I’m ambivalent. I didn’t know what that meant, what the true meaning behind such a layered word was. Sure, I had heard it time after time upon watching one of my favorite movies, yet hadn’t resonated as to what the depth of the citation was, that was until a few weeks ago.
You see, I was declared healthy two months ago, after my nearly year battle with Stage IV, “incurable” cancer. Healthy in the world of cancer, not in the real sense of the word. I was as healthy as I would ever be. My tumors still existed, but without activity of the disease, therefore aggressive treatment was no longer necessary. Until of course, an unknown date far off into the future, perhaps when I was old enough for cancer to be a-typical, following a lifetime full of contented moments, through that of an admirable, strong career, a quirky marriage and at least two children, both with names passé, like Pearl and Vernon, all in an artless attempt to delightfully balance our modern romance. But before the far out actuality of baby Pearl and Vernon, or better yet Agnes and Arthur (see it’s the inconsistency taking action), I would have to find out what the stratums of ambivalence actually was. Was I indeed healthy? Was I a normal human? Was I happy or sad? Extraordinary or just a regular part of the vast organism holding to the ecstatic, hypnotized approach to life? Ambivalence.
If I wasn’t sick, then what was I? Surely, I wasn’t “well”. Waking each morning, deadened by the lack of feeling in all four limbs due to the evils of chemotherapy side effects, I had become just as disoriented as to what to do with myself. Throughout the course of my diagnosis and treatment, I was the animated cancer girl, the one who fought tooth and nail to live, feeling alive in the potential, yet somehow unimaginable glooms of death. I reflected. In fact, I thought a lot while I was undergoing treatment, both about life and death and how separated the two were from one another and visualized myself in both capacities. In one arena, which is life and to be living, I belted together my wishes for the future, alongside the company of loved ones and fancied myself to be this bigger, better, wiser person post cancer. Creating the version of myself that I wanted to be, I told myself that cancer chose me, to allow me to find my voice, be aú fait with the purpose to my befuddling diagnosis in my twenties and reveal to anyone who was adept to listening, what the truthful meaning to life was. Self-assuredly hailing as someone who held that special ticket, despite it’s undesirable accolades for the winnings. That was precisely it; I recognized that most would find being diagnosed with cancer in the prime years of their twenties to be a bear, an insurmountable amount of cargo that was just there to fuck up your life, even feasibly ending your life. But, unlike most, I found a way from day one of my cancerous identification to cope, to march on and be the damndest, most defiant cancer patient that there ever was. I considered the alternate and deemed that plastering my thoughts with inspirational quotes and anti-cancer propaganda would likely echo my wishes to live, therefore be skillful and talented enough to survive, because after all, survival in itself is the true virtuoso.
Then there was the opposing side, the crosswise model of what my ambivalence projected. Death; something, which is often thought of when in the amphitheater of cancer and its expiry ways. In the beginning death terrified me. I wasn’t ready to die, for I had not been able to tender my contented moments, alongside my wicked cool career, prevailing marriage to my sweet and the opportunity to raise our idiosyncratic children, what were there names again– oh, right, Pearl and Vernon; or better yet Scarlette and Everett. Once again changeability was proving to be a deep conflict in my ambivalent psyche. At first it was the things that I needed to do to avoid death, run from it and show who was boss. For fuck sake, it became my all intended apparition. I lived and breathed how to evade death, yet was walking so closely to the other station, in which once the train comes to a screeching halt, so does your life. It wasn’t until recently that I thought of death in a positive light. This being after my declaration of health. Somehow, suddenly, without the possibility of death lurking about, I became less amused at trying to stay alive, or even wanting to for that matter. It’s not quite been put together how my mind can connect the madness and logic, medically or otherwise, as to how an individual who had fought so fiercely to live on, yet is now blessed with an endurable second chance, has wishes to be a part of the departed. Yet, the days, weeks and months following my good fortune became more and more difficult than the voyage through cancer and its treatment. Once again, how could I piece together my menacing thoughts, when the news of my remission should have brought me great contentment, enough to propel me back into the real world, amongst the living, working towards my life altering movement into the truths about cancer, the depths of its shadowy distortion and how I still made it out with enough sanity and grace to possess my adoring marriage and obscurely assorted future baby names.
As time proceeded, I continued to gain greater and greater disposition to the latter. The latter of course being the death scenario. All of the sudden, death didn’t scare me; I had made peace that my chances to live or die were 50/50. Nonetheless, ambivalent. It was as though I was meant to bring ambivalence to the surface, if, for nothing else to describe in full, the live definition of what ambivalence is. Once the 50/50 shades of cup empty or half full were exposed, it became even more clear that if you are only giving yourself a 50 percent chance of living, then you might not be torn either way. Life, death – ah I could stay or go. If you are so much as only “caring” that your survival rate is a shot at 50, what if your carelessness to live lessons below that? Does that make you depressed? Better yet, does it make you want to kill yourself? How can anyone answer that in sincere fashion, after all, depression doesn’t always result in suicide. Very easily I could be a mildly depressed person and not ever feel the pain behind no longer wanting to live. It was a large spectrum, but nevertheless a spectrum that I was unfamiliar with, as I did not have any previous bouts with depression and in return, had nothing to compare it to. For all I knew over the last few months, depression was a common side effect after diagnosis, treatment and everything else in between. I couldn’t have known that this wasn’t the norm, i.e.- allowing yourself to wallow in the news of remission, pining for treatment, fearful of what the future may hold, stressed with getting back in touch with your life previous to cancer and lastly, realize that you cannot cover up depression with a bit of crimson red lipstick, along with new tattoos, hairstyles and even desired trips to the beach. No, these were all things that lead to a temporary feeling of pleasure, but masking the real issue at hand; depression.
