Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Undercover Depression

I recently met a man at a party. He was very funny and outgoing. It was obvious that the people around him interacted often with him and were very fond of him. He certainly added to the level of fun that was happening. We spent a little one on one time together after that, and he ended up telling me that I would probably be surprised to know that he struggles with depression. I told him I was indeed surprised, but after some thought I wasn’t surprised at all. My response was also that he would probably be surprised to know that I struggle with depression as well. See, I was also pretty fun at that party. I have a decent sense of humor and can usually crack people up in a crowd.

Today I had lunch with one of my oldest friends. Ok, she is not old, but I have been friends with her for a long, long time. If you had to describe her, the word that pops into most people’s minds first is bubbly. She has an infectious laugh and usually has a crowd in stitches. I don’t get to see her very often, but over the years I have gathered some stories that have let me know that under the beautiful smile are also years of struggle and tears. Today, she talked about her struggle with depression.

At first glance, my thought was that people like the three of us can use our humor and outgoing personalities to mask our depression. I guess that is possible. But I decided I am rejecting that idea. Something about that sounds like our antics are not genuine somehow. It seems like a negative. I prefer to think we are “AND” people. We are fun-loving and witty AND we also struggle with depression. It isn’t necessarily some kind of cover-up. And I would also say, “thank God!” Can you imagine being depressed and not having the other side of you that can laugh and bring joy to others? That would really stink.

I’m about to start publishing a new book and I already told the author I would take the book on, but wanted him to know I disagreed with him philosophically. He is one of those extremely positive people who thinks that every person needs to choose how they view life. Period. I asked him if he had ever personally dealt with depression. He said no as I expected him to. I told him that anyone that truly has struggled with it, would never suggest that they could simply choose not to be. Trust me, if there was a way to choose it away, we would.

There isn’t a soul alive that knows anything about me that could say I haven’t tried to eliminate the depression. I have tried dozens of medications over the years. I have seen psychiatrists and therapists. I have gone to spiritual directors. I have done acupuncture treatment. I have tried doing nothing. I have recited positive affirmations til I’m blue in the face. I have kept gratitude journals. I have depression. It is what it is. AND I also can be a barrel of laughs. That is what it is too.

Those of you that wrestle with depression will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you that love people who struggle with depression, need to know that depression isn’t a result of you not caring enough or loving enough. And those of you that just judge others, well, shame on you. Just thank your lucky stars that you don’t have it. And for those of you that look at others with envy because they seem so happy and free, just know that perhaps that person may also have very, very dark moments that make them wither.

Ok, off my soap box now.

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Medical Favorites: The Mammogram

It’s that time of year for me. The yearly ob/gyn appointment, which leads to the yearly mammogram. It’s a favorite day for women everywhere. A few years ago there was all this hype because they were recommending only getting them every two years. The biggest reason is that they just cause so much damn stress for women.

I went Monday and it started off the usual way. Pink top, open in front. Arms up. Smooshed breasts, etc. Nothing attractive. When you get a good tech it is not terribly painful. Very uncomfortable, but not actually painful. Then you go in the special waiting room with the other women in the pink tops. They bring you a carnation when they clear you to leave.

“Do you want the new 3D mammogram? It is $60 if your insurance won’t cover it.”

“No thanks. My insurance won’t cover it. I already know that.” That was my first mistake.

I watch several women get their flowers and leave. I always take a long time. I start the usual mental gymnastics of talking in my head. Don’t get nervous, that’s bad for you. You always wait and worry and you are always ok. It actually got explained to me this time, partly by the poster on the wall and partly by the tech. There are four levels of breast density, A through D. I am a level C. Dense breasts make for difficult readings.

That’s what the tech tells me when she pulls me out of the room to talk to me without bringing me a flower.

“Because you are a level C, your doctor now has a standing order for you for a follow-up ultrasound after your mammogram.”

“Ok. I know I’ve had them before.”

“You should know it costs $200 if your insurance won’t cover it.” Crap, they should’ve told me I was getting a bargain earlier with the 60 bucks.

“Ok. So will you call insurance before?”

“No. You have to call them. You can use this room.”

This is when I start to get infuriated. I go through this with my orthotics too. Since when is it the patient’s job to make medical calls? I happen to lecture in the medical field and know how to be a patient advocate, but the average person does not have that experience. And even with that under my belt, I still am lost with this one. My niece works in a medical office and she explained that there are thousands of insurance companies that all have different rules. I get it, but isn’t that why docs hire office staff?

So you know how this goes. On hold. On hold. Verify who you are a thousand times.

“I’m sorry, what is the technical term for the procedure?”

I ask the tech.

“Breast ultrasound.” She seems a little shocked by the question because it wasn’t a tricky answer.

