This takes guts...

31 July 2014

I was only telling someone today about my daily relationship with depression.

If you were to ask me how long have I have been living with this...I can remember many daily suicidal thoughts, wishing that night I would go to bed and somehow be taken away to a better place and never wake up to face the world the next day. Maybe if I was honest, I can remember these prayers to God being spoken from my heart from as early as 9 or 10.

I was never granted my painless departure and instead was given many challenges and a life filled with adversity.
It would take me a book to fill you in on all the details, however some of my biggest hurdles were my blessings too.

Even though I was deeply in pain with my place in the world, I was also filled with compassion and forgiveness and this ability beyond my years to understand my greater purpose and to accept the challenges knowing that good was to come of it.

 

My greatest lesson was to be given the gift of an illness. In 1987 being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma ( read more here: http://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancers/lymphomas/hodgkin-lymphoma). Lucky for me I noticed a lump in my neck as my friend had Glandular Fever and I thought I wonder what my glands feel like and whoops, there was a swollen hard golf ball on the side of my neck.

I was 14, in year 9 and starting to find my feet in life.

I recall getting a call at school one day just before Easter school holidays. I was being picked up, mum had packed my bag for hospital and tests needed to be done.
So far blood tests were suggesting either Non Hodgkins or Hodgkins with the latter being the “nice” cancer.

I then spent the next week having and MRI, Lumber puncture (Ouch!!), bone marrow test with a massive knitting needle being put in my hip bone, I even recall I had to drink some barrier meal but maybe that was for the MRI? Anyways....many tests done, many painful, many just routine, lots of poking and prodding from student doctors, x-rays, and finally a prognosis.

I had the sit down and was told I had Early stage Hodgkins Lymphoma and that I would have 10 cycles of Chemotherapy.
Chemo might make me sick, might kill my hair cells, my blood cells, my cancer and might leave me infertile.

At age 14, I wanted to live and I wanted to keep my hair! ...and so I cried. I remember being sad for a short time, mainly due to shock of being given an answer and then wondering if I had not noticed the lump in my neck, what might have happened? I only had one tumor located behind my sternum, nothing else secondary and it was caught early and was given an 80% success rate of getting through this and living a happy healthy life. I don't even really know how much hurt my parents felt, but I know they often cried when I was vomitting after my treatments.

 And so began on that day my first round of chemo, and yes I was sick, violently ill in fact for what seemed like hours.
I came to dread the chemical smell of plastic IV drips and the coldness that came over me as my drip delivered my chemo.

I came to dread the blood tests needed to assess if my red blood count was good enough to kill off so I did not die of a simple cold or germ, as chemo took away my veins blood tests become finger pricking sessions or needles in the veins of my feet. 

The year of 1987 was not all bad though, because I was sick, I got to attend Camp Quality and meet other people who were sick, and I made many a good friend.
It was to be through my connections with Camp Quality that lead to me taking some huge steps in the not to distant future..things that have created who I am today.

Most importantly though, this year I pushed through with optimism I am not sure I could re create now as a mature worldly adult.

I trusted the process of chemotherapy.

I also had faith that I would live and something amazing was to come out of my being ill.

I kept up school as much as I could, I went to parties, I socialised and kept normal.

I attended hospital without a complaint, even though as I walked to the Geelong Hospital after school knowing I would be having chemicals in my veins by 5pm that night and vomitting a few hours later often until midnight.

I never once complained “why me?” or “I dont deserve this” etc...though one day nearing the end, it was going to be my final cycle of chemo that is on day 1 I have chemo, vomit and be really sick the next day, 1 week later have part 2 and only feel ill not actually vomitting the day after, when I cracked.

I did not want to do this anymore, I was over it, I could heal myself, I was going to do anything, I had some Pritikan diet books in hand, some Louise Hay self healing books, and I was going to do it all myself with positive thinking and diet. I believed I could.

Though my oncologist thought different, he reminded me how far I had come and to only be 2-3 weeks away from the end and to throw it all away, well that would be ridiculous and very selfish of me.

Again I cried. Probably with relief that I was reminded that all I had to do was wake up, live each day, have my chemo, vomit, put up with a bit of pain and my life may well change forever.
Thats not to say I still didnt read all these self healing books and choose to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and more healthy choices of foods as often as I could.

 

I lived, I survived it, I went through something so very tough at 14, and chose my attitude and stuck it out.
As I said at the beginning, many of my adverstities were blessings.
I was taught through a life experience that hard work is ok, suffering is ok, being on the brink of giving up also means that you must continue until the outcome is achieved and the big one I learnt is accepting help from others. 

