Part One; 1-800-273-8255

 

“I been on the low

I been taking my time

I feel like I’m out of my mind

It feel like my life ain’t mine

Who can relate?

I been on the low

I been taking my time

I feel like I’m out of my mind

It feel like my life ain’t mine”

-Logic

So, let’s just jump right in to this series of blogs that I am ready to release. I know my blog is FIGHTING WITH JOEY and this series has ideally nothing to do with him. But the whole reason I made this blog a couple years ago was to write through my struggles and my depression as I FOUGHT cancer along with him. This is kind of like a spin off topic, so to speak..

What I want to talk about is mental health; more specifically depression and suicide. Who talks about this stuff these days? Hardly anyone. And why is it that no one wants to talk about it? Because it’s hard for people to understand the REAL struggle of depression if they have never experienced it themselves. And those of us that suffer from it fear judgement from those we love if they truly knew what was going on in our heads.

Let’s start with depression. What is depression? If you google it, you will find that depression is “A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.”  According to the National Institute of Health,

“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”  Because I feel like the NIH is a valuable resource, considering I did a lot of Joeys cancer research on this website, I will include the symptoms they consider to be those of depression. It includes, “Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood; Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism; Irritability; Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities; Decreased energy or fatigue; Moving or talking more slowly; Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still; Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping; Appetite and/or weight changes; Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts;

Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.”

I can almost bet my life on the fact that most of us who truly suffer from any of the types of depression would tell you that the symptoms have been there for FAR more than two weeks and… that while yes, we can check off some or most of those “signs” of depression, but there is way more to the disorder than what is listed above. So much more. But if you asked someone to explain it, they probably could not find a way to verbalize the way they feel in a way that makes sense. Mostly because it is something that they too don’t fully understand themselves.

Suicide. No one likes to talk about suicide or being suicidal… like ever. Wikipedia says, “Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Risk factors include mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse.” Besides suicide there is also Suicidal ideation, which refers to thinking about, considering or planning suicide. And there is a suicide attempt, which is self explanatory, a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury. Once again, according to the NIH, suicide is one of the leading cause of deaths in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016:

Suicide was the TENTH leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. So, why don’t we talk about it? Why do we only bring up the issue when we see a story on the news of a young teenager or a celebrity that took their own life? And then forget about it a couple weeks later?

“I’ve been praying for somebody to save me, no one’s heroic

And my life don’t even matter, I know it

I know it I know I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it

I never had a place to call my own

I never had a home

Ain’t nobody callin’ my phone

Where you been? Where you at? What’s on your mind?

They say every life precious but nobody care about mine”

I am only one person and my influence over this topic is so minuscule. But I feel that it’s time to tell my story and my experience with depression that led me to a suicidal ideation. I probably won’t make a huge improvement in the awareness and prevention of suicide. But if I can at least change the outlook in one person, then my mission will be complete.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety off and on for many years. Most of the time I can control it and not let it consume me. But recently, the darkness took over way more than I could have even imagined and it almost got the best of me.  In the middle of my weakest moments, I had a conversation with a few of my family members about the idea of suicide. Of course, I didn’t address my personal attachment to the topic but I feel like it helped lead me to a sort of epiphany.

In the middle of that conversation someone said, “I think people who kill themselves are weak and selfish.” I couldn’t fault them for their opinion, because in my younger and stronger years, I’m sure I felt the same way. My response to that statement was something that just kind of came from my heart and out of my mouth even though I never thought of it that way before. I said, “I think people who kill themselves are so far from selfish. They do not take their own lives because it’s just too hard or to cause pain to those they love. They do it because they think they are such an inconvenience to everyone around them and they feel removing themselves would benefit everyone else.” Then it made me think, where did that come from? Is that how I feel? Why do I suddenly understand the loneliness and isolation that these people feel?  But the last thing I would want my family and loved ones to think was that I was selfish. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I truly believe I am too weak, so I guess I play into that stereotype but I’m not selfish.

That conversation has been on my mind almost every day. Plus, the constant talk about depression and suicide in my group therapy, I just knew I had to talk about it with a bigger audience. I am not a certified or a licensed professional. I do not know how to recognize the signs when someone is depressed or when someone is suicidal. But I am a warrior of this battle and I want it to be understood.

Last night I was driving late at night, with my children sleeping in the back seat and my choice of music on the radio and I may or may not have had the song blasting (my boys are sound sleepers btw).. It was one song. One song repeated about 12 times that gave me the push I needed to set this in motion. I’m sure by now you may have realized that I have quoted Logic’s song, 1-800-273-8255. This song has gotten me through the tough moments and even the better moments of my struggle.

Today I asked three people the same two questions. I wanted different opinions based on their different backgrounds and that is essentially what they gave me.

My first question was “What does depression look like to you?” I chose to ask this question because everyone has a different perception of depression. Before I was taken off work on medical leave, I confided in a coworker what was really going on. And she so innocently responded “You’re depressed? You don’t look depressed!” And while it made me happy that I didn’t look as bad on the outside as I felt on the inside. It also broke me because that meant I was too good at hiding the real truth. Just because people smile and laugh or post on social media or do fun things at fun places does not mean these people are not suffering from a mental disorder. It could be a façade that people put on to hide what’s really going on.  The second question I asked was, what are your thoughts about suicide? This was influenced by my conversation mentioned above. There are so many different factors that influence opinions about suicide. It could be age, religion, morals etc. My main goal with this question is to open your mind and opinions to it. Not everyone is selfish, a coward or weak and not everyone is doing it for attention. Some people just need support and to feel like they are not alone with their own head.

The first friend that I asked these two questions has never experienced depression. This person has experienced quite a bit of stress, heart break, struggle and tragedy but has managed to prevent depression from happening.

Question 1: What does depression look like to you?

Friend A: “Sadness. A sad that won’t go away even with a smiling baby or a really great vacation.”

Question 2: What are your thoughts about suicide?

