Depression: What Summer Was Made of

Posted by on Oct 27, 2011 in All About Jen | 45 comments

Tonight I’m sitting here trying to keep my mind off the CT scan I’m getting in the morning. It’s a routine scan for a 6-month check up to see if there’s any sign of cancer in my body. Ugh, the c word. For the most part, I’m feeling pretty positive about it, but I can’t seem to get my mind off the past year and especially those ugly summer months. (I should warn you now, this post is long and you’ll see a side of me you’ve probably never seen before.)

I’m lucky to have so many people who care about me, asking how I’m doing and wanting an update. But most people have no idea or at least don’t understand what I went through over the summer. It’s been hard for me to talk about it really. The last time I wrote about this I was just realizing I had to go with the flow. Unfortunately, I figured this out too late and my body took over for me.

Just a few days after I wrote that post, I was sitting at work one day and I couldn’t stop crying. I was dead tired and felt an anxiety about being in the office that I had never experienced before. Every email I opened created more tears. I was overwhelmed. I took a cab home because I could feel that I needed to get home quickly, then proceeded to sleep for the next several hours. I felt like the rest helped.

But the next morning came, and I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t get out of bed. I also couldn’t stop crying. I was scared.

My husband emailed my boss to let him know I wouldn’t be in… little did we know that I wouldn’t be in the office again for another 7 weeks.

For the next three days I slept and I cried. My husband would force me to get up and brush my teeth and make me eat a peanut butter sandwich. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to drink, hell I didn’t want to get up to pee. I wondered if I was depressed or something, but somehow that scared me even more than having cancer.

After several days I finally called the doctor. Yes, I was depressed. I was going through shock and mourning after finally realizing what I had been through the previous seven months. The doctor called it an “adjustment reaction.” Oh. Shit. So what did this mean? He instantly put me on anti-depressants but explained that it would take at least a couple weeks for the medication to kick in. I was absolutely horrified. How could I be like this for the next 2 weeks?! It was hard on me and even harder on my husband and daughter. Pfft… if only it had been 2 weeks.

The worst part though was my own mind. I couldn’t stop thinking. I thought about work and worried and cried because I wasn’t there to answer people’s questions about Mozcation Brazil. I was getting emails about MozCon and all I could do was forward them for someone else to handle. I couldn’t do anything and it was killing me. I was worried about every little thing. I thought about high school, college, my first job, living in Mexico and Costa Rica. Literally all I did was think, and it was scary in my head. I felt sick that someone else was having to do my work for me on top of their own job. I just wanted to feel better, and I wanted to feel better NOW damnit. The doctor said 2 weeks, so I should be back on my feet in 2 weeks right? Right?!

We had been planning a trip back home to Denver for months and unfortunately it came along just a couple weeks into getting sick. I was scared I wouldn’t even be able to make it on the drive to the airport, let alone a 3 hour flight and all that goes with traveling. But I was bound and determined to get home. I wanted my mom. I wanted her to take care of me. And that’s what she did. For the 10 days I was home, my mom would give me massages every day. She would sit next to me and tell me it was going to be ok, that was I was going to be myself again. The entire time I was there I left the house twice, once for a quick drive and the second time to go to dinner on my last day. It was a disaster. I came home and cried. I couldn’t even go to a restaurant?! And why the fuck wasn’t this medicine working yet? It had been two weeks. I felt the same. Why? Why? Why?

The following week was MozCon and I was supposed to speak about Community Management. This whole time I kept telling myself that I was going to be well enough to make it to MozCon. I had been looking forward to the event all year since the previous year I missed most of it because I had just found out about the cancer. I totally fought myself. I didn’t want to be sick, I wanted to be well. I wanted to go to MozCon and see my friends and meet the community. I wanted to do what I love!

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t leave the house. I was scared. I, Jen Lopez was scared to be around other people. I thought often that I would be like this forever now. That I’d never be myself again. That I would lose my job because I couldn’t do it. I was depressed and I was embarrassed to talk about it. I couldn’t let people see me like this. My mind just kept thinking all these things.

