Fighting Depression When You Have A Chronic Illness

by AHB on September 1

in allopathy,symptoms,treatments

by ryan at three word phrase

During one period of difficulty- highly fatigued, close to bedridden, experiencing lots of heart palpitations, and of course, fainting -I was at a church function. I was crying in frustration and from exhaustion. Eyes brimmed with tears which fell when I blinked. A woman who knew, vaguely, about my syncope asked what was wrong. I very briefly shared the difficulties of that week, she replied, “I would much rather have a heart problem than depression.” Dumbfounded, I just sat there while she went on to say something about depression making it hard to even get out bed in the morning. Too shocked and exhausted to actually retort with the pain her words and ignorance caused I mumbled something about being lucky I could get out of bed (that day). The sting in that remark is, as yet, unabated.

What is the big deal about depression? Why do we hear so much about it? What does it matter to those of us with a chronic illness?

The big deal is simply this: as much as 75% of individuals who commit suicide are suffering from major depression. Depression is also the leading cause of disability worldwide. All studies done show that depression is always higher among the chronically unwell than in the general population. Depression among the chronically ill nearly always results in an increase in medical costs and a decrease in following medical protocols. In other words, depression costs a lot: in human life, in grief, in tax monies, in personal monies, in drug use, in lost childhoods, in lost futures, in scars, in time, in measures of happiness.

Of all the challenges depression adds to a person with a chronic illness one of the most ironic is that the most effective treatment (by far) is exercise. Back to my story up top, my well-meaning, if ignorant, conversant’s primary argument was that depression is so bad because it makes it difficult to get up in the morning. While I can’t speak for other chronic illnesses I can unequivocally say that neurocardiogenic syncope makes it difficult to get up in the morning. Increased severity affects getting up morning, noon, night. It can, literally, rob you of the ability to stand on your own two feet, let alone roll out of bed.

Earlier this summer I was diagnosed with depression. My syncope symptoms had been getting worse and I was between Ayurveda doctors, however, I can safely say that my syncope is not the direct reason I became depressed. It was a marital issue compounded by the stress of over ten months of constant travel, most of it internationally. Having grown up with multiple family members who suffered from depression I vowed to do all within my power to prevent it. Whenever it seemed I might succumb I followed a regimen designed to counteract depression: increase exposure to sunlight, eliminate white sugar from diet, journal about emotions, take leisurely walks daily. However, this time my ability to implement these self-help measures (an ability called resilience) had been severely compromised by the long bout of high stress. Adding insult to injury, when I made the effort to perform at least some exercise (knowing its high ability to fight depression) I experienced exertion headaches which have yet to go away. Then my syncope got worse.

So, when you’re bed bound with chronic illness, how, on earth, do you combat depression?

For me, the best thing was to admit the need for help. I have worked for years on not being the [girl] who cried wolf. This is new for me though. I have never been depressed like this. I need help. You likely need help. Help can come in many forms:

The great big annoyance of depression is that, frankly, I have bigger fish to fry! I have a career waiting in the wings. A family to interact with. A house to put in order. Friends to hang out with. And a freaking chronic illness to manage. Yet, if I lose this fight, I lose the war. At least this annoyance indicates a sign of overcoming depression. It is apathy that kills. Rage can be channelled into useful assistance.

Besides, apparently as little as 50% compliance in treatments has been shown to result in positive health outcomes.

Here’s hoping.


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{ 1 comment }

Petula September 16, 2015 at 2:32 am

I enjoyed reading your post because I can see myself in your words. I can feel the pain and I definitely feel the depression. It’s a constant battling of treading water when I can’t swim. It pushes down on my chest and draws me in. That comic is so appropriate… I hate that my depression can take attention away from the other parts of me that are sick and in need of attention. But I still fight because, like you, there are things I need to put my attention to. Things that bring me happiness. Right now my happiness lies with my children and, in particular, my adult daughter who has been the sunshine of my life since the day she was born.

I’m a little jealous of your friends that came by, I don’t get that result when I reach out and share what I’m going through. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is, I guess.

I hope to day is a good day for you.

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