Friend A: Suicide is tough for me. It’s confusing and I don’t understand it very well. To be that defeated and sad and unable to cope with life… I think it’s something that no one could understand unless they themselves have had thoughts of suicide. It’s ultimate despair when life is so bad that death becomes a better option than living. I know that people must be in an awful space to do something so irreversible but I do the best I can to emphasize with people who struggle with these kinds of thoughts.

 

The second friend that I chose to ask has struggled with anxiety often and depression from time to time.

Question 1: What does depression look like to you?

Friend B: “Depression to me looks dark… tired… feeling of no life or energy throughout my body. I genuinely felt like deep inside of me was myself standing in the middle of a dessert, screaming! And yet no one could hear me or see me. I was screaming for someone. For arms to hold me and tell me nothing but the words “it will be okay”. I was screaming for love and care. Depression can do wonders on your mind body and soul. It can change the way you view yourself, your life, and your worth. And depression 100% did all that to me.”

Question 2: What are your thoughts about suicide?

Friend B: Suicide was something I was always raised being told it was a horrible thing, because of my religion. I was raised learning that if you committed suicide, that you would never make it to heaven. So, off the bat before I actually knew why people even felt the need to do that, I knew it was something I would never do.  But it would be a lie if I stood here and said I never questioned it. And thought about it.. and wondered about it. If I knew someone who ever questioned it, I would never ever judge, or look down upon them.  Now that I am older, I have dealt with anxiety, depression, and the difficulties it brings And I cannot say that I agree with the ways I was raised. I believe that people who commit suicide are hurting. They feel lost, and just need someone to look them in the eyes and tell them “you are worth it, and you will be okay”

 

My third friend that I decided to ask was someone who has watched me, very closely, with my ups and downs. She has some personal experience with this but she mostly has watched and guided her husband through his own experiences with depression.

Question 1: What does depression look like to you?

Friend C: Depression is not “one size fits all”. Depression is mysterious and takes on the look of exhaustion, sadness, weakness, anger and rage. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once. It robs you of simple joy, energy and will power, and replaces it with white noise.

Question 2: What are your thoughts about suicide?

Friend C: Suicide is a reaction to the emptiness that depression leaves behind.  Suicide is not a solitary thought, its usually accompanied by depression that stems from an underlying mental illness or trauma.  It is a last resort- people who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts feel that they have exhausted all their options.  They feel alone, and that there is no one who would understand what it is that they are feeling. For an outsider looking in, it could seem like a selfish act.  They think how could they do that to themselves, or their family- but someone who suffers from depression can’t explain the loneliness that shadows this illness.  In their defense, the reality is they are torn. They struggle with wanting to feel better, wanting to ask for help, and are simultaneously confronted with challenging emotions that are constantly opposing their good intentions. Suicide, to someone with depression a self-less act.  They truly believe that there is no hope and the only way to feel better is remove themselves, for the sake of everybody else.  An absolute misunderstanding, but a genuine thought.

“I know where you been, where you are, where you goin’

I know you’re the reason I believe in life

What’s the day without a little night?

I’m just tryna shed a little light

It can be hard

It can be so hard

But you gotta live right now

You got everything to give right now”

I decided to answer my own questions. I have struggled with depression for the some of the last 10 years. Some years were great and depression was just my past, and other years it defined me. I have also struggled with anxiety and recently was considering suicide.

Question 1: What does depression look like to you?

Me: To me, depression looks like the upside down from Stranger Things. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s debilitating. It sucks your energy, your passion, your fight. Depression is your world, your town, your home, just empty.  It’s full of the tree branches reaching out for you, full of storms to weaken you and demagorgans that try to take you down. And unless you accept the help from loved ones and professionals, it could ultimately swallow you whole.

Question 2: What are your thoughts on suicide?

Me: Suicide is an end. To some it could be a light to the darkness that’s within. Suicide is about death and being responsible for it. It’s about releasing your loved ones from the devastation you truly believe you bring to their lives. It’s about releasing the pain and emotion that were once chains that binded you.

As you can see these are all very different answers from three different women with different experiences with depression. Imagine how many other perceptions of depression there are? How can anyone understand a topic like this when we all see it so differently? With love, understanding, patience and caution maybe our society can get there some day.

Today I wanted to introduce depression and suicide, the important facts about them and offer differing opinions on the matter. In the next few days I want to talk about my most recent struggles within my own mind and how I am working through it. To anyone that made it all the way through this, I challenge you to comment or privately message me your answers to my two questions. I’m eager to hear how others feel about this topic so that I too can broaden my understanding and find new ways to help bring awareness.

** The National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number is 1-800-273-8255. We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals**

 

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Part Three; Reckless Love

“When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me

You have been so, so good to me

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

You have been so, so kind to me”

-Cory Asbury

I had BIG plans for this part of my story. I planned to tell everyone how I overcame depression and I found all the answers I was looking for. I have been waiting and waiting for the right words to come to me. But they are not coming the way I need them to. Now I know it’s because I have not completely overcome depression. So instead of me telling you how I rid my mind of all this negativity and self-manipulation, I’m going to simply tell you about my progress and exactly how far I’ve come.

It has been a little over 10  weeks since I decided to seek treatment. For the first time, I have actually followed the directions of my medication, I have attended ALL appointments for group and one-on-one therapy and I am slowly trying to pick up my own pieces. I’ve never done all of these things at the same time. So, I’m pretty damn proud of that being an accomplishment in itself.

There are three major reasons why I am still here today to be able to tell my story. I’d like to go into detail about these three things. Before I get into it I’d like to say that I am not trying to offer any advice to anyone going through this. Do I hope that someone could use these things and eventually find themselves on the same path? Of course. I feel that each person needs to find whatever guiding force is in them and use that to pull themselves out. We all have our different reasons for getting into this and we will all have our different reasons for getting out. The last thing we want to hear is someone telling us what we need to do to get through this time. So hopefully someone reading my story might benefit from at least one of these things.

