For me, cancer has equalled many difficult emotions from sadness to anger, fear, and hurt. For many years, these feelings were left unheard. It always seemed easier to push them out of my mind than to bring them to the surface.
This was due, in part, to the negativity I associated with these emotions. I had been programmed to avoid any emotions that were difficult. “Bad” emotions like sadness, anger, fear, and hurt needed to be evaded, ignored, or crushed.
The problem with taking such a stance towards more uncomfortable emotions is that they eventually resurface, often having gained additional strength. Mine certainly came back in full force, years after my cancer experience had begun.
Three years into my experience with cancer, those hard emotions that never had the proper space to be processed were able to surface in a safe environment when I finally accessed proper long-term counselling services.
I realized my strength was not being without fear and sadness, it was about being able to sit with the more difficult feelings I experienced. Through counselling, I learned how to accept that those emotions are a part of my experience. I realized that although they were “uncomfortable,” they were not in themselves bad.
The importance of taking care of your mental health
It cannot be disputed that cancer can severely impact one’s mental health. In fact, many of us cancer thrivers face numerous mental health concerns all throughout the cancer experience — anxiety, depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, and/or phobias.
For some of us, mental health concerns may not be anything new, however, there is a good chance that these concerns have been aggravated by our cancer experiences. For others in our community, the extent of these mental health concerns may be unexplored territory.
In either case, many young adults living with cancer deal with mental health concerns that go untreated. Many of us suffer in silence as our physical health is prioritized over our mental health.
Now, bridging the gap between cancer thrivers and mental health services is, for me, a priority. A good first step towards narrowing this gap starts with individuals living with cancer themselves.
The most important step is the first one you take
Reaching out for counselling services is one of the most feared first steps. Barriers to accessing proper mental health services range from cultural stigmas to financial concerns. But, beyond that, we procrastinate on getting any mental health support until we are past our breaking point because it is unfamiliar.
As I consider mental health services to have played a very important — almost crucial — role in my experience with cancer and overall life, I am certainly team Mental Health! However, like anyone else, once I decided to start my search for a good mental health service, I was worried about many things such as compatibility, money, and time.
This led to a serious search for the best services for myself. I took a different approach to finding services that took my needs into consideration.
Three steps to find a good mental health service:
- Learn about (and write down) the different goals that are important to you. Think about what you are looking for in a mental health professional and what might be a deal breaker (i.e. cost per session, location of services, modality of services, etc.). Finally, define what you want — and do not want — in the services you are requesting.
- Say no to mental health services that do not meet your needs. Warning signs that a potential mental health professional is not for you include: You spend time listening to them over-sharing, you do not feel listened to, you cannot find any reasons to trust them, you know more about your concerns than they do, you are pushed too far out of your comfort zone, you seem to be affecting them by your concerns, you do not feel any chemistry, or you always feel disappointed by the session.
- Say yes to a mental health professional that seems right for you. Reasons to believe that a mental health professional is a good addition to your care team include: You leave the session feeling rejuvenated (or at least feeling a little lighter), you are comfortable sharing your story with them, you see an end to the work that you wish to do during therapy, you are adding strategies to your tool box to save for a later date.
My dedicated search for a good mental health service, one that fit my needs and my life, made a world of difference. I was able to find services that suited me and helped me move forward.
Without this search, I might have settled for a mental health service that would have soon been terminated for any number of reasons. I know this because I have been there and done the work just to be disappointed.
This work is so very important. Going to counselling needs to become as normal as going to see your oncologist.