand in hand. My PTSD causes a heightened sense of awareness to everything around me and the result of that is anxieties about what COULD happen in the future. Anxiety is horrible. To any normal person my thoughts, that swarm like bees in my head, are a bunch of irrational thoughts that make absolutely no sense. Anything can happen and in an anxiety attack….it WILL happen until it doesn’t actually happen and your past it. That waiting period, or the period of time that goes by that your convincing yourself that your thoughts are irrational, can feel like an eternity. Not only are you sitting in these crazy irrational thoughts, that you KNOW deep down make no sense what so ever, you are doing it alone in your mind. The last thing I want to do is try and walk someone through those thoughts, only to sound like some crazy lunatic that just predicted the future in full accuracy. Reality is, none of us know the future. My reality…is not so, though I have done better lately accepting that this life is not in my hands. It is accepting that I do not have control over what is going to happen. The worst part of anxiety is knowing what you are thinking is completely insane and makes absolutely no sense…but not being able to just think that and move on from it in that moment. Typically what happens is the thoughts get worse before they get better. I have found that, for me, I will end up at the most irrational thought possible and thats when I realize…okay Jen…THATS not going happen….THATS impossible. And IF it does…whats the worst that would happen? What IS the worst that could happen? Even if the worst that could happen is death…I would know I am leaving this world confident that I lived it to the fullest, was a good person, and did all I could to help others.
This leads me in to depression. I hate depression. I hate it with everything I have and though I do a pretty good job at managing it, I am frequently reminded that it exists in me. Depression is kind of scary because if you can’t figure out a way to manage it, it can and will affect all aspects of your life. It WILL steal your joy. It WILL send you to some pretty dark places. There was a very short moment in my life where I felt like it would have been easier if I died of cancer vs. dealing with all of this shit. I absolutely HATE to admit that but it is me being honest about what depression is. Its a lot of why me’s and why am I here and whats the point. I haven’t had those thoughts in a really long time and for that I am really thankful. My depression causes me to disconnect from everyone. I don’t talk, I hide away, I don’t really eat, and the best place for me when I WAS depressed, was alone. The last thing I wanted to do was bring anyone else down with me or react to others in anger as a result of my sadness. It is sort of a weird place to be because you don’t WANT to be alone…but its easier. You want someone to come hug you and just let you cry with no words, but you don’t want anyone to see you like that or have to explain yourself. Its just a really odd feeling of confusion and not really knowing what it is you need in that moment. Thought I still have my moments, I am thankful that I have learned how to manage this aspect of my mental hurricane, and not to let myself stay there.
With all of this being said, I am not going to leave this blog with the idea that I am in some dark scary place with made up stories and fears and anxieties. I manage it well and without medication. At times, I do wonder if medication would help balance me completely. I chose the gym and a healthy diet, supportive friends and family, my non-profit that brings me SO much joy in helping others, and I know how important routine is for me. If my routine is thrown off…it can cause me to slip. Fortunately, when I do slip, I am able to pull myself out much quicker than I was able to in the past. It took a lot of work to get where I am right now. I still have those fears, I still experience all of these feelings, but I refuse to sit there. In a conversation with my therapist, she asked with a sort of sarcastic smile on her face…”So how’s that going for you, how is everything else in your life going”. The answer was “Really shitty”. It was that moment that she made me realize I was allowing all of these irrational thoughts and fears…things I had no control over….affect every single day of my life, and everyone around me, in a very negative way. Nothing was good. That wasn’t ok with me. We all want to be happy. Though I know perfection will never be an option, I want to have the best life I can while I am here. I cannot allow those “what ifs” to take away the joys and happiness that exist in the current moment. So I make plans, I have learned to laugh again, that its okay to feel happiness even if it is all taken away from me tomorrow…because none of us have control over what is going to happen in the next minute of our lives. I still have a lot of work to do on myself, but guess what? WE ALL DO!!! This life will never be easy…but I am very fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most AMAZING people. That list goes on….from the women I meet daily, to my family, my husband, my step kids, my 4 besties, my trainer, to everyone who has encouraged and supported me along this journey - I am so incredibly thankful for your understanding and for letting me be me when Im being….ME.