In fact without realising in advance, I had an appointment to see my psychologist on World Mental Health day. That’s nice.
My mental health is ok. It’s not great but it’s ok.
Some days I want to hang out with people, taking my mind off things and creating fun memories. Other times I just want time to myself. I need to lock myself in my room, not interact with anyone and get my head in order. On those days, any human interaction leaves me feeling shaky and drained.
I struggle with how I look. I struggle with fitting back into my old life. I struggle with knowing what I want. I struggle with finding meaning to life. I struggle with finding my purpose. I struggle with feeling empty. I struggle with people’s well-meaning advice giving, which makes me think I should be doing what they tell me to as opposed to what I actually want to do. I struggle with thinking about the future. I struggle with thinking about the past. I struggle with the fact I’m not well enough to do everything I used to. I struggle with how to say I can’t do something because I’m just not up to it.
That last couple can be linked to something I’ve learned about lately called ‘spoon theory’. No, that’s not an alternative to string theory, I haven’t become a physicist. The idea is that people with chronic illness have a limited number of ‘spoons’ that are used up by different activities throughout the day. Once those spoons are used all used, we just need to crash and recover. I’ve always been famous for using up my spoons and somehow fabricating more from thin air. But my dealer for my additional stash appears to have gone on holiday or got sloppy and was incarcerated or something. I don’t know. But I do know that now I’ve been left with just a regular set and I am struggling to work out how to assign them. And how to explain when they’re used up and I need to disappear for a while.
So when I’m using one of my spoons, I’m fine. I’ve got energy, I’m able to stay out, I’m able to do things fine. When all spoons are depleted, I crash. I think people found his hard to understand during chemo because the only times I would see people would be when I was good. So they couldn’t really understand how bad it was the rest of the time. It’s the same now. Work takes up most of my spoons, which leaves me no social life, which isn’t good for my mental health so… I don’t know, I’m a little lost really.
Anyway, I think everyone would benefit from therapy, but I appreciate that not everyone can afford it (mine currently is on the NHS and held in the cancer centre, an opportunity I am very grateful for). But there are other resources… I use the Headspace app every day, and I am always reading something about psychology. I’m learning to give myself the down-time I need, though it’s something I find hard and I am working on.
If I say I’m not feeling up to doing something, please don’t tell me I’m ‘getting old’ or push me to tell you what it is I’m doing that means I can’t make it (don’t make me say that I’m choosing to do nothing, though I feel like I should be able to say so without shame) and please don’t take it personally if I say I can’t come to something or if I cancel. I do worry that people will forget about me or stop inviting me to things but I’m still here! Still love you all.
Also all those things I mentioned that I’m struggling with, that doesn’t mean I am struggling. I’m not feeling excessively down, I don’t need cheering up, I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I’m just sorting a few things out in my mind. On any day, any one of us can be met with a whole barrage of thoughts and feelings. Some days I’m really happy, some days I’m sad. That’s life. I’m not struggling any more than the next person.
Regardless of a cancer diagnosis, I think it’s quite common when you hit 30 that you have a bit of an existential crisis. No longer making your way in your 20s, marked by a series of trials and errors, you’re expected to have your life together a bit more. Some of us do, some don’t. But does anyone really? What does that even mean and does it matter? I’ve heard friends say that they have grown up with an idea of where they want to be at 30 and they’re now stressing out that they won’t make it – marriage, kids, white picket fence in the suburbs… I know people who won’t leave bad relationships because 30 is too old to start a new one. To me that just sounds insane. I suppose I’ve never subscribed to society’s obsession with marriage and kids, but still. Things change. Priorities change. I’m not going to hold myself ransom to a version of myself I once thought I was or might be.
So on World Mental Health day, give yourself a break. You might not be where or what you thought you would be, and that’s ok. You’re where you are, enjoy it. Or you might be exactly where you think you should be, but you still have days where you struggle with things. I think a big part of life is learning to be happy with wherever we are, and make steps towards creating a life that works for us.
I’m exactly where I want to be right now, purely by nature of me being here.
4 Comments Add yours
Well written, Jen and that’s exactly how it is. Day at a time is fine.
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Very thoughtful and full of insight, Jen!
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Exactly what I needed to read. And I agree wholeheartedly. With or without a cancer diagnosis and treatment to face that’s some pretty solid advice regarding mental health and wellbeing. And I totally get the spoon thing.
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Ah thank you! I’m glad to hear it resonated with you! Yeah the spoon theory thing explains it so well!