Talking to a shrink

To clarify, by “shrink” I mean a Psychologist, Social Worker, Guidance Counselor, or any trained professional who deals with the emotional and social sides of dealing with cancer.

Have I ever seen a trained psycho-social professional? Yes, lots of times.

There were/are two ladies who played significant roles in the emotional side of my approach to dealing with cancer. One was in the purely professional capacity the other is a professional but more a friend to me. Both were helpful.

I was diagnosed in November of 1998 with AML (Leukemia) and after chemo and a bone marrow transplant, which I had in Toronto; I got an infection that resulted in me spending a month in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I was in a coma for three and a half weeks and when I woke up I basically had no idea where I was, how I got there, or why I couldn’t move my body. I had been beaten to a snot by the infections and while my docs gave me really really crappy odds of ever leaving the ICU, I did just that three days after being brought out of my drug-induced coma.

From ICU I went to 4 North A in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. I still had no idea where I was, what had happened or why my muscles had dissolved to nothing. After arriving on 4NA I saw a Psychologist because everyone seemed to know that there was something “not right” about me. I talked really slow, like Forrest Gump actually, and I asked the same questions about what had happened to me over and over again. This “mind doc” came to see me and ultimately diagnosed me with “ICU Psychosis,” which as I understand is a state of mind that results from being in Intensive Care for a long period of time.

If you think about it, I was in the ICU for a month, three and a half weeks of which I was asleep. I never went outside, never saw the sun, nothing for a month. Without all the infections, mountains of drugs and medical stuff going on you’d probably be confused at the best of times. So this doc would come to see me and the strangest thing would happen: I’d shut up. She’d come in just as I was talking with my mom or someone, still in my Forrest Gump like state, and as soon as I’d see her I’d shut up. I wouldn’t talk to her, never did in fact, until months later when I went back to see her long after I had gotten out of the hospital.

She would lean on the side of my bed and ask me questions about my stay in ICU, if was I afraid, how did I sleep, and all the time I remember thinking in my head… “lady, I know the answer to these questions but I’m not telling you!”

That was a pretty extreme time in my life and the choice to see a psycho-social health professional was made for me.

But the more meaningful experience I had with “shrinks” (or those trained in similar fields) was with a friend of mine who is a guidance counselor. I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through my cancer challenges without her. Her ability to listen and understand what I was trying to explain and what I was feeling inside made such a huge difference in my life. Her ability to guide me to a place that felt better and show me some tools to help me help me, those are special gifts to give to someone who is struggling as I was.

Some people may feel uncomfortable with sharing so openly, especially if it is someone they don’t know. And while I’ve also had experiences with professionals who aren’t as “tuned in,” I have found that when you find someone with which you can connect, it makes a major difference in your life.

If you are facing a tough time right now and feel as though some emotional and social support would help I have say it made a big-time difference for me.

I still suck at talking about my feelings a lot of the time. But I’m hopefully getting better and I know that I’m way more aware of who I am as a person and what I like and what I don’t like. Simply, I’m much better for having had a counselor to help guide me through the tough spots and to share the smoother spots.

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