It’s been almost 3 months since my last update. The winter months are always difficult, your body feels the need to shut down and hibernate, with minimal sunshine, daylight and this year almost constant rain. It’s never uncommon for me to feel the winter blues, lacking energy and motivation to do anything but essential and necessary things. However this winter I’ve struggled more, not with immunity, but more with low moods I’ve almost felt lacking joy, which seems distasteful and ungrateful considering I have finished treatment and living beyond cancer. I do question how much of a part Tamoxifen plays in this.So I’ve maximised hibernation, seeking comfort in box sets, reading and movies. I’ve also used my time to plan and investigate mini breaks or holidays, on dark days thoughts of beaches has been pretty handy.
I’ve notice though that negative thoughts and SAD isn’t uncommon. My peers on FB, the Mac Life after Cancer thread and even blogs I follow have similar themes. People struggling with exhaustion, fatigue or tiredness,aches, pains, low energy, low mood, worrying about recurrences, feeling you are the only person to feel this way and it must mean a) you’re not coping b) that there must be something wrong with you and c) the cancer is on the comeback. You’ll note I’ve already attached these emotions to cancer and not just that the weather is crap and life is pressured. That everyone you meet has an ache or pain or feeling low about the rain and not all of them worry it’s cancer related.
It’s reassuring to see that so many others feel the same, but disappointing too. As this whole ‘survivorship’ business think we all believe should be a positive experience, but in reality is full of finding acceptance, making sense, moving forward and it strongly refers to the ‘new normal’ that’s a common term used after active treatment ends. New normal gives us new unmeasured benchmarks so that people don’t beat themselves up further with unrealistic expectations or push yourself too hard. It’s very much trial and error. It takes a lot of work too, to reassure yourself that you are doing well, that you have progressed and are moving forward, at whatever pace.
The following is taken from My Inflammatory Breast Cancer Journey, whose journey has run along at a similar time to mine.
So I am about 16 months NED at this point in my travels and my life has somewhat gotten back on track so pray do tell why I feel so shit??
I am getting all the “Wow, you looks so good” “You look well”, don’t get me wrong it’s great that to people I meet their requirements of a cancerous person looking well, but if I’m honest I may look it but I really don’t feel it! I am so tired all the time, I get frustrated by the crap little things that I can no longer do, my concentration is appalling and I feel like I should be doing something more productive but when I can do more it wipes me out for days…I can’t bloody win!
I feel like I should be out there doing something….what I don’t know but just something, but then I am too frigging tired! Instead I sit and worry about my finances, my children, my relationships….I ponder these things day after day and usually at night and my brain just will not switch off!
I say “I’m fine” a lot, mainly because I can’t be bothered to explain and the fact that most really aren’t going to listen to my reply or understand it, besides I think I would scare them with what I have to say!
Reading this totally helped, I felt immediate empathy as I could totally relate to this outburst, however most people tell me how tired I look lately, not how well and that’s adding to my own paranoia. Unhelpful thoughts triggered by unhelpful comments.
I’ve been doing all that I can to help myself and probably a few unhelpful things too, such as worrying, googling symptoms, and imagining the worse. In attempts to understand and manage my worries I’ve been rationalizing that
a) I have a hugely responsible and pressured job, work full-time and my work peers who haven’t been ill tell me how much they are struggling too. And my cancer peers report to being tired without the huge burden of work that hangs around my neck. Verdict it’s normal – if not unacceptable way to live and I should be incredibly proud of myself for returning to the pressure cooker of social care.
b) I’m riding solo, there isn’t anyone waiting with a hot meal, reassuring hug or words of comfort after a long day and boy am I feeling it !! Instead I come home and pick up my motherly duties and housework. I can’t delegate worries about financing leaky roofs or broken cars, have to just face the music and dance. Verdict – this is normal for me and I’ve survived tougher times as a single parent. I’m resourceful and I need to ask for help more every now and then.
c) Oh my God I’m getting too serious ! Where has all the fun evaporated to? Verdict – this is fixable !!
d) Ditto my energy – Verdict – this is temporary ? And this is perhaps unrealistic – you need to exercise to create energy and energy to exercise. Small bite sized chucks will make this achievable
e) That I am not fully living my life, that I’m missing out as too tired, or withdrawn or working too hard – Verdict – this isn’t technically true, it’s an interpretation made in a low mood. Reality is I have to work, the economic climate is tough, and I’ve a house to provide for. Not that many people can up sticks and travel the world as can’t afford to, but more achievable is to save for a long exotic holiday next year ❤
f) Lastly, the unhelpful comment about tired and my responses, that how do I not know that my tiredness isn’t something more serious and that’s why people keep telling me not to over do it. Well realistically I don’t know however apart from tiredness I’m not screamingly obviously symptomatic …I have oncology soon, and I’ve had bloods as a precaution.
How do I reduce work pressures – as ultimately this is the area most people are commenting on. I’m working less hours than I used to, I go in late when I can, I’m consciously making an effort to take lunches, I work from home as often as I can, I delegate more, think I eat more healthily and regularly. I think my stress levels need reducing – so actions for next week…1) Meditation 2) Book a massage 3) Jungle Therapy – that worked after a fraught day Friday.4) Earlier nights
And this is the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and the battle you have with yourself to distract yourself, put them out of your mind and dismiss them as unhelpful, try to resolve with new strategies. I’ve been reading the Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris which is a mindfulness programme to help with anxiety, low mood, stress or depression. I’m finding the suggestions really helpful and achievable if you put in a bit of daily practice.
And I’ve been listening to Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh on audible.
Other favourite things this past week include :-
Reading a 20 Page special on how to Flourish in 2014, which explores authenticity, courage and creativity in monthly action plans – thanks Psychologies magazine
Watching The Sessions – A wonderful film, starring Helen Hunt, it restores your faith of love, desirability and overcoming challenges. Check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy2y7UIpgP4
Skanking out in my car Jungle Mix on Kool London that got me through the worst traffic on a Friday night.
And treating myself to new jeans, shirt and cardigan combination.
Oh a surprise ticket to see Kanye at Wireless. Epic winning !!
So life is unpredictable and we can’t always be up, being low can sometimes be incredibly hard to get out of and takes tremendous effort, I can more than relate to why so many people try anti depressant as an escape from the darkness, it does feel like a fog you have to emerge from. Everything in life you learn from, perhaps I had to experience this to be more understanding of others and more gentle with myself