When Chronic Illness Causes Depression

 

 anxiety_depression_may_raise_stroke_riskAt least one-third of people with chronic illness suffer from depression. Further, depression is one of the most common problems reported by chronically ill patients. When patients are faced with a life altering diagnosis, it can be easy for depression to set in.

When I found myself depressed, I hid my symptoms from my doctors and even family and friends.  It is hard to deal with a combination of depression, chronic illness and life’s challenges and it is even more difficult to ask for help.  At some point, I broke down and told my doctor about my symptoms which included sleeplessness, feelings of hopelessness, racing thoughts, constant sadness, loss of energy, fatigue and loss of interest in relationships. Over time and with medication and therapy, I learned that the depression wasn’t my fault and my outlook on life greatly improved. Seeking treatment and support bettered my life tremendously and it helped me to keep things in perspective.    

The Stigma Associated With Depression

Our society associates such a stigma with depression that it forces people to hold their emotions and feelings in.  It is such a stigma that 75% of those who are depressed do not seek treatment.  The idea that our families, friends, or coworkers reacting to depression paralyzes people and keeps them from getting the help that they need.  Unless someone is going through a major life event, such as divorce, death of a loved one or other trauma, people cannot even begin to understand what depression is or what it feels like.  Our society views emotional pain as personal weakness and not a symptom of a physical disorder, chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency.

Chronic Illness and Depression Go Hand-in-Hand

For many with chronic illness, depression and chronic illness go hand-in-hand.  When your body is sick, it is not unusual to become depressed because of pain and fatigue and as a result of fears about your health.  Chronic illness also threatens your financial security, your relationships and future plans.

No one knows for certain why people with chronic illness are at a higher risk for depression but some theories include the diseases themselves, ineffective treatments, side effects of medications, difficulty coping and strain on relationships.  Regardless of the connection, getting treatment for depression can help you to manage your illness effectively and successfully.

Recognizing and Treating Depression

Depression is more than just persistent sadness. If you are unsure as to whether you or someone you know is dealing with depression, there are some common signs to look for.  These include:

•           Continual sadness lasting more than two weeks.

•           Lack interest in relationships and feeling unmotivated to participate in life.

•           Feelings of irritability and frustration about things that didn’t used to bother you.

•           Irregular sleeping patterns such as trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and sleeping too much.

•           Excessive weight loss or gain that is unexplained.

•           Low self-esteem or feelings of low self-worth and/or feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

•           Worsening chronic illness symptoms.

•           Thinking or talking about death or thinking that you would be better off dead.

These symptoms are the most common in patients who are depressed.  Watching out for these symptoms can help you to recognize what depression may look like.

There is no one-fits-all solution to treating depression.  There are many different ways to treat depression and methods apply differently to each individual situation.  The basic principles include medication, talk therapy, and treating the root of the problem (i.e. a chronic disease or traumatic event).

Depression is not Personal 

I have learned is that depression isn’t personal. It is a part of biology and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it.  Seeking help for my depression was the intelligent and informed choice. Now that I am treating my depression and finding better methods of coping, I have stopped worrying about whether being depressed makes me weak, incapable or even crazy in anyone’s eyes. I am stronger and better for doing what I need to do in order to be a healthier.  In the end, all I want to be is the mother my children deserve and with each passing day, I am getting stronger and I am appreciating life with a much clearer perspective.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of.  It is a medial disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia and it needs treatment.  There are plenty of influential people that have suffered from depression, including actors, Harrison Ford and Hugh Laurie. Footballer, Terry Bradshaw has also suffered and has since become an advocate for removing the stigma of depression.

If you are feeling depressed or experiencing the symptoms of depression, don’t be embarrassed or try to convince yourself that you can just will it away.  Please talk to your doctor and believe that you will get the help you need and deserve it.  Trust me, you are worth it.