All the while my boss was telling me that it was ok, to take my time, that everything was under control. He was amazing and very kind and understanding. As was my husband and my doctor and everyone else really. But I was still a mess. I was fighting myself and couldn’t seem to go with the flow like I had tried to learn earlier.

Oh, I should also say that some time during this whole mess I decided I couldn’t proceed with chemo. I had 1 1/2 rounds left, which would have been another 8 weeks. When I told the doctor, he completely agreed and felt that my body was telling me it was time to stop. WHEW! At least that was out of the way. The day I found out I for sure didn’t have to go back for chemo I was overjoyed. I tweeted about it and posted on Facebook. It was so great to tell everyone the news and get such positive feedback. :) Unfortunately, the next day I felt horrible again.

Mornings were the worst. I would wake up and it felt like my heart was racing, but it wasn’t. I had this incredible anxiety and it would often take me until noon or so to actually get out of bed. It was frustrating. Not just for me but for my husband who all summer had been taking care of our daughter full time while she was out of school and taking care of me full time because I was a fricken mess. He hates when I say this, because it was hard on him, but he’s a saint. He was sweet and understanding when needed, and forced me to get up off my ass when I needed that.

One morning when I was complaining about feeling that horrible anxiety he said “maybe you need to exercise a bit to get your heart pumping and get rid of it.” He literally forced me to do situps and pushups. I was so pissed at him for “being mean” until I realized I felt better. WTF!??? I felt better after exercising a bit. This was new to me. The next day (or maybe the day after that, who knows anymore) he made me go for a walk around the block. Then I went for a walk around two blocks. Finally one day I walked to the Ballard Locks and was hooked. I felt great! Ok… let’s not lie, I felt pretty good which at that point meant great.

So I started to walk every day.

The walks help me clear my mind in the morning and obviously get some exercise. They also make me feel like I’m prolonging my life. My friend Mike recently passed away from colon cancer. He was too young. One time after he found out I also had colon cancer, he emailed me about how walking for an hour each day had helped him go into remission. He was feeling great at the time and was passing along lots of great advice. Now when I go on my walks I think about Mike and how if those walks prolonged his life to help give him another year with his wife and sons, then what could it do for me?

I walk so I can see my little girl grow up and grow old with my sweet husband. (Oh! Also because I’m now the mayor on Foursquare. ;) )

After 7 very long and very dark weeks, I attempted to go back to work. It was a complete disaster. I wasn’t actually ready, but again I forced myself. It had been too long, I needed to be there. I walked in and my coworkers right away gave me lots of hugs… and I started to cry. Those damn tears were back. I made it about 2 hours, then had to go home. I slept the rest of the day. I was exhausted and being there had sent me back into that depression. Now this scared the hell out of me. If I couldn’t be in the office, what was I going to do?!

I finally, after 7 excruciating weeks, gave in to my body and mind. I stopped fighting. Ok, fine, I’m depressed, I feel horrible, FINE. I kept going on walks and started working from home. Little by little I was finally feeling better. Over the next few weeks I slowly worked myself into full days and am now back to work full time.

At this point I mostly feel like myself again, other than the fact that I’ve lost a ton of weight. :) It has been a long road to get back here and I’m definitely not done. But I’m glad to be out of that dark place. I’m scared about two things now: depression and cancer. And honestly, while the cancer could actually kill me, getting depressed like that again feels worse.

So as I sit here wondering what the scan tomorrow will bring, I’m content. I have a wonderful husband, the sweetest child anyone could ever imagine, and I feel pretty ok. I’m thankful for my family and for the support of SEOmoz and the entire community. No matter the outcome of the test, I know one thing for certain:

I’ll be going on a walk tomorrow, as if my life depends on it.

 

** update 10/28/11 – Talked to the doctor today and the CT scan came back clean. woohoooo!

45 Comments

  1. I am so moved after reading your story and I really don’t know what to say because nobody can image how you felt inside.
    The deeper you have been in there – the higher you had to work to get out. You had to be so unimaginably strong for that!
    I am just glad to know such persons like you.

    • Thank you Petra, you’re very kind! I was lucky to have the help and support of my family. Honestly without them I have no idea where I’d be.