The first thing I did for myself was be 1000% honest to the health care professionals taking care of me. In the past I had always feared being brutally honest because I didn’t know what would come from it. Would I be 5150’d? Would they call CPS on me because I was suffering from major depression? Even though I know damn well that I protect, love and care for my children way more than I have ever done the same for myself. I was honest about the anxiety, the binge eating, the excessive spending, the irritability, the dark thoughts and even the self harm. How could I expect to get the right treatment and the right kind of help if I was giving them the wrong information? I had to be honest with myself and the people helping me. I truly felt like that was the turning point for me. Admitting whole heartedly what was going in internally and accepting the help that came from it.

Instead of being judged or criticized or reported, I found that my  therapists were actually very helpful. From my very first appointment with Chelsea, I walked in feeling comfortable because of the way she greeted me. Instead of jumping right into things, she wanted to get to know some things about me, other than why I was there. She looked me in the eyes instead of staring at her computer screen. She smiled warmly and really focused on my answers. If I reached out to her for help outside of our sessions, she followed up with  me immediately. I basically put my life into her hands and she handled it with gentle care. People like Chelsea, who are passionate about what they do instead of driven by a dollar sign, really make a difference in people’s lives. She was a complete stranger, who I was scheduled with by chance, but she helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. Social workers, therapists, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, counselors and anyone else that professionally deals with  mental illness can really make or break the situation. I truly commend the men and women that have a passion and are motivated to help people like me. I have been seen by professionals who were probably just there for the benefits the company offered rather than for the benefit of the patient. Side note: if you are in the field of mental health, no matter how big or small, I’m here to tell you that YOU make a difference and your work matters.

The second reason that helped keep me head barely above water kind of snow balls into reason number three. Number two is my children/husband and my family. And by family, I mean those on earth and even the ones in heaven. All I could think about was missing out on birthdays and baseball games, graduations and weddings. My boys were so close to losing their father from something that was completely out of his control and here I go thinking about leaving them behind from something that was  in a sense in my control. These babies have gone through so much and every time my mind slipped into that darkness, my babies and husband  were my light. I thought about Joey, my parents, my siblings and cousins.. and then I thought about my grandparents. I want to see them again someday. I want them to be the ones waiting behind those pearly gates. I want them to witness me meeting our creator and welcome me to my eternity. I too grew up with the idea of not being able to go to heaven if you kill yourself. In my right mind, I would never jeopardize my chances of seeing my family again. It was staying in my right mind that was the problem.

Even though I have the least to say about how this helped me, it was probably the biggest motivation out of them all.  I think this section was the hardest part for me to write in this entire series. It has been so difficult and a little scary  to get my mind into a space that involves my husband, my children, my parents and so many others having to live the rest of their lives and me missing out on that. So it has been rather conflicting fight between my mind vs my. heart. I tend to create this day dream of my life that pulls me in a direction of releasing myself from the torture my brain inflicts and then tugs at the thoughts of the pain and sorrow that I would inflict on everyone else. When you are such a “people-pleaser” like I am, that can really mess with you.

“Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin

Lost without hope with no place to begin

Your love made a way to let mercy come in

When death was arrested and my life began

 

Ash was redeemed only beauty remains

My orphan heart was given a name

My mourning grew quiet my feet rose to dance

When death was arrested and my life began”

-North Point Insideout

 

Now on to number three. I said that it sort of snowballs off of reason number two; and here’s why. Again, I was raised to believe suicide is a one way ticket to hell and the only way to heaven is to pray for salvation and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. How can I get to heaven if my plans would take me to hell? Bear with me people! I know when subjects turn  to religion, the audience is sometimes lost.. I just ask that you stick with me to the end of this story. Just remember, this is what helped save me from myself. It’s not my way of pressuring Christianity into your life.

I started attending Rock Hill Church the day Joey was admitted to the hospital for his second transplant. That was the day I put my faith in God and left Joeys fate in his hands. I started to attend church weekly while I was out on leave. It gave me such a peace in my heart that when I had to go back to working Sunday’s, that strength that faith gave me had started to dwindle. Pastor Matt brought me back to the Lord after I was so angry with him for so many years. Pastor Matt prayed for Joey, he prayed for me and he might not know it, but he is the reason behind my faith in God.  Right in the thick of things, I received a newsletter about the summer events at Rock hill. One of the first things coming up was baptisms. I fresh off the suicide train and thought that being baptized would help bring a new beginning instead of always thinking about an ending.  As Pastor Matt said,”It’s an outward expression of an inward decision.” There was no better time or moment for my husband and I to experience such a spiritual moment together. I felt that after all God had done for both of us, that was the best outward expression we could have done together to thank him for his work in our lives. And just a quick victory that I experienced after getting baptized was an answered prayer. I had been praying for a change in my work schedule that would allow me to go to church every Sunday. After months and months of prayer, I accepted a new position in my department that gives me Sundays and Mondays off! What a testament of Gods work in my life.

 

Sometimes I would think Pastor Matt wrote certain sermons just for me. Sometimes I listen to his podcasts over and over so I can type out, word for word, exactly what he said. Because I knew that those words would help save me again and again. For example, last Sunday’s sermon, he said, “When you encounter the presence of God you will experience the power of God. But often it starts with us taking a closer look.”  Let me start by saying that while I was out of work, dealing with the uncontrolled symptoms of my depression and suicidal ideation, while I was being honest with my team of providers, I was also attending church every Sunday. Some days I didn’t want to talk to anyone, or do anything or get out of bed. But on Sunday mornings I fought myself with every ounce of mental strength I had to get my kids and I to church. I had to take a closer look. A closer look at my faith. That closer look helped me to do all the things I needed to do for myself. It gave me the inner strength to open up and accept the path God was putting me on. In the same sermon Pastor Matt also said, “Maybe this morning you are doing better than you think you are..  you need to stop listening to what everyone else has to say and start listening to what God has to say about us. Because your inadequacy just might be making room for gods sufficiency.” Is this sufficient enough to help save a life?

