By Irene Marie Blum
I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life because of continuous trauma and abuse. My doctors at the time diagnosed me with dysthymia. It is a relatively mild depressive disorder that is chronic and can last for years. Living with dysthymia was not as debilitating to me as it may be to other people. I was able to work, go to college, maintain a 4.0 GPA, volunteer, and so much more.
Most of the adults who knew me used the word resilient to describe me because they always wondered how I was able to endure so much at a young age, and still have the willpower to chase my dreams.
When I was 20 years old, all of that changed. I was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer. It felt as though everything I had been working hard for came crashing down on me all at once. I could not go to school, as a single mother I could not take care of my then three-year-old son, I could not work, and my health got so bad that I could not even feed myself, clean myself, and at some points even breathe for myself. I completely lost myself. Cancer took that from me.
When things took a turn for the worse, doctors had to make the life-saving decision to amputate my right leg above the knee because I had gone into septic shock. I did not just lose my identity – I lost a whole limb along with it.
I mourned who I was before the cancer and limb loss, and I had to learn that mourning was completely okay. People would tell me, “That is not you anymore; you need to just move on!” Instead, I went with my gut and I did mourn pre-cancer and pre-amputation Irene because she deserved to be honored before I could move forward with my life. If the people around me were not going to help me recover from this trauma, then I was going to look for professional help.
I see a therapist once per week and a psychiatrist once per month. Seeing my mental health professionals helped me move through the Modified Kȕbler-Ross Model of Grief. Initially, I believed the beginning stages of shock, denial and anger would be the hardest ones to pass through, but I was wrong. Yes, they were undoubtedly difficult. I was filled with rage and a whole host of terrible emotions I had probably never even felt before.
From the shock through the bargaining, I had many dark thoughts that I always believed a person like me could never have, but I did. Suicidal ideation being one of them, but thankfully I found no shame in seeking help and have moved past that.
My therapist helped me understand that now I am transitioning out of my depression stage and into my testing stage. This is what I personally believe may be the hardest but most rewarding stage of grief. I am not only working hard on my mental health, but I have made goals and in physical therapy as well. I will be going back to the University of Connecticut to finish my senior year this fall. I also hope to volunteer soon. In order to meet these goals, I have learned to set smaller, realistic goals that lead me to these. This stage has helped me recognize that the old Irene was still somewhere deep inside of me and that resilience was in there too – it just needed a little bit of help to come back out.
I am 25 years old and I suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. I am in active treatment; if you are struggling as I have, and still do, please look for help. If you do not know where to start, you can always ask your general practitioner for a referral for a mental health professional. You can also call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800.950.NAMI and, if you are in need of crisis help, you can call 911 or text NAMI to 741741
About the Author:
Irene Blum became an amputee at 21 years old from a rare form of bone cancer. She is currently earning her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies and plans to go on to graduate school for Family and Sex Therapy