Sunday, December 29, 2013

An October Post In December: After Cancer Anxiety & PTSD

I wrote this post back in October and never published it. 

I figure since we are coming up to the end of 2013 I would finally put it out there. 

October 2013…

I fell off the blogging band-wagon for a while. Almost two months to be exact. And there's a reason I haven't written since the middle of August. Mostly it is because the things going on in my life have been too challenging for me to want to share while I have been so IN IT. I was waiting for the storm to pass before I decided to hit the keyboard and write. There's something about being in a really tough space that makes me just want to run, hide, curl up with a cat and not blog. But partly why I haven't written in awhile is simply that I have really just had a lot going on. Some good, some overwhelming, some crazy... A lot of it still relating to the fact that I had cancer...

And so, the never dull "journey" continues... (side note: starting to really hate that journey word!) (And second side-note confession: I also was avoiding writing because I have had to hold back ranting about October's pink-washing/pink-nausea BS that is up in our face this month for breast cancer 'awareness')

Anyways... bringing things back to the middle of August... I was struggling majorly with anxiety and panic attacks like mad. So badly that I finally caved and entertained drugs. Something I was always so against and never wanted to ever have to turn to. But at the recommendation of  a councillor at the cancer agency, my rads oncologist and my GP I tried Celexa, which is an anti-depressant. I was warned that the first few weeks could actually possibly stir up more anxiety and therefore was also prescribed an anti-anxiety medication that is stronger and longer lasting than Ativan. I went into it thinking "how bad could this anxiety be? This drug is gonna work for me."

However, the good ol' Universe had different plans for me.

Quick conclusion: I don't "do" drugs well.

By day 12 of Celexa I encountered thee most intense panics I have ever had in the history of my cancer experience and 30 years of life. I was an absolute basket case. Afraid of life. Afraid of death. Afraid of just BEING.

I stopped the drug immediately but unfortunately had to endure 5-6 days of feeling paranoid, nauseous, anxiety-stricken and generally just freaked out of my bloody mind. I was so messed up that I actually thought about having Mike commit me to the psych ward. And the very thought of that terrified me but I didn't know quite how to get through it. Having never been on drugs like that before and having had a bad reaction to them, I can honestly understand how some anti-depressant drugs make some people crazy enough to kill themselves. (TO BE CLEAR: THIS WAS NOT MY EXPERIENCE! But holy hannah do I get how NOT yourself you can be on meds like that. I fully see how it can cause people to harm themselves.)

Pretty much this Celexa situation was really not cool.

Not only was I out of commission for a good week... but we had to cancel our yearly family picnic that we host every year. It was so disappointing. All because I was losing my shit. I couldn't even stand the idea of having to talk to someone when the phone rang. I was afraid to speak to anyone other than Mike. I had never felt this messed up. It frightened me beyond belief and since then I have developed somewhat of a panic disorder where I am now scared of WHEN my next attack will happen. This probably is a result of the totally random attacks I had when we went to Moncton too. Either way, you know you have issues when you start having anxiety about anxiety.

And random episodes have come... although today I am a lot better, I profess that I am like a nervous puppy who can't be left alone at times... I fear travelling alone, the ferry, taking the bus to appointments, being alone the day before an appointment, dealing with my cat having to go to the vet. These have not been easy times. Not for me and not for Mike either. Poor guy is always talking me down from SOME kind of near panic ordeal. I wish it could just stop... and thankfully there are days where I do feel strong and can convince myself out of "it"... The tricky thing is that I find mornings are the hardest. So I really have to get going and distract my mind first thing because it constantly is scanning, checking, looking for signs of danger or threat.

And the fact that I am always dealing with some kind of ache or pain really doesn't help this. Everything is still cancer. Even when I know it's not. If it persists I worry, wonder and think about the scans I may need if it doesn't go away in a few weeks. The thought of an MRI still causes me to feel sick to my stomach. And I hate it. I hate the after-math. Who knew that post-treatment life could be even more of a mind-f*ck than during the first year (not including chemo of course!)