Chronic Illness Tip: Change Expectations but Continue to Have Dreams

freedom

Self-esteem emerges from the very standards that you set for yourself. However, with a diagnosis of chronic illness, your standards have to change because if they don’t, you will be destined to fail. Often times, setting new standards for yourself can be quite tough especially if you were the kind of person who often took on more than most. If you were used to a 50 hour workweek, working out twice daily, and going to bed late, you are going to have accept that you can no longer do all of things. Finding new standards in both your personal and professional lives may involve delegating and even learning to say no.

From my own experience, I know that I not only had to change my own expectations but I also had to change the expectations of others towards me. Prior to my diagnoses, I had a lot happening in my life from my son’s school activities to helping out various friends and family. Chronic illness forced me to come to the realization that I had to learn to prioritize and my priority was my kids. Now, I spend more time at home with my kids, I don’t have as many visitors to my home as I once did, and I don’t jump at every opportunity to help. I have changed and so have my standards.

Prior to your diagnosis, you had ambitions that may have included a promotion or a higher educational degree, getting married, having kids, and/or saving the world. Whatever your dreams were, it feels like chronic illness has taken them away. However, that is not entirely true. Just because chronic illness has made some things difficult for you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals and dreams and small or big, they are still possible. What may change, however, are the time to get there and the path that you take. Maybe chronic illness has taken away your opportunity to have children, so adopt, don’t dwell. Or if you have had to change careers because your health posed physical limitations, find a job that you can love just as much without the physical requirements. Your dreams are still possible but changes have to be made in order to get there.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had different goals and while I still have goals, they have become slightly altered since chronic illness came into my life. Five years ago, I had planned on attending law school but when I got sick, working full-time, spending time with my kids and attending law school no longer were possible. As a result, my plans changed, I earned a master’s degree in legal studies and continued on in my legal career. I also started to advocate, took on a more challenging legal position and decided if law school was in the works, it would happen much later in my life.

The belief that being chronically ill means your dreams are no longer possible isn’t true. Further, your dreams don’t have to change – the timing and the path does. Living with chronic illness means you start looking for a better quality of life and in turn, you will find that you can still continue to have dreams and goals.

What I Really Mean to Say

Living with chronic illness and pain is something that isn’t easily understood by people who are not going through the same thing.  Moreover, the effects of illness are an emotional and personal daily battle.

Most people have this notion that if you look fine, you are feeling good or having a good health day.  Many also don’t realize that even when we say we are fine, we really are not.  At times when I say I am okay, I really wish I could share with people who don’t understand my ordeal how chronic illness and pain truly affect my life.

Every now and then, when I say I am okay or I am fine, I really mean to say:

(1) I hurt more than I can effectively express. The physical part is often easier than the emotional part. I have people in my life who don’t believe in the extent of my sickness and pain so I keep how I am actually feeling to myself and experience has given me many reasons to do so. I have had people who I once called friends and loved ones who have walked away because my being sick was too inconvenient for them. While I have learned that their actions had more to do with them than anything I did, it still saddens me because I would have been there for them.

I don’t have a lot of emotional support so I seek help therapy and I look for solace in prayer and in the things and the people that I love.  These things have allowed me to a stronger person – both in conviction and in the ability to see past my limitations.  So, yes I hurt both physically and emotionally but I have found strength I never thought I had.

(2) I am scared. I have read up on about Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Fibromyalgia (FM). I know there is no cure for either and I don’t see remission in my future. I also know that I will never return to perfect health. I worry about what the future holds and where I will be in ten years or twenty years. I am only 37 so I have a long life with RA and FM. I worry about how I will take care of myself if things get worse and who will take care of my kids. I have valid questions but I know that these questions don’t have concrete answers.

Taking life one day at a time is all I can do and that is scary in of itself. I will never be my former self but I am working on maintaining some level of sanity when it comes to my health. While I am scared, I try to focus on the here and now so that I can make the best of my life with chronic illness.