“I know your past is broken

You can move on it’s over now

Here in the presence of the Lord

Tired of running, running

Be still and know He’s in control

Here in the presence of the Lord

Pour out your heart before Him

Open your arms He’ll hold you now

Here in the presence of the Lord”

-Elevation Worship

I’m sure by now most people know about project semicolon. If not, I will explain it to you. In literature, an author uses a semicolon not to end a sentence, but to continue on. You are the author and your life is the sentence. Choose to keep going. “Within the belief that suicide is generally preventable, the mission of Project Semicolon is to help reduce the incidents of suicide in the world through connected community and greater access to information and resources. We believe that suicide prevention is the collective responsibility of each and every person on the planet.”  I am here to tell you all that I choose not to end my story. And to those that are considering it, you don’t have to either. You are enough and you are not alone. Every time I feel alone I always think of this line from the movie PS. I Love You. Kathy Bates tells Hilary Swank, “So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.” I hope that anyone battling depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or addiction finds at least one reason to seek help. Not everyone has a spouse or children or parents, not everyone has affordable  health insurance and not everyone wants a relationship with God. Some people have exercise, careers, education, pet children and friends. I urge you to reach out to someone for help. I challenge you to be honest and be open to acceptance. I hope that you find something to believe in so that one day you can believe in yourself again.

As I’m finishing this up, I am not 100% okay. I’m probably not even 50% better yet but I try every day to get there. I believe that opening my heart to God has been the resource that I needed to get me this far. I believe that’s why I have been able to be so open with my story. I believe he wants me to stop hiding and help others stop hiding as well. I hope that reading this has broadened your perspective on depression and suicide. And that it helps you realize that there are so many people who need our love and  support instead of judgement and criticism. And I’d also like to say that all of the above helped me to finally get some answers, some relief, a REAL diagnosis an effective treatment plan.. I will probably fight this inner battle for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. But that’s another story for another time. Because after all, my sentence isn’t over; and I’m choosing to continue on.

“Released from my chains I’m a prisoner no more

My shame was a ransom he faithfully bore

He cancelled my debt and he called me his friend

When death was arrested and my life began”

North Point Insideout

Part Two; It isn’t in my blood

“Laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing

I’m overwhelmed and insecure, give me something

I could take to ease my mind slowly

Just have a drink and you’ll feel better

Just take her home and you’ll feel better

Keep telling me that it gets better

Does it ever?”

-Shawn Mendes

 

I have tried and tried to write this portion of my blog over and over again. I don’t want to say too much or open all the way up; but then again, I don’t want to say too little. My first attempt at writing this put me in a major funk for a few days. With June being Mental Health Awareness month, I really wanted to get this out on time. But it has really taken a lot of me emotionally and was a bit harder than I expected it to be.  So, July.. here we are!

Where to start? Depression sucks, right?  I’m talking about the real depression. I’m not talking about being depressed because your favorite tv show just ended or because your day didn’t go as planned. I’m talking about the dark, debilitating, consuming depression. I know yesterday I mentioned the main signs/symptoms that you must have for two weeks to be diagnosed with depression. And I also mentioned how there is just so much more to it than sleeping too little or too much, eating too little or too much, being sad and crying. I am going to express what depression was for me. I’d like to say that there are a lot of people who are very close to me that don’t know a lot of what I’m about to say; and for that… I am sorry. In my case it’s not about being secretive or hiding my deepest, darkest feelings from the people I love. I’ve come to realize that I was hiding this from myself. If I say it out loud, it becomes more real. Plus, the thought of scaring or disappointing the people I love the most is the hardest part about opening up.

As many people who are close to me or that have read my blog knows a part of what I have been through the last few years. I lost my aunt and uncle to cancer, I lost two grandpas and one grandma, my other grandma has been fighting cancer for the better part of the last 5 years and we all know what my husband went through the last couple years. It should not be a shock to anyone that I have battled some type of depression, some type of anxiety, some type of darkness after all that I have seen. I’d like to believe that all of that has contributed to where I am today. I don’t blame any one person, one situation or one experience on my depression. I have always known that there was something different in the way I feel and process emotions. This time, like many other times it just got the best of me.

I can’t remember all the details from the beginning of this “episode” too well. I don’t know exactly when It started or why it even started to begin with. But if I look back at pictures on my phone, I start to disappear right before my birthday in November. We found out that Joey was completely cancer free for the first time, in October. I was FINALLY able to exhale all the stress and worry and doubt I had in me for the last 20 months. I was back to work after taking time off to care for Joey after his transplant. I was back to working 10-hour days to carry the financial weight of our family. Being back at work meant that I was no longer able to go to church on Sundays. I started to lose that peace that I gained from attending church every week and strengthening my faith in God. I wasn’t sleeping much, I was pissing off family and friends from being withdrawn and inconsiderate. But most of all I felt so guilty every single day throughout all of this. Like, why was I getting worse knowing that my husband was better? Why was I able to be as strong as I was for him and our family through the difficult times but I couldn’t even handle life anymore now that it looked promising? I started to feel like I was bringing us down. I was bad for Joey and I was a bad influence for my children.

The holidays came and went beautifully. We had the most amazing Thanksgiving with both of our families together and Christmas was just as beautiful. By the new year we were preparing to move. Come February it was PET time. Joey’s pet scan was not as clean as it was in October but it wasn’t bad either. Joey had a choice between waiting it out or a risky surgery just to get a biopsy. Joey made the decision, on his own and instantly, that he was going to wait it out. I’m a firm believer in my “my body, my choice” so there was no way that I was going to convince him to do otherwise. Especially after all that he had gone through and was FINALLY feeling like a normal person again. How could I force him to go under the knife for such a risky procedure that more than likely will come out normal?Having said all of that, I was still pissed. I was upset that he didn’t make this decision with me, knowing that I will always support him. I felt like after all my blood, sweat and tears, my opinion didn’t even matter.  But I realized that I had to  put my faith in God that he would lead Joey to the right decision and that he would help me accept his decision whether I agreed with it or not.