On hold. On hold.

“I’m sorry, but we need to speak to a medical professional about this.”

“Gee, that’s what I suggested.”

I walk over to the tech and have to practically force her to take the phone. She gives the woman the medical code and hands me back the phone.

I feel like pickle in the middle and I think this entire scenario is ridiculous. I’m now on hold again and this time there are two confused techs standing in the doorway because they can’t believe I can’t get a straight answer from my insurance company. I can’t believe I’m the one trying to get the straight answer.

“Good news. Your insurance will cover the ultrasound, but only if your doctor has pre-authorized it.”

I repeat it to the two techs in the doorway like a parrot who look at each other and shrug their shoulders. They have never heard of such a thing. Is that the same thing as a standing order? Back and forth, back and forth.

Finally I have enough.

“I WANT TO GO HOME. CAN I PLEASE JUST GO HOME? I’VE HAD ENOUGH.” I am now crying at this point. The techs feel terrible and say of course I can go home. I hang up the phone and I go take off the hated pink shirt.

On my way out, the techs try to nicely tell me the test can be done anytime. I just need to straighten out the insurance thing and reschedule. I ask her if anything in the regular mammogram came back questionable. She said no. I told her I wasn’t straightening anything out through my tears. I tell her I’m not coming back. And because my depression level has been super bad for 24 hours before I ever walked in the door, I tell her I don’t even care if I have cancer.

(Now right now, I apologize deeply to my dear, dear brave friends who have survived breast cancer. Several of you amazing powerhouses read my blog, so please know I mean no disrespect. All I can say is that depression makes you think terrible thoughts. That day I was sure that a mistake had been made and I was the one who was supposed to have cancer and die instead of Tim. Frankie desperately needs his father. At the time, I meant it, but I know it’s depressed thinking. Forgive me?)

Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what has happened to the world. When did it get all mixed up? Why the hell was I even on the phone trying to get medical codes? Aren’t I the patient? I got the flower because they didn’t find cancer, but I admit I came home and threw it out. I was just angry. And I spent almost two hours in that office.

The next day my doctor’s office called. I assumed they were going to talk to me about the debacle of the day before. Nope. Just wanted me to know my pap came back positive for HPV virus. She explained it’s something you can get the first time you ever have sex, it just doesn’t show up. Nothing to worry much about though, just make sure you come every year to your check ups so we can keep on eye on you.

I always go to my appointments but I ask her what they are keeping an eye on? Oh. Higher risk of cervical cancer.

Perfect. I figured that’s just the universe being pissed off at me for saying the day before that I didn’t care if I got cancer.

I love being a woman.


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A Challenge for You

I’ve written about the months that I spent helping my dad downsize his house for a one-bedroom apartment. If it wasn’t such exhausting work, I would advertise my organizing business more. I mean, we had only had one extra box left. The day we moved him we also had all but one box unpacked. That stuff doesn’t happen by luck.

I try to always keep a Good Will box going. Whenever I notice something we don’t need, I get rid of it. So when I make a concerted effort to do a house purge, I am always shocked at how much I have to get rid of again. It’s amazing how fast it builds up.

Summer asked me one day when I was driving home from Dad’s if it made me want to go home and throw all my stuff out. I said no because I was usually too exhausted to even move my arms. But it stuck in my head. Damn Summer. She has a way of doing that.

I gave myself a goal. I want to try to get rid of one thing in my house every day for a year. That would be a lot of items. I wondered if six months was more realistic, but so far I’ve been doing it. I’m not even sure what day I started.

I started talking to my neighbor’s about music. They recommended I download Itunes so I can upload my music cd’s onto my computer. This is kind of cheating, but now I am ripping one cd every day. Then I check all the songs on the list and delete those that I don’t like at all. The ones that I think are ok but wouldn’t really choose to listen to, stay on the album. The ones I actually want to hear go on the playlist. It’s amazing (at least with the ones I’ve started with) how few of the songs on an album I actually want to hear. After that, get this… I am putting the actual cd in the give away box. I’m going to get rid of all of them.

That will probably take up several months so that is why I say it is kind of like cheating. But I plan to keep getting rid of things. Americans are massive consumers. I don’t want my kids to ever have to deal with all my stuff. I scan what I can and then get rid of it.

That is my challenge to you. You don’t have to ditch your cds, but pick some sort of time goal and get rid of one thing every day and see what happens. Almost everyone who downsizes feels relieved. There is so much freedom in having less to take care of. People who hold on to their things, tend to be the ones who are always trying to get more or worried about getting their share. There is no freedom with that.

Go ahead and share your stories. My writing is getting boring anyway. Let me know if you take the challenge, or let me know if you have already done some purging and felt good about it. Happy garbage day 🙂