(3) Life is just not fair. I am not always able to make plans because I don’t know if I will be able to follow through. I don’t know what the future holds because I have to take life as it comes. I can only be hopeful and I am. Chronic illness has taken a lot from me but I have taken a lot back.

No one said life was fair but it is worth living.  While I truly believe that, I just sometimes want to vent and say that life just isn’t fair.

(4) It is not my faultBeing sick is not my fault but sometimes I feel like it is. I worked hard at every aspect of my personal life and professional life before illness and even harder after illness. I am a good parent and my kids are turning out just fine but sometimes I feel guilty that they can’t have the parent that I wish they had. I was a faithful and loving spouse but my spouse wasn’t.  As a result, my marriage ended and while I know that had nothing to do with chronic illness, it happened after I was diagnosed and sometimes, it makes me second guess myself. I have been a successful employee and I have been a great volunteer in the community. I am a patient advocate and I am good at what I do. I have accomplished so many things despite and with chronic illness.

What went wrong – my getting sick – that wasn’t my fault and the bad things that happened after weren’t my fault either. All the good things were due to my hard work.  Nonetheless, if I could I have protected my health, I would have done everything in my power to make sure I stayed healthy but I couldn’t.  Further, I had no control of the awful things that happened afterwards. That just goes back to life simply not being fair. So, I didn’t mean to get sick – I really didn’t – that’s all.

Right now, I am feeling better than I have been in a long time – both physically and emotionally. Sometimes, I actually feel fine when I say I am and other times, I am not fine at all. When I am not feeling well, I have things to say.  Yet, it is not always easy to say them.

***This post was originally a guest post at http://laborpain.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/what-i-really-mean-to-say-guest-post.  

Could I Be Grateful For Chronic Illness?

 

Could I Be Grateful For Chronic Illness?

I was in awe as I read the article. How could the author be grateful for chronic illness? Why would he be when his chronic illness nearly killed him? It didn’t make sense to me. I could never show gratitude towards a disease that has done nothing but complicate my life.

Here was this incredible man whose life had been harshly touched by lupus — an autoimmune disease similar to the one that I have had for the past five years — thanking his disease. Further, he was stating with great conviction that lupus brought with it many reasons to be grateful.

Was he really thankful for lupus? I asked only because I didn’t see any blessings from my own challenging health. I didn’t even know where to find gratitude in living with chronic illness. After all, how could I ever be grateful for chronic illness?

Meeting Chronic Illness

Chronic illness and I met nearly five years ago in a rather intrusive way. Out of the blue, one September morning in 2008, I awoke to the inability to walk or use my hands. That day, my life forever changed. I went from being superwoman to being super sick.

It took nearly a year and a half to find a treatment plan that made life with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia tolerable. That first year was also very depressing and going into year two, I didn’t think I could continue to be productive with pain and sickness. My new normal was suddenly about dealing with daily challenges and working to better understand the changes to my body and my life.

Before Chronic Illness

Before chronic illness, I always had something to accomplish and I had to be the best at everything. I had to be right and I had to win every argument. After chronic illness, life became too short.

Before chronic illness, I worried about what other family members thought about me. I had to have an impeccably clean home and I had to host the finest dinner parties. Now, I get to be me – the real me, who hates all that stuff.

Before chronic illness, I held grudges and I burned bridges. Now, faith, family and friendship are everything.

Before chronic illness, watching the stars or enjoying nature were not as important as a hard day’s work. Now, I remember every day how important these things are.

Chronic Illness Changed Me

Chronic illness made me tougher. Now, a sinus infection or the flu is easy stuff. A toothache is just an inconvenience. Pain is the usual.

Chronic illness made me honest and outspoken. Now, I speak up and I wouldn’t care less what people think of me.

When it came to friendships, chronic illness showed me which ones were true friends and which ones weren’t worth my time. Now, my friendships are more meaningful than ever.

Chronic illness didn’t make my marriage better. If anything, it showed me that I was in the wrong place with the wrong person. Now, I understand that it is easier to be alone than it is to be with someone who makes you feel alone.

Chronic illness taught me to love myself. It has also helped me to grow closer to my sisters and my nieces and nephews. Moreover, it has helped me to teach my children empathy and kindness. Now, my kids get to see true strength and wisdom through both my actions and my words.

Maybe I Am Grateful

Chronic illness might be here to stay, but it doesn’t decide my destiny. It doesn’t decide how I watch my children grow up and how I chase my dreams. Chronic illness doesn’t decide how I live my life. The only thing chronic illness did decide was that I would get a wakeup call.

Will I ever be cured? Nope. Will I ever be remission? Probably not. Did chronic illness change me? Yes — and more than I possibly would have changed on my own. I don’t remember the person I was five years ago. Chronic illness is the reason I have changed and maybe — just maybe — I am grateful for that change.

I again ask the question. Could I ever be grateful for chronic illness? Sure, why not? After all, if not for chronic illness, I wouldn’t have awoken to the person I genuinely am.

Originally posted at Arthritis Connect. 

 

Happiness Improves Health (Guest Post)

Happiness Improves Health

By Larry Berkelhammer, PhD.

http://www.larryberkelhammer.com 

Since the time of the ancient Greek metaphysicians, it has been known that happy people are healthier than depressed or anxious people.  An easy way to personally experience this is to notice that when you have a stressful thought, you don’t feel as well as when you feel carefree and happy. Headaches, backaches, and bellyaches are the most common symptoms of emotional distress.

Unfortunately, there are no magic techniques to increase happiness, but it can be helpful to examine what makes us unhappy.

The primary sources of unhappiness are the following:

Cognitive Fusion

The mental state of cognitive fusion is one in which we confuse our thoughts and beliefs with reality; we become so identified with them that we lose the ability to see them for what they are—concoctions of the mind. Our thoughts are fleeting, insubstantial things, products of a brain whose business it is to continually manufacture them. If we cannot “unhook” or “de-fuse” from them, they become a kind of cognitive quicksand that drags us toward suffering. Applying this idea to our experience of illness and health, if I begin to experience, for example, intermittent blurring of my vision, I may begin to fear a brain tumor. Having the thought is not the same as having a tumor, but if I am cognitively fused to the idea, it can feel dangerously real, even though the truth is that the only thing I can say with certainty is that I’m experiencing intermittent blurred vision. Here you can easily see how cognitive fusion with thoughts that evoke fear causes terrible emotional distress.

Experiential Avoidance

Experiential avoidance is two-pronged. First, it means avoiding any thoughts, feelings, emotions, or sensations we find unpleasant. It also means avoiding taking actions that are life serving in an attempt to avoid such unpleasant emotions as fear, anger, embarrassment, or shame.

The problem is that any attempts to avoid experiencing unpleasant thoughts and feelings paradoxically lead to more of the very thoughts and feelings that we don’t want to experience and it even gives them greater power. Furthermore, attempts to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings deny us valuable opportunities to learn and grow by meeting our discomfort head-on.

Dominance of the Conceptualized Past and Future

Part of the human condition involves creating concepts. We do this in the hope that they will provide us with understanding and a sense of predictability. Concepts are essential to our survival and to the ability to live a full life. Unfortunately, the human condition also includes cognitive fusion with our concepts.

Attachment to the Conceptualized Self

Narcissistic personality disorder is an extreme example of what we all experience throughout life. It involves fusion with the belief that we are a certain way—a certain kind of person. Like the conceptualized past and future, the conceptualized self (also known as the ego) is not intrinsically bad; in fact, it is essential for life. The problem arises when our self-concepts are challenged and we are unable to immediately step back from them and see that they are nothing but concoctions of the brain.

Inaction and Its Companion, Impulsiveness

Many of us hold ourselves back from doing things that would enhance our lives because we’re afraid of embarrassment, shame, or failure.

