January 15, 2021

#205 I Knew I Hit Rock Bottom When I Bought a Mink Coat

I’m depressed. I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life, so I know it when I see it. My mom had it and so did her mother. I have some pretty good coping mechanisms, but they aren’t working this time.

If you watched “Why Not?” you might have noticed that my right false eyelash was starting to come off. The old me would have reshot that video as many times as necessary to get it perfect. But the new me doesn’t really give a shit about a half-glued eyelash today. Because when you have cancer, shit happens, and some of it you deal with, and some, you just have to let go. That’s how I know I’m depressed. That’s just not me. My goal is always perfection when it comes to my appearance. Superficial maybe, but I own it.

I really dislike fur clothing. Yes, it looks elegant. But is it really worth some cute little animals being clubbed to death so I can stay warm? Nope. Fur is not for me. I have been anti-fur for as long as I can remember. I have friends who have gorgeous mink coats. I don’t judge my friends for wearing fur. I just ask them to make sure their fur doesn’t touch me. So why is there a mink coat hanging in my closet?

When I’m depressed, I shop. It’s what I do. Some people eat, some people retreat into themselves; I shop. I had finished cancer treatment almost two months earlier. I had a great Christmas holiday with my family and we were all feeling so thankful that I made it through my treatment plan and even a few unexpected complications. I still had reconstruction ahead of me, but, hey, a new set of breasts is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So why was I down? Cancer started the battle, but I had finished it. Hadn’t I?

Confident a quick trip to the mall would make it all okay, I bought a few things. As I headed out the door, the fur shop caught the corner of my eye. A store I would never be caught walking into. But today I thought “there’s no harm in looking or even trying on a few.” Other customers in the store were telling me that I looked great. So this was it. A mink coat would brighten my spirits. I teared up when I bought the coat wondering. “What am I doing here?” The salesperson thought I was emotional about buying my first one. She said, “Your first mink is always special.” She asked me if I wanted my initials stitched into the inside because that’s what people do. I said no, it wasn’t necessary. I wanted no proof that the coat belonged to me.

Even as I gently laid the bag in my trunk, I started to feel a knot in my stomach. By the time I got in the car, I started mentally reviewing the cost of “feel-good” purchases I had made that week. I had spent a little over $100,000. I don’t have $100,000, and I especially don’t have it to throw around. And to top it off, I was still depressed. I still cried. I still felt empty. I told myself to quit being a wimp, and put on my big girl pants and be an adult. No one has time for all this feeling sorry for oneself.

I went to see a psychiatrist. I expected him to tell me or give me the magic fix. I told him about my spending; that I didn’t have much energy or care about much, the hot flashes are killing me, and that I wasn’t happy. He asked me if spending $100K in a week was unusual for me. Isn’t it unusual for everyone? I told him I had fantasies of killing myself. He asked me if I ever would and I said no, my faith prevents me from committing such an act. By the end of the appointment, satisfied I wasn’t going to harm myself, he prescribed an antidepressant (for the hot flashes) and told me not to worry, I would be just fine. After all, I had just kicked cancer. I’m a strong person. I should be thrilled, he said. I smiled and said, “Of course I am.” It was a lie, but it was clearly what he needed to hear.

I returned what I could of the things I purchased, which was most everything. I haven’t returned the mink coat. It was a final sale.

I was speaking to a friend who I met when we were in treatment. She confided in me that she, too, was feeling off. She finished treatment months before me. Did that mean I had months of depression ahead of me? Months of pretending like I was happy and telling people how lucky I was that they found the cancer early; only in one breast; and just Stage 2? For how much longer did I have to keep up the facade? It’s exhausting! Were my friend and I unique in our feelings?

When people prepare you for your battle with cancer — they are helping you to get the right attitude to fight for your life. But who is helping us after, when we don’t know what life we’re fighting for any more or maybe we’re fighting for a life we don’t want?

I still have that mink coat. I don’t know why I haven’t sold it or gotten rid of it. Every time I look at it hanging in the closet, I feel bad. Sometimes, I try it on, and then I feel worse. When I told my 24-year old daughter about the coat (she’s also anti-fur), she looked at me and said: “Is it okay that I’m disappointed in you?” Those words cut like a knife. Maybe I keep the coat to remind me that in disappointing my kid, I realized I was disappointed in myself for trying to cure something broken inside, with something I could only wear on the outside—just another costume while I hide from the truth—life after breast cancer sucks.

Please read the article in Refinery 29 if you haven’t already and then come back here and let me know what you thought and felt after reading it. Did it resonate with you? What have been your coping skills? It would be great to have a section on this blog called Coping with Hope or something and sharing what others are doing to get over the hump.

P.S. Ladies if you are suffering from nearly unbearable hot flashes, I’ve found that the antidepressant Effexor can help. Ask your doctor.

P.P.S. If you’re feeling alone or just need someone to reach out to, shoot me an email and let’s talk. No one should ever feel alone or isolated while working through breast cancer.
P.P.S. Photo credit Heather Philbin Photography; Dress by Akris Punto (relevant later in the blog); Sleeve courtesy of cancer


Kimberly Long-Pelton

AUGUST 4, 2018 AT 3:06 AM

Your story is everyone’s story that has/is battling cancer, no matter the cancer type. And, it doesn’t matter the gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, etc. With Tim’s recent diagnosis of prostate cancer, he has been having depression bouts as well. It is truly challenging to watch someone you love hurt so badly and not be able to do anything about it. You are onto something special with your blog. I look forward to reading about your journey. You could hit the road for motivational speaking and touch thousands upon thousands of lives.

Kelly Strzelecki

AUGUST 21, 2018 AT 6:07 PM

Love you Char, and here if you need me. Wishing I would have dropped in more often.

Kerry Heldon

AUGUST 22, 2018 AT 1:32 AM

Hello gorgeous girl. I love that you are doing this – for you and for everyone else who has battled or is battling, cancer. There is something very liberating about ‘telling it like it is’ – it might make some people uncomfortable but really, too bad for them.
Ditch the coat asap PLEASE, or at least ebay it. There are two reasons to do so:

A: Now that you have thoroughly berated yourself
for that crazy brain snap, that’s enough, leave it alone now. No more punishment is needed.

B. There are a few folks including moi who happen to think you are beautiful inside and out no matter what you are wearing (just sayin). The added bonus of your sartorial splendour is that you make the rest of us try to lift our game a bit!

I can’t explain why surviving cancer leaves us either off and unsettled like me or depressed like you. Maybe it has something to do with all those weird drugs they pumped relentlessly through our bodies? My body and spirit recovered and with the right attention and medical assistance (who was that idiot you went to !!#%!!), I believe yours will too.
In the meantime… sending big hugs.

Wonderful Husband

AUGUST 25, 2018 AT 3:43 AM

Wow you must have a fantastically wonderful husband.

Carol Burroughs

SEPTEMBER 5, 2018 AT 1:10 AM

You are truly an amazing woman. Know you will have these feelings and sharing them with others allows someone else to know they are not alone. Sharing your experience with others the way you do is a gift. You are not alone in your journey. Just look around—loving family, friends, people you don’t know who read your blog. You touch many. Sending love and hugs. Carol