Trigger Warning: Depression, End of life/Suicide, Trauma. If you feel in the least affected, please do not read this. And, if you need to, seek help.
I’ve gone through bouts of depression on and off throughout my life. I’m no stranger to this dark demon.
Spiralling down the rabbit hole
I didn’t really give it much thought when my mood started dropping over the past few months. And, if I had to be honest, it probably started in August already (if not before). This was only 3 months after my repeat ETV, which I had at the beginning of May and, recovery was slow going. The brain bleed I had during surgery had a negative impact and messed up my cognitive function. I felt hopeless. I was struggling. Unable to do what I normally could, left me feeling inadequate and fearful of not being able to hold down my job. I put in the extra effort and suffered in silence…yet again. Seeing an end in sight was pointless. I was back to being like a duck!
I had a hemithyroidectomy in August (removal of the right side of my thyroid). All went well but I had a new scar on my neck. I accepted it as best I could. I also recall at one point being hit hard by the reality of my Hydrocephalus diagnosis.
It caught me off guard.
Sitting one day and feeling extremely overwhelmed at the reality of facing further brain surgery, I felt myself lose it. I became fearful. I fought against the thought but it consumed me. I questioned God and asked why? Countless times, I have done this. I didn’t want to have to go through this again. I wondered if Alzheimer’s or Dementia would one day make its appearance as well and how I would cope if it did. It’s a known fact that the elderly are misdiagnosed with these two conditions while Hydrocephalus goes undiagnosed, wreaking havoc on their brain. I wondered if there was a link and if this was my inevitable future!
I desperately needed to see an end in sight and yet, I knew there isn’t one. All I can do in that regard is pray that I continue to have a “good” run with the condition as I have up till now. When I compare myself to most, which you shouldn’t do, I have had an easier time of it (I guess). But, the fact is, there’s no guarantee of that happening. It’s not about being positive or keeping the faith. It has nothing to do with what I believe or not. It’s a situation that leaves you feeling helpless to your core.
Surgery #3 (in 6 months)
I soon managed to “get over” all of it and move on with life as I returned to work. I had my post-op follow up consult with my Neurosurgeon. We discussed my MRI results and he showed me the issue with my spine. The decision was made to go ahead with a disc replacement, C5/6 because there was contact with my nerve root. The reason for my right sided numbness, pain and intermittent loss of feeling I had over the last few years. Something ignored by previous neurosurgeons.
Fast forward through my recovery. This is probably one of the worst surgeries I’ve had. I’d take brain surgery over spinal surgery any day. I guess the hard part was depending on my family to carry on with all the chores and responsibilities of running the house while I recover. While they have been and continue to help out, I hate relying on other people. And, the scar on my neck was now longer than before, adding to my already fragile state!
I’m still not able to do some things and a few days ago, the presence of the titanium cage in my back, started inflicting pain and making itself known in a BIG way.
The weight of it all
Over these past few weeks, I felt the burden weighing heavy on my shoulders – my recovery, not being able to do what I always do, stressing about our finances (impacted by all the surgeries), and even enduring the harsh stares from my dog because she’s been having to settle for a walk around the backyard, twice every morning. Her normal routine walk is a visit to the off leash dog park down the road where she can play with other dogs and have me throw her favourite ball. Thankfully, she’s more forgiving and continues to love me unconditionally.
The culmination of all these things are a recipe for mental health disaster. I felt all sorts of things I know I am not. And, even though I uttered the words daily; “I can’t do this. I can’t cope with my life…” I was the only one hearing it.
I’ll be honest, there are so many times where I’ve felt like life simply isn’t worth it. I have my reasons and don’t need to defend them.
Even my surgeries had me praying for death. Not my ETV surgery though, I went into that fully optimistic and thankful for a surgeon who took my concerns to heart. But, when I had the 2nd and 3rd operation, I prayed and negotiated with God. In my mind, it was quite simple and easy. All it required was a slip of the surgeons hand since both times they had to open up my neck. I “joked” about having my throat slit and how the surgeon would “hopefully” do a good job – wishful thinking on my part (in the moment). I considered the possibility of it backfiring, with me ending up paralysed, a chance I was prepared to take. I prayed even harder for death instead, and felt guilty because of the impact it would have on these surgeons and their lives. I felt selfish. That in itself was a struggle, knowing what I was asking.
