Mel Hebert

@mighty_mel | contributor
Super Contributor
I’m a Contributor here at The Mighty who writes about my struggles with Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety and ADHD in hopes of one day ending the stigma surrounding mental health. I’m here to talk about the hard stuff. You can find me on Twitter at @ok_mel0n
Mel Hebert

Proposals to Arm Teachers to Stop School Shootings Are Ableist

After the tragic shooting of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, I’ve seen multiple posts on social media proposing solutions to prevent the disproportionate amount of school shootings that happen in the United States. From banning guns, having security guards at schools, to requiring metal detectors, it seems like everyone has an opinion about what should be done. However, some solutions aren’t for everyone. For example, over the weekend, there was an influx of posts popping up on my social media feeds that said arming teachers was the answer. There are a lot of reasons this solution falls short, but this is one thing I haven’t seen discussed as much — expecting teachers to have firearms is also ableist. I’m a teacher who struggles with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Due to this, I was hospitalized for the first time for psychiatric issues when I was 17. As of today, I’ve been hospitalized over 30 times. I’m older now, and most of the time I’m quite stable. But I still have chronic suicidal thoughts. This means that sometimes when extenuating circumstances occur, I’m hospitalized again because my suicidal thoughts have gone too far. Having chronic suicidal thoughts isn’t the ideal life, but I’ve grown used to it. Even “happy” things trigger suicidal thoughts, such as the end of a school year and getting to summer vacation. To most people, this means teachers get two months off of work. To me, it means a time when I struggle because my mind views the end of school as the perfect ending of a chapter, and I always seem to think it’s my last chapter. But what does that tangent have to do with arming teachers being ableist? Everything. I have functional bipolar disorder, so while it’s severe, I’ve also learned to cope with it. My coworkers don’t know I’m hospitalized nearly once a year, sometimes more. And I want to work at my job without sticking out. But, to those who don’t know, many states have gun control laws against psychiatric patients. I am not allowed to legally possess a firearm until I’ve spent a minimum of five years without a psychiatric hospitalization, and regardless of how hard I try, that hasn’t happened since I was diagnosed. If teachers were expected to possess firearms to stop school shootings, I would stand out from my peers, required to disclose health information to them that isn’t directly related to the job I signed up for — teaching. Even if they did make an exception and actually gave me a gun, that would be disastrous. Giving me a gun would mean giving me the means to die by suicide. I would not be safe with a gun, and I know coworkers who struggle with their mental health who would not be safe with a gun either. So, before we move to arming teachers, let’s think about the teachers who shouldn’t be armed. As I said, it’s not just me who has a mental health disorder or another disability that impairs them from using a gun properly. This is a problem for teachers across the country. And while I don’t know the answer or solution to how to stop mass shootings, I ask you to think of us too. Because I want to both keep my job and be safe at my job, but if we arm teachers, that’s not an option I can have.

Mel Hebert

Why Cancer Remission Can Bring Up Complicated Feelings

My husband and I were seated in front of my oversized computer monitor waiting for another video visit with my new oncologist. I had just switched providers to get a second opinion, and this was my first meeting with him. Earlier, he had said I’d most likely need a stronger chemotherapy regimen, so my husband and I sat side by side. He had a notebook to write things down and my heart was pounding with anticipation. But then, almost magically, the doctor came on and said those three words every cancer patient I know wants to hear. He explained what was found in my restaging process of biopsies and PET scans, then proceeded to tell me, “You’re in remission. Your cancer cells are sleeping. It will come back eventually, but for now, you no longer need treatment.” Naturally, I clarified, “So, I don’t need any more chemo right now?” He said I didn’t. And everyone around me was so overjoyed. My husband wanted to celebrate. My mom was ecstatic. My mother-in-law nearly cried. Yet I sat there feeling nothing but anxiety. I didn’t feel happy about it. Because if I wasn’t in active treatment for cancer, what curveball was coming next? Throughout my diagnosis, my husband and I found solace in humorously calling my life “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” To be honest, I don’t remember what happened in the actual book series, but the title was fitting. My entire life has been trauma after trauma, so adding on medical trauma was just another checkmark off the list. It was only a joke because we were serious, though. If I’m being honest, 2021 was one of the hardest years of my life. It started with multiple hospitalizations, then an intensive therapy program, then a cancer diagnosis, which meant that I couldn’t work my dream job when I graduated college due to the treatment. From start to finish, it’s been one whiplash after another. The entire year was spent mourning my health. And now, a doctor was telling me I was on the road to getting my health back. So, why wasn’t I happier about being in remission? As my husband took me out to Olive Garden to celebrate, I found myself with clenched teeth, trying to find it in me to smile and be as carefree as he was. Still, I didn’t see how everyone else could be so elated. All this meant was that another curveball was coming to blindside me soon and this time I didn’t know what it was. I felt anxious and scared and had an enormous sense of dread. I had just gotten into a comfortable routine with the cancer thing. I didn’t have it in me to adjust to whatever terrible thing was coming next. And on top of that, I felt bad about feeling bad. Everyone around me was happy, and there I was, being pessimistic and bringing the mood down. That created a lot of guilt, yet I couldn’t let my anxieties go because, in order to protect myself, I couldn’t be happy-go-lucky. I had to be guarded and anxious. Because if I wasn’t, the next unfortunate event would surprise me again, and I didn’t want any more surprises. I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime. Two weeks have passed since then, and it still feels odd. I’m not entirely anxious about being in remission anymore, but it’s rare that I’m boasting proudly about it. I’m still apprehensive, but I’ve also realized that being in remission is a blessing and I now get to go back to living my life again. Even if that fact terrifies me, I still get to go back to living my life. I’m just hoping there won’t be any more bombshells to deal with as I do. But even if there are, I know I can handle it. I did handle cancer, after all. I’d just prefer to live a life free from sucker punches like getting diagnosed with cancer or being in the ER six times in a four-month timespan. I’m hoping I can find a new “normal” soon.