  2. Hey Jen,

    Having both those things in your sights, knowing how hard you have to fight to get the better of them gives you a little advantage. No free hits for either cancer or depression against Jen Lopez now.

    The lesson about listening to what your body is telling you is one that takes some learning, but one of the most important there is.

    …and thank goodness for that beautiful man of yours daring to bring on the fight when you needed him to :)

    Will be thinking about you tomorrow…now go get some sleep!

    • I know, I know, you sound like my husband. :) I need to get to bed.

      At least now I’ve faced them both and made it through, so I know I can do it again if necessary. Listening to my body has been so tough to learn, but ever since I gave in, I’ve finally been healing.

      Thanks for always being so supportive!

  3. I barely know what to say Jen. You amaze me.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so real and raw and honest. Helping others go through their treatment is as close as I’ve personally gotten with the C word and it’s hard to know what they’re going through because they don’t always want to share like this. I have to say – thank you so much for being so open. It’s helpful on so many levels to others and to myself.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers as always but I’ll be thinking special thoughts for you tomorrow especially

    • Thanks Kristy. :) It’s taken me a while to get to the point where I could share this. I was extremely embarrassed by it for a long time.

      I’ve had a number of people thank me for being so open and honest through this and it has helped me to keep moving forward. If I can help someone realize they’re not alone in what they’re going through, then I’ve don my part.

      I don’t think I’m amazing, anyone could get through this when put up against these struggles. But I’m lucky in the fact that I have a huge support group.

      Thanks again Kristy, and please know if you ever want to talk (I know it can be just as hard to be the person caring for some one) let me know.

  4. beautiful, jen. thanks for sharing xo

  5. Hello Jen, I had no idea about all you went through During summer :( …. I’m really glad to see you feel better now… Focus on your beautiful daughter, loving husband, family and friends! My grandmother (who is like a mother to me since she raised me) had breast cancer 15 years ago… I was a teenager but remember well her telling me that when she went to chemo she thought about us and knew she had to be strong to finish her treatment… She is 82 years Old now :) muchos ánimos, cuidate mucho y mis mejores deseos en los resultados! Besos y abrazo fuerte

    • Wow! Thank you for telling that story, it’s great to hear things like this. It helps to keep me positive!

  6. You are such a strong person, Jen! No matter what you keep fighting. And you are very brave. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. You are an inspiration for me. I will be thinking of you tomorrow. Hugs.

    • Thanks Lyena! big hugs :)

  7. You are simply amazing Jen. It is such a brave thing to share a post like this. Cancer is all around us these days and I am sure many people will be better off for having read about your experience this summer. Thank you for sharing.

    Good luck tomorrow and we will all be sending good thoughts and hugs your way!

    • I was scared to write this and wondered if it was too much info. But I realized after I wrote it that I needed to write it for me. :) If I can help someone else realize they’re not alone, that will make me happy.
      Thanks!

  8. I just want you to know you are not alone, i feel the same way, many, if not all, the symptoms you describe are a deja-vu for me, but i think you got to the point i realized some time ago which is to stop fighting and accept reality; the worst part of depression is the negation one (our ‘seven weeks’ hell), until one realise things are just the way they are. Our state of mind is a manifestation of the cumulative experiences we go trough and some of them are really disruptive – cancer would qualify for that, i suspect – and turn everything upside down, things we’ve always did easily become little nightmares (“felt an anxiety about being in the office that I had never experienced before”), that’s because before we didn´t think just acted, life was a pre-ordered set of events we assimilated and reacted instinctively, without that solid ground and base everything comes in to question and we elaborate on even the slightest things (“i couldn’t stop thinking”). We must proceed with what we got and according with the circumstances (“go with the flow”), it´s not perfect but at least we are able to keep the beast (our own mind!) in the ‘cage’. I wish you all the better.

    • Thank you for your kind message. I feel as if I see things with different eyes these days. This experience opened up a whole new world to me. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns either, but it’s there and I now know I can deal with it.