A pivotal moment
Thinking about a younger cousin of mine who committed suicide a few years ago, I fell even further down the rabbit hole. Lingering and holding onto the memory of him. My mind replayed the day I received the news, I felt all the emotions, the disbelief and the incredible sadness of a life lost…so young. I recalled the sadness that surrounded my entire family and disbelief at the events that unfolded. Everyone questioning how and why, trying to make sense of it all. I personally wished I had been more in touch and regretted the way things ended for him. For a while I even imagined myself in that space with him, saving him from his inevitable fate. I wished things had been different…
In the present moment, I recalled crying most of the 8 hour trip and, wondered if people would grieve the loss of me in their life…
I found myself looking into assisted dying options. When a friend reached out later that same morning asking how I was, I shared that with her, tears streaming down my face. She strongly encouraged me to call my GP and research post-surgical depression. What I read made sense so, I made the appointment. Unfortunately, my GP started me on antidepressants that same day, and I felt a few of the negative side effects, a few days later. After a week, I called back complaining about the effects and was taken off of them. Thank God! I absolutely HATE taking antidepressants. They work for some but for me, they’re a definite NO NO!
Pushing through on my own is where I thrive.
Ironic, I know! I’ve had to make the most of all the shitty things in my life, this is no different. And, while I’m in this moment, life keeps throwing those same shitty things my way. No surprise there! They come in the form of trauma, bad memories and even more painful events. Work is challenging, to say the least, I have an upcoming exam this week, which is causing stress and Christmas isn’t too far away.
Life waits for no man or woman..!
My point and advice to you
People around you won’t always see the state you’re in. Some may even miss the cues or subtle cry for help. Asking is hard because let’s face it, no one wants to admit that they’re at the point of no return, or close to it. Also, it’s an uncomfortable topic most people tend to avoid. You fight to be strong. You deny the pain you’re in and ultimately, you either make it through or you succumb. Either way requires strength beyond your own understanding.
If you’re like me, good at putting up a facade and saying; “I’m fine” when you’re not, then they’ll be none the wiser.
Do what you need to, to feed your soul. Take time out and give yourself a hug. Take a long walk, soak in a bath or listen to some calming sounds. Do what makes you happy or gives you the most amount of peace. For me, I found the words of comfort from others hard to process or hear…when depression consumes you, it’s hard to hear or think straight. However, I’d like to believe that at some point, regardless, those words are actually planted within your soul. They grow inside of you and nourish your being, without you knowing. To all those who have offered support, words of encouragement and love – I thank you!
Trust is important
If you don’t feel like you can talk to just anyone, then reach out to someone you feel you can trust and who, in turn, genuinely cares about your well-being. Sometimes it’s not as easy because, it might be that, there’s something in your life you much rather would not want to share with others. I find this one challenging, to be quite honest. I personally found myself running through the list of people in my life I could potentially reach out to. And, being the over-thinker that I am, I even anticipated their reaction or advice. This stopped me. I didn’t want to be judged, seen as weak or told not to feel the way I was.
It’s your call to make…
Each day I’m striving for a better state…
For me right now. I’m actually stronger being off medication. I’ve acknowledged the state I’m currently in. I know what it’s about and I understand (now) why it’s happening. I know the level of care and patience I need and I’m allowing myself to ebb and flow with the tide. To the people who mean the most to me, I make a point of telling them that. Reminding myself: “There is no shame, in the way I’m feeling”, is probably key. Just posting this blog and being honest about it holds me to account in some ways. I remind myself that if I were to end my life, my kids won’t be financially taken care of because my life policy won’t pay out (stupid reason or not, it’s working). This is important to me. More importantly, the guilt of not knowing what would happen to my soul, is enough to keep me pushing through.
If you’re a caregiver/support person of someone who has just endured surgery, keep and eye on them and be aware of the signs to look out for. Be there for them, no pressure, no judgement, no expectation. Simply apply love, care and patience.
And, if you’re the person who needs to hear this; Remember: There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you feel depressed or fall down this rabbit hole. Love yourself enough to allow the process to be but, more importantly, ask for help if you need to.