As the news of my remission came to be further and further away, my uncharacteristic woes became more and more prevalent. It started with having loss of interest in most things; seeing friends, enjoying outings, returning text messages or phone calls and then forming even greater barriers of not wanting to go out in public, not being able to sleep, forgetting to shower and at last unable to get out of bed, at all. My crying episodes were morning, noon and night and my medicinal marijuana became more than a pain management tool for my neuropathy, but a safety net in which I was beginning to desire for the numbness of a temporary escape into peacefulness where unicorns and mermaids existed. When Steve would ask what was the matter, the only thing I could murmur was that I wish I had died, or that I no longer wanted to be “here” and by “here”, I was referring to planet earth, this life, element, tier or whatever you wish to call it. I was done, I had enough and thoughts of permanent sleeping seemed ideal.
I couldn’t tell you what had happened for me to go from one extreme to the next. On one hand being the poster cancer baby and on the other, a suicidal, not down to hack it, girl who was too brave during treatment and ran out of the short supplied bravery when approaching “remission”. Ah, yes, once more, a theme for you, a theme of ambivalence. Did I long to exist or expire? This became a fairly common question that I would ask myself and when in the deepest of blues, would share my carelessness towards living and carrying on, but rather my longing to perish in a conquest of feeling total and utter peace. Death was now defined as peace. A peace that up until my remission news, was found right here on this earth and in the body of Britt Ochoa. Now my sense of peace seemed to be in the once believed darkness of death. Beginning to become an every day wish, those around me, particularly my husband, began to feel useless in the attempt to make me happy. For my happiness came in the opposite of living, somewhere I would be eternally at rest, both mind, body and spirit.
Three days ago, in what I now find to be a cry for help, I took an unwise amount of Morphine, followed by equal amounts of Ativan. Fortunately, all that happened was a good scolding from my husband for my lack of sensibility, some tears, a tad bit of shame and of course sleepiness. When my plan didn’t work, I begged Steve to get me out of town; somewhere I could escape my thoughts and be in stillness with my soul. The days leading up to it were nothing short of a shit show. Outside forces definitely played a part after firstly, finding out that my sister in laws peg my cancer to karmic forces and secondly the words of my mother in law disparaging that she is sick and tired of me using cancer as an excuse. An excuse for what, you might ask? Who knows, either way the debauched negativity was piling high, along with the consistent lack of support and compassion, a top of my already mounting sadness and depression. For the majority of the weekend, I spent talking to God or whomever it is that supposedly watches down on us. I apologized up and down for being gifted a second chance at life and not knowing what to do with it. I continued to apologize for taking a place in the line, when there are so many fighters that fought the good fight, but nevertheless didn’t win in the end. I was willing to bargain with him, in my guilt stricken way. If there was someone who wasn’t going to make it, like, for sure, you know, as if living wasn’t in their deck of cards, yet regardless they fought every day with a smile on their face to live. My proposition was that I would trade places in line with that person, a person who would really put a second chance to good use and not waste it, like I had been doing for the last two months. I had in fact, found myself pleading with the man upstairs, swearing that I would do anything to get out of my life and transitionally swap spots with someone more worthy. My conclusion surmised that I had already been afforded a pretty full, interesting life and it got to a point where, aside from experiencing parenthood, I had satisfactorily done everything that I absolutely HAD to do. Sure, everyone has his or her “bucket list”, or my preferably labeled “to-do” list, but sincerely, aside from that I asked myself, would I really be missing out on anything else if I continued on with this life? Naturally, if there was something not worth missing- how could I miss it if I no longer existed in the first place?
Fast-forward to yesterday, I had two appointments. One being my standard monthly port draw so we could discuss the results come Thursday with my Oncologist and the second being a meeting with a social worker, in an effort to relieve me of some of my sadness and dark thoughts. As we arrived to my first appointment, we walked into the Doctors office, which I had become so lovingly connected to over the past year and I signed myself in, ready to get it over with so I could move on to the next appointment and be on my merry way, back to bed, where most recently I found myself most comfortable. I sat next to Steve in the waiting room and before I could count to ten, I was running out of the place and practically having a meltdown for all to see. Once Steve caught up with me, I tried to explain my sporadic thought wave, but failed to fully make him aware as to why I fled to begin with. The only thing I could bring myself to say was, “I can’t do this!”
