Monday, August 31, 2009

Where It Hurts

The breakdowns have started happening more and more often. At first, they were mostly happening in the hospital. After two months of living in a place that smelled like chemicals, fake flowery cleaning agents and poo, it was understandable how one could become depressed. But then Alan was released, began a new chemo plan, and still, the depression lingered. I decided at first to give it time. Maybe it would get the hint and pack its things and go. So I pretended like it wasn't really a problem, until one day when Alan couldn't get out of bed. That was when I decided it was a real problem and went through the list of symptoms I had noticed. When I got to the end, I was reminded of that commercial for depression meds -- where does depression hurt? Everywhere.

It is there nearly all the time now -- when we wake up, when we go for walks, when we watch TV, when we go out to eat, when we are getting ready for bed. A dark cloud hovering over our heads and carving a hole in Alan's chest.

Sometimes I will convince him to go do something fun with me lest we might both fall into a bottomless, heartless pit of sorrow where there is no internet connection or even any gummy bears. These "fun" outings are fun in a very different, non-traditional kind of way. A sort of fun that involves me pointing out all the fun aspects of what we are doing, in case they are not readily obvious to him. "Look at that man selling ice cream in his truck. We could go buy some and eat it over there! See! Fun! How fun would that be?" I say it all in a few octaves higher than my normal voice and open my eyes wide for emphasis. Perhaps I could sear fun into him, so much fun that there is no room left for any sadness at all. I make great scenes of enjoying things and encourage him to do the same. "MmmMmmm," I might say after eating a slice of pizza. And then I will follow that up by rubbing my stomach in a circular motion, the way we were taught to express our satisfaction and enjoyment of food when we were younger. When I look to see if he is buying it, I will see that he has eaten a pepperoni and maybe a bit of sausage.

If I try hard enough, I might get Alan to buy it for, oh, ten, fifteen minutes. On Saturday, though, I'd say the Feeling OK Streak stretched out for maybe even an hour.

Have you ever felt the hole in your chest? What did you do to make it better?


daughter of pan said...

Speaking as someone who has been dealing with depression of varying levels of severity, I know how it feels to have that hole in your chest.
While I applaud your earnest effort, it might be best to talk to Alan about going to a professional therapist or counselor. He's just undergone a great deal with his cancer and treatment and he's probably feeling very fragile right now and worried about his future. Maybe suggest this to him and see how he responds?

In the meantime, keep up with your ideas on having fun things to do. It might help him come around, but maybe not try so hard to show him how fun it can be. Let him discover the fun on his own.
Just be patient and show him love.

Hope this helps!

Lynz said...

I slid into a deep depression after I experienced a miscarriage. I would sit and cry or simply just zone out and stare at nothing for hours on end. I was miserably unhappy and, you're right-depression hurts everywhere. Nothing anyone did helped.

I got to the end of myself and didn't see how i could go on if this is all life is. I was eventually pulled out of this black pit when I started going to church for the first time in my life. I don't intend to be a religion pusher and I have no idea what your and Alan's beliefs are, but I just thought I would share what worked for me.

Kristina said...

I totally agree with Ms daughter of pan up there. I have struggled with depression as well. I think and try to focus on things I am thankful for instead of the looming clouds, aka cancer & treatment. When I focus on the bad verse the good, of course I'm depressed! I think counselling will help him sort out his thoughts & feelings and maybe teach him how to handle them. But really, what do I know? Side note: I enjoy reading your blog :)

Jess said...

I agree with daughter of pan as well. It usually isn't something that goes away on its own so maybe seeing someone (counselor, therapist, etc) would help.

No matter how close you are with someone, it can be a daunting task to just open up and admit you’re unhappy and you don't know how to shake it off. I know for me personally, I never wanted my boyfriend or friends to think it was their fault or something they did or didn't do, because it wasn't. It can be embarrassing to admit to loved ones that you are depressed.

Not to belittle your help and love by any means whatsoever but sometimes you just get stuck in a rut and need a fresh perspective, an outsider to listen who has no history or ideas of who you are. A professional who is getting paid to help you sort though all the stuff one is thinking about. Sometimes things feel hopeless, and you need a stranger to listen, care and tell you they are not.

Hope this helps but mostly hope it all works out for you guys. Take care.

Chloe said...

Oh Sobrina, I am sorry. For both you and Alan. As someone who slid into both depression and anxiety issues after my diagnosis with Lupus, I know what it's like.

For me, it was the hardest when everyone was around me, trying to be positive and supportive. I did not feel positive. I felt like there was something wrong with me- why wasn't I having the same sunny outlook that everyone else seemed to have? I'm not going to die from this (hopefully), everybody thinks that I should have it together- so why can't I just get it together?