But the good news is I am seeing people about this and I am getting tools to cope. Hooray for therapy! I am also getting some work done called EMDR which treats PTSD. If you have anxiety or suffer from PTSD google it - It is apparently highly effective. (As I write this I am only a few weeks out from trying it myself so it's hard to tell if it has helped yet)

So yes, this panic stuff is still pretty fresh. I am working through it each day and finding ways to deal and talk myself out of losing it. I may still carry Ativan and rescue remedy with me everywhere I go, but I am fricking well determined not to let the results of having had cancer rule my life.

To an outsider or to someone having not gone through a life-threatening illness, all of this may sound a bit nuts. Some people have little patience, compassion or understanding for this... and while this doesn't surprise me, it does suck. Because it's real and it's my reality. I am hyper-aware, hyper-vigilant and hyper-scared-of-cancer-returning. It can be a little over-bearing for someone who has never had to face cancer. But the fact of the matter is that 2/3 of people who have had cancer actually end up with some kind of PTSD and anxiety as a result of all of the crap we go through. And the numbers are higher in young adults... meaning, it is more common for people under 40 to be this way after the big mother-f-ing C. Which makes me feel less crazy/alone/isolated. Not that I want others to be going through similar stuff... but it does make me feel a bit better knowing I am not the only one.

Having a lot going on is a nice distraction from the anxious mind. Unfortunately the last few months have been appointment-heavy so those are obviously not the good type of distraction, they just add to the stress... But other good things are happening... I run 3 times a week, spin other days, do yoga almost every day, I'm busy with therapeutic projects and I started going back to work on a gradual basis at the beginning of October. How nice is it to focus on things that have nothing to do with cancer! It is so refreshing to have that kind of shift in the mind where I can look back on my day and realize that for X amount of hours I didn't think about cancer.

"New Normal Reintrajectorizing Life" goes on... each day different, some a struggle, some a little bit easier... one step forward, two steps back even. What matters I think is that I am trying. I am doing my absolute best and can only hope that with time things will get easier.


  1. Ashley, this is a beautifully written post with so much anguish and pain inside. I understand what you are going through, all of it, not just the cancer shit, but also the depression and the drug reactions. I know my words won't mean much, but all I would like to impart on you is that considering what you are having to face, especially as such a young, vibrant young woman, you are doing amazingly well.

    I have cancer at 47, I cannot imagine being 20 years younger and getting it. You have and continue to be an inspiration to everyone, not just in how you have managed your disease and treatment, but also in how you have stepped up to help other young cancer patients.

    It is a lot, a lot for a healthy person to handle, never mind someone who is struggling to survive.

    You go girl. Take care of yourself. Realize, as you did, that certain things don't work for you, and continue to be the master of your own destiny.

    You have so many amazing years ahead of you. Soon, and I don't mean within the next few years, but soon, like maybe when you are in your mid thirties and you've had your lovely baby, then you will forget that you are a cancer patient, a victim of something so awful and terrible, but hallelujah, a survivor now. Someone who has come through it all.

    Until then, take every day as it comes and if it comes at you sad and shitty, well, then shit that sucks, but you are strong and you will get through it.

    Hugs as always,

  2. absolutely what matters is that you're trying! man I feel you on the mornings they are the worst! I am having such a hard time to get over it all and just move on and start the day. egh. I can't wait to finish treatment i hope things will be better by then. I think don't do drugs well either. i hate to not feel like myself anymore. that is even worse than anxiety. to better times ahead!

  3. Big heavy thing for sure. And how are you doing now? Is that EMDR helping at all? I have rescue remedy at home, and give it a shot when my nerves get rolling, though apparently I'm meant to take it more often.

    It's a big thing to put this all out there, so go for you Ashley. I'm sorry you have to struggle with the anxiety garbage. And I hope those little moments of not thinking about cancer become longer and longer. One breathe at a time, eh.