Friday, 2 November 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Thoughts and feelings that we are helpless

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“We need to remember to look after the person inside of us who was battered through treatment. She needs us, our help, and our affection. We owe this to ourselves and to her. “

If I’m going to die – what’s the point in living a healthy life? How can we feel self-destructive when our strongest desire is to survive? How can we lose compassion towards ourselves when we have - in an evolutionary sense – such strong instincts to survive?

These were the challenging questions we asked ourselves in our weekly discussion: Naz told us that research shows that the biggest contributor to depression are thoughts and feelings that we are helpless, hopeless, and have little or no control over the ‘future’.

Even though we all ‘know’ that we will all die one day, we live with the assumption that we are immortal. When we are diagnosed with a life threatening disease, this assumption comes crashing down. When we are given a timeline, however fuzzy or concrete, our visions shorten. We feel there is little to anticipate, we have to come to terms with our awareness of ourselves as fixed entities, with little control.

These thoughts and feelings, Naz told us, are normal. But this doesn’t mean that holding such a vision is constructive or helpful. When we are diagnosed with breast cancer, we experience post-traumatic stress which constitutes a huge element of depressive cognitions.

It is important to hold in mind that while facing these mental and psychological challenges, we are undergoing exhausting and demanding treatments which leave us with little or no reserves to think, let alone consider how we can help ourselves, how we can love and protect ourselves. We live with an agonising pain that we cannot put into words. Is it any wonder that we cope by emotionally numbing or cutting-off from it?

In our heartfelt discussion, including women with primary and secondary breast cancer, we shared the impact of our diagnosis on our self-esteem. Our doubts if we are worth the effort; we berate ourselves and our ‘internal voice’ criticises us, telling us we are ‘damaged goods’, we have already had/have cancer so what is the point? Some of us shared how much we sometimes feel we want to just disappear. We even wonder if it might have been better or easier if the cancer had taken us because the physical and psychological pain feels so unbearable. This in turns leads to terrible feelings of guilt and shame.

Naz told us that it’s important to remember that we have every right to feel and think this way. In health, she said, there is something called ‘blind optimism’. To be blindly optimistic is a healthy way to be in our condition. Our belief system has a huge role to play in our well-being, and by being blindly loving towards ourselves, protecting ourselves – even though we feel out of control. Nourishing ourselves. We are special. We’ve been to hell and back. We can try and do the things that make us feel better (not only in the short term, if we think that we only have short term), but longer term too.

Self-destructive behaviour, while understandable, has the biggest impact on our self-esteem, self-confidence, and does not make us feel good about ourselves. The truth is that we don’t know how long we have left, one day, one month, one year? What we DO know is that we can learn and find the tools to help ourselves to cope and to feel better within this limitation.

We need to remember to look after the person inside of us who was battered through treatment. She needs us, our help, and our affection. We owe this to ourselves and to her.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group send us a private message.