I wrote the following on Facebook today for someone I went to school with who is struggling with depression and cancer. It was my response to his post that read, “I’m glad I got cancer. I hope it kills me.” I saw the post before today, but wanted to think about my response before writing it. After writing it, I realized that this is a message that could potentially help more people than the one it was intended for. If you’re struggling with illness or depression or both, then this message is for you. ❤️
I hear your cry for help. I can see your situation both as someone who went through my own depression, then severe illness that almost killed me that had me wishing for death at times, and also as someone who made it to the other side. If you aren’t currently working with a therapist, I urge you to find one ASAP. Having someone listen to you can help in the most unexpected ways. Enlist the help of a family member or friend if you find that searching for a therapist is too daunting. I know it was VERY difficult for me to seek help because my energy was so zapped and my depression left me fearful of talking to new people and going to new places.
From where I am now, it’s almost unbelievable that I was wishing my life away at one time. In my depressive state, I could have never pictured the life I have now. I thought I would always be sick, always be depressed, and that life would always be hard. But from where I am now, there’s nothing farther from the truth.
It sounds as though cancer did not mark the beginning of your depression. You’ve been struggling for some time with it and the cancer feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt that way too. Life already felt hopeless and then cancer came along and took whatever was left of any hope you might have had for your life, your future. Those are all normal feelings. I worked on an oncology floor in the hospital for the first 2.5 years of my work as an RN. I’ve seen it all. I’ve talked to people who felt hopeless. I talked to people who were doing their best to remain optimistic.
Depression affects a person’s brain in such a way that it’s impossible in the thick of it to see any light in the best of situations, let alone what feels like the worst. You are not alone in your struggles with what you have going on in your life.
For me, my illness showed up after years of ignoring my intuition and not putting myself first and not giving myself the love that I deserved. When you neglect yourself for so long, illness shows up. The bigger the lesson you’re meant to learn, the bigger the challenge that shows up.
My illness made it impossible for me to put myself last anymore. It demanded that I put money and resources into myself. Lots and lots of money and time and effort—-all to myself. I was left with a choice, let myself die (which for me was mentally no longer an option because I had a baby to care for) or fight and do what I needed to do to live.
I chose fight though even with that choice, I had days where I wished it would end and just all be over. It wasn’t like life got easy because I chose to fight. In fact, doing so challenged me to my core and ultimately grew me into the person I am today. And growth isn’t the easy way out. But neither is death. You are meant to be here and regardless of what your mind is tricking you into believing right this minute, you have people in your life who love you and care about you. And from someone who has experienced the suicide of 4 people, I can tell you that the hole you’d leave in the world and in their hearts is a big one.
I know nothing about your diagnosis or what the doctors are telling you about your chance for beating the cancer. But I can tell you that those things matter only minimally.
It is the thoughts you continue to have about the cancer that are causing you so much turmoil, not the cancer itself. I understand that cancer is scary and that it can be terminal, but any illness is also a lesson and can be a turning point in a person’s life. We all die eventually. That is a fact. Whether it’s from cancer or a car accident is fundamentally inconsequential. The end is the same regardless of the means.
I think you have been given an opportunity to examine your life, your thought processes (likely very negative if they’re anything like mine were), and how you have been showing up for yourself (or not), so that you can see that your body is screaming for you to make changes and showing you that you MUST make changes if you want to get to the really amazing life that can exist just past the place of losing your health and almost dying to getting your health back.
My advice would be:
1. Find a therapist if you haven’t already.
2. Start a gratitude practice where each day without fail you write down things you currently have in your life to be grateful for. As small as the fact that you woke up today. On better days, you might write more. Be thankful for things yet to come, like your completely healed body. Say that to yourself every day! I am so grateful that my body is completely healed. Or I am so grateful that I am fully healed body, mind, and spirit. Maybe it sounds crazy, but it works, I’ve done it. Plus, what do you have to lose?
3. Meditate. Sit in silence for at least 5 minutes a day focusing only on your breath. This quiets your mind and shuts off the negative thoughts for the time that you’re doing it. If thoughts come up, it’s ok, just acknowledge them and go back to your breath. Use this as a coping mechanism when the hamsters in your brain are madly running in their wheels. Even if you don’t notice change right away, you will eventually notice.
4. Replace negative thoughts about yourself with positive ones. Instead of, I’m such an idiot for making x mistake, try I’m proud of myself for trying x.
5. Take good care of yourself. Rest when your body needs it. Eat when you’re hungry. Drink when you’re thirsty. Realize that you don’t have to see the whole staircase before you take the next step. If you have to have a procedure done, try not to think past it. Do what comes up without trying to predict the future.
Miracles happen. I’ve seen people who were said to have a year or less to live stop everything and start taking care of themselves and doing all the things they always wanted to do, and prove the doctors wrong. It happens.
We are all mortal. We are all going to die. Most of us walk around as though we’ll always have more time, not doing the things we’ve always wanted to do, and not saying the things we know we should say. Illness is a gift in some ways because mortality is suddenly thrust into your face and you get to figure out really quickly what’s important to you today if you have no tomorrow.
None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Those without illness are just living the illusion that they’ll live forever. But you and I know otherwise. For me, I’d rather know that truth through struggle than to live in illusion. It makes me do things that make me happy. It makes me put my health first. That’s priceless.
I hope this helps in some way. I would have sent it as a personal message, but who knows how many other people needed to hear this today.
Hang in there. ❤️
Reach out to me if my words resonate with you and you’re feeling the need for extra support in your life right now. Perhaps Joy Coaching makes it sound like you have to be in a joyful place to benefit from it, but in fact, my whole intention of it is to show people the beautiful lessons in their struggles and to help them move past them to a place of increased gratitude and joy in life. I’m hoping that using my experience can help others in a way that shortens the time they need to learn the lessons that their body is trying to teach them. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Watch Matisyahu sing the acoustic version of “One Day” HERE.