To increase happiness

Although this may seem counterintuitive, it is important to allow ourselves to fully experience whatever we are thinking and feeling from moment-to-moment, and to do this while living by our personal life values.  

The confusion surrounding disability (Guest Post)

Whilst most people accept that the UK government has had to make cuts over the last couple of years to combat the struggling economy, it’s fair to say that many didn’t expect the cuts to go quite so deep for the disabled.

Asking people to tighten their purse strings may be reasonable, but when you are asking the disabled to get by on even less than the pittance they’re already surviving on, you can understand the move not being a popular one. A feeling that was made abundantly clear when someone, in their wisdom, thought it would be a good idea to allow George Osborne to present medals at the Paralympics.

False claimants

As frustrating as the government cuts are, it isn’t just the current administration who are responsible for the limited benefits that the disabled receive. The sad reality is that there are also individuals who are making life harder for the rest. You know who I am taking about, and most of us have encountered them at one time or another. Yes, the individuals that exaggerate their conditions or feign disability in order to get benefits that should be going the way of those who truly need them.

Whilst those individuals should be wholly and utterly ashamed of themselves, it’s doubtful that reading an article such as this is going to have any effect. Let’s be honest, if they’re prepared to pretend they have a condition to get out of working for a living, nothing you or I can say is going to guilt trip them into doing something about it.

What’s worse, many have probably given a good deal of thought to this and when confronted, would probably justify their actions, pointing to others who they feel are no worse that are claiming, or indeed responding with the “if I can claim it why shouldn’t I” retort. When speaking with disabled people the picture painted if their lives were different is one of work and lots of activities, not sponging off the government for benefits that they are not rightly entitled to.

Defining disability

According to the government, you may be eligible for disability living allowance if you need help with your personal care, or are unable to walk. However, what exactly is the definition of either of these two and is the definition being viewed exactly the same throughout the country? From loss of sight to crippling arthritis, at exactly what point does an able-bodied person become disabled and exactly who is entitled to claim and for what?

In an attempt to answer these questions, I went directly to the government site and started clicking on the links to answer the questions. However, with every link I clicked I just seemed to be greeted with yet more links offering notes, forms and god knows what else, with each making the matter more complicated. By the end I was deflated and knew less than I did about what the disabled are entitled to than I did when I started out.

Stopping the wrong people

Having spent what seemed like an age trying to work out how to navigate through the government site, figuring out who is allowed to claim, I was left baffled. I then concluded that this site has been set up in such a way as to stop false claims and to make sure that everyone gets the exact amount for their own situation.

However, by making the site as complicated as possible, it strikes me that many of the people who will end up with less than they are due will be those who need it the most. After all, for those who are prepared to lie, cheat and pretend to have a disability in order to get free money from the state, they will undoubtedly have the energy, patience and determination to do whatever it takes to get through the site and to get the benefits that they are not entitled to.

After eventually giving up on the site (something that I had the luxury of doing, being able bodied) I gave the matter of benefits some thought and concluded that the situation is very much a no win one. The government can move the goalposts surrounding benefits, they can have those who they believe are falsely claiming watched, they can come up with one convoluted idea after another in a bid to ensure that only those who really need help get it. However, I would be surprised if any of these new ideas work. What’s more, if they did come up with a way of separating the able-bodied from the disabled, would it make any difference? Or even still should it make any difference?

One would hope that if a time ever came when those who are not entitled were weeded out for the funds to be redistributed among the disabled, in reality, it’s more likely that at the time, the government will just use the funds for tax breaks for the rich.

Written by Chloe Sharpe- Owner of the website jobseekersallowance.net; A former recruitment specialist, who is now making it her mission to help others get back on their feet, by breaking down the confusing information given regarding Jobseekers’ Allowance.  After researching for this article and finding disability benefits being even more confusing than the regular JSA , she is brewing more ideas to help those who cannot work too.