Mel Hebert

'Supergirl' Final Season Shows Even Superheroes Can Have PTSD

When I hear “Supergirl” I automatically think of two things: my favorite TV show and one of the few female-leading superheroes. Supergirl —also known as Kara Zor-El, is the infamous Superman’s cousin in the show. She came to Earth to protect Superman as he grew up, but was stuck in the Phantom Zone for 24 years, so when she finally came to earth, Superman was all grown up and he certainly didn’t need any protection. Meanwhile, Kara hadn’t aged a day due to being in the Phantom Zone. For the first five seasons, Kara brings up being in the Phantom Zone many times, but never discusses it further. It’s merely a brief mention in conversations before she moves on. The most Kara had said about the Phantom Zone before the sixth season is that it’s “cold” and “dark.” However, in the final season, one of Supergirl’s biggest enemies sends her back to the Phantom Zone, leaving her trapped once again, and this time things turn out differently when she returns to Earth. While her friends were figuring out how to save her, viewers finally got to see what the Phantom Zone consisted of. For the first time, we saw that it’s filled with phantoms that make people relive their worst nightmare again and again. For Supergirl, this meant losing her powers and seeing her family and friends die repeatedly. In the show, these are called “Fear Visions.” And even after she gets back to Earth and the phantoms are gone, there are a lot of signs that point to Kara having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her experience. Symptoms of PTSD include avoidance, lacking interest in activities you once enjoyed, being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard for danger, and trouble concentrating. Additionally, PTSD often includes having intrusive thoughts, such as reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again, recurrent unwanted memories of the traumatic event and irritability or anger outbursts due to the traumatic event. Throughout the sixth season of Supergirl, all of these symptoms are present. As Kara returns to Earth, trauma appears to overwhelm her. She starts having what’s clinically referred to as “flashbacks” of being trapped with the phantoms. The show replays the look of pain on her face as the phantoms take over her thoughts, and viewers watch as Kara relives her trauma again and again. The phantoms created lingering panic about the possibility of her friends and family getting hurt. Due to this, Kara pushes the rest of her life away, focusing solely on being Supergirl. This means that she quits the job that she loves, pushes away friends and colleagues, and continues to have flashbacks — even in the middle of saving the day. Eventually, she stops living her normal life altogether. She’s afraid of being Kara because it means putting Supergirl aside — which could lead to the people around her getting hurt because she wasn’t there to save them. And while the show never brings up PTSD directly, the panic that Supergirl feels is something I can heavily relate to. Obviously, I’m not Supergirl by any means, but I do feel panic when I think about my trauma. I have flashbacks the same way Kara does, except instead of freezing, I tend to cry in my room as I relive the events. There are times I have unwarranted anger, the same way Supergirl does when her friends aren’t saving the day quickly enough. There are also times I push people away due to my trauma because I don’t want them to get hurt. Additionally, when I think about how Kara portrays the Phantom Zone the first time versus how she portrays it after returning the second time, I think a lot about how I coped with my own trauma. Just like Kara, my primary coping skill was pretending the trauma hadn’t affected me at all — that I was completely fine. However, when I was forced to face it, I realized my trauma had affected me a lot. I just never took the time to process what happened to me. And when I was forced to face it, those years of minimizing my trauma came back to bite me as I finally began to realize that what I went through wasn’t normal — the same way Kara finally acknowledges her own trauma. So while the show never outright calls Kara’s flashbacks and behavior post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, I still think it’s groundbreaking that they would include PTSD-like symptoms at all. It sends the message to everyone watching that even a god-like superhero can struggle with mental illness, which is a message that needed to be sent. Many victims of trauma never speak up or get help due to thinking their trauma “isn’t that bad,” and I think seeing that even a superhero can go through trauma can be extremely validating to viewers. It may even encourage others to talk about their own traumas and realize they’re not alone. Seeing Supergirl show how traumatic events can affect even the strongest of people gives me hope that one day society will also see that having PTSD isn’t a sign of weakness. PTSD is a legitimate mental illness that can make it hard to function in day-to-day life, and it can happen to anyone. And that was an important message to send.

Mel Hebert

Getting a Cancer Diagnosis After Living With Mental Illness

Saying that I’ve been through a long, treacherous road while dealing with my mental illness is an understatement. I was hospitalized for suicidal intent for the first time when I was 17. That feels like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been 10 years. I cycled in and out of the hospital after that, and I thought I might always live my life in hospitals for a while there. For years, I couldn’t hold down friendships, a job, I couldn’t participate in college — I felt so isolated. Yet, all the while, people would feed me “positive” thoughts like, “It could be worse. At least you have your physical health.” The statement infuriated me. There I was, in and out of a mental hospital every few weeks, and they wanted to remind me it could be worse? In my mind, that was the worst. I was at rock bottom, so forgive me if I didn’t care about my physical health. It’s great that I was physically healthy. It didn’t undermine that I was absolutely miserable in dealing with my mental health. Now, I regret that. About six months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I finally understand now. I wish I had listened. I wish I had realized that while it was unfortunate to be dealing with such a severe mental illness, I was still fortunate to have my physical health to rely on. Since finding out I have cancer, things have changed forever. One thing is, I always thought the exhaustion from depressive episodes was the worst kind of tired there is, but now that I have “depression tired” and “cancer tired” mixed together, I realize how wrong I was. Most days, it takes everything in me to make it through the workday. I come home with terrible headaches and all I can do is lay in a dark room under the covers because I have nothing left in me to give. Taking the dogs out seems like the most insurmountable task. If someone asks me for a favor, I will likely break down crying. On weekdays, I’m at my tipping point when I come home to the point where my husband has questioned if going on disability would be a better idea. He hates seeing me so worn out from life, but we both know work is the only thing that keeps my mental health stable. It’s part of the balancing act. Physically, I need more rest and less of the emotional stimulation that work provides. Mentally, I need to go to work to stop myself from becoming suicidal because I put all of my value in my career title. It’s a vicious cycle. And then the sickness comes. Before this — before cancer — I was one of the most reliable employees there could be. I almost never called off, I always had sick days to roll over, and I was extremely dependable. It kills me that I can’t be that way anymore. Due to cancer and the treatment I’m receiving, I’m always sick. Recently, I was sick for six weeks, which led to me calling off for four weeks because it was so severe that I couldn’t work. I was so frustrated with myself. I wanted my body to just cooperate for once. I wanted to be at work, but my body wouldn’t let me. At the time, my depression grew with every day that passed. I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I wanted my life back. And then there are the little things that happen. Things that no one really thinks might bother me, but they’re things that cause such distress that I struggle to hold it together. For example, my cancer causes shortness of breath. That means that simple things like walking down the hall with coworkers or getting into the car leave me absolutely winded. And that’s embarrassing. It’s completely embarrassing to know I haven’t done anything strenuous and I’m still struggling to breathe. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m OK. Because other people don’t know my symptoms — not unless I tell them. And that would just make me self-conscious. I hate when people pity me or don’t know what to say, and talking about my symptoms would lead to discomfort that I don’t have the energy to deal with. But it’s not just the embarrassing things. It’s the heartbreaking things too. For instance, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing along to songs. One of my biggest coping skills is turning on a Taylor Swift song and belting the lyrics alongside her to calm my anxiety. But even when I’m sitting still, there are lyrics I can’t finish because I run out of air. The shortness of breath doesn’t allow me to sing my favorite songs, and that’s one of the things that hurts me the most. I can deal with the embarrassment I mentioned before, but when I can’t do things that I used to be really good at and loved more than anything — it really is heartbreaking. It leaves me devastated. I’ve cried over it more than once because I just want my life to go back to normal. Another thing to deal with is the holidays. I barely have the energy for everyday life, so I most certainly don’t have the energy to spend time in a large gathering and that makes it hard. I don’t want to pull “the cancer card” but I also don’t know if I can make it through Thanksgiving without having a mental breakdown. And it’s isolating because I know that my family wouldn’t understand. No one understands. No one can comprehend how tired I am and how helpless I feel as my body refuses to cooperate. Even my husband, as much as he tries to understand and has hardships of his own in coping with this, just doesn’t get it. He’ll ask me to do simple chores that I know I should be able to do, so I’ll try to do them, which ends with me crying because I can’t and I feel defeated. It always makes him confused. He wants me to communicate with him about when things are too much, but everything seems to be too much nowadays and that’s humiliating to admit. And overall, while I am sad about all of this, I’m mostly angry. I frequently will sob out of frustration, that’s how angry I am. I want my life back. I want my body back. I want my health back. Every day, I feel like my body is betraying me and feeling that way is such a horrible experience. I want to be able to go back to the way things were before, but I know I’ll never be able to. Getting a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and right now it’s hard to picture things ever being the way they were before again. It seems impossible. The best I’ll be able to do is find a new normal, which is something I can’t accept. I don’t want to find a new normal. I want my old normal back. If I could go back, I would have listened. I wouldn’t have been grateful that I have a mental illness by any means, but maybe I would have been able to see the whole picture a bit more clearly. I wish I could’ve seen how fortunate I was to be struggling in only one area. Instead, I took that for granted. Now, I regret that more than anything. And I’m really hoping things get easier because where I’m at, I have so much resentment inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I need that to change. And if it doesn’t, I hope I can at least find acceptance with what my new reality entails because from where I’m currently sitting, that seems like an impossible task. But even with that being said, I’m still hoping I’ll prove myself wrong. Because I need a restored sense of peace. I just don’t know how long it will take me to find it.