Frustrated and puzzled, Steve then drove me to my second appointment of the day, which turned out to be the one and only appointment of the day. When we sat down with the social worker, the first question she asked was how long Steve and I had been married for. Before Steve could answer, I burst into uncontrollable tears, eventually coming to a break for a breath. The counselor said that it appears I need psychiatric help due to my recent state of mind and my battle experiencing cancer and all that I have gone through in the past year. She, in good faith, did not feel it would be wise to wait to get into see someone a week from now, expressing that attention needed to be drawn immediately, even going as far as suggesting I check myself into a hospital for mental and behavioral health. Without hesitation and my very own will power, I too, thought that checking myself into the loony bin would be the very best and most relevant, responsible thing to do.
Despondently, yet unavoidably, I decided to check myself into a psychiatric hospital the following day, as in today. Please note that I was in no way doing this to gain pity, to invite praise, nor did I do it to be an inspiration in the least. Instead, I decided that not caring about my 50/50 chances of living or dying is not the way I want to live. I recognized that there is a life beyond a cancer diagnosis and even a reality after remission. I so desperately seek to get better so I can be the bigger, better, wiser person that I fancied I would be, along with advocating for cancer and all of the woes it can bring about. As I woke up this morning, I was ready to get started. Steve drove me to the hospital, where I was told a room would be ready for me. Signing myself in, I was unsure as to whether or not I was making the right decision and my stomach was in knots. Once again, I hadn’t any previous experience with depression, let alone a mental ward. My only recognition of what it might even be like was from the movies I had watched where they show the petrifying sides to mental institutions.
The in-take process took nearly four hours. You sit in a standard waiting room, much like the ER, only you are amongst other mentally unstable people searching, or being forced to get help. The staff asks you a series of questions, notably related to self-harm or the potential harm to others, followed by a therapist asking you if you are well enough to sit in the waiting room without any suicidal attempts. Once you answer the first series of questions, you are called back to a room, a room that is plain in color and all over decorum. For approximately an hour, the therapist continues to ask you further questions, specifically related to your needs, diving right into the realness of why you are there to begin with. Once you have satisfied all of the questions, you are once again released back into the waiting room, amongst your new friends and neighbors for the next few days.
The entire time I was in the private room retorting to inquiries, something was telling me that this wasn’t the type of help that I was in need of. More than ever I needed to be at home, in the comfort of my own four walls, my husbands care and a mouse click away from my favorite movies brought by way of Netflix. However, I was committed to getting help and more importantly recognized that I wanted help so I could march forward with my young life, with things like goals, a purpose and future wishes. Every fiber of my being was in doubt of this, but again, I wanted to prove to myself that I wanted to live and show myself that a prospect of positivity could come out of this experience, perhaps even one day experiencing motherhood to children with antiquated names. Exiting the interrogation room, I returned to the waiting room to find an uneasy look on my husbands face. I quietly sat next to him, thinking the same thoughts. When he looked at me to express how uncomfortable he was with me staying there, our brain waves united, but I didn’t want to be the first to say it. Precipitously, I was no longer ambivalent. Long gone were the thoughts of unbalanced hesitation as to whether I wanted to live or die. I was now, more than ever, certain that I didn’t want to harm myself or put my life in jeopardy, particularly after fighting such a difficult battle and coming out on the other end.
Just as quickly as I checked myself in, I checked myself out. In no way am I taking the seriousness out of what mental hospitals are there for, but in this slim occurrence I came to understand that being a little under motivated after such an epic battle is par for the course. Sure, not every cancer patient and survivor may experience depression, or even so, not to such a degree, but either way, I was accepting that I was a little fucked up at the moment. And you know what, that’s okay. The important thing is that I see the improvement I need to make in investing back into my life and the wonderful people who are in it. Re-focus my energies on positivity and so it’s not to fester on the negative and those who partake.
Shortly after my escape, I shared with Steve my newfound motivation for living and in no fancy way, getting my shit together, immediately if not sooner. Perhaps it was just the driving force that I needed, or perhaps it would become just another life experience to add to the list. Either way, I found myself in a grateful state of mind. Grateful for my loving, devoted husband and friend, appreciative for the beautiful family and friends in my life, a safe environment to call home and most of all, the will to lucidly broach my life intentions, whether they be in the immediate future or far off forthcomings; I was fucking alive, damnit and for the first time in a long time, in high spirits to have fought for the life I have ahead of me.
At the end of the day, I centered myself with some much-needed yoga at the Cancer Community Center, alongside my fellow cancer warriors. My wounds are not all healed, my head is still a little foggy and I have a lot of soul searching and therapist visits in my future. But, I can now understand that depression is very real, as are thoughts of self-harm and it is never too late to cry out for help. Everyone needs a little mental break now and again, just as long as the ambivalence between wanting to live and die always concludes in the drive to live the beautiful life we were imparted. Now, I dare you, go find your bliss and let go of any uncertainty. Life has a way of finding its way back and I couldn’t be more indebted that I have found mine.
PS- my apologies for saying “fuck” a lot. Sometimes there is just no other way to eloquently say the “f” word and get your point across. xx
PSS- I am also recovering from a severe popsicle addiction, but I suppose that will be another story, for another day. xxx
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number: 1-800-273-8255
American Cancer Society: Depression Support/Reading Material