*Sage, Sherpa, or Struggler

It’s the “Leadership Voice” you teach by. Sage, Sherpa, Struggler. Or even the way you live your life.

The know-it-all Sage, living at the top of the mountain. People come to him, and seek him out for advice and vision. He’s been there, and he’s figured it all out. This guy is not a bad guy, necessarily. He’s got the answers.

The Sherpa, who’s figured out some Life Hacks and wants to lead you to the top of the mountain, using his footsteps for you to walk in. He’s walked this way before, but he’s still going to walk it again, with you.

Then, there’s me, and maybe you. The Struggler who is also trying to get to the top for answers, and is pushing and pulling just the same as you are, no clear answers in sight, but we’ll figure this out together.

It’s National Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s the time of year set aside to push away the stigma and cry out to the world to stop calling us crazy. It’s the push to End the Stigma for the rest of the year, and a great way to do this is to tell your story, and talk…Talk…TALK about mental illness.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with Rectal Cancer, stage II-B. It had broken through the wall, but hadn’t gone to another organ yet. I had a “simple” surgery on Friday, before they realized the tumor was outside the rectum, then I had a full abdominal surgery with an incision from pelvic to sternum, on Monday. A week and a half later I had another full abdominal surgery because of complications. I went into a tail-spin and mentally checked out. I was told it wasn’t my fault, that two big surgeries that close together caused major chemical imbalances in the body, including the brain. They put me on an anti-depressant and and anti-anxiety, and miraculously, two days later I was almost back to normal. I went on to have chemo and radiation and at least a dozen more surgeries due to more complications.

Now, nine and a half years later, I’m still on anti-depressants and an anti-anxiety medication, plus a ton of pain pills, as the radiation messed up my tissue so badly, it won’t heal after the dozen or so other surgeries.

I realized long ago that my life is now split into two parts: BC and AC – Before Cancer and After Cancer. Today, though, I realized that BC doesn’t even seem like my life anymore. It seems like it happened to someone else, maybe a novel I read, or, more likely a movie I saw, since my concentration is shot now. Chemo? Radiation? anesthesia? Who knows.

Do you ever feel that way? Like the person you were before never really existed? Like the happy person your friends and family say you used to be is really something they made up to make you feel better? It’s hard dealing with mental illness day in and day out, with no visible relief in sight. You must have Faith to live this way!

I don’t necessarily mean Spiritual Faith, though that does help. I mean Faith that what the people around you are saying is true, that it doesn’t last forever, and there is a light around the corner, or through the fog. You have to Trust that what you remember from your past, the smiles and laughter, the sun on your face, and the fun you used to have, is not only true, but that those memories are yours, and those feelings will return.

Or maybe you’re stuck in a memory that was the best of your life, and you can’t believe that anything this messed up world has left to give you could possibly top that experience. Let me tell you, this world is crazy, and often feels out of control, but there is so much out there to be discovered. Each experience is different, and you’ll never recapture the joy of the past, but if you give yourself the chance, you’ll capture the future, and who knows what that future has in store for you!

It’s hard,living with mental illness, but you need to find that fine line of living and dying, because if we aren’t putting ourselves out there every day (well, as often as we can, at least), we are missing out on so much living.

What are some things you could do, instead of sleeping your life away, whether in bed or in front of the TV, or in the bottle…?

I love to create things. Paint, draw, write, craft. I don’t have to tell you how hard it is to accomplish any of that on any given day. I try, but sometimes my fingers are not in the mood to create, or more likely, my brain is not in the mood to concentrate, but amazingly, getting lost in creating can do wonders for the mood. You get to turn off your thoughts and just let your mind fly free of worry, stress, or fear.

I know it’s hard to break that crust of “I can’t today”. One thing I tried the other day was to plan to paint. Did I have everything I needed? I didn’t, so I needed a day to get myself together enough to get out of the house and buy the paint colors I needed. The next day, I sat at the canvas…for five minutes? Two minutes? Today I started painting the background. Tomorrow I hope to finish. Baby Steps.

Baby steps…makes me think of the old 90s movie, “What About Bob?”, with Bill Murray playing a very clingy, frightened patient, Bob, to Richard Dreyfus’ psychiatrist who tries to go on vacation…without Bob. I’m sure it’s still available somewhere. You should try to find it and watch it this weekend. Comic relief can get the Dopamine and Oxytocin flowing, which are great hormones for Depression.

So, what have we learned today? Just because we don’t feel like the happy person in the photos doesn’t mean we aren’t. How can we fight to get back to that person? Talk with your doctor. Eat well. Get enough sleep, but not too much. Try to do something every day outside of your depressed scope of activities. Stay in contact with people as much as possible.

It’s hard. I know.