Holiday Depression and Breast Cancer

Feelings of depression can be overwhelming during the holiday season, but there is help.

It came out of nowhere, this overwhelming sense of not belonging. I didn’t understand it and wondered why I was feeling this way. It was almost Christmas. My house was beautifully decorated with poinsettias, nativity scenes, lights, baubles and a gorgeous eight-foot tree. I should be happy, right? I should be looking forward to “the big day,” but I wasn’t.

My husband could sense something wasn’t right. He asked me on several occasions what was bothering me but I could never pinpoint the source of my sadness. We’d had some rainy, dreary days lately, perhaps I was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D. Seasonal affective disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. It begins and ends about the same time every year and if you're like most people with S.A.D., the symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months. The symptoms, according to an article by the Mayo Clinic included:

Feeling hopeless or worthless

Having low energy

Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

Having problems with sleeping

Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

Feeling sluggish or agitated

Having difficulty concentrating

Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

While I did suffer from some of these symptoms, I felt there was something much deeper going on in my heart and in my mind. In the past, I’d never been one to suffer from depression. I’d always risen above my circumstances and looked at the world through Pollyanna-ish rose-colored glasses. But this was something I couldn’t kick on my own.

For days, I’d cry non-stop. I felt so unloved. Whenever I looked in the mirror, all I could see was a worthless human being. Although I was a woman, I didn’t feel like a woman. Without my breasts, I felt like a mutant. I didn’t want to look at myself. I felt hideous. It didn’t help that I’d also been rejected by my husband. Months and months had passed without any physical contact. That rejection compounded the situation and caused me to fall into a deep pit of despair. I knew the situation was getting serious, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to see a doctor and admit I was suffering from depression, but I knew that was exactly what I needed to do. I didn’t want to see my oncologist because I knew he’d just want to prescribe an anti-depressant like Effexor. I was afraid of those types of mood-altering medications, but I was even more afraid of continuing down this downward spiral of depression.

I chided myself for being so introspective. Surely other women affected by breast cancer didn’t struggle with body image like I did. Why, after almost two-and-a-half years, hadn’t I been able to move forward? Why was I being hit so hard by feelings of sadness now? It must be a combination of SAD and severe depression.

Admitting there was a problem was the first step to my recovery. I haven’t seen a doctor yet, but I intend to as soon as I can get an appointment. I don’t know what triggered this hopelessness within me, but I don’t like it and I can’t continue to live this way.

Seasonal depression and depression after breast cancer surgery or treatment are very real. Some people suffer symptoms and some don’t. For those of us who do find ourselves feeling down in the dumps for an extended period of time, it’s important to seek help.

It’s hard to admit suffering from depression. For some reason, depression feels like a secret sin to me, one that isn’t talked about except in hushed tones behind closed doors. But suffering from depression doesn’t have to have the stigma of shame attached to it. There are real physical symptoms associated with depression. Often those symptoms are caused by physical issues such as low hormone levels or other reasons.

Please know it's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel that way for days at a time and find you’re not able to do focus on activities you normally enjoy, it’s time to see a doctor. If the depression affects your appetite, sleep or thought patterns, seek help immediately. Don’t suffer in silence.