Toggling between grief, depression, and happiness

***Trigger Warning***

I’ve been toggling between being in a very dark place and remaining in the moment lately. There have been many reasons to feel excited, happy, and like I’m truly using my talent the past few weeks.

· Began acting classes at the Alliance Theatre and faced my fear of chemo brain affecting my ability to memorize lines again.

·  My latest blog piece on WebMD was featured on their main page for 1 ½ days earlier this week.

·  I was in a fashion show for Macy’s in Buford, GA with some other cancer survivors/patients.

·  Met up with a cancer friend from the Elephants and Tea community who was in town this week.

So why am I still struggling to keep the darkness at bay?

I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past. I’ve battled depression since high school. I acknowledge there is scary darkness within and work hard to push those thoughts away. So far, my sheer will, and stubbornness have kept me from stepping off the ledge. I’m a huge proponent of therapy. I’ve been in therapy off and on for years. My current therapist has helped me push through some fear, shame, and insecurities that have been holding me back, so why do I still feel these breakthroughs and accomplishments are fleeting?

I think grief + depression isn’t talked about enough. There are so many layers of both. One minute you think you’re handling things pretty well and even feel some joy and like a weight has been lifted. In the next moment, you’re in a puddle of tears and struggling to get out of bed and face the day. The palpable grief of loss and the overwhelming feeling of depression continuously seek to suffocate and crush me. I often question the point of my life, even when things are going well.

September and October are particularly difficult months for me due to major losses and tragedies that have happened. They throw me down the rabbit hole of grief and depression.

·  The 6-year anniversary of the cancer call was September 14, which changed my life forever.

·  The anniversary of a personal tragedy is this month.

·  Mourning yet more friends who have died from stage iv cancer.

·   I’ve been medically induced into menopause officially four years now.

Almost every speaker at a cancer conference or any conference, especially when it’s a woman speaking, always talks of how their husband and kids keep them going, etc. Well, I have neither, so what is the point of me pushing through the struggles in my life? I don’t have a legacy to pass down. The items I’ve saved and treasured since I was a child through college mean nothing to everyone but me.

I get ticked off when I mention this to people who have a spouse and kids and they say no one cares about the sentimental things and to just toss them. I think many miss the point. To me, it is the story that I want to share with every picture or sentimental item because it’s about my life. I’m an only child. I don’t have nieces or nephews. The realization that my name and memories end with me is a continuous gut punch.

I still don’t physically recognize myself. I consistently struggle with this unnatural chemo-induced curly hair that has made a comeback thanks to more hair falling out due to a certain hair product reaction. I’ve been struggling with my weight since my mid-30’s thanks to all the different antidepressants, hormone changes, and now induced menopause. Then add all the steroids from chemo and the many, many surgeries and steroids post-treatment, no wonder I’m presently the size of a southern whale!

When I make the statement the right man for me doesn’t exist in this life, it makes others uncomfortable. I know it would be different if I fit into a category, but I’m deemed “too different” by the bulk of men. Black and white people have said this basically my whole life.

I continue to deal with chronic pain, weight gain, unnaturally curly hair, soul-crushing loss of what can never be, and what I didn’t know I wanted until all my lady parts were removed along with zero sex drive. Existing in this Black skin, in this country, and in this body, adds an even deeper layer of grief and depression that I don’t have the energy to address at the moment.

I honestly don’t know why I keep going to therapy. I suppose it’s my natural resilience to keep pushing forward. Still, the enormity of these permanent and unwanted changes literally sucks my breath away.

And now I’m going to wake my cat Baby Natey (Nathan Edgar) up because I need a hug.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

You Never Forget The Cancer Call

I’ve been struggling with writing lately. It’s not because I have nothing to say or am uninspired. It’s because I have way too much to say and struggling to get my thoughts written down in a cohesive way. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to write something awful, yet I need to release some of what has been on my mind lately.

My six-year anniversary of getting the cancer call was on Tuesday, September 14th. I woke up that morning with mixed emotions. It’s one of those memories that will never fade. The flashbacks are clear and packed with emotion. I was working at iHeart Media sitting in my cubicle on 9/14/15. I’d had the biopsy at 4pm on 9/11/15 which fell on Friday that year and was told it would take 48-72 hours to receive the results. I’m always aware of the time because of all my years working in media and making sure the commercials were the correct spot length. I remember looking at my phone when it rang at 3:05pm and not recognizing the number but knowing in my gut to answer.

“Megan-Claire, you have Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. We don’t know the stage yet. You need to get a pen and paper and take some notes because time is of the essence.”

The entire trajectory of my life changed in an instant. Yes, I’m still alive and “survived,”, but many other warriors I’ve crossed paths with during these six years have died. Why am I still here and they aren’t? They had husbands or wives and children. I don’t. Survivor’s guilt is real. It’s important for people to not negate these feelings because the guilt is just as crushing as the loss of friends. 

I miss them.

I think of their families.

I wish I could’ve taken their place.

So yes, I’m still here but not physically or mentally the same. I’m chronically ill thanks to fibromyalgia, back pain, and neuropathy. I’m in pain every second of every damn day. Some days are manageable and other days it’s off the charts. I literally look like a different person (chemo curls are back) in a body I don’t recognize at all. 

Being naturally resilient is a blessing and a curse. Even when I don’t want to show up for myself I somehow always manage to push up and just do it. I’m fully immersed within the cancer space. There are days where I feel passionate about my advocacy and days where I am utterly drained. I have to continuously remind myself that it’s okay to put myself first and can say no to various requests of my time. That doesn’t mean I am selfish or don’t care. That is self-care.

