Monday, April 22, 2013

#437: Depression is Emotional Cancer

You need a team. Recovering from a severe depression is a long process.

When they found my cancer, they started by cutting the worst of it out. The surgeon cut away a lot of stuff. But they couldn't be sure they'd gotten it all, so the oncologists went back, first with chemo, then with radiation. If they had stopped after the operating table, I would almost certainly be dead by now.

Depression is emotional cancer, and its cells are the thoughts, the mis-beliefs, the lies that live in your head and try to convince you that you are worthless or evil or stupid or incompetent. That you don't deserve happiness. That you don't deserve to be loved. Your Therapist's job is to help you kill these deadly growths before they take over your mind.

But that's only part of the story. There's also engineering to be done. Plumbing gets blocked. Wires get crossed. The chemistry gets out of whack and somebody has to go in there and troubleshoot all the connections. That's where your Psychiatrist comes in.

His job isn't to shrink your head. It's to bust it open with electric shocks and psych med.s Stuff with scary names like Paxil and Valium and Lamictal and Xanax. I've known people who carried pharmaceutical warehouses in their backpacks - loads of this stuff. It's easy to accumulate, because it's hard to find the right combination. The Psychiatrist's job is almost as much art as science. We try this combo and see if it works. If not, we add a pinch of this, a dose of that, and wait and see. It can take months to get it right. And after a few years, your brain can change on its own, like a virus evolving to overcome a vaccine. Sometimes your meds will just stop working all of a sudden, throwing you into a tailspin that can be as life threatening as any carcinoma.

Brain and Mind. Body and Soul. They are so intimately interwoven that it is absurd to try to describe them separately. How to you describe the difference between what you are and who you are? I have a really good team to help me put myself in order. I'll be visiting them both today. It's going to be a long afternoon.

My Therapist is a sort of Buddhist Evangelical Christian who has amazing listening skills, great compassion, and a deep sense of professionalism. He hears my stories. He gives me homework. He cares. He has talked me down from a few ledges over the years, though never one quite as high or narrow as this one.

I met my Psychiatrist during my stay in the mental hospital, back before I became The Famous Cancer Boy Who Didn't Die. He speaks very softly, and always seems to be seeing just a layer or two deeper than the surface. He also listens to my stories. He asks questions. Then he stares at me quietly, sometimes for an uncomfortable length of time. I once worked with a plumber who would squat down and stare at the empty space where a sink or a water heater or a pool filter was supposed to go. He would stare quietly for a long time, not speaking, not writing anything down. When he was ready, he would walk to his truck and start pulling fittings. Within an hour or so, he could assemble a maze of elbows and joints and valves so complex that I couldn't even follow them with my eye. They fit tight, and they worked. He was just that good.

That's the way my doc looks at me. When he is ready, he pulls out his prescription pad and scribbles something on it. Sometimes he hands it to me. Sometimes he calls it in himself. It's often some stuff that I've never heard of before. And it usually works.

Today, after I see my therapist, I'll be visiting the doc for a tune-up. He hasn't seen me this screwed up in a long time, but working in the hospital, I'm sure he's seen worse. I have two hopes for our meeting today. I hope he doesn't say I have to go back to the nut house. And I hope he can use that x-ray vision of his to find my short circuit on the first try.

You can sometimes just wait out a mild depressive episode. A day under the covers or a walk in the sun can be enough to chase the shadows away and make everything look bright again. But you have to treat the big ones differently. You go into this battle knowing that there won't be a quick solution and the one you do find is liable to hurt like hell. Rigorous honesty can be painful. Once the chemistry is right, you have to start telling yourself the truth, and there aren't many people who can stand that for very long. That's one reason so many people never get better. Sometimes its easier to just live with the pain. That's not a luxury I can afford.

People I love are sick and dying. Every day, it seems. I see their faces when I close my eyes and I feel their prayers when they know I'm hurting. I hear their voices when I run. I have a wife to love. Dogs to feed, Miles to log. Money to raise. Tomorrow, there will be more people diagnosed with cancer. More people in pain. More people afraid. Who need to know there's hope. Who need to share the stories. Who need to live strong.

Last night, I talked to Mrs P about all this. All these people. Especially the fallen ones. I am left alive while good men and women are gone. I feel like I have to justify that somehow. I can't live in a world where such things happen for no reason. I feel as if they purchased my life with their own. I owe it to them to be the best man I can.

And that means I have to get well. I have to take the time to get myself healthy so I can go back to work.

C'mon, doc. Let's reach into this rat's nest get these wires untangled. Please?


1 comment:

  1. My thoughts and prayers are with somone who has suffered with depression nearly all of my life, I can relate, and understand this all too well.


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