I saw a post today about mental health and cancer survivors and realized yesterday was Mental Health Awareness Day. If you’ve spent any time at all reading my posts you have probably realized that mental health is a cause as near and dear to my heart as cancer. Since my treatment ended, I’ve been working hard to try to figure out how to improve the long-term physical side effects associated with it, as well as the mental ones.
You see cancer, whether “cured”/NED/in remission or not, is a chronic illness. It changes people deep below the visible scars and noticeable physical disabilities. I’d go as far as to argue that its mentally harder to handle cancer after treatment ends.
During treatment, it’s all a blur. It’s hard physically but mentally we don’t even have a chance to really comprehend what’s happening. Once treatment ends (for those of us fortunate enough to have that happen), it’s like sitting in a dark alley alone after being jumped and trying to figure out what the hell just happened…grateful to be alive but also completely overwhelmed with trying to sort it all out and get back on our feet. It’s a process, and it’s difficult and messy and scary and frustrating. Many survivors end up with PTSD, survivors guilt, depression, and/or anxiety.
That being said, I also talk a lot about being grateful in a way for my cancer experience because it has made me stronger emotionally. This is absolutely still true. But how?? Well, we can be thankful for the rain because it helps things grow, and also be sad that it ruined our plans for the beach. It is possible (and common) to feel contradictory emotions at the same time about the same thing.
I think one of the ways we can start to really heal, and help one another, is to accept and embrace that life isn’t black or white, good or bad, happy or sad. We don’t have to choose just one. Life is happy and depressing and joyous and stressful and scary and amazing all at once! And so are we.
Mental health matters, not just for cancer survivors but for everyone, and it’s ok to admit we are both struggling and succeeding. It’s ok to be proud and frustrated. It’s ok to accept and have compassion for others who have different struggles and still deserve that same compassion for our own.
I think it’s time we all stop forcing the division of or and start embracing the power of and.