Mel Hebert

Getting a Cancer Diagnosis After Living With Mental Illness

Saying that I’ve been through a long, treacherous road while dealing with my mental illness is an understatement. I was hospitalized for suicidal intent for the first time when I was 17. That feels like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been 10 years. I cycled in and out of the hospital after that, and I thought I might always live my life in hospitals for a while there. For years, I couldn’t hold down friendships, a job, I couldn’t participate in college — I felt so isolated. Yet, all the while, people would feed me “positive” thoughts like, “It could be worse. At least you have your physical health.” The statement infuriated me. There I was, in and out of a mental hospital every few weeks, and they wanted to remind me it could be worse? In my mind, that was the worst. I was at rock bottom, so forgive me if I didn’t care about my physical health. It’s great that I was physically healthy. It didn’t undermine that I was absolutely miserable in dealing with my mental health. Now, I regret that. About six months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I finally understand now. I wish I had listened. I wish I had realized that while it was unfortunate to be dealing with such a severe mental illness, I was still fortunate to have my physical health to rely on. Since finding out I have cancer, things have changed forever. One thing is, I always thought the exhaustion from depressive episodes was the worst kind of tired there is, but now that I have “depression tired” and “cancer tired” mixed together, I realize how wrong I was. Most days, it takes everything in me to make it through the workday. I come home with terrible headaches and all I can do is lay in a dark room under the covers because I have nothing left in me to give. Taking the dogs out seems like the most insurmountable task. If someone asks me for a favor, I will likely break down crying. On weekdays, I’m at my tipping point when I come home to the point where my husband has questioned if going on disability would be a better idea. He hates seeing me so worn out from life, but we both know work is the only thing that keeps my mental health stable. It’s part of the balancing act. Physically, I need more rest and less of the emotional stimulation that work provides. Mentally, I need to go to work to stop myself from becoming suicidal because I put all of my value in my career title. It’s a vicious cycle. And then the sickness comes. Before this — before cancer — I was one of the most reliable employees there could be. I almost never called off, I always had sick days to roll over, and I was extremely dependable. It kills me that I can’t be that way anymore. Due to cancer and the treatment I’m receiving, I’m always sick. Recently, I was sick for six weeks, which led to me calling off for four weeks because it was so severe that I couldn’t work. I was so frustrated with myself. I wanted my body to just cooperate for once. I wanted to be at work, but my body wouldn’t let me. At the time, my depression grew with every day that passed. I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I wanted my life back. And then there are the little things that happen. Things that no one really thinks might bother me, but they’re things that cause such distress that I struggle to hold it together. For example, my cancer causes shortness of breath. That means that simple things like walking down the hall with coworkers or getting into the car leave me absolutely winded. And that’s embarrassing. It’s completely embarrassing to know I haven’t done anything strenuous and I’m still struggling to breathe. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m OK. Because other people don’t know my symptoms — not unless I tell them. And that would just make me self-conscious. I hate when people pity me or don’t know what to say, and talking about my symptoms would lead to discomfort that I don’t have the energy to deal with. But it’s not just the embarrassing things. It’s the heartbreaking things too. For instance, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing along to songs. One of my biggest coping skills is turning on a Taylor Swift song and belting the lyrics alongside her to calm my anxiety. But even when I’m sitting still, there are lyrics I can’t finish because I run out of air. The shortness of breath doesn’t allow me to sing my favorite songs, and that’s one of the things that hurts me the most. I can deal with the embarrassment I mentioned before, but when I can’t do things that I used to be really good at and loved more than anything — it really is heartbreaking. It leaves me devastated. I’ve cried over it more than once because I just want my life to go back to normal. Another thing to deal with is the holidays. I barely have the energy for everyday life, so I most certainly don’t have the energy to spend time in a large gathering and that makes it hard. I don’t want to pull “the cancer card” but I also don’t know if I can make it through Thanksgiving without having a mental breakdown. And it’s isolating because I know that my family wouldn’t understand. No one understands. No one can comprehend how tired I am and how helpless I feel as my body refuses to cooperate. Even my husband, as much as he tries to understand and has hardships of his own in coping with this, just doesn’t get it. He’ll ask me to do simple chores that I know I should be able to do, so I’ll try to do them, which ends with me crying because I can’t and I feel defeated. It always makes him confused. He wants me to communicate with him about when things are too much, but everything seems to be too much nowadays and that’s humiliating to admit. And overall, while I am sad about all of this, I’m mostly angry. I frequently will sob out of frustration, that’s how angry I am. I want my life back. I want my body back. I want my health back. Every day, I feel like my body is betraying me and feeling that way is such a horrible experience. I want to be able to go back to the way things were before, but I know I’ll never be able to. Getting a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and right now it’s hard to picture things ever being the way they were before again. It seems impossible. The best I’ll be able to do is find a new normal, which is something I can’t accept. I don’t want to find a new normal. I want my old normal back. If I could go back, I would have listened. I wouldn’t have been grateful that I have a mental illness by any means, but maybe I would have been able to see the whole picture a bit more clearly. I wish I could’ve seen how fortunate I was to be struggling in only one area. Instead, I took that for granted. Now, I regret that more than anything. And I’m really hoping things get easier because where I’m at, I have so much resentment inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I need that to change. And if it doesn’t, I hope I can at least find acceptance with what my new reality entails because from where I’m currently sitting, that seems like an impossible task. But even with that being said, I’m still hoping I’ll prove myself wrong. Because I need a restored sense of peace. I just don’t know how long it will take me to find it.

