[Editors note: This post is about how to overcome the beginning symptoms of depression. If you are experiencing serious depression you should seek professional help. Please read my Disclaimer page.]
Sometimes leukemia can make us just stop. Shutdown. It is, after all, a potentially terminal disease and that can get a guy down once in awhile.
Despite a positive attitude and the good face we put on for our loved ones, some days Leuk gets into our psyche in an overpowering way.
That’s what happened to me recently. Depression was hanging around all day and climbing into bed with me each night. When she’s empowered by Leuk it’s hard to shake her off. But I found a way and I thought I’d share it with you.
The depression started with a feeling of lethargy. Things that had mattered to me just faded away. At first common, every day tasks became harder to do.
Then my writing got hit. I stopped writing altogether. Though it can be challenging at times, writing is part of me – part of who I am. This blog and another one I write went silent. I couldn’t seem to muster the mental strength to even think of an idea, let alone write about it.
Even worse, a novel I’ve been working on became impossible. I had already written a first draft. The story needed filling out and revising. This, for me, is the hardest work of writing. At that stage writing can be a love/hate experience. But I normally push on through and ultimately enjoy it. But gradually, insidiously, I lost interest. No, it was more than that, I was afraid to write. Well, it’s hard to explain, maybe fellow writers out there will understand.
If a simple blog post was a tough hill for me to climb, the mountain of a novel was impossible.
Depression is like Alice’s rabbit hole. If you let yourself, you’ll fall deeper and deeper into it. Not many know this, but I once had real serious depression before I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was the real stuff requiring therapy and meds. A dark time in my life.
I think it was that experience that helped me see the signs in this recent episode. This time I wasn’t completely in the hole but teetering on the edge. There’s a point, a brief moment, when I can catch myself and climb out of the rabbit hole. I can stop myself from going deeper. The lethargy and loss of confidence was the marker. The alarm was sounding and I knew I had to do something.
Then I remembered some advise I received not long after I found out about my leukemia. A woman I know had gone through breast cancer and beaten it. I asked her what she did, how she kept hope going. Her answer came fast and definite. “Have a goal. A long-term goal of something you want to accomplish.” She wasn’t talking about the goal of beating cancer. She meant a goal outside of the cancer. A life goal I’ve always wanted to accomplish.
It was the best advise I’ve ever had. I would only add one more thing: set short term goals as well.
My novel is my long-term goal. But it was being defeated. I figured my only way back was to make myself achieve very short term, I’m talking just one-day-at-a-time, goals. I promised myself I would do just one thing each day. The first was doing the dishes. Then soon I was doing a ‘honey-do’ project. I still wasn’t writing but I could feel my confidence returning.
Then sometime later, with some nudging from two of my readers, I began posting to my blogs again. I still haven’t gotten back to my novel but I feel it coming.
Last weekend I helped my son with some yard work. I was pulling weeds from what used to be a flowerbed when it hit me. I was actually enjoying it. Even more than just uprooting weeds, I was helping my son. I had a purpose. I was actually out there, outside of my head, and the depressive thoughts were gone.
I know my reader’s are at different stages in their fight with Leuk. Some, like me, can remain daily active, others have had to slow down their lives, and still others are bed-ridden. But each of us can find something, no matter how small, to keep us going. It might be pulling weeds or it might simply be giving a grandchild or other loved one an hour of our time.
Whether our goals are big or small, they give us a purpose, a reason for being. Victor Frankel, a jewish psychiatrist discovered this while surviving the hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a short, good read. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, I guess what this overly long post is trying to say is, don’t let Leuk make you forget who you are. Set realistic goals, both short and long-term. They will get him out of your head and keep you out of the rabbit hole.
Godspeed to all of you.