Sometimes I wonder what folks who follow this blog wonder about me. One question stands out in my mind, especially among the folks who have known me for decades. Did I always have this much trouble with depression and anxiety? Did I just do a great job of hiding it? The short answer is no.
I’ve had problems with depression and anxiety on a limited basis throughout my life, but for most of my life it wasn’t particularly serious. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties when I first started taking antidepressants and even then I was on and off them.
In 2008, right around the time I was first diagnosed with phase I cancer, my depressions got worse – no big surprise.
In late 2008/early 2009 I had brachytherapy and conformal external beam radiation to kill my prostate and my cancer. I was given an 80% chance of being cancer free at the five year mark, which would be early 2014. Cancer free doesn’t mean you’re cured, it just means there’s no detectable sign of the cancer at a given point in time. In other words you’re going to be tested for the rest of your life. For prostate cancer that meant PSA tests about every six months. I decided I was going to bull through it and everything would be OK. The depressions had little to do with the cancer as far as I was concerned.
Reality was telling a different story. Before long I was officially declared “treatment resistant”, meaning I didn’t respond well to single or multiple anti-depressant cocktails.
About a week before each test my anxiety would start gradually increasing to a crescendo before the test results came back. It became very clear that the disease, which I supposedly, probably defeated, was in fact seriously messing with my quality of life every six months. I thought about ending the testing and letting nature take its course. The doctors talked me out of it. I know now that was a mistake, I should have stopped getting tested, but I can’t change it at this point.
In late 2011 my PSA reading was slightly elevated, we did a bone scan, found some spots on my spine, and that graduated me to a phase IV cancer diagnosis. The only good news is we caught it super early. Even so there’s no hope for remission. All that can be done for prostate cancer is to slow it down. Depression and anxiety-wise I was very lucky that I was just about to start on a new anti-depressant cocktail that worked very well for a month or so. I definitely needed the help.
In January 2012, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life. The doctors were split on whether I should take an aggressive route and irradiate the spots or follow the standard of care and wait for it to get worse. I was told that if I irradiated, the worst side effect would be mild fatigue. So I decided to go ahead with the radiation. They were terribly wrong, and as I mentioned in the last post, it wound up being a horrible error. If you look carefully at my posts over time, the worst depressions started after February.
And that’s the long answer.