Tag: cancer

Grief and Loss, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Prozac in the Time Of Pandemic

Dear Reader:

I woke today to find, with a quick look at my social media feed, that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week . How appropriate, I thought as I swallowed one 20mg Prozac with my morning coffee. That’s not the first time I started my day with a little help, but it’s the first time in nearly a year.

I’ve had an on again/off again relationship with Prozac for twenty years. I filled my first prescription a month after learning of my younger brother‘s terminal cancer diagnosis. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of pondering the merits of antidepressants. It was necessary.

I was a stay at home mom with a four year old daughter. I had to function reasonably well so that I could take care of my girl. Children can really help to clarify things in life. Decisions become easy.

I did express concern and ask my doctor about how I’d get off the medication when the time came. But, it’s the type of question that you ask even though you know there isn’t a good answer. My brother was given three months to live. He lived for a year. I needed both counseling and pharmaceutical help during that year and in the year that followed.

I don’t remember when I made the initial decision to stop taking the meds, but l remember other moments through the years when I either resumed use or discontinued use. Life goes on and there are challenges along the way. I have consistently believed that I should take the meds only if I need them. I experiment.  If life seems stable, I try to live without Prozac. Sometimes it works.

I have learned that, for me, a regular schedule of very intense activity can affect me positively both physically and mentally. During the time that I lived in Carmel and worked with Jonathan at Zone Fitness, I was able to remain drug-free.

Upon my arrival in Sacramento, I slipped into depression and had to resume my meds. In November, we celebrated one year in our new home. I was beginning to make friends with my new city and I felt better. I had established a new fitness program. My daughter was set to graduate in December with a job in…wait…can you believe it…Sacramento. Life was good.

That brings me to three days ago when I started to cry a lot. The week had brought a few minor interpersonal irritations, news of the death of one of my daughter’s favorite teachers and an injury to my right leg. Plus, there’s this pandemic! Maybe, I was feeling exactly as I should?

I paused and pulled out the old familiar tool box.

  1. Am I reluctant to leave the house?
  2. Has my personal grooming ritual fallen off?
  3. Am I schlepping around in sweats and napping often?
  4. Am I retreating from social life?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The threat of COVID-19 has changed so many things including the criteria for determining if I need medication. But, I didn’t need to take a deep dive to find my answer. I knew the answer at a gut level. And, I am blessed to live with a man who has known me since I was 16 years old. I had only to ask the question: do I seem off?

I am a woman who has everything: a loving spouse, a wonderful daughter, and a beautiful home. I also have a mental illness. I am depressed.

In the past when I’ve written about this topic, people have commented: “Oh, how brave of you!” I’m still not sure how to respond when I hear that. I can, of course, see that the comment is meant to be a compliment. But, it makes me sad, nonetheless. Why I wonder is mental health still a taboo subject? If I said I was suffering from high blood pressure (I’m not), you might say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” But, I don’t think you’d call me brave for revealing it.

I don’t think I’m “brave.” But, the fact that there are people who do, keeps me coming back to the subject. I feel compelled to share my story if it helps anyone. Today, I decided that I need to take care of myself. Adding Prozac back into my daily routine is one way to do that.

Best,

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Remembering My Why; A Bump on My Journey to Strong

On the arc trainer at Zone Fitness
Back at it!

Dear Reader:

Perhaps I’ve been a bit irritating up to this point?! Here she goes again you may be thinking : fitness is fun; fitness is empowering; fitness is a must! That’s been the truth of my experience, though, and I believe in keeping it real. So let me just say that I had my first WTF (please don’t make me spell these things out) moment this weekend. It was bound to happen.

Remember that happy photo of me at the pool wrapped in the towel? My lovely mood lasted until I got home and looked at the picture my husband had snapped of me in my bikini. My thighs are dimply…that’s the truth. And, it’s clear there’s another five pounds that needs to come off my midriff. It’s not fair, I thought, I’ve worked so hard for the past eight months!  But, the simple truth is: I FEEL BETTER THAN I LOOK!

It didn’t take me long to accept that realization, though. I reflected on my first day at Zone Fitness when Jonathan asked me about my goals. “Firm thighs” were nowhere on the list. I’d taken a fall that had scared me straight. I came to get strong so that I wouldn’t stumble through old age! I didn’t even have a numeric weight loss goal. I just signed on the dotted line and fully committed myself to the journey.

I’ve seen amazing results in only eight months, but Jonathan was honest from the beginning.

“It’s going to take a year and a half to get there,” he told me.

“Nope, only a year,” I countered.

