High strung, intense, a little worried. These are all words that have been used to describe me most of my life. But it was never a big deal. These tendencies never prevented me from enjoying life. But this, like many other things, changed after my melanoma diagnosis.
Coping with anxiety during my melanoma treatment
A prevalent side effect of Interferon, the drug I took as a part of my melanoma treatment, is depression. So, during my melanoma treatment I began speaking with a counselor and was prescribed an antidepressant for the first time.
When my melanoma treatment was over, I weaned off the antidepressant. The feelings of anxiety and depression came back.
I was overcome with worry. Paralyzed, even. Long after the melanoma treatment side effects subsided, I could not shake the random, unspecified worry, that constant feeling of nervousness.
I couldn't sleep because I couldn't quiet my mind. I didn't want to go out because sitting in the car was too much stillness, and stillness meant I had the opportunity to think, which would inevitably lead to tears.
Yeah, I know. I had cancer, and that is something to worry about. But the worry I was experiencing was mostly unrelated to cancer.
Feeling anxious at times is normal. Prolonged (6 months or longer), uncontrollable, and unreasonable anxiety however, is not.
This was the beginning of a terrible cycle. The antidepressant would do its job, so I would think I no longer needed it and would wean myself off it. Rinse and repeat for several years.
Seeking help with anxiety after cancer treatment
When my husband and I decided to have children, I weaned myself off my medication for the last time. I did not want to be on any medication during pregnancy.
I became pregnant with our daughter Mallory as we were in the process of moving to Alaska for my husband's job. About 10 weeks into my pregnancy, things started to pile up. All of my usual anxiety symptoms paired with moving across the world, no friends, no family, morning sickness, living in a hotel, hormones -- it was just too much.
I can remember the exact moment I realized it was time to make some changes. I was driving when I heard a jet flying over me. Here is what I thought. Ready? "What if that plane is here to attack us? I'm pregnant. It's snowy. I don't have a coat. I'm wearing slippery flats. I'm going to die! " It feels funny to type that (and actually makes me seem straight up paranoid), but the panic that I felt in that moment was so real. I realized I needed help. This time, for good.
Without hesitation, my doctor put me put me back on the antidepressant and hooked me up with a local counselor.
"You cannot be a good mother or wife if you are not taking care of yourself," she said.
I needed to hear that coping with anxiety and taking care of myself was no longer just about me.
Antidepressants aren't for everyone, obviously. For some, it amplifies their symptoms, for others it makes them feel numb, but for me; medication just helps me feel normal. My medication doesn't make me a ray of sunshine. They make me me again. High strung, intense, a little worried me.
I still have bad days, where I'm nervous for no apparent reason. But those days aren't very frequent. I take my medication, exercise and still see a counselor regularly. I really value the opportunity to speak honestly about anxiety and learn.
I'm still learning. I don't have this all figured out. But I'm trying.
To learn more about managing depression or about resources available to those struggling with depression, ask to speak with your social work counselor or contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195.
Amanda Woodward now lives in Alaska with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Read more about her on her blog.