This is when something changed in me. I don’t blame Joey one bit. I truly believe, now, that he made the right decision. But at the time, it must have unlocked the worst sides of me. I started to feel like it was my fault that Joey’s PET wasn’t clean anymore. Was it because of the food I was feeding him? Did I not wash his fruit right or cook his meals to the right temperature? Did I not push him hard enough to be more active and did I allow him to become complacent? I slowly started to realize that my problem was not with Joey, it was with myself. The whole time he was sick I had such high hopes that he would be okay in the end. That these times would be trying but we would see them through. Amidst all of the hope, there was also reality and fear. His prognosis was scary at one point and deep down I was subconsciously preparing myself for either outcome. Then one second Joey was safe and his body was free of the nasty disease and the next second I am terrified of reliving it all over again.

I started to panic. Anxiety crept in. Pessimism was weighing heavily on my shoulders. I was exhausted and run down. I literally gave my family every single piece of me the last couple years. So now that I was at my weakest, I literally had nothing in me to help me fight myself. I kept working long days to keep my mind busy, I slowly shut my friends out more and more, I started to withdraw or hide from family, I ate more, spent a whole lot of money, slept less,  was always irritated, starting causing conflicts at work, felt useless, worthless and one day I  wanted to crash my beautiful new car into a brick wall just so it would all go away.

That’s when I went to get help. I don’t want my babies to have to experience life without their mother. I. Am. Their. Everything! I knew this was far beyond my control and that the best thing I could do for myself was ask for help. I couldn’t ask my parents because I fear their heartbreak. I have hurt them so many times in my life and I just couldn’t do it to them again. To be clear, I could have absolutely gone to them and they would have helped me in the best way they could. But I am 31 years old and I need to learn to face my problems on my own. I couldn’t ask my husband, because I was afraid he would take the kids and leave me. He more than likely wouldn’t have, but I wasn’t going to risk it. I couldn’t go to some of my closest friends because I felt like they hated me from the way I have treated them lately. I didn’t want to go to my Pastor because I feel that religion and suicide does not mix. So I was left with my primary care physician, who had prescribed me anti depression meds about 3 times so far. There was no shock factor with him. It was more like “which drug have we not tried yet?” Doesn’t this just sound ridiculous? I could have asked any of these people, plus more, for help and and would have received it. I was just in too deep and really made myself believe that all of this was true.

 

“Looking through my phone again feeling anxious

Afraid to be alone again, I hate this

I’m trying to find a way to chill, can’t breathe, oh

Is there somebody who could…

Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in

Sometimes I feel like giving up

No medicine is strong enough

Someone help me

I’m crawling in my skin

Sometimes I feel like giving up

But I just can’t

It isn’t in my blood”

“It will get worse before it gets better” he said. “You may have thoughts about suicide but you should start to notice a difference in about 4-6 weeks. Please come back if you feel like you want to hurt yourself or anyone else.” Well it took about 3 days for the side effects to kick in. I was moving slow, I was talking slow, I was sleeping a lot, my anxiety was slowly going away but I was becoming numb to the world around me. I think this  is when people quit depression medicine. Because they don’t like the way it makes them feel and they decide to just stick it out and find ways to feel better on their own. That was NOT an option for me. If my anxiety ate at me again, I would have without a doubt caused myself great bodily harm. Riding out the waves of this Prozac ocean was safer than walking along the sand, unmedicated. I was taken off of work because my symptoms and reaction to the medication was uncontrolled and untrustworthy. I was enrolled into a “rapid access”  group therapy and was going twice a week and doing one-on-one therapy every few weeks. It helped me, I learned some really good information and some coping & relaxation techniques. But it also annoyed me. On my bad days it just seemed like a huge vent session coordinated by a therapist asking the same questions “and how did that make you feel?” Or “what are you going to do to change it?”

The number one problem with my depression, was my own mind. One second I would be counting my blessings and so appreciative for the people I had in my life and the next second I was convinced everyone was disappointed in me and hated me. One minute I’m playing and laughing with my kids and the next minute I am yelling but don’t remember why. I would look at my wedding pictures and appreciate the love in my marriage and the next second I was considering how much better Joey would be without me. My mind would literally fuck with me and make me believe my life was a lie. It would make me believe that I was alone and no one understood me. My mind would trick me into thinking I was a burden and that I was bringing everyone down with me. It made me believe that my children would live better lives and grow to be smart, sensible men if I wasn’t here to make them weak like me.. My mind told me that I should just swallow my whole bottle of Ativan and allow the ones I love to live in peace without me.

 

“It seemed like no matter what I did, I kept letting people down. I started thinking how everyone’s lives would be better without me.”

-Hannah Baker, 13 Reasons Why

 

Most of the time something or someone would unintentionally snap me back to reality and my heart was able to override my brain. But sometimes what I needed was pain to bring me back to reality. I’m ashamed to admit that I intentionally hurt myself. I did it so that I could feel something, to remind myself that I’m not as numb as I thought I was. It was not the right way to go about things but it saved me from swallowing the bottle of Ativan. Clearly, I’m here today telling you my story. So, screw you brain for making me believe those terrible things.

One last thing I want to talk about while we are still on the subject of my situation. There is one super power that depression gave me; the ability to hide it all from the ones I love. I would still smile in photos, I’d laugh at people’s jokes, I try to pretend to be as normal as possible in the presence of others. As Elsa explains it, “Conceal, don’t feel!” I learned that the moments I was all alone was when I would be consumed by the darkness. On the drive to and from work, the few minutes spent in the shower or using the restroom but mostly at night when everyone is asleep. When the world was quiet, my mind was the loudest. Until recently, my husband knew very little about my whole struggle. My mom noticed I started to get worse once Joey got better, but she is such a tough person and I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want her to think less of me. I made sure my sister and cousins saw the usual me, so they really didn’t see any of this coming. If I would have succumbed to my situation, my family and friends would have that lingering guilt. Why didn’t I see this coming or why didn’t I help her? But the truth is that I hid it on purpose because I believed I didn’t need any help. Until now.