We’ll see. My weight seems to have plateaued, but my strength continues to grow. It’s really such a crazy thing to imagine that I could get up off the ground, hobble into Zone Fitness and eight months later, at 58 years old, have a bikini body. But, something seems to happen when you spend four days a week in a gym working out in an intense fashion. The thinking goes something like this: I feel like an athlete, so I should look like one!

I’ll continue to train for all the right reasons. Working out …

  • boosts my mood
  • improves the quality of my sleep
  • lowers my dementia and cancer risk
  • strengthens my bones
  • gives me energy and confidence
  • makes me feel proud and accomplished
  • And, I have NOT fallen since I started

On Monday morning, I happily returned to my routine following the holiday break. I’d adjusted my attitude and it felt good to be back at it! I’ll let you know (hell, I’ll probably shout it from the rooftop) if I ever get lean, toned thighs. But, I’m not focusing on that. I’m keeping my original “why” first and foremost in my mind. Here’s my mantra: Get strong, stay strong, enjoy the journey! 

What motivates you to exercise?

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Grief and Loss

Forever Young

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Matt Lehman, February 1964 – July 2001

Dear Reader:

I’m a writer; I love language.  But sometimes a picture says it all. Just a glance and you can surely see the joy and the pain I feel when I think of my brother. He was handsome, charismatic, kind and very easy to be with. It seems impossible that he’s been gone for 17 years. He will remain forever young as he is in this picture joking about his girlfriend’s early morning romp through the water.

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Grief and Loss

Happy Birthday, Brother

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 54 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my story with you on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year, generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.

Love,

*Shell

* When he was young, Matt could not manage to say Michele and so I was Shell to him for as long as he lived.

 

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

In Praise of Prozac

Dear Reader:

I knew this was a post I’d write someday, and I wanted it to be sooner rather than later! I truly don’t know how much of a stigma still attaches to those who benefit from counseling and antidepressants, but there was every reason to share my experience with you and no reason to keep it secret. I believe Prozac has allowed me to live a better life, and that’s certainly worth sharing!

Let me start with the day I first felt the impact of my new prescription. Three days after I took that first pill, I had the energy to move the refrigerator so that I could clean every square inch of my kitchen, including the floor under the frig!  My 4-year-old daughter was at pre-school, but  Tom Jones kept me company. He provided the background music. I sang along loudly, energetically. “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual….”

What had become usual were the panic attacks I’d been having whenever I left the house. The first attack came in an unlikely place: a bookstore with my daughter. I was in my happy place with my happy girl and yet I couldn’t wait to get out. My heart was racing and I felt completely out of control. The next day the toaster broke and I found Amazon. You can get anything on Amazon, and yet I knew I’d have to leave the house eventually.

I had the toaster delivered, but by the end of the following week, I’d made it to my first counseling appointment and my doctor’s office. I described the event at the bookstore, my brother’s diagnosis and the general “heaviness” I felt. I was taking care of my daughter’s needs, but not much more than that. I was self-medicating with Starbuck’s mocha Frappuccinos, but I had little energy and had to will myself out of bed and into the shower each morning.   Both my psychologist and general practitioner agreed that I could benefit from counseling and an anti-depressant.

My doctor reasoned it out for me:” People take aspirin when they have an ache and yet they can’t imagine taking a pill to cure another type of ache. Your brother has terminal cancer and you have a young child to take care of. You need help.”

“But what about the end-game?” I asked.  I was afraid to start taking the drug, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop. And yet, I knew I needed help. Children can help clarify many decisions in life.

That was 16 years ago. Since then, my dosage has gone up and down and I’ve tried to wean myself off the drug.  But without it I am surly to my husband, I retreat from my friends, I feel hopeless and listless. I do not still regularly move my refrigerator on cleaning day. It seems that major spurt of energy was just an initial daylong effect of the pill. (I do, however, still accompany Tom Jones in song; it’s not pretty!)

I’ve never had any adverse affects to the medication. It was all good: I even quickly dropped the 10 pounds of Frappuccino weight I’d put on! I remember telling a friend about my treatment plan. She quite innocently asked how it felt to “be happy all the time.” I explained that Prozac was not a “happy pill.” Life was still hard during the year of my brother’s illness and following his death. I was still sad, but the medication and counseling helped. I had both the energy and courage to leave the house; I knew I could manage it.

There is a theory that some people are born with a switch; stressful circumstances or a major life event can trigger that switch and then it’s done. They need the drug and that’s that.  My brother’s cancer diagnosis was the trigger for me. (If you would like to read more about my brother’s death, see my post entitled Happy Birthday, Brother.)

I’ve made peace with myself. I’m a strong woman who must accept that she too needs help. I am grateful that I live at a time when I have the option to help myself. And, I hope that anyone else who needs help will ask for it.

Sincerely,

Michele