I Am a Survivor

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When mental health and cancer health merge

One of the things I've never spoken about in a blog post is the fact that I have bipolar illness. I felt that the cancer aspect of my life was enough to discuss in a cancer blog, but I am one of those individuals who has had to deal with both mental illness and physical illness. I speak of the bipolar illness today because for the first time, the two sicknesses have interacted in an interesting way.

I've been depressed for about three months. This occurred because I went off my anti-depressant due to the fact that I'd gotten a little manic. (Anti-depressants often cause people's mood to elevate.) I knew if I went off the anti-depressant, I'd come down off my high. I did return to normal, but after about a month, I slid down and found myself depressed.

I continued to teach writing at a local university even though it was literally painful to shower, dress, apply make-up and go in. Recently, I found myself teaching proposals, problem/solution papers. One of my students, a young woman, wanted to address the problem of low self-esteem in girls. Her solution to this issue was to utilize affirmations in day-to-day life. Affirmations are kind things we tell ourselves such as "I am capable," or "I can do this." In short, affirmations are little pep talks we give ourselves.

I thought the idea was excellent, so useful that I sought out my own affirmation. The one I came up with is "I am a survivor." Not very original, but highly effective.

I started to say this to myself at every moment that I felt really awful, terribly sad. "I am a survivor," I'd say to myself. It worked. I found myself a little less depressed. My breast cancer history was helping me deal with my bipolar illness. It was a cool thing!

I should mention that with the advice of my doctor, I did go back on my anti-depressant, so that helped too, but I truly believe that the survivor affirmation did something to raise my mood as well.

My student ended up not writing about self-esteem and affirmations after all; she wrote on her dog and its problem with chewing household items — not as interesting of an essay, in my opinion, but a competent one nevertheless.

One of the nice things about teaching writing is that I receive a constant stream of ideas to mull over. I allow my students to choose their topics, and they write on a huge variety of issues such as the self-esteem issue. In this case, I took my student's advice about a paper idea to heart, and it worked for me.

In conclusion, I've never seen my cancer history and my bipolar condition work in combination like they have recently.

I say use what you've got to get through the day. If you're a survivor, use your survivor status to boost your ego and your mood.

It works.