My depression doesn’t look like his depression or her depression. Mine is worse than some but better than others. I can not speak for everyone who goes through depression or who are suicidal because we all have our own stories. We all have our own experiences or traumas that got us here. Some people might read my story and come up with a hundred reasons why I’m ridiculous for feeling the way that I feel. And there might be a handful who might understand the “mind-fuckery” all too well.

I have recently thought about Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade and how deep they were into their darkness. These people had successful careers, money, fame and family/friends that loved them. How was I so lucky to not fall as far as they did? I can now understand how it can happen and under everyone’s noses. Robin Williams made a living off of making people laugh and smile. But those damn demagorgans came for him and he took his life to avoid them. Who has listened to Linkin Park songs after Chester hung himself and wondered, why didn’t anyone see this coming? And Kate Spade killed herself with a scarf tied to a door knob. That breaks everything inside me thinking that dying a slow, slow death was worth more than living life with her daughter. What about these poor teenagers and children that we read about on Facebook or see on the news. Why are so many falling victim to their minds?

I feel like there are people, organizations, celebrities that are trying to bring light to this issue. There are songs about depression and suicide, there are more resources for suicide prevention, there are more cinematic adaptations of the different mental illnesses and how people become their own victims. But our society, our teenagers, our veterans, our generation needs more than that. We need people to understand and be less judgmental. We need people to know what to look for, we need more education, we need to make these young kids believe that life will get better beyond junior high, beyond high school; our veterans need the support from their communities after returning home from war, the post partum mother needs support and acceptance. We need to do better for those that are battling a mental illness.  Most of all we need to break the stigma and keep talking about it. The more we talk about it, the more people will ask for help.

 

“It has to get better.

The way we treat each other and look out for each other.

 It has to get better somehow.”

-Clay Jensen, 13 Reasons Why

The Outcome

I’d like to start off AGAIN for thanking all of you.. but this time for sticking with me three days in a row and listening to my husbands story.  My main goal with these 3 posts was to give mainly the events that took place. I didn’t want to get into my feelings or experiences or anyone else’s pain. I didn’t want to touch on how hard it was for Ian and Jax and how they acted out. That is an entry that I might make someday but far too depressing to tap back into right now.  This little series was meant to serve as an update and be told as positive as possible.

”When will we know if the transplant worked?” “What comes next?” Those are two questions that I have been asked almost daily. And today, ladies and gentlemen, I finally have an answer.

The first test that Joey had was a bone marrow biopsy on Day +30. This biopsy was WAY different than any biopsy he has ever had.  It was done in a procedure room at COH with NO radiology imaging to help guide the hands of the provider telling her where to dig in, literally. He had no IV set up for them to inject something to relax him or to ease the pain. And, I actually got to be in the room and watch since there was no radiation exposed.

Now I just want to say how bad ass the outpatient Nurse Practioner was. She used her hands to feel and pinpoint where to biopsy. She didn’t need a machine to tell her where to go. Plus, she was able to shut Joey’s fear and anxiety’s away and she made fun of him a little bit too. Which was super awesome (Sorry babe)!!! He was amazing & she was amazing and even though it hurt my heart seeing the size of those needles going into his iliac bone.. I was amazed by the entire experience.

So that biopsy was the first step in checking the status of the disease. It was meant to assure us that there was no disease in the bone marrow (there never had been to begin with) plus it would break down the DNA as well. The hopeful results would be that there was A) no disease and B) at least 96% of Scooter’s DNA to be found in JOEY’s bone marrow.

The results were A) clean bone marrow showing no disease and B) Scooter’s cells had taken over 99.94% !! Which means that not only has Scooters cells grown and multiplied in Joeys body but they basically have taken completely over. This was the first success in the process. GO SCOOTER! Joey will have to repeat this exact biopsy at day +100 and at day +365.

A couple weeks ago Dr. Saheebi ordered a PET scan that is usually done between days 50-60. She explained her expectation for this PET was to be completely clean or the same as his last PET prior to the transplant. She continued that she did not want us to be discouraged if this test showed a little disease because it could take up to 5 months to get the full effect from the transplant. We decided to keep this test a secret from all our family and friends. Every single PET scan Joey has had, has been bad. In the almost 2 years of fighting this disease he had never once been completely cancer free. Some treatments worked, some failed, some kept it the same but none of his treatments ever cleared him completely.

You can probably guess why he wanted to keep this to himself. It’s been bad news after bad news and it’s been heart breaking. He didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up just for them to be brought back down. Especially if there was a chance that he just needed more time for it to work.

On Tuesday, October 17th Joey had his PET scan. It was day +48 and also Madonna’s birthday. And, if you know Madonna well enough you know the importance of a date with the #7 in it and how it represents a sign from her mom in heaven. After his test, Joey ripped off the bandage and tape from the IV injection and surprised his Mom at work with flowers and a birthday card. Then two days later we return to see Dr. Saheebi for results.

Out of all days, this was the day that Dr. Saheebi was like 2 hours behind. We waited in the waiting room for about an hour, both nervously killing time on our phones. Then once we are out in a room, we waited another hour or so for he doctor to come in the room. And what do you know, the computers were not letting Dr. Saheebi log in to the Kaiser system to retrieve the results. She even went into the doctors office and still didn’t work. She called over to the Kaiser Sunset nurses to give her the results and even they didn’t answer. As a last resort, she sent a message to Dr. Farol (he took over Joeys case and treated him at the beginning of this process but then went back to KPLA when his rotation was over).