  9. Very inspiring story Jen. You are a very strong person. The excercise thing really helped me 5 years ago when I was depressed. Glad to see you are doing better :-)

    • Thanks! I never understood depression before, I’m sorry you had to deal with it as well. I’m so thankful for my walks each day!

  10. Wow Jen. Thanks for posting this. I can relate to you. After I had my little girl I went through a serious post partum depression. I had never met anything in my life before that I couldn’t conquer. I resisted getting help for a long time and felt that I could pull through on my own. Once I finally admitted I needed help (well, ok, I didn’t admit it, my husband dragged me to the doctor) things slowly started to get better.

    Now, I am totally fine but reading your post brings me back to those days where I couldn’t stand to see anyone or do anything and it was a huge struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. The brain is such a freaking amazing organ and I don’t understand why depression happens but it sure is real.

    I pray that all goes well with your test!

    • Thanks Marie, you know I thought a lot about women with post partum depression actually. I couldn’t imagine feeling the way I felt and having to take care of a newborn baby. That, is truly amazing. I hope you’re better now!

      I’ve had several people tell me this brought back memories for them. It’s amazing to me how many people have faced this, and how little anyone has ever told me about it. I felt so alone and wish I had realized so many around me had gone through something similar.

      Thanks again for your comment. :)

  11. You’re an amazing person Jen, in every way. I constantly feel lucky to have met you, lucky to work with you and lucky to call you my friend. I’m so sorry you had such a rough time, but I can imagine that it’s only created a stronger, better-than-ever Jen. Whenever I need inspiration in my life, I feel like I can look to your example of how you pushed through something so much harder than anything I’ve ever faced and came out on the other side more remarkable than before.

    Thanks for sharing this story, and for being such a constant reminder of greatness in all of our lives.

    • Whew. This means the world to me Rand, however I’ll be honest, I have a hard time being a “reminder of greatness.” I don’t feel great or amazing, but I do feel lucky and appreciative.

      It’s funny because when I need inspiration in my life I look to you and how you’ve built this amazing company, travel, work so hard and are still one of the most kind, humble guys I know (I swear I’m not kissing ass for a raise… although… ;).

      Thanks for the kind words Rand. We can continue to be inspirations to each other. :)

      • Ok. Deal! We’ll shake on it when (if?) I make it back to Seattle :-)

  12. You are very strong and brave, Jen. Thank you for sharing this story :)

    • Thanks Jane :)

  13. Jen it sounds like you have a great husband. How could anyone expect otherwise given how great his wife is?

    I only had a small taste of the c-scare, but enough to know that what you must be going through is more difficult and profoundly life-changing than I could ever imagine. You have my IM. Feel free to ping me to “vent” any time. My wife has depression off-and-on. Sometimes she just needs to be in a funk for awhile. And sometimes she needs someone to help her out of that funk. Tell your hubby if he ever figures out how to tell which is which to let me know. ;-P

    • haha I will tell him, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know either. :) I appreciate the offer to vent and I’ll take you up on that sometime… although it might be to vent about douche bags and not cancer. ;)

  14. Jen –

    Thank you for writing this. Being open in a blog post like this is scary, so thank you for sharing your personal struggles with us as well. I’ve been in that deep dark place too, and I am glad that you have found a way out of it and into the freedom of living once again.

    You are an amazing woman and I (and so many others) wish you and your wonderful family so many years of happiness, laughter, and love together.

    • Thank you John. :) I’m sorry to hear though that you’ve been through something like this as well. It’s scary when you think you’ll never break free from it. I also appreciate your constant support through all of this, it has meant a lot to me.
      Thanks!

  15. Jen-
    That was the most honest and truly amazing thing I have ever read. You are one of the bravest people I know…not just for battling cancer and depression but for sharing the brutal truth with the world. I lost my cousin to cancer this past summer. Your post helps me understand just how tough she really was to fight for so long. Thank you for sharing…

    • Wendy this was one of the reasons I decided to write this. It scared the hell out of me to think how people would react. I honestly wondered if I’d get any comments at all or if people would be like “whoa! TMI lady!”

