Last week we learned about Jennifer and her incredible stage 3 breast cancer survival story. This time, she’s sharing her anxiety over deciding to stop taking her anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication.
There are many myths about cancer. One of biggest is the belief that it’s mostly genetic and beyond our control. But did you know that only 20% of cancers are inherited? That leaves 80% which are modifiable through the BIG Four: diet, body weight, exercise and stress management.
Here’s our interview with Jennifer.
Banxietyfree: Jennifer, what made you decide to come off your anti-anxiety and antidepressant medicine?
Jennifer: The decision to go off medication wasn’t easy. In fact, it was just as much of a roller-coaster as the mood swings that come with the mental health syndromes themselves.
I’ve been on and off these medications for over 20 years.
In the past, I had stopped medicating because I felt good…what I thought was normal.
Like many other sufferers, I thought the medicine was miraculous and I was cured. That was never the case and I fell right back down, and had to make a call to the doctor once something traumatic or stressful occurred in my life.
Just when I thought life couldn’t get any worse, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The diagnosis came at a time I was homeless. I had no income and was responsible for a child as well as a little Chihuahua who adopted me. I was physically sick and staring at death. This time I gave up on myself and wanted to give up on life. The depression got to be so much that I was committed in a short-stay behavior health facility.
During my stay, I learned about treatment and drug-resistant depression.
Banxietyfree: What were you told about drug-resistant depression?
Jennifer: I found out that in some cases, medication can be ineffective in treating the disorder. Even though I got better, after I was released, I just went back to the big mess that put me there in the first place. As time went on, my life appeared to get better. The cancer remitted but the depression lingered on. It made absolutely no sense. Even though I had stared down death, I felt even more stressed and anxious. The doctors tried mood stabilizers and it got even worse. I was never so frustrated in my entire life.
Then it happened.
I realized that I would never fully heal if I didn’t find another approach to eliminating the depressive state I was constantly in. I had to make major changes within myself. I started with cognitive behavior therapy. Just like anything good, it didn’t come easy. But, it did start to work with continual practice and patience with myself.
Next, I had to learn about forgiveness. I had to allow myself to let go of the emotional pain and turmoil that was hindering me all of these years. I’m still learning how to love and accept myself. Did I start by looking in the mirror every day and saying “I love you”?
Yes I did and it felt amazing.
As I keep working on forgiving and loving, the rest is starting to fall into place with little effort. I’m also practicing:
- Re-connecting with nature
- Taking more time out to appreciate the little things.
Negative thoughts and emotions still surface but being more aware of them and how to divert and release them in a healthy way has been more successful than any drug.
Banxietyfree: Do you think you will stay off the medications?
Jennifer: Only time will tell for sure. I’m in the early stages at this time and feel very confident in myself. That is something I’ve not felt in a very long time.
I am not advocating that anyone stop their medications as I did. I’ve had a good 10-12 years of psychotherapy along with medical treatment. I’ve educated myself about the alternative concepts of healing a long time ago. It was not until recently that I was comfortable enough to go through with decision to end the medications.
With any major life change, emotional and moral support is needed. I have a good circle that is there and watching for red flags.
Banxietyfree: Recent research has shown that women with breast cancer who shared their personal stories online feel less depressed and more positive about life. Besides sharing your thoughts and feelings through this interview, have you done anything else to share and receive support from others?
Jennifer: I joined a few breast cancer groups on Facebook. This was extremely helpful because I could be completely open about my feelings, while hearing from others who knew first-hand what it was like to battle cancer.
Sharing my thoughts, and hearing the story of others was very instrumental in my recovery because it eliminated a lot of the depression and anxiety that comes along with the cancer.
Banxietyfree: We believe that getting out in nature, physical activity and seeing the beauty around you can be an important anxiety management strategy. These factors can be especially important for reducing cancer risk. What’s your strategy?
Jennifer: I do light activities like taking a walk, whether just down the street; at the park; or on a trail, as well as spending time outdoors to meditate. These are just a few examples of my physical activities. Also, getting away from the everyday scenery, and going on trips to New York City, Philadelphia, the Zoo, or even just exploring a new area I’ve never been to before. I like to see new places and meet different people.
Banxietyfree: Do you think it’s made any difference?
Jennifer: Yes. Exercise, travel and connecting with nature has helped me to heal, and taught me to experience and appreciate the beauty of life with each day. I was always told that tomorrow is never promised. Therefore, I take full advantage of each moment like it’s my last.
Here’s a list of group pages and links I’m a part of. They’ve been extremely supportive and helpful from the time I was diagnosed to now. Some of the groups are private and require permission to join.
Here is the link to my personal writing page: Crooked Tales. This was very helpful for me as well in my battle with breast cancer. It allowed me to open myself up even more. Sometimes the darkness of illness can be harsh. Being able to write was very releasing to me.
I want your readers to know: You shouldn’t try to change medicines unless you’ve developed a plan with your doctor. But if you’ve already done that and are trying alternative ways to manage your anxiety, please share your experience. Comments welcomed!
Banxietyfree: Your story is inspiring to anyone who feels like giving up. It also shows that support groups, and physical activity can be just as important as drugs for survival. Your decision to spread your love and lessons to others speaks to your courage and continuing mission here on earth. It’s an honor to have you share your story with us.
If you have a similar story or just want to show your support, let us hear from you.