The two-time cancer survivor admits that she went to a dark place after getting hate messages from fans of The Challenge
After successfully battling ovarian cancer for the second time and sharing her journey on PEOPLE.com, Diem Brown is back to blogging. This time around, she will not only share updates on her own life, but about competing on her new show, MTV’s The Challenge: Rivals II.
I do not throw around the word “depression” lightly. That’s why you’ll never hear me say any phrases like, “Ugh, I would kill myself if …” I’ve seen too much and have counseled too many people who really struggle, to be so flippant about suicide or depression.
I have been depressed once before in my life – it was during my first bout of ovarian cancer. I was six months into treatment and got a call telling me that they had to extend and alter my chemo because it wasn’t working.
I felt like someone had pulled open a trapdoor beneath me and I fell into a hopeless dark cancer abyss. I could feel my spirit collapsing as it whispered, “Just give up. It’s over six months of chemo and your cancer cell numbers are higher than when you started!” But I was able to overcome my depression with help, and from that day forward I acknowledge that you have to fight for happiness when life’s hardships are thrown your way.
I got the call to do Rivals 2, while undergoing chemo during my second cancer battle, and I remember being so excited that they called me. I was so happy to remove my mind from Hospital Bed Land and instead envision my “reward.”
I was confident my stubborn will could handle the physical nature of the challenges but mentally and emotionally I was nervous, as The Challenge would start filming just two weeks after I finished chemo.
Chemo in itself can produce intense mood swings but adding on menopause, starting new steroids to keep my cancer cells stable, and injecting hormones to keep my uterus from becoming toxic seemed like the worst possible combination of hurdles to try and adjust to while competing on a challenge show.
My Challenge Family
I communicated my concerns to the production company and I was told to “not worry” and that they “have me” and “love me,” and that they were so proud of me for being so open with my health journey and struggles. I have done these shows for eight years with the same production company; the same sweet people who wrote to me and checked up on me during both my fights with cancer.
I felt safe with them. I felt like I was with my “challenge family.” I felt that I could show an audience what recovery and dealing with menopause looks like, so that those watching and going through it might not feel so alone. I felt I had a purpose to go on this show that was bigger than my reservations about coping with my side effects on national TV.
What I didn’t take into account was that I had no clue what menopause felt like until I was there, and then adding residual chemo, steroids and hormone shots was a combo that I wasn’t ready to handle. Your body has to adjust to medications and anyone who has experienced an imbalance in their hormone levels will tell you, you feel like your body has turned against you. Even my girlfriends joke about how certain birth control brands make them feel like they mood swing from 0 to 60 at the drop of a hat.
On this challenge my mood swings and emotions would come out of nowhere and I would sit crying with Emily, Paula and Camila, venting to them that I wanted to stop taking all the “stupid” medications. I hated not feeling like myself.
I approached Production and told them I made a mistake coming back this soon and that I thought I should go home. Production was very sweet and comforting in letting me know that I was doing a great thing and that people watching would understand if I am a little different and a little off this season. Sadly, that was not the case.
My breakdown episode, in which they referenced my “true colors,” was awful for me to watch. I was hurt by the edited commentary of “Diem’s crazy” and “Diem’s come undone” and “Diem’s lost it.” Scene after scene, comment after comment portrayed me as having a meltdown.
The reality of my “true colors” was that I had more drugs going through my body than most people can imagine and I was struggling to adjust. I was struggling to be strong because I knew that these side effects would be temporary, yet on TV they would appear to be permanent. I made my mistakes and I own up to them all, I just wish they had aired one conversation that gave insight into my side of the situation, so that it made sense why I was acting so differently on this challenge.
I went into this show feeling nervous, but willing to open myself up to judgment as long as it could serve a purpose of awareness of what menopause and cancer recovery entails. I know The Challenge isn’t a PBS series, but I thought the people in production really had my best interests at heart, and that I could completely trust them the same way I put my trust in my family and my doctors. Even after owning up to my own mistakes during the challenge, it’s my fault that I forgot that they are a business, and businesses for the most part, don’t have the ability feel, or, realize about the damage they can do to people.
TV’s Crazy Reality
I think it’s easy for producers to forget we are not “characters” and when reality TV tries to lead viewers to an opinion of right or wrong, good or bad, we are the ones that suffer the brunt of the audience’s social media reactions.
After last week’s episode aired, my “character” was transformed and I was showered with an onslaught of online hate. I even got a text with a screen shot of my address from someone (who somehow accessed my personal information) about how he or she was going to kill me in graphic detail. Instantly I felt the trapdoor open beneath me and the dark clouds surround my spirit.
I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t believe how that kind of judgment of my character and strangers wanting me to die affected me. For the first time since my depression in 2006 I felt my spirit saying, “Give up.” I just wanted to go to sleep and make all the hate go away.
I started searching for an old bottle of prescription sleeping pills and tried to calculate how many I could take to help me get to sleep the fastest. I never once thought I was suicidal, but in a flash I realized my solution “to escape” could lead to the same result.
I quickly slapped myself and started trying to get my mind right. I stopped reading the hateful comments and made myself realize that the sweet tweets far outnumbered the destructive ones. I started Googling inspirational, motivating quotes and sayings. I realized that “escaping” in any form is not fixing the problem, it is just delaying the moment when you have to deal with the real issue.
I can’t defend why hate from strangers affected me enough to drag me into that dark hole. It was eye-opening for me and it was the first time I could understand how people can get that low from social media hate.
Although I am confused by decisions the production company made with this season, given our prior talks, I can focus on all the good The Challenge has given me from 2005 until now. I appreciate the support and the voice I was given to showcase my story and bring awareness to young adult cancer.
I may be hurt, but I do not hold any grudges. I just learned a couple of important life lessons. I am making my health my top priority as I have fought so hard to be here. That said, I have realized that competing in The Challenge series isn’t for me anymore, so I am officially ending my “challenge career” with the conclusion of Rivals 2.
Head Held High
I will leave this series smiling over all the amazing memories it has given me. I will cherish the production team who let a girl that hid that she had cancer from casting directors be able to compete back in 2005 when she revealed her secret. Thank you for letting me share my journey to 2013 – because of these experiences I have found my calling as an advocate for patients.
PS. For those struggling with dark clouds over their spirits, please search #ItGetsBetter on Google or Instagram – they have some great quotes and images that will help lift you up! Reach out to friends, family or a professional. If today feels lonely and dark have faith that there is light around the corner and it does get better. Try to avoid whatever is the source that’s bringing you down and know that by overcoming this cloud you are becoming even stronger than before, baby!
And call this free hotline to be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
I’m excited to move on from the pain that last week created and give all my focus to my passion for patient advocacy. I can’t wait to share some exciting news with y’all next Thursday. I promise it’s really COOL!!