Life Lessons from the Couch

This blog is two months overdue. Missing deadlines and breaking commitments, even if due to events beyond my control, still make me feel oh so guilty and badly about myself. The rational part of my brain tells the irrational side to STFU, as I visualize two lobes going at it in a boxing ring. It’s only a blog, words on a page – life will go on with or without the world knowing what I have to contribute. But still, I hate disappointing my readers and I doubt that’s a trait that will ever go away.

It’s kind of funny, depending how you look at it, that I finally have a few minutes to unplug from work. Today makes two sick days in a row. Yesterday I had a needle biopsy in my left armpit for a lump I discovered five weeks ago. Today I’m home because my arm is sore; I’m tired as hell and I need to guard the incision against infection. The results will come over the next day or so. The doc says, “Based on your family history and what the ultra-sound and mammogram show, you don’t have to worry. It’s 99.999999999% likely to be benign.”

By the time you read this, I’ll have my answer. For now, I’ll write as if the news is good and I’ll be back at work soon. “This was just a scare,” I tell myself. It’s a reminder to be thankful for every day, even when I don’t have the threat of the C-word to bolt me into gratitude.

Living with chronic depression and anxiety has prepared me to be ready for the other combat boot to drop at any moment. There will always be the next catastrophe—real or imagined—to catapult me to the brink of despair. Depression has the power to not only brace myself for the worst, but to expect it. I’ve come a long way since the days I thought each phone call would bring tragic news. I used to joke that instead of answering with Hello, I’d ask Who Died? even if it wasn’t 3 o’clock in the morning.

Sitting here on my living room couch, despite sounds of horns honking and sirens 16 floors below, it feels almost peaceful to have a guilt-free day off from work. Admittedly, I’m eager to hear from the doctor, “It’s nothing. You’re fine. Come back in six months for a check-up.” But, for now, it feels right to use this time to clear my head and practice self-reflection. The past months have been weird. My depression started to get worse somewhere around Thanksgiving. No specific event sparked it, but that’s the nature of this mental illness. I’m used to it by now. I used to think I was a failure at life for becoming depressed for no cause-and-effect to easily explain it. It’s still frustrating, but to a lesser degree.

My doctors and I decided to increase my SSRI during this latest bout and I’m working closely with my psychologist to see if there was anything deep down that would trigger an episode. For a millisecond, I felt defeated. Another trip to the pharmacy—where the Cheers theme song plays in my head each time I enter.

I’ve learned to accept that there’s always going to be something to be depressed about but, on the flip side, there’s an equal amount of joy to be found. Seeing bright red tulips standing tall at the entrance to my apartment building is an instant mood-lifter.

Living like this for 30 years, I can go for months at a time feeling okay and then BAM! It’s back like termites I paid a fortune to exterminate. Learning how to successfully manage and cope with depression and anxiety (it only took a decade) has primed me to deal with unwelcome lumps under my arm and unforeseen bumps in the road. The stigma of having a chemical imbalance or faulty wiring doesn’t have the same upsetting impact on me as it once did. But that in no way means that if someone says something ignorant, or acts holier than thou, that I’m immune to it. It stings for a moment, sometimes two, then in a flash I remember that their actions reveal more about who they are – and say nothing about me.

Whatever news today or tomorrow brings, I can count on the loyal people who cheer me on, stick with me through every low and celebrated my triumphs. Despite life’s lumps, they always have my back—or in this case, my front.

Now, if the doctor would just call already.

*this post originally appeared on the Bring Change 2 Mind website

click here to go to Bring Change 2 Mind

Time

It feels like years and years since I’ve posted here. Going through grueling physical recovery from two surgeries has changed me on a molecular level. It’s been a flurry of progressions with an equal amount of regressions. What I’ve learned is if I don’t take the time I need to fully heal, maybe this would have been all for nothing. My goal is to return to writing by the end of this year, or early next year. My brain is ready to go, yet my body still says no. I keep this photo handy every time I berate myself for not showing up. “They” say that time heals all wounds, but I’ve come to realize that it’s what you do with that time that evokes positive change and enlightenment – genuine growth.

