Ten days after my surgery, my boyfriend took me to see Inside Out in the cinema. I forced myself to go, but with a gash on my throat and obvious scabbing, I wasn’t feeling up to seeing anyone. I forced myself to do things though. And it was with glib self-awareness and dry resignation that I saw Sadness lie face down on the floor that I turned to my boyfriend and said “sames”.
This summer, I was diagnosed with cancer. I also beat it, at least as far as we can tell. At the time I was flippant about what was wrong with me. It was an invisible illness and I didn’t have to talk about it if I didn’t want to. I told no one but my closest of friends. Even then, I wasn’t always honest about what exactly the doctor had told me.
The scar is not invisible. The doctor told me that he had never treated someone my age. If I were older, they could hide the scar in a natural fold. Instead, I have to wear it like a sign. This is what caused my depression. And depression hurt me far more than the cancer did.
I stopped eating. That was the first sign that things weren’t right. At first it was just because swallowing was painful. I ate when I could. After a while though, food was making me sick. I would pick at food that was made for me, lie about eating when my family was out. I once went four days on only three buttered crackers. I lost a lot of weight. People complimented me. My family worried.
Next was my sleeping. I just couldn’t sleep. I also never wanted to leave my bed. I could just spend hour cocooned in warmth and never have to leave the safety on my blanket. I stopped going out after that. I said I was working on my MA dissertation, but even that was just a shield for me at times. I went months without seeing my best friend. My boyfriend. If I didn’t share a room with my sister, I might have cut myself off completely.
I was sick. I couldn’t do anything. I was even struggling to hide that I was falling apart. One day my auntie surprised me. She came around without warning and I hadn’t prepared myself. I was home alone and there was no one to deflect to. We talked. Talked about one incident where I had a panic attack in Newcastle after a fight with my boyfriend. I tried to blame my anxiety, but I couldn’t stop crying. She cried too. She begged me to see a GP.
I’ve been on Sertraline for over two months now. I still don’t talk about the cancer. The sad thing is that I tell my students that mental health is just as important as physical health, but I was ashamed that I needed antidepressants. I didn’t understand them.
I will never be that girl I was before my surgery. My scars are physical and they are emotional. I stopped trying to find her. Now I am letting myself emerge as someone new.
The cancer I had is sometimes called the butterfly cancer. The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly, and the surgeons clipped one of its wings. If they find the cancer has spread at my check-up this month, they’ll take it out completely. I’ll rely on new pills to keep my body working. And I am okay with it.
For the first time in six months, I am okay with who I am. I am depressed. And I will still be a butterfly, scars and all.
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