      I’m really sorry to hear about your cousin. I’m sure she had to be much tougher than I have. *hugs*

  16. OMG Jen…. you didn’t even want to get up to pee… That’s serious!!! :)

    No seriously, all kidding aside, you have been through so much this year. Sharing something like this takes a lot of courage, but you were never lacking in that. You are such a strong, amazing person and for as long as I’ve know you, you never let a road block get in your way. You handle whatever life throws your way and you always come out stronger for it.

    Know that I love and miss you. I’m here for you whenever you need me.

    • Thank you Teresa, I miss you dearly. I loved our few days in NYC together. :) I hope we can skype soon!

      Love you.

  17. Thank you, Jen. I feel privileged that you shared this with us. You’ve been so much in my thoughts and prayers over the last year – I’m glad you have someone like Rudy to lean on. Hugs.

    • Thanks Ruth! *hugs*

  18. I had anxiety just reading this! You are so brave for living through it and then telling us all your story. I got depressed about a year after my brother died (10 years ago) and until that point, I thought being depressed was more of a mind over matter type of thing. Well, as you know, it is NOT. Your body was done and you had to heal it.

    Good for you and I’m so glad the walks are helping you as well. Big hugs to you and to your work who supported you as well.

    • Thanks Kristi! I’m really sorry to hear about your brother and that you’ve dealt with something like this before. It’s dark and ugly and would never want this for another person.

      Thank you for the kind words!

  19. I am not sure why doctors don’t really warn you about the depression that comes after you complete cancer treatment. Sadly I know in my own way what you went through this summer, I completed treatment just over a month ago and I am struggling to find “normal.” I am glad to hear you are walking, I am pushing myself to do the same!

    • Mandi, I thought quite a bit about this actually. I too wondered why my doctor hadn’t warned me that something like this could happen. Hell he told me about every other horrifying thing that could happen! The conclusion I came to was that if they tell you about it, perhaps you somehow will it to happen. And by not telling the patient, they’re giving us a chance to not have it weighing on our minds along with everything else. This may be complete crap to not make me mad at my doctor, but it’s the only thing I can think of.

      I’m really sorry to hear that you went through treatment and that you’re dealing with the after affects now. It’s a horrible struggle that doesn’t get enough coverage. We talked lots about what it was going to be like during treatment, but not about what happens after.

      I’m here if you ever want to talk. I’d love to listen to you vent or whatever it is you’d like to talk about. Just let me know, and I’m there!

  20. Glad you put this into words, and very glad about the good news today. People assume the actual fight with the disease must be the hardest part, but sometimes it’s when you’re done fighting that things fall apart. We’ve always got your back, and tell Rudy he IS a saint, whether he likes it or not.

    • :) Thanks Pete

  21. Jen,
    You are my hero.

    • Oh Marty. I thought about you so much during this time and it helped me a lot. To know how much you’ve been through, and how absolutely amazing you are, it kept me going. I saw you tweet one day that you were working on the treadmill and I thought “well shit! I should be doing that” and I went for a walk. :)

      <3

  22. Jen, thanks for writing it down and letting us in ‘behind the curtain.’ I have a good friend from college who has battled cancer this year and dealt with drugs misdiagnosed and all sorts of things. I’m going to share your story with her, she has had some similar issues and thoughts. I’m so glad the scan came back with GREAT news. You are a star and I love that Rudy and Eva are there to help you every step of the way, literally and figuratively! Love ya!

  23. Hi Jen,

    Very sad too see such a great inspiration to many going through a tough time.
    I have faced post traumatic stress and mild depression after I was attacked at random and left in hospital for 1 month, yet recover was a lengthy process. You don’t feel good at all and it takes a long time to recover yet you just have to stay positive where possible and try to get back to normal life, I know it takes time and it is not easy. But by the sounds of it you have a great support base behind you to help when needed. Good luck with the future and I wish you all the best.

  24. It is a really powerful thing for you to be able to share everything you are going through, my father has cancer and I cant imagine what it could be like to go through this but your ability to communicate so clearly your experience really helped me.

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  2. 2011: A Year of Growing | Jennifer Sable Lopez - [...] I was at the park with my friends and family one day, and the next I couldn’t get out …

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