For the first time in six years, I did not completely wallow on that day. You see, cancer cannot take away the essence of me, you or anyone. Ever. The one constant that brings me pure joy is the arts, specifically the theatre. So, I went to see a musical with another theatre friend that evening. It was the first time I had done something that literally breathed life into me. I fully enjoyed myself and felt the familiar feeling of walking into a theatre and feeling like I was home. It was an evening that cancer could not touch.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

A True White Ally

I received You Are Your Best Thing: An Anthology edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown and card from my lovely, supportive, and compassionate friend Shannon earlier this week. The Black authors who contributed to this anthology are extraordinary and so raw in sharing their experiences of being Black in this society. It has taken almost the entire week before I had the right headspace to begin reading it.

I feel an avalanche of emotions topple over me after reading the introduction and the first four stories. My head is spinning, tears drying, and heart is still pounding.

I must thank Shannon for sending this to me because it is not something I would’ve bought on my own. To be honest, seeing Brené Brown’s name on it made me hesitant to even open it at first. Once I read the introduction, I appreciated that Brené acknowledged that some Black people would feel this way and she and Tarana addressed the reason for this collaboration and both explained the dynamics of their friendship.

The fact is, Shannon reads my blog, my social media posts, and takes time to check on me and really talk to me about racism and how she’s worked toward acknowledging her own white privilege. She’s heard the brokenness in my voice, has seen the pain and exhaustion on my face, and continues to reassure me that she IS a safe white ally and genuine friend.

She knew I needed a different kind of support and keenly aware that she should not be that person for obvious reasons. I’ve expressed countless times through conversations and through my writing that I don’t have many Black friends and have always struggled with accepting my own Blackness and experiences. It’s what prompted the blog piece I wrote called Mixed Fragility last year. Much of my existence has been where I am the only Black person in the room, in the company, at the table or on the stage.

2020 was a pivotal year for me because it’s the first time I truly began to be afraid to drive alone, live alone, go into the store alone. I also felt a newfound sense of rage and brokenness that differs from all my previous feelings and entered a period of wanting to rise up and express the hurt and confusion I continuously feel for being in this skin.  

I’m about to make another cup of chai tea and read a few more chapters because this is the first time I can honestly fully relate to parts of these Black experiences shared. These Black authors are exceptional, and I can feel a tender pull of togetherness and understanding from their words. I used to think I was the only one who felt such rage, self-hate, and shame.

Through action and from a place of respect, Shannon let me know that she stands firmly by my side as not only a white ally and anti-racist, but also as a genuine friend.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Afraid of Experiencing Joy

Am I afraid of experiencing joy? Yesterday, I was listening to the podcast Small Doses by the exceptionally brilliant and talented comedian, actress, author, and businesswoman Amanda Seales. Her guest on this particular episode was Layla F. Saad, the author of Me and White Supremacy. When Layla was talking about her experiences as a black Muslim woman raised in the UK, she struck a painful chord in me when discussing the fear of joy. It’s something I have thought about over the years but never fully acknowledged within myself.

After cancer, the expectation by friends, family, coworkers, and even some other cancer survivors are to feel joy and happiness that you “made it” to the survivorship stage. I don’t feel joyful about being in this stage because I’m in more physical pain than I was during active treatment. I’ve tried so many medications to try and help manage the fibromyalgia, neuropathy and back pain, but none have brought any real relief.

How do I embrace joy when just breathing can cause ripples of pain throughout my entire body?

How do I embrace joy when getting out of bed causes me to cry out in pain and hold onto my cane for support?

How do I embrace joy when I don’t have a family of my own to live for?

As I struggle to navigate my way through the thick clouds of despair, frustration, anger, resentment, and pure rage, I do have fleeting moments where I’ve experienced joy. That’s the issue. The longest period where I experienced pure, full on joy was during my recent adventure in Zadar, Croatia where I met the amazing Ancora.ai team for a bit of business and tons of fun and team bonding. I experienced so many levels of joy that I was almost in shock by how light and happy I felt. Is this what life is supposed to be like?

When I look at pictures from that trip, I almost didn’t recognize my face because it was literally glowing from the joy I was feeling. There were no filters or spotlight used. I had not realized how weighed down I had become from dealing with

battling racism my entire life

oppression and microaggressions my entire professional career

feeling like I don’t belong anywhere

fighting to have my symptoms taken seriously by doctors

the reality that racism seeps deep within healthcare and certain Facebook cancer groups

not being able to fully be myself and be accepted

and

not knowing how to be joyful long-term.

Yes, I was scared to travel to Croatia by myself but also knew I had to do it. I needed to get away from the United States and see if I’d feel the same oppressive weight over there that I do here. I wasn’t followed in any stores. I wasn’t looked at suspiciously. In fact, some of the local people didn’t automatically know that I was an American. The waiters I met were welcoming and hilarious. I never felt pressured to hurry or make a rash decision. The entire Ancora.ai team were so lovely, compassionate, hilarious, caring, and brilliant. I didn’t have to compartmentalize any racist comments or feelings of being undermined in order to make it through the day. I could just be full on Megs/Megsie/Meggie/Megan-Claire without judgment. My laughter and sheer joy were real and not faked. I didn’t have to wear a mask. Is this what joy feels like on a consistent basis?

Unfortunately, as soon as I landed back in Atlanta, GA, I felt the weight of oppression, microaggressions, fear of police, and felt suspicious eyes on me. So, once again, my joy was fleeting. In fact, the joy in Croatia seemed almost too good to be true.

Maybe that’s why I’m afraid to experience joy long-term because I’ve never known life without having to deal with hurt, pain, despair, fear, frustration, stress, and rage. Yet, I have the right to experience joy more than once every blue moon.

I need joy.

I crave joy.

I deserve joy.

Damn it; I’m going to find some joy!!!

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie