Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

I do. I get the mean reds. It can be random and from nothing at all. Or it can be caused by another call from my health insurance saying they won’t cover something I need. Or it can be a simple bruise.

The mean reds are awful. They put you in a state of panic. You’re so afraid to do anything, all you can do is cry. Sometimes all you can do is stare, and it takes everything in you just to do that.

I got the mean reds recently. It was my first panic attack in over a month. I found out my health insurance wouldn’t cover follow-up treatment at the hospital that treated me. It meant I would need to find a new oncologist, a new primary care doctor, meet new people, form new relationships (something not easy for me)… I would have to start this medical journey all over, find new people to trust, new people who hadn’t been with me for the past two and a half years and didn’t know everything that happened outside of the protocol.

So I hung up the phone and cried uncontrollably. I cried out of fear; I cried out of sheer exhaustion; I cried because if I had to go through this treatment again, I didn’t want to do it with strangers. Currently, I spend at least 35% of my life worried my cancer will come back. To hear that I can’t see the people who made it go away terrifies me.

The mean reds strip you from the real world and put you in this dark room with no light and no way out. It’s up to you to realize that the room is made of cardboard and the walls can be knocked down. But when you are crippled with fear, or stress, or anxiety, it’s hard to notice the ridges in the cardboard.

Go for a walk, people will tell you. Listen to some music, someone will say. But it’s different for everyone. Sometimes the only thing that can pull me out is watching reruns of my favorite comedy shows, and sometimes I’ll even start to feel like things will be okay.

The mean reds, or panic attacks, or anxiety, or depression – or whatever you want to call it – is not something to mess around with. As cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, we’ve been through a lot – and that’s an understatement. We were told to prepare for the worst – the worst being death. We were given protocols with poisons no one should have in their body, but we needed to live.  And all of this, this whole cancer battle and on – it sucks. It’s fucking hard. And it’s okay to admit you’re not okay.

And it’s okay to get help. It’s important to tell someone when you feel scared or like the walls are closing in. Tell anyone you’re comfortable with who will listen. Ask them to find you help. Tell your oncologist, your social worker, your support group. Share in our private facebook group.

I know mental health is sometimes looked at as taboo, but pardon my French – that’s fucking bullshit. Your – our – mental health is just as important as our physical health, and it’s time we start demanding the help we need.



If you are struggling with insurance and need to talk to someone try these two online counseling options:




The Mean Reds

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