My dog saved my life. Well, I’m sure there were a few others who helped too but with the puppy-dog eyes and fluffy cuteness, I’m giving my dog the credit. So now that I’ve gotten the cuteness out the way (I may come back to it later) I can talk about the meat of the matter: dealing with depression and my chronic illness.
When I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Sjogren’s in 2009, I had already been suffering from symptoms of the diseases for 5 years. I was no stranger to the effects that RA can have on the body; I was a physiotherapist specializing in Neurology and Elderly care and many of my patients had the disease. So I was mentally prepared for the joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue and how to cope with it, or so I thought. What I hadn’t thought about was the emotional impact those symptoms, over an extended period of time, would have on my mind.
In 2016 I started having days where I felt low. You know that feeling of being “down in the dumps?” But I always bounced back to my optimistic self after a few days. However, those low days became more frequent and lasted longer. My RA cocktail of Humira and Methotrexate wasn’t controlling my pain as well as it did a year prior. My pain got worse, I was having difficulty sleeping, I had more migraines, and did I mention the pain got worse?
I kept going back to my rheumatologist and she’d adjust the dose of my Methotrexate, and prescribed Celebrex. Pain was becoming a guest who had overstayed their welcome and next thing I knew I had a tenant who I couldn’t kick to the curb. I would wait until everyone left the house in the mornings and I’d cry for hours at a time. Sometimes it was due to pain, at other times it was seemingly for no reason. I felt worthless, hopeless, useless, and as if I was a burden to my family. The worst of all this though, was the feeling that I was alone; that I was the only one ever to feel these emotions.
Soon, I began to think that there was only one way out. After having suicidal thoughts for weeks, I went in my bathroom and gathered all the pills I could find. That day was the day I would relieve my family of the burden I thought I was placing on them.
So what stopped me? Cue the cuteness. A little black and white fluff-ball pushed his muzzle through, then his head and stood there looking up at me with (what I thought to be) a concerned look. I broke down crying and put the pills away.
I knew I needed help but I could not bring myself to consider I was depressed. That word seemed to weigh a ton with the stigma behind it. If I went to the doctor would it always be on my medical record? Would it change my insurance premium? Would it affect me getting a job? Would my friends and family think I was weak?
Fortunately, I was able to wrestle with those concerns and push past the fear and stigma and make an appointment with my rheumatologist. I was referred to a psychiatrist and started to get the treatment I needed.
There is often a direct link between chronic pain and depression. Together they create a vicious cycle: pain can cause depression, and depression changes your perception of pain.
Sure, if you look up symptoms of RA (or any other chronic illness) somewhere way down on the list, you’ll see depression. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s talked about enough, in my opinion, neither by health care professionals nor people living with a chronic illness. This can tend to further make us feel alone when we’re going through low emotional points.
While coping with depression without help is hard, overcoming the stigma to talk about it and seek help can often seem even harder.