It's hard. You're doing the right thing by being supportive, but I will say that getting on some meds and a bit of therapy helped immensely. It's not a permanent fix, just a temporary one until he begins to get better and gets past everything he is going through. I am typically not an advocate of meds (I used to be a huge believer that exercise + eating healthy heals all, and I still do believe that to some extent) but when you go through something SO life changing and, well honestly- so scary, the meds and therapy might give him the boost he needs. The sooner he gets started the better, IMO- I don't know why I waited so long to get on meds, but I felt so much better (just having the panic attacks go away made me feel like I had more control) as soon as I did. The longer you stay depressed, I've found, the more of a vicious cycle it is...just sucking you into its depths. It's not a sign of weakness (I know a lot of men tend to think that when it comes to depression), it's taking the right step towards making yourself better inside AND out. He's taking care of the cancer, now he needs to take care of his mind and spirit.

Thinking of you guys. ♥

Shelby said...

When I read your blog, some of the post..the ones that are about Alan..make me think of my wedding song.. Chantal Kreviazuk; Feels like home. I lovvve the song, still even after being married the song give sme butterflies and makes me want to cry. :]

kathryn said...

you don't know me, but you're my hero.

2busy said...

Alan is so lucky to have such a kind, loving person as you. It is wonderful that you have picked up on the obvious depression and are doing everything in your power to slay that ugly dragon for him.

Karin said...

Hope you guys are doing okay. :( It's only natural to be depressed after all he's been through...and still going through. Hopefully things will be a bit easier when he's done with the chemo.

Wuthering said...

Oh Sobrina! You are so sweet. You make me want to both laugh and cry.

superchance said...

Sobrina, Depression SuCkS & DOES hurt EVERYWHERE>... I am so sorry Alan ( and u, in turn) are dealing w/this. I have depression and about double whammy. But I did express it to my doc and have been on Celexa,; a depression/anxiety med for ( embarrassing to admit this) the last 16 yrs. The great thing however is that it really really worked. Even for my severe anxiety!)

What I DO to distract myself when these sym set in: hug my dogs and cats. Hang out with family. Random bar b cue. Go to or rent a movie... a FUN one and make popcorn and LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH!!!!! Dance crazily and sillily around the house to the most fun music EVER!! Example: Lollipop! One of my VERY FAVORITEs... or My Boyfriends Back....

Hope that Alan feels better very soon! And I second the U r my hero comment made! Your a super strong AMAZING woman! Keep on keeping on; ONE DAY AT A TIME!

With prayers and best wishes to u both....

Paulina said...

Now, I have never been through a depression, but I can certainly sympathize with the feeling, and I can only imagine that it is extremely difficult. You guys are in my thoughts I am hoping that this journey is one filled with learning and growing.

On another note: these pictures are lovely!

Rainysoul said...

That's a tough question, and really no right answer. After cancer, chemo, and hospital food (or lack of food), he could easily have a chemical imbalance, and not be able to "fix" himself.

Maybe you could try and help him find something that he's always wanted to do. Go on a road trip, make a website, put on a fuzzy bunny suit like the kid in a Christmas Story. Sometimes accomplishing something you've been wanting to do for awhile can help.

Preethi said...

Aww, Sobrina, this made me cry, I hope Alan feels better soon! I think your techniques will eventually work!

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...

you may already know this, and it is going to take some serious prodding. But exercise can do the same thing as depression meds. I know he's not in the state to start marathon training, but attempting to get him outside, walking, throwing frisbee, ect. will help, it just takes time to build up. Exercise produces endorphins, a chemical in your brain that gives you happy feelings.

Sobrina Tung said...

Today I felt really, really irritable. (Sorry if you were in the pathway of it today!) Either I am having a hard time dealing with life or someone has been secretly slipping steroids into my morning decaf. I got home this evening and wanted to kick my front door in. But then I read all your lovely comments and the first thing I thought was "Ah ha! Hallelujah! Depressed people!"

Sometimes it can be very hard talking about depression with non-depressed people or people who have never sunk into that kind of hole. They may be the most well-intentioned people, but I find it hard to shape an answer when someone says "Why is he sad? He's beating cancer -- he should be happy!" Honestly, I ask him that every other day already(I know, I need to stop, but I'm really just reminding him what's good in his life), so when it's my turn to defend him, I am just at a loss for words.

All of your comments give me lots of hope that this too will pass. If so many brave, bright souls (like you all) have made it through, so can Alan. Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I think you have contributed a large chunk to saving my sanity tonight.

Just to update you all on his current status: He's currently on Zoloft but I don't think it's working (this is the seventh week). Hopefully he will get referred to a psychiatrist on Thursday when he sees the oncologist and things will start changing...

