You know how the saying goes about what to do when life gives you lemons…but what about when the lemons are being hurled at you at major league pitcher speed, and you have no bat or glove? When you are already so bruised and battered that you just don’t think you can take. One. More. Thing?
I talk about cancer a lot because it’s what I know and have lived as a caregiver for quite a while. There’s another disease that has been bulldozing its way through my life as well, but it’s the secret one that I haven’t discussed with too many because I’m afraid of bringing it out in the light of day. It is one that is much more difficult to broach; one that unfortunately, instead of motivating folks to hold 10Ks, wear wristbands or colored ribbons, and change their Facebook status to “Fight ——“, it causes them to retreat, whisper, or pretend it’s not there. We all continually hear about the problem, yet there is such a stigma attached to it because everyone doesn’t agree on the diagnosis or the cause. There is a lot of blame thrown around.
I’ve wrestled with bringing this up for a while for all the usual reasons: fear of embarrassment for myself, fear of embarrassment for the victim, fear of making it more real, fear of well, I guess just fear. But, as I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it and the oh so helpless feelings it brings forth in me, I decided to confront MY fears, and write. If more of us stand up, speak out, and face our fears, maybe it will help others; there is nothing worse than trying to deal with these complex issues by yourself while alone and afraid. I’m talking about mental health and addiction.
Yes, I said it. Someone in MY family, a so-called “good family” is fighting drug addiction and depression every single day. Since I am dealing with the cancer thing and the addiction thing at the same time with different family members, it is easy for me to compare the two and see the parallels that I’m not sure are always evident. They are both SCARY and life-threatening. Both change lives completely and irreversibly. No matter how much one tries to ignore them, they demand attention. People treat you differently once you are diagnosed with cancer or a mental health issue. The “cure” for either is usually very difficult, can’t be guaranteed, can be controversial, and is very expensive. Another commonality is the fact that no matter how many days, months, or years one is cured or in remission, the disease is constantly lurking right over your shoulder. Drop your guard for too long….it will have you in its viselike grip once again.
I ask, “Why?” all the time and have yet to find an answer. Unfair is a word that comes to mind but doesn’t do these monsters justice. Unfair is for a bad call at a ballgame or somehow ending up with the smallest piece of pie. “Why?”
Being afraid to discuss addiction is one of the worst things about this disease. It’s also complicated (what isn’t?). In our case, it’s not just addiction but depression as well. And if you are one of those people who think that either of these things do not qualify as diseases, you might as well just stop reading. Unbelievably and quite unfortunately, there are still those that believe that addictions and mental illnesses are “all in one’s head” and can be overcome just by being tough and strong. So, can my husband stop his cancers by being tough and strong? It’s not that simple.
It does take a huge amount of mental strength to overcome addiction and depression, but it also takes medical help. A few days in rehab won’t do it, and that’s what most insurance companies will pay for, so for all but the very lucky or very rich, it’s in and out of short term acute care facilities for months or years. This takes a huge toll on the patient and their loved ones. We have been able to pay for longer term care by borrowing and dipping into savings across our entire extended family; however, each day seems to bring a new challenge, and each fresh start seems to lead to the same inevitable end. Patience and options for us are almost nonexistent at this point. I can’t tell you how painful the process has been for us. It weighs me down sometimes, so that I feel as if I’m going to drown.
If you are struggling with a similar issue or know someone who is, my heart breaks for you. I have no advice other than to continue to walk that fine line of loving without enabling, having faith without being blind, and trying to take care of yourself. I spend a lot of time talking myself out of paralysis because that’s what my body and mind wants to do when it has had too much. It’s the little things over which you have control. That’s why I write, go for walks, garden, have a dog, meditate, use essential oils…..anything I can to keep myself sane. I’m not sure if it’s working, but I keep going and believing that a cure WILL be found for my precious loved ones. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time, never give up.