by Alexandra Boutté
Have you ever felt like the few strings that hold you together have started to unravel like an old sweater, leaving nothing but a pile of worn-out yarn behind? Have the shiny thoughts that used to light your way out of the darkness become dull and indistinguishable? It might be time to ask yourself, “Am I headed toward rock bottom?”
Limb loss is a heavy weight to bear. Even with a great support system, it can feel overwhelming and deeply affect your mental health, and this is the case more often than not. Sadly, we live in a world that is still full of stigma around mental health issues and discrimination toward people with disabilities.
What does all of this mean? Simply put, it’s freaking hard to be an amputee.
It really hit me one day at my doctor’s office. I remember sitting on the examining table, my left foot dangling down toward the floor while I stared at what remained of my right leg. I felt my heart jumping out of my chest, so I looked up to tell him: “I think I’m having a heart attack.” After several tests and ultimately a sedative, he calmly said, “Your heart is fine. What you had was an anxiety attack.”
I half rolled my eyes, because I knew I had been feeling anxious. How could I not be? After everything I’d been through in the last seven years—a cancer diagnosis, a recurrence, an amputation—I could not keep my cool. I asked him what he recommended, and he said: “We all need help sometimes. Let’s try some medication and see how you feel after a few weeks.”
What I learned is that the first step toward recovery is to acknowledge that you are headed in the direction of instability that might be difficult to return from. Have you said it out loud yet? “I need help.” Say it to yourself first, then rinse and repeat until you’ve worked up the courage to ask someone else for the help you need. It’s ok if your voice shakes as you pick up the phone to tell someone that you are not ok. It’s ok if you can’t bring yourself to call a loved one and decide to talk to your doctor, prosthetist, or even a stranger on a crisis hotline. It’s all ok. All that matters is that you take the leap and say the words.
It won’t be easy from there, but the hardest part of all is now behind you.
You may be a strong person who has faced other adversities in your life with ease. It doesn’t make you weak if you just can’t do it alone this time. The greatest strength comes in setting your pride aside and asking for help. Your body may even clue you in to the fact that something isn’t right. Don’t assume this must be related to whatever caused you to need an amputation.
Treating mental health comes in all different shapes and sizes. It can involve pills, talk, candles, art, and everything in between. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health. Just as each of us is unique, so is the key to our individual wellness.
After some trial and error, I found what works for me: a combination of meds, sharing my story via my blog, and talking openly and honestly with other amputees and cancer survivors who understand. I am still in the midst of recovery and plan to begin therapy soon to help maintain balance. This will likely be a continuous battle for me, and that’s a fact I am still learning to accept. But it is one that I will gladly continue to fight, because life is a gift far too precious to waste. I don’t want to miss the peace of a 6 a.m. sunrise and the sound of the crashing waves on the beach because my mind is in a dark place. I want to be present for the magic. I hope that you do, too.
If you’re feeling lost, please know that there is a way back. If you can’t speak the words you are feeling, write them down. If you can’t write them, draw them. Release the pain you are feeling in a way that starts to help you feel free again and gets you back to hugging your loved ones and laughing on the Ferris wheel.
Alexandra Boutté writes every week at her blog, Limbitless Sunshine. She’s also a regular member of Amplitude‘s writing team and contributes to our newsletter once every six weeks. Follow her on Instagram @limbitlesssunshine.