Rich said...

My suggestion? Music. His favorite cd, song, something that always seemed to get his juices flowing before, something upbeat, or just down right metal! :) My music tastes are skewed a little harder than most, but when I really need to "turn the frown upside down" I throw on some Metallica, Motorhead, Judas Priest, etc. It works wonders for me, even during my "depressive" time a few years ago. Maybe that could help?

SingleDatingMommy said...

Sobrina (and Alan),

After the birth of my son I had severe post partum depression. No one could understand why, after all, I had a beautiful, healthy little boy. I should have been happy. So, they'd say things like, "that must be horrible" or even worse "I understand" when it was obvious they couldn't.
Long story short, I joined a support group. There I found 'normal' women, just like me who really, really understood. I found kindred spirits, I found life long friends. It became my lifeline, waiting each week for tuesday to roll around, just so I knew I wasn't alone.
My prayer for both of you is peace through the storm.
p.s. Paxil reeeeeeeeally helped too :)

CAM said...

I have a friend who is having ongoing chemo and she reckons it knocks the crap out of her every time and she gets really, really low after treatment - I have suffered from both anxiety and depression and was on Zoloft for a number of years (it does take AGES to kick in and when it does it doesn't make a person happy, it merely blocks extreme emotion - I worked hard to get off it because I wanted to be able to laugh AND cry again). I have to say there is very little anyone can do for you when you are depressed, except keep loving you, providing a soothing pattern to life (I had one friend who used to come spend the day on my bed and bring an activity bag of stuff to do and a picnic lol) and remember that emotions are like vomiting....sometimes you just have to ride them out together and get out the other side, no way to prevent or stop it mid-emotion.
I am wishing you the best of luck as it is very hard for those around others who are suffering (passive depression!) and I'm hoping Alan gets his groove back. TC

I'm Kim, by the way said...

My hubs suffers from depression too. Just good old, garden variety depression that reared its head in earnest about 3 years ago. I've done all the fun things and am coming to realize that *I* can't fix it. He's trying to figure out how he's going to make himself better, little by little, but it's been both frustrating and freeing to realize that I can be there for him, but I don't have any magic tools and I shouldn't expect myself to.
Best to you both.

Julia, IBSSG said...

Depression in a cancer sufferer is thoroughly understandable. The medications can cause problems, but more to the heart of things, Alan is dealing with the ultimate core questions of life, death, manhood, what his identity is now, how you will see him - a man or a burden; loved or not, or even perhaps how he can protect you from the worst of things.

While the above comments can be valuable in their contexts, I have a different suggestion.

Speak to Alan's oncology office. This is most assuredly NOT a new problem for them. (Perhaps during the next visit they can "spontaneously" ask him about depressive feelings without letting him know you intervened on his behalf, if you think he will be nettled by that.)

They can direct him to a cancer support group that both of you may be able to join together or perhaps there are separate groups available: one for the cancer patient and one for the loved ones/caretakers. If you can find a group, you can go even if he cannot make himself do it. Perhaps the members can begin telephoning him and become his supporters that way.

As an ex-RN of patients and friends with "c.a." (medical-talk), I've seen support groups do a whole world of good. Often, members stay in the group after they recover or right up until they expire. Either way, it links sufferers to friends that know better than any other people in the world what they are going through. Sorry to say, but he may open up to them in ways that he is unable to open up to you. (It may take a few visits, so don't let him cop-out after the first one where he'll likely try to sit silently in the corner.)

When my friend had an aggressive, fast-moving ca 2 years ago and there was no support group in his rural area, he organized one himself. He even secured the services of a volunteer counselor. It gave him a great deal of satisfaction and a goal during a time when his life was dribbling away cell by cell.

All the best, always.

Erin P said...

I dealt with depression in my ex-husband for years, then went into it myself during the custody battle. It's irrational and illogical, because you want to feel good, you tell yourself to feel good, but it just doesn't happen. Please take a look at this info on depression from the American Cancer society:
It is very common in cancer patients.

Also, the thing about medications is that they are all so different. If there's no improvement after about 4 weeks, you should really tell the doctor and just get him to try something else. I've seen a lot of cases where a person goes through several meds, and even combinations of meds, before they get relief. One thing I have learned from my experts, though, is that there are many many therapies and the general belief is that you just need to keep trying different ones until you find one that works.

Best of luck, and, as I remember telling my (now) husband through tears: it's not you. [He would ask "what can I do?" but I never knew what to tell him.] I think the best thing he did was to just listen and let me talk.

Erin P said...

The link to the ACS got cut off: just put in and search on depression.

