Don’t Be Like Me. Get Help!


I’ve been there, friend. I’ve lived with the “why-do-I-even-have-to-get-out-of-bed-today” mornings that pressed me into the mattress and made the down comforter feel like a lead blanket.

Sleep seemed like the perfect alternative to facing a day filled with rejection and crushed hopes and the quotidian routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat.

My guilt had guilt babies. Pedro had experienced a miraculous recovery from cancer, and instead of rejoicing, all I wanted to do was sleep.

I felt traumatized without the trauma. The hospital co-pays and credit card bills stretched like an endless river that we would never find the headwaters of (even with excellent insurance, travel expenses, hotel rooms and food away from home all add up).

Because of the debt, I took on a second job—and discovered that despite the brainless nature of the work, the supervisor and other employees made me feel needed and appreciated. Which made me even more bleak—because I’d invested so much of my life and time into my teaching job that to no longer teach at the school I loved seemed unthinkable.

I lost my resiliency. Every little criticism (and most of them were probably constructive) crushed me for days. If the dog didn’t come when I called her, I felt unreasonably angry.

My husband suffered from my moodiness. My kids suffered. And their suffering only made me angrier at myself. Which made me feel more hopeless.

And then the mysterious pain hit—usually accompanied by a low-grade fever. I couldn’t take a deep breath without extreme pain—and so I stopped breathing deeply. The pain would last anywhere from two to six weeks—and no doctor could figure out what it was or what caused it. My back usually looked swollen, and so I’d try laying on ice packs. They helped. A little. I couldn’t taste food (nor did I want to eat very much, because food hurt my stomach), and life lost its flavor.

Eventually, the band of pain would loosen (it wasn’t a heart attack, I went to the ER several times) and life would slowly return to normal. But the fear of the pain always lingered. I stopped working my second job. I read books on depression (they helped). I should have gone into counseling, because I suspect now that the physical pain was my body’s way of dealing with stress and emotional upheaval.

Somewhere during my year of caregiving, I lost the ability to process emotions in a healthy way, and this is how my body coped—long after the caregiving journey had ended. If I had sought emotional help earlier on, maybe I wouldn’t have had to endure pain for so long.

I haven’t had the pain for one year and eight months now. And I hope it never returns. God gave me a one-year sabbatical two years ago, and the rest (if you can call moving and remodeling a house over a five-month period ‘rest’) from the regular has helped immensely.

God created us to feel—to be fully alive. I think my physical symptoms were a warning light on my dashboard. Often we don’t associate the physical with the emotional or mental, but maybe we should. Our physical aches and pains might mask our emotional aches and pains. Medicating the former will do nothing to heal the latter.

Don’t be like me. Get help! No one should suffer physical pain or depression or live in a state of emotional bleakness. Click To Tweet

If a warning light comes on in your car, you don’t ignore it (unless you want to ruin your vehicle)—you take your vehicle to a mechanic to get it fixed.

If a warning light comes on in your life, don’t ignore it. Take yourself to a ‘mechanic’ (counselor/psychiatrist/psychologist/treatment center) as soon as possible. (click to tweet)

Don’t wait until you’ve slid so far down in the pit of depression that life looks hopeless. You matter. You are infinitely valuable. You are irreplaceable. You have a job that only you can do. And while you can’t see it or feel it, you are loved beyond measure.

(I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant and other writers for Not So (Small) Stories.  In fact, this story seems pretty big to me, because no one likes to talk about their mental health and what they didn’t do but should have done.  I hope that my experience will allow you to take a look at your life and check for warning lights).

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I love this post. Beautiful writing, Mama! I’m so glad you haven’t had The Pain in almost two years. 😀
    Laura Melchor recently posted…Why I Write for Children and Young AdultsMy Profile

  • Amy

    Beautifully written. My friend whose husband recovered, very unexpectedly, from cancer experienced the same thing AFTER he was better. I would guess this isn’t unusual. It helps me to read this as I think about the future with my own husband. Thanks you for sharing your heart on this matter.

    • Oh, Amy! Share our blog with your friend :). That’s what we’re all about–the shock of finding yourself depressed and stressed DESPITE the miracles and recoveries! We figured that since the two of us had experienced it (sort of like PTSD), there must be others out there who felt the same way. We want them to know that they’re NOT alone (or weird or strange or ungrateful).

  • Anita, this was an amazing journey you just took me through. I, too, have experienced health problems in another form for many years. The systematic stress greatly contributed to the rapid decline in my autoimmune disorder. It pains me to say that it took awhile for me to seek proper help for the mental as well as the physical ailments – not that I realized how truly bad it really was.

    Thank you for sharing. I just love your writing!
    Jennifer Frisbie recently posted…When life fails to glisten: the joy of the LordMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you’ve found help! It’s only in retrospect that I see what I should have done. I wish that someone would have told me. I know it’s not an easy thing to say to a friend, “Hey, I think you need to see a counselor,” but maybe I would have been spared years of pain. Thank you for your encouraging words–they mean a lot to me.

  • It’s interesting how our body reacts to our mind. I went through a very severe depressive episode some years ago, and it took a toll on my body as well. Our lives are in a constant flux…

    I’m glad that you’ve had reprieve from your pain. Thanks for sharing your struggle!
    Bryana recently posted…tasting our memories.My Profile

    • There’s a fascinating connection, to be sure. I’ve learned to relax and listen more–hopefully, it helps prevent The Pain from ever returning!

  • This is just so very important. So often we can recognize these symptoms in others – sometimes easily. But ourselves? We’re determined to get through things, to persevere and to triumph. We keep telling ourselves that we can push for just “one more day”. We each need someone to be brave enough to nudge us toward help! And we need to choose to be smart enough to listen!
    Carol Bovee recently posted…Zesty Egg BakeMy Profile

    • True–I often wonder if someone would have told me that I need help, if I would have listened or laughed.

  • I have a good friend who wound up really, really sick for over a year and almost died. When he miraculously recovered, he went to therapy for PTSD. And had a really hard time, developed symptoms of OCD and stuff. Sickness IS trauma, especially when it is so severe and long-term. I think it is normal to have this sort of reaction.

    So glad you’re feeling better.
    Beth recently posted…Seed, seed, seedMy Profile

    • Thank you :). It’s amazing how often people don’t get that concept–that sickness is trauma (for both the sick and the caregiver).

  • Wow, thanks for your honesty and willingness to be open about this! I think the church especially needs to be more open about depression and mental illness than it has traditionally been. Way to be brave!
    Rachel Haltiwanger recently posted…Prayer? There’s an app for that.My Profile

  • You are so right, we need to learn to spot the signs but I think more we need to learn to admit when we have a problem, and that comes from those of us who have suffered opening up about it as you have here, so thank you.

    Thank you also for linking up with my mental health linkup the more of us who do the more chance there are for others to find some solace and get the help they need.
    Ashley Beolens recently posted…My DepressionMy Profile

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