I was trying to figure out if I have anxiety or ptsd or what, because all this health stuff makes me feel crazy. And I don’t think I have ptsd because I don’t think the medical definition of ptsd applies to me. Plus, it feels like things aren’t over, but they’re still happening – because of having to go for checkups, etc. So maybe it’s not ptsd because I’m not just struggling with the past but worrying about the future.
But it feels like sometimes I have ptsd symptoms. And I was thinking about why it feels like I sort of want to go for counselling and for someone to say “yeah, you’ve got ptsd” or something similar. I mean, it’s never actually good to have something wrong with your mental health.
Obviously I don’t actually want to feel anxious and paranoid or have bad dreams or panic about stuff and feel scared about my mortality. But I do, and the question is why. The obvious answer is because I’m a cancer survivor and I have Lynch syndrome and sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – that scares the crap outta me. I want to stop feeling scared. So I was thinking about why I would want to put a label on this, whatever it is – anxiety, panic, ptsd, whatever. Does it matter? Why do labels help? Well, so that you can know what the problem is and fix it. And it serves as a way to help understand and explain why we are they way we are, I guess.
But I finally figured out what it actually is, that elusive reason why I feel like I want this feeling, this headspace, to be labelled. Because having a label, and having a reason for why I feel so messed up sometimes, confirms that yes, something else is going on other than the fact that my body sucks. What I’m trying to say, is that if the way I react to things is partly because I’m a bit messed up, that means it’s less about the actual problem. It means I’m overreacting. It means that the external threat – illness, death, etc – is not as much of a threat as I perceive it to be. It makes it a litle bit less scary. If I can believe that some of my anxiety is unfounded and that there are better ways to deal with things or sort myself out, then… I don’t know. I guess I’d rather the problem was something I could control, like my attitude or the way I deal with things, or whatever. This is really difficult to attempt to explain.
I just want people to understand and realise why I am the way that I am. Sometimes I feel like my problems are invisible. Well I mean, they are. Sometimes I wonder if should have gotten, or should get, counselling. I do sort of enjoy analysing myself and trying to figure things out. But I don’t know if it really helps – I don’t really do much with the information once I’ve discovered it.
Maybe I need to concentrate on things I do know. Like Katniss does in The Hunger Games in the last book.
My name is Sam. I am a colon cancer survivor. I had my colon removed and a colostomy bag for five months when I was 22. I have Lynch Syndrome because I inherited two defective genes from my parents. My brother died of a brain tumour when he was sixteen and I was one year old. I have an internal pouch (or a ‘J pouch’). I have to have screenings every year, like gastroscopies and sigmoidoscopies, and until recently, CT scans. These scans scare me because I don’t know what will show up. I am scared of recurrence. I am afraid of death. This is a lonely place to be. I like the occasional drink when I’m feeling down. Sometimes I have bad dreams. Sometimes smells and sounds remind me of being in hospital and this upsets me. In the run-up to screenings I think about cancer for a couple of weeks. I get scared whenever I feel a change in my body, like a lump. I immediately think of the worst case scenario. I am terrified of leaving my partner. I hide these things from my family because it’s too hard to talk about them and because i don’t want to be a burden. Any mention of cancer has the potential to upset me. Sometimes adverts for charities upset me, or mentions of cancer in TV shows, or when someone talks about someone they know who has cancer. I think this is selfish of me. Sometimes I feel sad and overwhelmed about everything that’s happened in the past. It can be difficult to stay in the present moment. Sometimes I lose concentration at work because of it. There is a place in my head that feels different to other ‘places’. It comes in phases. Like when I have screenings in October (or this year in January), and around the time of year things started going badly and I found out everything, in July. And around September and October because of all the charity stuff that happens around that time. Macmillan coffee mornings, Stand Up To Cancer. Sometimes when I think about it too much I struggle to catch my breath. The other day I had butterflies in my stomach for no reason I could think of. Sometimes my back aches because of stress. Writing helps with all of this. My partner helps. Being distracted helps. Music always helps.
These are the things I know. Whether they mean there’s something wrong with me, whether they mean I have a label, like anxiety, or panic attacks, or ptsd, it doesn’t make any difference to the fact that these things are true. These are the things that I know.
Next time I feel confused or unsure about what’s going on in my head, I will come back here and reread this. And maybe it will be helpful.
Does anyone else self-analyse like this? Please share any helpful things you remind yourself of, if you’d like to. Interested to hear other people’s experiences of navigating cancer survivorship and all the emotional stuff that comes with it.