Wuthering said...


I think with all good intentions Alan should be sad right now. I've been sick for a couple of years and there is nothing worse than having people around wishing you would snap out of it. I know you value your happiness. But, I think its unnatural to try and always be happy. I say let him be sad angry despondent. For you darling hold on during this healing process and know that all your efforts are so appreciated :)

Tonia said...

This is the hardest thing to deal with because unless Alan wants rid of the hole in the chest, you can't magic it away. My husband generally leaves me to deal with it quietly, on my own, whilst he takes on his shoulders the running of the house and child.
List. Once a week. Things that have raised a smile, lightened the cloud, tasted good, sounded great. Anything: no matter how tiny. Both of you. (I list mine on my blog when things get really bad - having it in a very public forum forces me to be more upbeat than I would normally).
It's really, really hard but it can be done. Good luck to you both.

JKK said...

Carried ache in my chest to work every day for months. Cried myself to sleep for weeks. Then one night I broke. I was ready to die (I even thunk the thought).

When there was literally nothing I could do to fix everything wrong - Love poured in.

I should've been on anti-deps but I wasn't. In one nite, I was at peace. Anguish free. I was older than you are now. I was not a believer before this. But my prayer that nite was simple & desperate: "God please."

I have never dealt w. a life-threatening diagnosis. I urge you to access any/all resources available to help him get thru this. Faith. Anti-deps. Counseling. Whatever it takes. Best to you & Alan.

Shaista said...

When I read this post it made me think of my mother, and the way she deals with me, this daughter of hers who has been ill forever it seems; and my Dad, who can't see anymore. Depression in one form or another is always lurking about, sneaky sneaky shadow of the mind. But my Mum is such a truly sunny, happy, true person that making her laugh and sing around the house has become the single most important thing to me :)
People like you and my Mum are essential angels, you really are!

Phoenix Rising said...

I love your blog. Absolutely. 100%.

I went through something a few years ago where the hole in my chest threatened to consume me. I couldn't describe it, except to say it felt like I was constantly forced to gulp oxygen in order to stay upright. If I kept my eyes SUPER WIDE OPEN they wouldn't tear up for reasons I wouldn't be able to verbalize.

I went to a counselor and was like, "seriously, what is going on? I'm the strong one. The independent one. The one who everyone praises how well I handle stress and worries and life's hurdles..." And I was told quite simply: YOU ARE SCARED.

I was able to get through it (roughly two years) with the help of a good therapist and some sweet prescription meds. I retrained my brain to think all the way through a situation - no matter how scared I was... so that I would be able to say "If this happens then I will do this...." all the way to the end. Somehow that worked for me. Seeing a scary, sad, unknown all the way to the end comforted me in a way I would never have thought. And, to be honest, more than half never even materialized....

MunkyBt said...

For me depression was/is like standing on flat earth, digging a hole beneath you. The hole starts out shallow, manageable - you could get yourself out of it easily with a little effort. But for some reason, you don't get out. You're comfortable there, so you just keep digging. The hole gets deeper until your head is no longer above the opening. You could still climb out - you'd have to try harder now, but you could still do it. But you don't. Somehow you've convinced yourself that it's safer to stay where you are. So, you keep digging. The hole grows deeper. Eventually you stop and you find yourself looking back up at the opening, which is now so far away that you can barely make out any daylight. That's what depression is like. You're in a deep dark hole, lost, alone and feeling completely hopeless. I eventually had to reach the realization that if I didn't start trying to climb my way out, I was going to die down there. In essence, I would have dug my own grave. So, I did it - baby steps at first. For me, this meant forcing myself to leave the house. My depression had led to my feeling agoraphobic, so even walking into the backyard took some effort, but I did it. Everyday I had to make the decision to do what made me uncomfortable - what I was afraid of. Whether it was going to a grocery store, or driving a car (another fear I had developed), or meeting someone new. I did it because I knew it would be good for me.

Everyone's version of depression is different, so maybe this won't be as helpful to you. Therapy helped me a little. I was also on prescription meds for many years, but they were really just a poorly constructed crutch, and in the end I found myself feeling depressed because I was still on them. Therapy gave me focus, but ultimately I had to work to fix myself. I kept a calendar for a while and everyday I would write one thing that made me smile, even if I hadn't smiled much that day. That helped.

Overall, I think you're on the right track. You're making the effort to get better, and that is the one thing that will help you the most. Also, laughter really is the best medicine. For me, it takes a little bit of that load off your shoulders every time you can really laugh at something, without it feeling forced.

wings4me1 said...

As a sufferer of depression, and I can honestly say that you and Allen need professional help. You will be glad that you did, depression can be as devastating as cancer.

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