Post-surgical X-ray from my spinal fusion
Post-surgical X-ray from my spinal fusion

Hope Blog/Detour Ahead

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

From “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns, Scottish Poet

 I’ll be taking a break from posting in this space for the next few weeks. What I thought was a routine problem with my shoulder, turned out to be a much bigger and more serious health risk. Long story short, I need to have surgery relatively soon, and will be using my energy to prepare for what lies ahead. All of the projects and plans I had scheduled over the next six weeks are currently put on hold until further notice. While this is disappointing, the good news is that I’ll be in better health all around once I’m fully recovered. As always, I’m so grateful to be living in a time in which medical advances for treating all sorts of mental and physical illnesses were not available fifty years ago – maybe even twenty years ago.

Thank you to my friends at esperanza magazine for your good wishes and for holding a place for me on the Hope Blog while I’m out.

 

I’m looking to chat or email offline with others who’ve had cervical spinal fusion. Please contact me if you’re willing to do so. I would really appreciate it! Thanks.

 

Adrienne

 

http://hopetocope.com/blog/post/Detour-Ahead.aspx

Spinal con-Fusion

Many thanks to everyone who has reached out to me after I shared the news of my upcoming surgery. I’m still scared and anxious, but just knowing that I have the emotional support from near and far makes this ordeal more manageable. I’m especially grateful to those who have told me about your loved ones who have gone through the same operation. I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, so just knowing that some of you have witnessed this first hand and the results have all been successful takes a lot of my fear away. I was hesitant about even mentioning the spinal fusion at all, but now I’m so glad I listened to my inner voice telling me that if I shared my situation, I’d be helping myself and anyone else who is going through something similar, just as I do when I talk about my struggles with depression and anxiety.

I started making a list yesterday of everything I need to do before the surgery. Since I know that my throat will be very sore for a few days, making it difficult to swallow – I’m now researching to see if my daily medications are available in liquid form. I’d rather drink my meds, than crush up the pills and mix them into yogurt, but if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll make do. Included in my list are questions I have for the surgeon. I’m carrying around a notebook because if I don’t write down my thoughts as they pop up, I will totally forget them. Keeping lists has always been a good method for keeping my anxiety in check. Being anxious about my surgery can lead to confusion and uncertainty. This is one operation where I want to know every tid-bit of info before I step foot into the OR.

Again, I really wanted to express my gratitude for the good wishes, prayers and support you’ve given me these past days. Sending you all one-armed hugs for now.

Image

Spinal Fusion, Are You Kidding Me?

Here’s the latest from my never-boring world:

After two MRIs and many x-rays to find the cause of the unbearable pain in my right arm, shoulder and neck from the past two months, I was diagnosed on Thursday with degenerative disc disease (spondylosis) I’m shocked, terrified and haven’t gotten past the “WTF???” stage yet. What I can tell you now are the facts.

1) My surgery for spinal fusion in the C3/4, 4/5 and 5/6 vertebra in my neck is scheduled for April 23rd at Mount Sinai Hospital.

2) I have to meet with a plastic surgeon prior to the operation, since the incision to reach my spine will be made on the front of my neck, next to my voice box, and I don’t want to be left with an unnecessarily big scar.

3) My voice will be very hoarse for 2-4 weeks post-surgery.

4) From today forward, I’ll be making preparations for the surgery and post-operative care – meaning prioritizing my work-load, writing/blogging and personal responsibilities.

That’s all I can say for now, even though there a gazillion thoughts running through my brain, trying to sort them out here on my blog page isn’t something I’m ready to do. 

Follow my personal blog for what’s sure to be an emotionally charged, freak-out rollercoaster ride.

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