“Just get over it.”
“You need to move on, Cassidy.”
“It could be so. much. worse.”
These are all actual phrases I’ve heard in the past six months, and I just can’t stay silent any longer. Before I explain, let me back up…
A little over five years ago, I fought one of the toughest battles imaginable. Notice how I said one? That’s important. It was a battle that I’ve noticed several people have faced and continue to face. It wrecks your daily life, messes with your routine, and takes away parts of you that you just can’t get back. It’s like a puzzle that you buy at Goodwill. Pieces are missing, gone forever. But there’s more to it. Because even though every case is different, I guarantee those who encounter this battle are strong. They fight hard. This battle exhausted me, terrified me, emotionally drained me, but it did not defeat me. No, I beat it. Cancer, I beat you. So how do you still have this hold on me? To those of you still facing your cancer battle, you hold a special place in my heart. I pray for you. I hope and dream for you. I love you, dear ones.
Fast forward to recently and I face a different battle. It looks quite different from cancer. It’s ugly, too. But it’s the kind of ugly that lurks from within. Some of the symptoms are similar and some are different. For example, it doesn’t cause you to lose your hair. You don’t need chemotherapy. And people aren’t as sympathetic. In fact, many people are cold and detached when it comes to this battle. They don’t understand it because they can’t physically see it. As I said, some of the symptoms are similar. I’m still exhausted. I’m still terrified. I’m still emotionally drained. And sometimes I even feel defeated. Anxiety, I haven’t beaten you yet, but I’m working on it. To those of you who are facing a battle like this, you’re not alone. You matter, too. Your pain is real and it is raw. No one can tell you that it’s not. For those of you who are fighting this type of battle, this article is for you. This story is for you. Because cancer patients matter, and so do mental health patients. We all encounter hardships. It’s not about which battle is harder, but about seeing each other through the battle. Loving, listening, caring, embracing, supporting.
Six (or so) months ago, I realized how serious my anxiety had gotten. I was petrified by the fear that I was going to find a lump somewhere on my body that would take me right back to the chemo chair. I didn’t want to face cancer again. I literally felt crippled by my extreme fear of death, dying, cancer. I’m so young! There’s so much life to live. I want to have children. I want to raise them. I want to grow old with my husband. It wasn’t until I found myself in the bathroom of a tire shop, splashing cold water on my face, and looking at myself in the mirror that I realized I couldn’t handle this on my own. “You are okay. Breathe. You are fine.” I tried to console myself. The day before I had been to the doctor to get a mole looked at. They sent it off to be tested, and I was just waiting to hear back. Oh the ole waiting game, how I’ve missed you. NOT. The process was sending my mind into overload. I was having thoughts, horrible thoughts, that the mole was going to be cancerous. I was going to have to be treated again. Or maybe worse. Maybe this time I was going to die. I walked out of the bathroom, thinking I had calmed myself down enough. I was wrong. Suddenly my legs were numb, my face was burning hot, and my breath was becoming short. I felt warm, almost as if I had peed on myself. Something wasn’t right. I began to approach one of the employees when God intervened. He told me to say these words out loud: “Fear not.” I said it. Again and again I said it. People in that tire shop probably thought I had lost my mind, but I didn’t care. “Fear not. Fear not. Fear not.” I could breathe again. The feeling in my legs came back. I mustered up the strength to find a seat and then to call Kyler at work to tell him that he needed to come right away. I didn’t know what was happening, but I needed help. This was the moment that I realized God was still holding me, carrying me, and now He was encouraging me to seek help. I couldn’t do it alone anymore. It wasn’t until later that I was diagnosed with PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had just survived my first panic attack. PTSD is commonly associated with those who have served in war, an internal and external battle that several of us cannot remotely imagine. I know I can’t, but I have the utmost respect for those in that particular battle. PTSD also takes hold of others as well, people who have undergone extremely traumatic situations. Cancer was my situation and PTSD had entered my life without me even knowing it.
Now some people were understanding of this, but some were not. Those phrases that I began my article with are all phrases that people have said to me when I tried to reach out and explain my situation. People who have undermined my thoughts, disregarded my feelings, and taken away my voice. I felt silly, insignificant, like a whiny baby. On the outside I appeared normal, but I was miserable on the inside. My body was fighting me at my very core, and I became the loneliest I had ever been. And that’s saying something because I thought being an eighteen-year-old cancer patient was lonely. PTSD/anxiety was like nothing I had ever experienced.
So where am I now? How did I face my demons? Thankfully, I always had my momma. She understood, she just got me. I could call mom and she would cry with me. We had lost her mom, my Gammy, to cancer just last year. Fear and anxiety has riddled my family due to cancer’s grip, but don’t worry. We’re still fighting. Kyler, my husband, is a man of logic. He was constantly encouraging me by showing me that I was okay. He would hold me in his arms, and explain to me why I was alive, why I’m here. That there is a purpose. He provided love, reassurance, and a gentle spirit that I desperately needed. My God, my constant. He gave me the words to say, the thoughts to think, and the hope when I had none. He was and is always present, even when I do my best to kick Him to the side. He wrecks the insecurities and instills the power of vulnerabilities. He makes His presence known, when I start to forget. For that, I’m thankful.
What do they all have in common? They took time for me. They want to see me smile. That is why I’m writing this blog. Anxiety, PTSD, depression, and mental illness deserve the days off work, the strong support system, the compassion, grace, and empathy. The people who face these challenges are people too. Their burdens are heavy, and their spirits are worn. They are broken and they are hurting. And guess what? They need you. So readers, don’t ever turn your back on someone that is crying out. Listen to them, think on what they are saying, and then formulate a response that is rooted in deep and authentic care. And to the readers who have tried crying out and seeking help, and received nothing in return but a scoff, you are not alone. Never, ever, ever alone. Don’t let anyone look at you in the eyes and say, “Just get over it.” Don’t walk away defeated like I did. Hold your head up high and know that you are do the very best you effing can. That’s what matters. People who disregard others do so because they don’t understand. Find people who understand. Cling to to them, cling to your God and repeat after me. “Fear not. Fear not. Fear not.” Because it’s not that your fears don’t matter, it’s that you’re becoming an overcomer of your fears. I love you, dear ones.