Mental Health for a Rare Disease Patient

Hey all! I am writing this to show you my mental health journey!

I have been dealing with mental health and depression for a long time. Not just due to my Rare Disease conditions but due to life. Many people don’t know that about me.

You see me smile and being happy most of the times but for the most part that has been a defense mechanism for me. I am not always depressed, but I fight depression almost every day.

A little background on me is that I have been sick in so many different parts of my life. At the age of 5 I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia which kept me out of school from half of kindergarten until 4th grade. It was tough not being able to do things because you are tired. It did make me a smarter person though, because in that time I read (I am dating myself here), The World Book Encyclopedia from A-Z, the 1972 edition. Yes I am an old nerd!

I don’t say much about my childhood, because I was always told not to use it as an excuse. I don’t use it as an excuse but more as this is what brought me to where I am now.

I went through some rough things as a child:

  • My Mother was sick with Heart problems for as long as I can remember. She had over 8 or 9 open Heart operations. We were told too many times that she wouldn’t make it through the night. I remember one instance in particular that in 1975 my grandmother was told in front of my mom by the doctor that she wouldn’t make it through the night. Well the next day came and my Mom woke up and told the doctor to “F” you. I tell you about this because now you know where I get my fight from!
  • When living in Amityville NY, our house was robbed multiple times. Can you imagine being in the house being able to see the robbers then hearing your Mom scream because one of the robbers cut your Mom’s face? Well I can believe it! It is one of the worst scarred memories of my life.
  • Because my Mom was so sick our family, the children, had to go to foster care for a couple of years. My two older brothers went together to one house and My younger sister and I went together in different homes. The first home was very abusive, mostly mentally. I was locked in a room for 30 days straight, even though at the time I was still sick. There was more but out of respect for my family I won’t go into details. That may have also something to do with my inner strength.
  • We have fought as a family to move forward and get to where we want to be.

Some really great memories:

  • My Mom coming home from the hospital all those times! Especially when she was able to take us back from the foster home for good.
  • Moving to Centereach NY and playing all the time outside. We played so much sports. I loved being able to play sports with kids older than me and keeping up.
  • Starting to run for Centereach High School. So many great memories and being so competitive I loved beating people.

Now let me talk a bit about me and depression!

I have always been the strong one! I hardly ever show me feelings. I have to say I have been better with this now. Took me a long time to open to people. I thank my Counselor Debby for that, as well as my wife Diana.

I have always been smiling as a defense. I always really gravitate to the song “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson. That is me to a tea!

For a long time instead of facing my past I ran from it. Now that I face it more and more, I have realized that there is so much I have blocked out in my childhood life. Especially being sick as a child.

Now back to more current things.

I had to move away from my daughter in Oklahoma because her Mom’s family threatened my life even pointing a gun in my face. I kept in touch then her Mom’s family ran away from me. The only way I found out was looking on Google. Took me 4 yrs to get custody of my daughter. There was a lot of depression due to that. I really can’t go in depth but do know the depression was at the highest ever. I felt like I let my daughter down.

When I was diagnosed with “Cancer”. I went through a rough time, dealing with being constantly dealing wit the side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. I remember crying by myself while throwing up for days and not being able to eat. I remember going down to 98 pounds and just always being out of energy but trying to work through it. I never did have anyone to talk through this time. At least I had my daughter Savannah to keep me going!

So when I was told I was in “remission” I moved back to New York and moved in with Diana. All looked great! Diana got pregnant and we were having a girl! In January 3, 2011 we have a beautiful girl named Isabella, very premature. We were told she wouldn’t make it through the birth. She did! We were so happy! We knew we were in for a fight but fight she did. She fought for 5 days so hard but wasn’t able to fight anymore! The devastation of loosing our child can’t be described. It was so heart wrenching and brought up many internal problems for me.

At the end of January 2011, I ended up in the hospital with stomach problems. While there an X-Ray showed I had masses in my lungs. I was so devastated that I thought my “Cancer” came back. Low and behold it was a disease called Sarcoidosis. So now this started my ride of my life!

Due to Sarcoidosis being misdiagnosed as cancer for 7 years I wasn’t treated for it. Because of that I have Sarcoidosis in over 80% of my body! The pain caused by Sarcoidosis is so intense that I live with a pain tolerance of 7 every day. I have had 9 operations due to this disease including coming within inches of losing my life. In April 2012, I ended up with a hole in my colon with Sepsis in my whole body. I went in surgery on Monday morning and I don’t remember anything until the following Thursday. I was incubated that whole time.

With the disease about 2 1/2 years ago I was told they don’t have any more medicines to help me out with Sarcoidosis. That put me in a slide to where I contemplated suicide on too many days. So I was at least smart enough to ask for more help. I signed up myself in for a 72 hour watch in the hospital. The best decision of my life.

I felt like I was a burden to my wife and my daughter and they have been through enough of me weighing them down. I am on disability and we lost so much in salary as well as lost so much freedom because we didn’t know how I was going to feel each day. I was losing friends, I was losing me!

I know it is tough to do but it saved my life! To this day I still see a counselor and fight depression everyday.

I won’t lie as I write this my depression is at a very high level. So much stress of trying to please everyone but forgetting about me. I have had 2 mini strokes in 6 months. I was told to cut back my advocacy. It is something I love to do. Not just for me but to help so many others that deal with what I do on a daily basis.

I have been crying a lot more lately because things are setting in. Being told that it is not if but when I will have another stroke, but will it be mini we don’t know. Also the constant feeling dizzy and double vision has been very hard to deal with. I know I am not doing well and am not getting any better. It is a realization that is so tough to face. Mortality is something we never want to deal with but guess what? It is there!

Then to hear that you are even more limited is very tough!

I am always fighting battles everyday! The battle internally, the battles of people saying you look great, then the battle of people not believing you!

I am trying to fight for my life! I am truly trying to fight for others but I am really am fighting for my real life!!

Am I winning? I don’t know!!

I HEAR YOU! I AM ONE OF YOU! i HOPE BETWEEN THIS AND MY PROJECT I WILL BE ABLE TO HELP YOU!!

Author: fjr311

Frank Rivera- Founder/President- Sarcoidosis of Long Island Founder/President- RareNY Frank Rivera founded Sarcoidosis of Long Island in 2012. In 2011 Frank was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer for 7 years prior. Since opening Sarcoidosis of Long Island he has been a local, state and federal advocate for Sarcoidosis to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis in the government sector. He has also spoke at two Congressional briefings for Sarcoidosis. Frank is a National Ambassador for Foundation for Sarcoidosis Patient Ambassador for Illumina Frank organized RareNY in 2016, to raise awareness for Rare Diseases in New York. He organized “A Day for Rare Diseases” in October 2016 in New York with Global Genes. The event raised awareness for all 7000+ rare diseases to the public.

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