As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
When mental health and cancer health merge
One of the things I've never spoken about in a curetoday.com 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.