By Charlene C.
My world as I knew it was once again turned upside down in 2020. When COVID-19 hit, my life was torn. Everything I had put into place as a young adult living with cancer blew up into pieces. There was so much fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. It reminded me of August 17, 2015 when I heard those three words that no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.” I remember the fear and all the other emotions that I felt. It’s a day that I will never forget.
So when we first went into lockdown last March, I felt very similar emotions, only now it was hard because I have a compromised immune system. I thought, “How am I going to protect myself from an illness that no one knows anything about?” Just as I was learning how to live life with a cancer diagnosis and still enjoy life as much as possible, the rug was ripped from under me. My new normal was gone.
Once again I had no control. The fear of the unknown that I had managed to tuck away raised its ugly head again. My anxiety skyrocketed and I had flashbacks of being told that I had cancer. I was in a totally different situation, but in my body it felt the same.
Even though I was already taken precautions to keep myself from getting sick, I wondered if that would be enough.
Not only was my physical health in jeopardy, but my mental health was, too. All of the support groups and programs that I was involved in stopped. Eventually things switched to online, but it isn’t the same.
“All of the support groups and programs that I was involved in stopped. Eventually things switched to online, but it isn’t the same.”
As a young adult with cancer, I have dealt with isolation, but this was different. I had no interaction at all. I only leave my apartment for medical appointments. I haven’t been to a store in almost a year. I have volunteers who drop off groceries for me.
I miss the connection and socialization I used to have when programs were face to face. I live alone, so that is another layer that I have to deal with. I long for a hug from a friend. I miss getting together with friends and having fun. Most of all, I miss my niece and nephew. I have been lucky to see them a few times but it’s definitely not the same as it was before COVID-19. They are a big part of my life. Spending time with them has helped me get through the past few years.
Yes, I know we have Zoom, social media, etc., but it’s not the same. I never realized how important interacting with others and being able to go places has helped my mental health, especially when you live alone.
I have always had issues with feeling like I don’t belong and fit in. I grew up feeling like an outcast that didn’t belong in this world. When I found YACC, that started to change. I felt connected and like I matter. I started to believe in myself.
Then COVID-19 hit and it feels like once again I am thrown off my trajectory.
Since COVID-19, I — like a lot of us — have been dealing with so much loss. We have lost life as we know it. I have lost my aunt. I lost the sense of control I was starting to build after having cancer thrown into my life. There are so many other losses. It feels so heavy; it’s just one layer after the other. Sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe. It’s hard to deal with.
Leading up to Survivor Conference in January 2021, I was not in a good place mental health-wise. To be honest, I ‘m still struggling. I’m constantly sad. Feelings and thoughts of not being good enough have resurfaced and they are just getting louder and louder with each new day. I’m either extremely sad or just numb and can’t feel anything. I struggle to get out of bed. I feel defeated like I don’t have the strength to get through this. It’s all way too much.
Normally when I have felt down and was experiencing similar feelings, I would go to Survivor Conference, and by the end of it I would feel so much better. I would have hope again, and feel connected and loved. I was hoping that it would happen again this year. Sadly, it didn’t happen. This time my depression was way too intense.
I struggled to get out of bed each morning and attend. It was hard to wear the “everything is okay” mask when I felt horrible inside.
Attending the workshops took everything out of me, and by the end, I had nothing left and wasn’t able to join in the social activities. I would beat myself up at night for not joining the social activities and for how depressed I was. I would say things to myself like, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy? I’m not good enough. I don’t belong.” etc.
“I would say things to myself like, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy? I’m not good enough. I don’t belong.'”
It was hard not being able to feel the connection and love that I know I have with so many people at YACC. I received so many messages through out the weekend from people telling me how happy they were to see me and how they missed me. I know it was sincere, but my depression was telling me that it’s not true.
The days following the conference were even harder. I felt like I had disappointed everyone. I was wondering what was wrong with me; why couldn’t I feel hope, love, and connection like I have at the other events that I have attended. I was spiralling with my negative thoughts. I was convinced that I’m a horrible person. I was convinced no one cares. Again, I was beating myself up. I was judging how I feel and wishing that I was someone else, someone who was good enough.
Then I had a small moment of clarity when I remembered the workshop I attended on dealing with difficult emotions. In that workshop we talked about not judging your feelings.
Then I remembered the phrase “it’s okay to not be okay.” I thought that I didn’t get anything out of the weekend, but I realize now that I got exactly what I needed. I was reminded that feelings are not good or bad, they just are. I was also reminded that no matter what my depressed voice is telling me or how bad I feel about me, I have a group of people from all across the country who care about me and have my back.
I’m still struggling and have really bad days, but I guess for now I need to focus on the really small things and keep reminding myself it’s okay to not be okay. I was upset that the conference wasn’t the same for me this year, but it turns out that it was exactly what I needed: a reminder of how important I am, and emotions are not good or bad, they just are.