Mel Hebert

Getting a Cancer Diagnosis After Living With Mental Illness

Saying that I’ve been through a long, treacherous road while dealing with my mental illness is an understatement. I was hospitalized for suicidal intent for the first time when I was 17. That feels like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been 10 years. I cycled in and out of the hospital after that, and I thought I might always live my life in hospitals for a while there. For years, I couldn’t hold down friendships, a job, I couldn’t participate in college — I felt so isolated. Yet, all the while, people would feed me “positive” thoughts like, “It could be worse. At least you have your physical health.” The statement infuriated me. There I was, in and out of a mental hospital every few weeks, and they wanted to remind me it could be worse? In my mind, that was the worst. I was at rock bottom, so forgive me if I didn’t care about my physical health. It’s great that I was physically healthy. It didn’t undermine that I was absolutely miserable in dealing with my mental health. Now, I regret that. About six months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I finally understand now. I wish I had listened. I wish I had realized that while it was unfortunate to be dealing with such a severe mental illness, I was still fortunate to have my physical health to rely on. Since finding out I have cancer, things have changed forever. One thing is, I always thought the exhaustion from depressive episodes was the worst kind of tired there is, but now that I have “depression tired” and “cancer tired” mixed together, I realize how wrong I was. Most days, it takes everything in me to make it through the workday. I come home with terrible headaches and all I can do is lay in a dark room under the covers because I have nothing left in me to give. Taking the dogs out seems like the most insurmountable task. If someone asks me for a favor, I will likely break down crying. On weekdays, I’m at my tipping point when I come home to the point where my husband has questioned if going on disability would be a better idea. He hates seeing me so worn out from life, but we both know work is the only thing that keeps my mental health stable. It’s part of the balancing act. Physically, I need more rest and less of the emotional stimulation that work provides. Mentally, I need to go to work to stop myself from becoming suicidal because I put all of my value in my career title. It’s a vicious cycle. And then the sickness comes. Before this — before cancer — I was one of the most reliable employees there could be. I almost never called off, I always had sick days to roll over, and I was extremely dependable. It kills me that I can’t be that way anymore. Due to cancer and the treatment I’m receiving, I’m always sick. Recently, I was sick for six weeks, which led to me calling off for four weeks because it was so severe that I couldn’t work. I was so frustrated with myself. I wanted my body to just cooperate for once. I wanted to be at work, but my body wouldn’t let me. At the time, my depression grew with every day that passed. I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I wanted my life back. And then there are the little things that happen. Things that no one really thinks might bother me, but they’re things that cause such distress that I struggle to hold it together. For example, my cancer causes shortness of breath. That means that simple things like walking down the hall with coworkers or getting into the car leave me absolutely winded. And that’s embarrassing. It’s completely embarrassing to know I haven’t done anything strenuous and I’m still struggling to breathe. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m OK. Because other people don’t know my symptoms — not unless I tell them. And that would just make me self-conscious. I hate when people pity me or don’t know what to say, and talking about my symptoms would lead to discomfort that I don’t have the energy to deal with. But it’s not just the embarrassing things. It’s the heartbreaking things too. For instance, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing along to songs. One of my biggest coping skills is turning on a Taylor Swift song and belting the lyrics alongside her to calm my anxiety. But even when I’m sitting still, there are lyrics I can’t finish because I run out of air. The shortness of breath doesn’t allow me to sing my favorite songs, and that’s one of the things that hurts me the most. I can deal with the embarrassment I mentioned before, but when I can’t do things that I used to be really good at and loved more than anything — it really is heartbreaking. It leaves me devastated. I’ve cried over it more than once because I just want my life to go back to normal. Another thing to deal with is the holidays. I barely have the energy for everyday life, so I most certainly don’t have the energy to spend time in a large gathering and that makes it hard. I don’t want to pull “the cancer card” but I also don’t know if I can make it through Thanksgiving without having a mental breakdown. And it’s isolating because I know that my family wouldn’t understand. No one understands. No one can comprehend how tired I am and how helpless I feel as my body refuses to cooperate. Even my husband, as much as he tries to understand and has hardships of his own in coping with this, just doesn’t get it. He’ll ask me to do simple chores that I know I should be able to do, so I’ll try to do them, which ends with me crying because I can’t and I feel defeated. It always makes him confused. He wants me to communicate with him about when things are too much, but everything seems to be too much nowadays and that’s humiliating to admit. And overall, while I am sad about all of this, I’m mostly angry. I frequently will sob out of frustration, that’s how angry I am. I want my life back. I want my body back. I want my health back. Every day, I feel like my body is betraying me and feeling that way is such a horrible experience. I want to be able to go back to the way things were before, but I know I’ll never be able to. Getting a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and right now it’s hard to picture things ever being the way they were before again. It seems impossible. The best I’ll be able to do is find a new normal, which is something I can’t accept. I don’t want to find a new normal. I want my old normal back. If I could go back, I would have listened. I wouldn’t have been grateful that I have a mental illness by any means, but maybe I would have been able to see the whole picture a bit more clearly. I wish I could’ve seen how fortunate I was to be struggling in only one area. Instead, I took that for granted. Now, I regret that more than anything. And I’m really hoping things get easier because where I’m at, I have so much resentment inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I need that to change. And if it doesn’t, I hope I can at least find acceptance with what my new reality entails because from where I’m currently sitting, that seems like an impossible task. But even with that being said, I’m still hoping I’ll prove myself wrong. Because I need a restored sense of peace. I just don’t know how long it will take me to find it.

