June 13th, 2014
| Survivor: Melanoma
Are you struggling with anxiety after having been diagnosed with cancer? In this guest blog post, Amanda shares her struggles with anxiety and how she eventually learned to cope with this disorder.
Most of my life I probably could have been characterized as "high strung" or rather intense. I may have been a pain in the ass, but it was never something that I felt inhibited the enjoyment of day-to-day life. This, like many other things, changed following my cancer diagnosis.
I was feeling overcome with worry. Paralyzed. Long after the chemical effects of melanoma treatment subsided, I could not shake the random, unspecified worry and constant feeling of nervousness. I couldn't sleep because I couldn't make my brain shut up. I didn't want to go out because sitting in the car was too much stillness, and stillness meant I had the opportunity to think, which would inevitably lead to tears.
Yeah, I know. I had cancer, and that IS something to worry about. However, the worry I was experiencing was mostly unrelated to cancer (although I looovved to blame the nerves on cancer.) Feeling anxious at times is normal. Prolonged (6 months or longer), uncontrollable, and unreasonable anxiety however, is not.
A prevalent side effect of Interferon [the drug I was taking to get rid of cancer] is depression. So, it was during my melanoma treatment that I began speaking with a counselor and was prescribed an antidepressant for the first time.
An Unhealthy Habit
When my melanoma treatment was over, I weaned off the antidepressant. This would mark the beginning of a shitty cycle for me. The antidepressant would do its job, I would think I no longer need it and begin to wean myself off of it.
Rinse and repeat for several years.
It wasn’t until my husband Kyle and I decided we wanted to begin trying to conceive that I weaned myself off of the antidepressant for the last time. I did NOT want to be on any medication during pregnancy.
I was pregnant during our move to Alaska and about ten weeks into my pregnancy everything began to become too much. All of my usual anxiety symptoms returned along with the anxiety of moving across the world with no friends, no family, morning sickness, living in a hotel, and hormones.
I can remember the exact moment I realized it was time to make some changes. I was driving on post when I heard a jet flying over me. Here is what I thought. Ready? "What if that plane is here to attack us? I'm pregnant. It's snowy. I don't have a coat. I'm wearing slipper flats. I'm going to die! Holy shit Amanda. You need some damn crazy pills." It feels funny to type that (and actually makes me seem straight up paranoid), but the panic that I felt in that moment was so real.
My OB, without hesitation, put me back on the antidepressant and hooked me up with a local counselor. Fortunately for me, she didn't stop there. "Cut the shit! Stay on your medication. You can not be a good mother or wife if you are not taking care of yourself."-- OB
This NEEDED to be said. I needed to hear that coping with anxiety--taking care of myself was no longer just about me.
I was on a low dose of Lexapro for the remainder of my pregnancy and am still taking it today. (I know taking any medication during pregnancy is controversial. I'm a firm, FIRM believer in medical decisions being made between a physician and the patient and nobody else. This is just what worked for me.)
Antidepressants aren't for everyone, obviously. For some, it amplifies their symptoms, for others it makes them feel numb, but for me; medication just helps me feel normal. Antidepressants don't make me shit rainbows and butterflies; I'm just me. High strung, pain in the ass, me.
I still have "bad" days, where I'm nervous for no apparent reason. But those days aren't very frequent. For me, counseling and medication go hand in hand. I want to learn how to cope with the anxiety and develop tools to handle things without medication one day. I still see a counselor regularly and really value the opportunity to speak honestly about anxiety and learn.
One of the best ways I found to relax myself was to exercise. When I run, my brain is completely silent! Ahh. My advice would be, if you struggle with anxiety, to find your "radio silent" activity and utilize it!
I'm still learning. I don't have this all figured out. But I'm trying...
Do you struggle with generalized anxiety disorder? How have you learned to cope?
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