So what does a 14 year old do after that?
The next year I attended Camp Quality again a few times.
Now aged 15, I met some people who lived in Sydney through Camp Quality and I was keen to go visit them one school holidays.
I devised the perfect plan, or so I thought.

I would ride to Sydney – of course! I bought a map and sorted out my route.
I sorted out a budget and planned to stay at the friends house.
Informed my mum like it was a trip to the shop to get some milk, and she said no.
It was not like she was against the idea, she just thought I might die by impact of a truck or car.

Whilst I was disappointed, I sort of agreed she might have a point. Somehow she pointed me in the direction of the Great Victorian Bike Ride and suggested that this might be a good plan if I wanted to do some crazy ride.

And so I followed it up and it required me to have surpervison of an 18+ year old, for a moment I racked my brain of family friends that might do it with me and then read on further and noticed that they took on school groups. Answered!

The next day I asked one of my favourite go getter teachers if we could go.
What do you know he said yes it sounded like a great idea.
We started training straight away doing 40km rides, up to 100km and whilst we only had a couple of months to do so, we did something!

….and so was born the love of being on my bike 

But thats the very long story of who I am and that whilst I suffer from depression, I still manage to choose happiness. 

My depression whilst daily is also cyclic, I find myself in periods of darkness when life slows down, when the days are darker and when I have too much time to think. And often this comes after massive periods of being really busy and productive.

My life is like this, I race, I train, I teach, I run businesses and these are all seasonal or “all or nothing” ventures.

The very moment I get excited about a big project or something amazing, and then I have this alter ego that says, 'whatever, who cares, its just money, its just work, you will die one day, no one cares, etc...” and my other alter ego says, “life is good, people are good, we are all in need of the same thing to be loved and needed and to be valued, so make sure you show someone this today, if nothing else happens, just do this and the rest will follow.”

….and so my little mantra of living life 1% at a time comes in.

Just do a little every single day, work towards feeling good, making others feel good, adding value to the world, and all the rest will come in good time.

I have to remind myself of this constantly, due to the other facets of my life that can be quite hectic, this 1% approach is quite gentle and achieveable, it keeps me grounded, keeps my focused and mentally healthy and allows me to be kind to myself – daily. 

I was recently asked if I suffer from depression, my answer was yes.
The conversation went something like this:

You suffer from depression dont you? Yes.
Me: Its a daily practice to will myself out of it, I have a saying, Fake it until you make it.
So I have loads of shit thoughts, even when I know my life is awesome.
So I know if I dwell in my darkness I have no option but to feel worse.
So I get out and do the exact opposite. I socialise though I would prefer not to.
I do things for others instead of worrying about what I want.
I push myself out of my comfort zone because I know it will feel awesome once I do.
I then have a good day.
I do this daily.
I have to do this daily.

The past 2 years have been the most hectic in my life thus far, and the most successful and definitely the most uncomfortable. I've done many things I thought I would never do and realised it was just me creating my own fears. 

After returning from Townsville a couple of weeks ago, I knew I was missing a big part of my life, something I had believed I had to give up to be good in business, to give my time to others, to be a good employer, to sacrafice the inner fire that makes me passionate about life...and that is LOVING MY BIKE. I had played around with the, “oh yeah I have toned down my training, I am like 41 now and busy with work and stuff.” Yet secretely inside this was killing me and I was bitter and resentful and pissed off at my situation feeling for the first time ever – like a freaking VICTIM! I am not a victim, ever...yet this is how I felt.

Last week I chose to follow my heart again.

...and still do everything else!

I am back riding my bike.

I am training everyday.

I am back into doing strength training which I love.

I am sweating profusely on my road bike attached to my indoor trainer.

I am listening to really good music.

I am making this time for myself no matter what is going on in my day.

I am being honest with how I feel, though not bringing people down with me, instead realising that this interaction on its own will bring me up!

I am believing that my little 1%'ers DO MATTER, not just to me but to the world, there is proof that our small efforts matter and do make a difference.

I am choosing to see peoples amazingness and not the things that shit me about them.

...and all this is leaving me feeling on top of the world, and worthy and in love. 

Yes I want to race, Yes I want to be competitive, Yes I want to be thrilled with my results, Yes I want to experience being fit again, these are the vital ingredients that make up Jess Douglas.
With this foundation solid, the rest of me works a treat. 

Only a few months ago I said to Norm that I was feeling the most uncomfortable and agititated I had felt in a long time. I wondered whether I was approaching early menopause (yes you can laugh!), now I realise I was “faking it until I made it”.

I am here now, I have made it.