Mel Hebert

Getting a Cancer Diagnosis After Living With Mental Illness

Saying that I’ve been through a long, treacherous road while dealing with my mental illness is an understatement. I was hospitalized for suicidal intent for the first time when I was 17. That feels like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been 10 years. I cycled in and out of the hospital after that, and I thought I might always live my life in hospitals for a while there. For years, I couldn’t hold down friendships, a job, I couldn’t participate in college — I felt so isolated. Yet, all the while, people would feed me “positive” thoughts like, “It could be worse. At least you have your physical health.” The statement infuriated me. There I was, in and out of a mental hospital every few weeks, and they wanted to remind me it could be worse? In my mind, that was the worst. I was at rock bottom, so forgive me if I didn’t care about my physical health. It’s great that I was physically healthy. It didn’t undermine that I was absolutely miserable in dealing with my mental health. Now, I regret that. About six months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I finally understand now. I wish I had listened. I wish I had realized that while it was unfortunate to be dealing with such a severe mental illness, I was still fortunate to have my physical health to rely on. Since finding out I have cancer, things have changed forever. One thing is, I always thought the exhaustion from depressive episodes was the worst kind of tired there is, but now that I have “depression tired” and “cancer tired” mixed together, I realize how wrong I was. Most days, it takes everything in me to make it through the workday. I come home with terrible headaches and all I can do is lay in a dark room under the covers because I have nothing left in me to give. Taking the dogs out seems like the most insurmountable task. If someone asks me for a favor, I will likely break down crying. On weekdays, I’m at my tipping point when I come home to the point where my husband has questioned if going on disability would be a better idea. He hates seeing me so worn out from life, but we both know work is the only thing that keeps my mental health stable. It’s part of the balancing act. Physically, I need more rest and less of the emotional stimulation that work provides. Mentally, I need to go to work to stop myself from becoming suicidal because I put all of my value in my career title. It’s a vicious cycle. And then the sickness comes. Before this — before cancer — I was one of the most reliable employees there could be. I almost never called off, I always had sick days to roll over, and I was extremely dependable. It kills me that I can’t be that way anymore. Due to cancer and the treatment I’m receiving, I’m always sick. Recently, I was sick for six weeks, which led to me calling off for four weeks because it was so severe that I couldn’t work. I was so frustrated with myself. I wanted my body to just cooperate for once. I wanted to be at work, but my body wouldn’t let me. At the time, my depression grew with every day that passed. I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I wanted my life back. And then there are the little things that happen. Things that no one really thinks might bother me, but they’re things that cause such distress that I struggle to hold it together. For example, my cancer causes shortness of breath. That means that simple things like walking down the hall with coworkers or getting into the car leave me absolutely winded. And that’s embarrassing. It’s completely embarrassing to know I haven’t done anything strenuous and I’m still struggling to breathe. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m OK. Because other people don’t know my symptoms — not unless I tell them. And that would just make me self-conscious. I hate when people pity me or don’t know what to say, and talking about my symptoms would lead to discomfort that I don’t have the energy to deal with. But it’s not just the embarrassing things. It’s the heartbreaking things too. For instance, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing along to songs. One of my biggest coping skills is turning on a Taylor Swift song and belting the lyrics alongside her to calm my anxiety. But even when I’m sitting still, there are lyrics I can’t finish because I run out of air. The shortness of breath doesn’t allow me to sing my favorite songs, and that’s one of the things that hurts me the most. I can deal with the embarrassment I mentioned before, but when I can’t do things that I used to be really good at and loved more than anything — it really is heartbreaking. It leaves me devastated. I’ve cried over it more than once because I just want my life to go back to normal. Another thing to deal with is the holidays. I barely have the energy for everyday life, so I most certainly don’t have the energy to spend time in a large gathering and that makes it hard. I don’t want to pull “the cancer card” but I also don’t know if I can make it through Thanksgiving without having a mental breakdown. And it’s isolating because I know that my family wouldn’t understand. No one understands. No one can comprehend how tired I am and how helpless I feel as my body refuses to cooperate. Even my husband, as much as he tries to understand and has hardships of his own in coping with this, just doesn’t get it. He’ll ask me to do simple chores that I know I should be able to do, so I’ll try to do them, which ends with me crying because I can’t and I feel defeated. It always makes him confused. He wants me to communicate with him about when things are too much, but everything seems to be too much nowadays and that’s humiliating to admit. And overall, while I am sad about all of this, I’m mostly angry. I frequently will sob out of frustration, that’s how angry I am. I want my life back. I want my body back. I want my health back. Every day, I feel like my body is betraying me and feeling that way is such a horrible experience. I want to be able to go back to the way things were before, but I know I’ll never be able to. Getting a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and right now it’s hard to picture things ever being the way they were before again. It seems impossible. The best I’ll be able to do is find a new normal, which is something I can’t accept. I don’t want to find a new normal. I want my old normal back. If I could go back, I would have listened. I wouldn’t have been grateful that I have a mental illness by any means, but maybe I would have been able to see the whole picture a bit more clearly. I wish I could’ve seen how fortunate I was to be struggling in only one area. Instead, I took that for granted. Now, I regret that more than anything. And I’m really hoping things get easier because where I’m at, I have so much resentment inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I need that to change. And if it doesn’t, I hope I can at least find acceptance with what my new reality entails because from where I’m currently sitting, that seems like an impossible task. But even with that being said, I’m still hoping I’ll prove myself wrong. Because I need a restored sense of peace. I just don’t know how long it will take me to find it.

