Somewhere in the kitchen of each of the many houses I grew up in was a five inch square metal plaque, hung by my mother and seen by myself and everyone who entered her kitchen daily. I read it over the stove in Schenectady, above the doorway in Hollywood, beside the refrigerator in Framingham, next to the breakfast nook in Acton, and back over the stove again in Hingham. This is the exact plaque:
When you read something over and over for so many years it becomes embedded into your brain. Sometimes I catch myself mumbling it under my breath at random times…”As soon as the rush is over….”
This testament to insanity not only hung over the stove but hung over my psyche for much of my childhood as well. I was never quite sure if my mother really would have a nervous breakdown. As her moods always tended toward the erratic, the possibility of a well deserved breakdown was ever-present. Did she deserve it? Were we that horrible? Now that I am a mother I understand the humor in it — and the truth as well.
I was thinking about this saying last week as I was having a particularly bad few days. There was no specific reason for my low-level depression, just a combination of irritating life problems. I was starting to feel also that the medicine I am on for my breast cancer, Tamoxifen, was starting to take it’s hormonal toll on my body. So I was discussing the fact with my sister, that I just felt ‘down’ and she suggested maybe I needed to “get on something”. In reply I said, “you know what, after the year I have had, I think I deserve a little depression.” — Like the sign says, I worked for it, I owe it to my self, and no medication is going to deprive me of it.
I am not a big proponent of anti-depressants. I know they work wonders for some, but I also know that it’s an easy answer for many more. My brother for example needs to be on heavy anti-anxiety medication and has been most of his life, but for me, no way. I’ve pulled myself out of some serious lows over the years. There was a semester at college where I didn’t leave my dorm room except to go to class. If Prozac had existed then, I am sure someone would have slapped me on it. As a dear friend said to me recently; we need the cold and rainy days in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones. Sometimes medication gives us sunny days every day — which is not realistic.
So there I was feeling sorry for myself about my scars and missing body parts, about the weather and my kids, about my messed up knee and my broken heart, about losing my mom and gaining weight, about hating my job and needing money, when I ran into a woman 4 years ahead of me in her breast cancer treatment. This ‘survivor sister’ hugged me so tight and for so long that I thought I might stop breathing.
“How ARE you?!” she asked, looking directly into my eyes. It is obvious when someone really wants to know how you are rather than saying it as a passing comment. She really meant it.
“You know, I’m alright,” attempting a smile as wide as hers.
She told me that she had reached her 5 year anniversary and was off Tamoxifen. I complained about something or other and said, “you know it really sucks getting old.”
“Oh no it doesn’t,” she said, “It’s all good. Every age is a new phase with new experiences. It’s just different, that’s all.”
Now I don’t know if this woman is on anti-depressants or not. She has the best attitude of just about anyone I have ever met. Either way, I realized in that 5 minute conversations that she was right. It’s easy to see the bad side of getting old, the negative side-effects of anything, but why not look at it from the other side? Why not consider each passing phase of my life as an advernture? Just like that, this woman turned me 180 degrees, with a smile and a hug and some encouraging words. Save your medications doctors, I won’t be needing them just yet. As a matter of fact, new research out just last week shows that women who take anti-depressants to counteract the side-effects of Tamoxifen (hot flashes and depression) may be at a higher risk of having the cancer return. (Read article here.)
So I have finally come to the conclusion that the sign in my mother’s kitchen was wrong. I don’t deserve a nervous breakdown any more than I deserve to be depressed. I deserve to be happy — that is what I have worked for, that is what I owe to myself, and damn it, THAT is what no one is going to deprive me of.