I made a promise to myself in front of eight strangers on a cancer retreat that I was going to stop pretending to always be fine
and that I would just be my most authentic self
, broken or not. I used my wife and my moving as an opportunity for a fresh start to meet and express the true self that I've been hiding for so many years.
Despite having candor for my rebirth, I found resistance and a complete loss of the support system I had when I was always saying I was "fine." I still find myself reverting back to the old "fine" me, even around peers who have experienced cancer. That mindset is so engraved in my subconscious and is terribly unhealthy, but familiar and safe.
Recently, I was asked to be a part of a tweet chat about stress
for one of the most supportive organizations I've had the pleasure of contributing to. The day of the chat, I was dismissed from my psychiatric provider for having too high of a remaining hospital bill balance. Our insurance was covering 70% of our bills and we were paying triple the payment they initially requested. During my goodbye session with the counselor (a three time survivor herself), her boss sent an email asking: "Why are we still seeing this client when he owes so much money?"
I've been on a waiting list for another provider for almost a month, all the while sinking fast. Earlier this week, I was one phone call away from checking myself into a hospital. I managed to find a counselor a "short" two hour bus ride from where I live.
As of late, I've been questioning if this transformation was worth it. I watch relationships dwindle and feel that finding help to cope coping with all of these feelings I've never expressed is increasingly unavailable. I'm quite certain our physical well being is directly influenced by our mental health. As hard as I pretended and was forced to be mentally well, I was no where close to being mentally healthy and I think I paid the price for that at least three times three over. I've had over 30 doctors appointments and procedures since March with zero counseling.
Mental illness is a very serious complication often overlooked in the cancer community, and if it is
addressed, it is facilitated by counselors who have never personally had a cancer diagnosis. Stress is all I have and as much as I know it's eating away at me physically -- it's hard when it's all you've known. I feel anxiety can change our future for the worse. It's important that we have the resources, funding and safe environment to allow us to express our feelings.
This is why I Had Cancer is so important. It is a community comprised of peers, not "cancer experts" with "specialized training" and "advanced degrees." There are times when it's not possible to have face to face help and support. I Had Cancer is one of the few things that have kept me afloat in these turbulent waters. They've accepted the real me full of stress, anxiety and fear.
How has stress impacted your cancer journey? Share your experiences in the comments below - you might inspire someone who has a similar story!
Photo courtesy of Daniel Lee.