After a hundred apologies she promised to call us with results. And right as we are about to walk out of the room, her phone goes off nice and loudly. It was Dr. Farol with the results…

”Negative.” She said out loud with the biggest smile on her face. To which Joey asks, “What does that mean?” And she shows us her phone as she opens up the link.

“COMPLETE RESOLUTION OF NODULAR DISEASE”

To which she translated…

”YOUR CANCER IS COMPLETELY GONE!”

Not a dry eye in the house I tell ya! We cried, she cried and she hugged us as we all marveled at this victory.

 

I truly believe that God put every single step in motion for this day. He made Scooter the match, he helped put the right doctors, nurses and Np’s in his path. He helped me find a home in a new church that has revamped my faith in Him and his power. God has blessed all of us with this miracle. As my Pastor says, they are passionate about the life-giving and life-changing word of God. Since I took my first steps into that church, it has been nothing but life-changing and now LIFE-GIVING! I literally can not be any more thankful for any single blessing I have received in life.

We owe so much to all of you who continue to pray for Joey and his healing. There is no way one can’t believe in the power of prayer after this. Thank you all for never leaving our side and for always keeping us in your hearts.

What comes next? We continue to pray for Joey as he recovers from the transplant and that he never experiences a major flare up of Graft vs Host disease or that no infection too big hits him during this time. He is officially CANCER FREE and hopefully that makes his recovery much easy to bare!

We spent the weekend spreading the good news to family and friends. Joey faked some out and led them to believe our news was pregnancy related. He also tortured others and gave all the crazy statistics and mortality rates and scaring everyone. It was amazing to watch Joey tell his news to the people he loves. It’s been amazing watching him read everyone’s comments since he broke the news yesterday. Here are some photos I took while I was recording. They aren’t the best quality because I was also taking a video at the same time. But amazing nonetheless!

 

 

#fightlikejoey #joeythesurvivor

 

 

 

 

 

The Recovery

Everything leading up to this phase was the easy part. The conditioning chemo was tolerable. The transplant itself was much better this time around than it was the first time. Since the cells were fresh and not frozen, there were no preservatives mixed in and it made it a lot easier for Joey to tolerate.

Waiting for engraftment to come and go was definitely the hardest on Joey. It only took a day or two post transplant for the expected side effects to hit him. The hardest part for him physically and the hardest on Madonna and I, emotionally. Unfortunately, Joey wasn’t able to get the rest he really needed. Every time he would get into a good sleep someone would come into his room. Whether it was dietary, the nurses to administer medication, the PCA’s to check his vitals, the cleaning ladies to keep everything sanitary. Of course this was for his overall best interest. But of course it was  frustrating for Joey, nonetheless.

After a few days go by, all of Joey’s counts start to drop. His white blood cells, his platelets, hemoglobin, even his kidney function drops and potassium. Of course this is all a part of the process but it brings on nasty side effects for Joey. Then he spikes a fever in which they can not explain. It is too soon to be considered engraftment. Yet, every single blood culture they ran came back negative for infection. I want to say it was probably a solid week of low grade fevers that they could not break or keep away. Thank God it eventually meant that he was indeed engrafting sooner than expected and praise the Lord he never caught an infection.

The downside to engrafting early was that it meant he was in the hospital being monitored even though he felt so good. He was alone in that hospital room all day, everyday and started to get very homesick. It was easier for him to be away from home when he felt sicker than a dog. And harder to stay sane when you’re feeling good and would rather be at home.  Regardless of how he felt, Joey stayed active with occupational & physical therapy plus recreational therapy as well. Joey also did A LOT of walking. Every mile he walked he earned a foot to add to his collection. Most days he walked by himself but on special days, he had little helpers.

We fell in love with his main doctor and her Nurse Practioner. They were so kind and comforting and they truly cared about Joey’s well being. They always asked about the boys and how this was affecting them. They’d even check on me and make sure I was doing well too. Dr. Saheebi and RNP Korie hold such a special place in our hearts. And thank you to everyone who came to visit him while he was there and  thank you to everyone who donated blood and/or platelets to him.

Joey was allowed to come home on Day +19. Which meant that he was hospitalized for 3 weeks 1 day. And came home a few days sooner than they usually let Allo patients come home. But he was doing so well and pushing his body every day that they felt he was safe enough to come home.

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Coming home was the best thing for Joey’s spirit. After being away from the boys for so long, nothing made him happier than holding them and loving them in person versus only seeing them on FaceTime. Even though he still didn’t get all the sleep that he needed, I’m sure he would rather have Ian or Jax wake him up versus a nurse anytime.

Joey is now at Day +57. Since he has been home he has experienced very minimal complications. He had a low grade fever for a few days. Which we don’t know if it was a bug that caused it or a side effect from a trial vaccine he participated in. He takes multiple pills multiple times a day. His medications are adjusted almost every doctors visit and she adds a new medication at least once a week. The Redlands pharmacy techs pretty much know me by name now. Joey still has his Picc line in so that means I’m still flushing that bad boy every night. Joeys appetite is way better than I expected it to be. He eats at least two meals a day and has 1-2 snacks a day as well. He has lost a substantial amount of weight. But he is in no way malnourished or dehydrated. He tries to be as active as he can but fatigue and weakness are a constant battle for him.

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Unfortunately, Joey was admitted to Kaiser last night. He spiked a pretty high fever the day before and Tylenol was not bringing it down enough. We expected it to be an in and out ER visit but of course nothing is ever that easy for Joey. They have ran tons of blood cultures in his peripheral vein and in his Picc to see if the line is infected, he has an infection somewhere else or if it was simply a viral infection that got the best of him. I must say that coming to Kaiser after months of treatment at City of Hope, I was highly disappointed with the nurses that were assigned to him. I NEVER complain about Kaiser staff but last night was a joke. Please say a little prayer for Joey that he gets to come home soon.

All in all, I could not be more proud of Joey through this recovery. He has pushed his body much harder this time, he has a much more positive outlook and he has been grateful for his care and everyone involved.