Mel Hebert

Getting a Cancer Diagnosis After Living With Mental Illness

Saying that I’ve been through a long, treacherous road while dealing with my mental illness is an understatement. I was hospitalized for suicidal intent for the first time when I was 17. That feels like a lifetime ago, but really it’s only been 10 years. I cycled in and out of the hospital after that, and I thought I might always live my life in hospitals for a while there. For years, I couldn’t hold down friendships, a job, I couldn’t participate in college — I felt so isolated. Yet, all the while, people would feed me “positive” thoughts like, “It could be worse. At least you have your physical health.” The statement infuriated me. There I was, in and out of a mental hospital every few weeks, and they wanted to remind me it could be worse? In my mind, that was the worst. I was at rock bottom, so forgive me if I didn’t care about my physical health. It’s great that I was physically healthy. It didn’t undermine that I was absolutely miserable in dealing with my mental health. Now, I regret that. About six months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I finally understand now. I wish I had listened. I wish I had realized that while it was unfortunate to be dealing with such a severe mental illness, I was still fortunate to have my physical health to rely on. Since finding out I have cancer, things have changed forever. One thing is, I always thought the exhaustion from depressive episodes was the worst kind of tired there is, but now that I have “depression tired” and “cancer tired” mixed together, I realize how wrong I was. Most days, it takes everything in me to make it through the workday. I come home with terrible headaches and all I can do is lay in a dark room under the covers because I have nothing left in me to give. Taking the dogs out seems like the most insurmountable task. If someone asks me for a favor, I will likely break down crying. On weekdays, I’m at my tipping point when I come home to the point where my husband has questioned if going on disability would be a better idea. He hates seeing me so worn out from life, but we both know work is the only thing that keeps my mental health stable. It’s part of the balancing act. Physically, I need more rest and less of the emotional stimulation that work provides. Mentally, I need to go to work to stop myself from becoming suicidal because I put all of my value in my career title. It’s a vicious cycle. And then the sickness comes. Before this — before cancer — I was one of the most reliable employees there could be. I almost never called off, I always had sick days to roll over, and I was extremely dependable. It kills me that I can’t be that way anymore. Due to cancer and the treatment I’m receiving, I’m always sick. Recently, I was sick for six weeks, which led to me calling off for four weeks because it was so severe that I couldn’t work. I was so frustrated with myself. I wanted my body to just cooperate for once. I wanted to be at work, but my body wouldn’t let me. At the time, my depression grew with every day that passed. I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I wanted my life back. And then there are the little things that happen. Things that no one really thinks might bother me, but they’re things that cause such distress that I struggle to hold it together. For example, my cancer causes shortness of breath. That means that simple things like walking down the hall with coworkers or getting into the car leave me absolutely winded. And that’s embarrassing. It’s completely embarrassing to know I haven’t done anything strenuous and I’m still struggling to breathe. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m OK. Because other people don’t know my symptoms — not unless I tell them. And that would just make me self-conscious. I hate when people pity me or don’t know what to say, and talking about my symptoms would lead to discomfort that I don’t have the energy to deal with. But it’s not just the embarrassing things. It’s the heartbreaking things too. For instance, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved singing along to songs. One of my biggest coping skills is turning on a Taylor Swift song and belting the lyrics alongside her to calm my anxiety. But even when I’m sitting still, there are lyrics I can’t finish because I run out of air. The shortness of breath doesn’t allow me to sing my favorite songs, and that’s one of the things that hurts me the most. I can deal with the embarrassment I mentioned before, but when I can’t do things that I used to be really good at and loved more than anything — it really is heartbreaking. It leaves me devastated. I’ve cried over it more than once because I just want my life to go back to normal. Another thing to deal with is the holidays. I barely have the energy for everyday life, so I most certainly don’t have the energy to spend time in a large gathering and that makes it hard. I don’t want to pull “the cancer card” but I also don’t know if I can make it through Thanksgiving without having a mental breakdown. And it’s isolating because I know that my family wouldn’t understand. No one understands. No one can comprehend how tired I am and how helpless I feel as my body refuses to cooperate. Even my husband, as much as he tries to understand and has hardships of his own in coping with this, just doesn’t get it. He’ll ask me to do simple chores that I know I should be able to do, so I’ll try to do them, which ends with me crying because I can’t and I feel defeated. It always makes him confused. He wants me to communicate with him about when things are too much, but everything seems to be too much nowadays and that’s humiliating to admit. And overall, while I am sad about all of this, I’m mostly angry. I frequently will sob out of frustration, that’s how angry I am. I want my life back. I want my body back. I want my health back. Every day, I feel like my body is betraying me and feeling that way is such a horrible experience. I want to be able to go back to the way things were before, but I know I’ll never be able to. Getting a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and right now it’s hard to picture things ever being the way they were before again. It seems impossible. The best I’ll be able to do is find a new normal, which is something I can’t accept. I don’t want to find a new normal. I want my old normal back. If I could go back, I would have listened. I wouldn’t have been grateful that I have a mental illness by any means, but maybe I would have been able to see the whole picture a bit more clearly. I wish I could’ve seen how fortunate I was to be struggling in only one area. Instead, I took that for granted. Now, I regret that more than anything. And I’m really hoping things get easier because where I’m at, I have so much resentment inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I need that to change. And if it doesn’t, I hope I can at least find acceptance with what my new reality entails because from where I’m currently sitting, that seems like an impossible task. But even with that being said, I’m still hoping I’ll prove myself wrong. Because I need a restored sense of peace. I just don’t know how long it will take me to find it.

Mel Hebert

When Relatives Judge Your Health Conditions at Holiday Gatherings

Having an ongoing mental illness is hard. It can make a lot of people around me uncomfortable, and many people in my family don’t understand. They still think if I voice that I’m having suicidal thoughts, I must just be seeking attention. Some of them don’t understand the reality of going through psychosis and ask, “Does she really believe that?” They may be willing to accept certain diagnoses, like OCD, but when it comes to more taboo diagnoses they choose ignorance because they don’t understand. I have C-PTSD, but no one in my family is willing to take responsibility for their actions and assume my therapist is just placing another diagnosis on me. And bipolar disorder? Don’t even get me started. Bipolar disorder isn’t real. At least, not to some of them. If I prayed or drank more water or exercised, it would go away. I just need to try harder. Of course, I know that’s not how it works. I know I need medication and to go to therapy regularly. I know that I need to take care of myself. But my family is full of doubts because they have the privilege of not understanding what it’s like to have severe mental health conditions that impact every decision I make. Then, earlier this year, I was diagnosed with cancer, which is a whole other can of worms. Most people in my family don’t want to accept it. Which, I get it. I don’t want to accept it either. But when I talk about my symptoms and am told to try harder or that it can’t really be as bad as I’m describing, it’s extremely invalidating. The words get in my head and I start doubting myself. Am I being overdramatic? Are my symptoms really that bad? Is cancer treatment that serious? And this doesn’t count the family members that have completely disappeared from my life altogether. No one checks in on me. I know they ask my mom how I’m doing, but no one calls me directly. No one texts to check up on how I’m doing. Some family members don’t even ask about me. Because sometimes, with big diagnoses, I’ve learned that it’s easier for family members to pretend I’m healthy than to admit I’m sick. Their coping skill is to pretend I’m not dealing with this huge, looming diagnosis. And that’s what gets them through. I can’t tell them how to cope. But it’s also not healthy for me. So, what do I do with these people who clearly don’t understand my illnesses? Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way. 1) Prepare for the worst. I know that sounds pessimistic. I totally get it. But let me expand. If I prepare for the worst-case scenarios, I can also prepare for how I plan to cope with them. I can plan on how to get through something that may trigger my PTSD. I can expect to hear negative comments and talk to my husband about, “When this happens, we’re going to leave.” Additionally, I can plan on when I may need to take my anxiety medication — and I can plan to bring it with me. I’ve learned by now that going in blindly expecting things to be “not that bad” when they’re always “that bad” isn’t helpful. Optimism is great. But so is realism. 2) Draw boundaries. This is a hard one. I mean, a really hard one. This year has been challenging in many ways — one of them being that I had to completely cut a family member from my life. I made it clear that if this family member is there, I can’t be there. I’m going to leave. My family was fine with that before, but now that the holidays have approached they’re trying to make me feel guilty. I’ve learned to repeat the same thing. “My boundary is that I’m no longer willing to see him.” I probably sound like a broken record. But I can only handle so much — especially during a time where I’m struggling with really hard things, such as cancer and chemotherapy. 3) Realize your limits. I thought setting boundaries was hard, but this one might be even harder. Because in order to set boundaries, I need to realize (and accept!) what I can handle and what I can’t. That means that this year, I won’t be going to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner and will instead be attending my husband’s. Because one of my limits is that I can’t make a whole day out of Thanksgiving and go to two celebrations. I don’t have the physical energy or mental capacity. Additionally, my husband’s family gatherings are less stressful. They’re filled with love and jokes instead of criticism and arguments. My family isn’t going to be happy that I won’t be attending their Thanksgiving, but the reality is that it would be more than I could handle. So, this year, I need to take a step back and do what’s best for me. 4) Put yourself first. I know it’s not easy to make decisions that you know will hurt your family. I’ve been through it. But the reality is, my family doesn’t understand (or sometimes even acknowledge) my illnesses. The fact that I’m sick makes them uncomfortable. So, quite frankly, I’m not going to put myself in a position where I pretend everything is fine and I’m not affected while they talk about all of the good things they have going for them. I just had to take a leave of absence from work, found out I’ll need more intensive chemotherapy, and am undergoing multiple tests to determine how bad the cancer is currently. I’m not in the mood to talk about upcoming weddings or how well my siblings are doing in school or how my sister just bought a house. That is so great for all of them. But I’m not in a celebratory mood when it feels like my whole world is falling apart and no one ever acknowledges that. So, I’m putting my mental health first. I know being with them would trigger me, so I’m deciding to limit my interactions. It’s a hard decision that I know my family doesn’t fully understand, but it’s the best decision for me. 5) Find people who do understand and stop divulging information to those that don’t. This tip is way easier said than done. I know that firsthand. But it is possible. For context, I used to divulge everything to my family. They knew every little thing about me. When my mental health was flaring up, when I was on the border of being hospitalized again, when I was having severe symptoms, it was habit to let everyone in on what was happening to me. But the more I was invalidated, the more I realized that it’s not helpful to tell people who don’t understand my illnesses what I’m experiencing. So, I found new people. I have a spouse who’s my number one supporter. I found friends who also have chronic illnesses that I can find comfort and validation in. It was a huge adjustment process cutting back on the information being shared with my family, who used to be the only people I had to turn to, but it was worth it. Now, I can share information with people who aren’t going to minimize what I’m going through and who offer support — not arguments about whether things are really as bad as I think they are. Even being able to talk about the boundaries I’ve drawn with my family and processing my decisions is helpful. It makes me feel better about doing hard things. And for me, finding that support was huge. All of this being said, I’m not out of touch with reality. I know all of these things are much easier said than done. But sometimes they need to be done regardless of how hard they are. Because there came a point where I realized it was either me or them. Either I suffered due to my family’s actions, or I could be happier but they’d be upset. It was hard to finally make the choice that I should be putting my own health first. It took years before I was able to make the decision — not to mention a lot of therapy. But in the end, it’s been worth it. The holidays are still stressful because I’m not keen on large gatherings, but they’re easier when everyone knows my boundaries. I can cope through them without having a panic attack after every coming home from every single celebration. And while it took a lot of work to get here, I don’t regret it one bit.