Dont forget.. PART 3 coming tomorrow morning!

The Transplant

First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone for your love, support and prayers throughout every phase of this journey. Joey is such an amazing man and the quality of his character speaks volume in the support he receives.

Since our team of supporters have been there for us every step of the way, we would like to keep everyone as up to date as possible. This will be the first part of three posts detailing what we have experienced with this transplant.

As most know, Joey’s older brother, Scooter, was thankfully a 100% HLA match for Joey. Scooter went in for stem cell collection on August 29th. The collection process usually takes about 3-4 hours and we wouldn’t know until the next morning if they retrieved the 3-4 million that Joey needed. Sometimes it takes a couple days to collect cells. But Scooter was able to collect 10 freaken MILLION cells AND he was taken off the machine about an hour early because of the side effects he was experiencing. Prior to collection Joey signed a release to allow the remaining stem cells to be used for research. Little did we know that we would be sending 6 million cells, but we hope that those cells can help make breakthroughs in cancer treatment.

On Wednesday, August 30th, everyone was at City of Hope bright and early. As we didn’t know what time the transplant would take place, but we knew that we didn’t want to miss it. That morning I got to do a recreational therapy class with Joey. We did a yoga/kickboxing while sitting class with all the transplant patients on his floor. We then went for his mile walk because we were trying to kill time and wait for Scooter to be discharged. It was extremely important to Joey to have him in the room. Thankfully our nurse for the day was able to stall the blood Bank long enough for that to happen.

The nurse started prepping Joey about 12:15 pm. We had plenty of time for photos while we waited for the nurse to walk to the blood bank and pick up the cells. It was a full house in that room and we are so thankful for the COH nursing staff for being patient and allowing all of us to be in there.

Madonna, Mario, Jessica, Ashley, Sergio, Matt, Scooter, Adrian, my mom and I were all present as we watched a different version of the miracle of life. With a necklace of Joey’s Grandma Betty’s ashes in a little bullet case and our wedding ring in his hand.. we watched the cells make their way from the bag all the way down the line and into his Picc line. It was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced in my life. The love was so present in that room and the promise of new life was so motivating. Those were truly the most beautiful moments of this whole experience.

The whole process took about an hour. We literally watched every last cell make its way out of the bag. We laughed, we cried, we felt united and full of promise.

After it was done, Joey was such a champ. We finished the rest of his mile that we didn’t get to finish that morning. I ordered him dinner and then my heart broke as I had to leave him to go back home to our boys. Don’t let this picture fool you.. Joey felt great, he just loves to look miserable in pictures of us.

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To be continued.. part two will be up tomorrow around the same time! Thanks for reading everyone!

Today… is THE day

“How do I know you?”

That was literally the first thing Scooter ever said to me. Joey was living with Scooter, Alma and Adrian when we first started “talking” aka when I finally gave him a chance. It was the first time that I didn’t leave with Joey early in the morning when he left for work. He let me sleep in for once and just when I think it’s safe to sneak out of the apartment unnoticed… “How do I know you?” Scooter asks, as he is sitting in his recliner drinking a tall can of Bud Light after he got home from work at like 9am.

How in the world do I still remember that moment from over 5 years ago but I can never remember something from 5 minutes ago? Well, number one, because Scooter scared the shit out of me. Two, all I could think to respond was “I cheered for the Lions one of the year’s you played.. and you were dating my friend!” Three, it’s Scooter we are talking about here.. with his Scooter face and that’s not something you forget. I remember thinking that I totally blew my first impression with him. I was terrified and was so scared to be there while Scooter was home and Im pretty sure I started leaving at the butt crack of dawn with Joey again.

It wasn’t long after that morning that he and Alma let me move in with them as well. It wasn’t long before I was pregnant and engaged to Joey. And it wasn’t long for me to feel completely comfortable and safe with Scooter. Even though he is a tough guy with a few words, I somehow knew that I was okay in his book. You see, since that first encounter with Scooter, I knew that he reminded me of my Nino Donny. He is the man of the family, the guardian and protector. He is quiet but funny, observant but knows his place. He loves his Mama and doesn’t care to show it. Not to even mention to kind of hard working husband and father. I wish there was someone else who knew my Nino Donny and also knows Scooter that could vouch for me right about now lol! But what I’m trying to say is that even though he has that tough exterior, it was easy for me to look past it and love & respect him. Mainly because I felt like I already knew him.

Today, Scooter’s stem cells will be transplanted into Joey with the hopes of engraftment and ultimately a cure to Joey’s disease. I can’t even imagine how it feels for Madonna. Having two of her sons in the hospital at the same time. But knowing that one son’s job is to cure the other son. I also can’t imagine how insanely proud Alma is of her husband. To be so selfless and so strong through this whole ordeal. It hasn’t been easy on Scooter the last few days. The injections that help his bone marrow to create more cells have been pretty tough on his body. Alma has had to administer those injections and watch helplessly as he has dealt with the pain. And Joey… once he found out that Scooter would have to be admitted he wanted to cancel the whole thing, just because he didn’t want Scooter to have to go through that. For me personally, I feel like Scooter being the 100% match was a sign from my Nino. That he was going to help Scooter save my husband. And that Scooter really was the guardian I always knew he was for me. get overwhelming emotional when I think about his sacrifice and his love for his brother. I think about how that love between brothers is going to be the reason that I get to grow old with my husband.

We could never in a million years repay him for this. Or for the love and support that he and Alma have shown us since the day Joey was diagnosed. Well, they have always been supportive of us and Scooter has always been a great big brother.. but you know what I mean here.

Scooter, I thank you for your dedication to your family. Alma, I thank you for being supportive and active in this process. And Madonna, I thank you for raising these boys to love each other like they do. I know if it was Matt that was the full
match, we would be doing the same.

Today is the day that Scooter saves Joey’s life. Today will always be remembered and celebrated for hopefully many, many years to come.

Thank you Scooter. You are our hero!

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