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How Chronic Illness Caused Me to Sink Into a 'Dark Hole' of Depression

No matter how much support you have or how together you think you have it, you may not be immune to bouts of depression.

No matter how much money you make or even if you have the “perfect job,” you can still fall victim.

It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, green or purple, depression doesn’t discriminate.

At the end of the day, none of these things matter when it comes to depression.

You may feel you have given yourself all the tools one will need, that you know what to watch for and what to do when it happens. But chances are, that’s not the truth. Because depression is sneaky; it sneaks in when you least expect it and stays longer than any unwanted houseguest ever would. You can have all the tools available and be ready to combat the arrival. But when it sneaks in, it’s hard to realize how bad things are until you’re in too deep to fix things on your own.

Sadly, for whatever reason, there is this stigma that often depicts people as “weak,” “weird” or even “crazy” if they deal with any kind of mental illness. That same stigma causes some people to be afraid to reach out for help when having a mental illness crisis. Whether they are reaching out to a friend or a medical provider, many people may worry about what others may think. But honestly, if you would reach out for help for any other type of crisis, why should a mental health crisis be any different?

I’ll be honest about the fact that even with all the training and experience I have in the medical field, admitting I am suffering from anxiety or depression — and that I need help — can be difficult. You would think it would be that much easier because I know what’s happening and what needs to happen to fix it. But for me, at least, that’s not the case. When I (or my family) are the patient, I seem to lose all my education and experience, and I need all the same help and guidance any non-medically trained person would need. When it comes to reaching out, having years of experience and knowledge is often more of a hinderance because I know what the “professionals” could see and assume just from looking at my chart.

About a month or so ago, I started noticing I was in a funk. I was grouchy more often, I didn’t care if I got out of the house to do anything and I was exhausted all of the time. But honestly, those things could be caused by any number of the conditions I have, so I didn’t think a lot about it.

The last few months have been hard for me health wise. I know I am doing better than some others in the lupus community, but it’s still been trying. It seems like every time I finally start to make headway and get to feeling better, I get sick again. It always seems to be that I get sick right before I am due to have my monthly IV lupus treatment. But due to the fact that it totally knocks out my already incorrectly functioning immune system, I can’t receive it when I’m sick because it would be far too dangerous. So my treatment gets cancelled and pushed back until I’m “well.”

That treatment is the only thing that gives me a semi-normal life and makes the pain caused by lupus bearable. So when I can’t have it, I am pretty miserable. I was looking back at my calendar recently and of the last nine months when I should have had nine treatments, I’ve only had around four.

So to say my pain and fatigue levels have been high would be an understatement. A person can only tolerate so much pain before it just becomes way too much to handle. There hasn’t been more than five days in the last month where my daily pain rating was lower than a five (on a scale of 1-10). In fact, most days I would say it averages around a seven. That’s not saying it spikes to a seven at some point in the day, that’s saying it lives at a seven all day long.

My hands, my knees, my hip and my back hurt all the damn time. It’s enough to truthfully drive someone to drink. When I hurt like this, it makes me so tired and I don’t feel like doing anything. When you hurt all the time, the last thing you want to do is get up and get dressed or be social. (I’m not telling you this to complain or to gain sympathy. I’m telling you to try to explain a little bit of why I have struggled so much over the last few weeks.)

Despite all the pain and overwhelming fatigue, I’ve tried my hardest to continue doing all of the things I need to do regularly. Helping around the house, keeping up this blog, keeping up with my support group, keeping an eye on my grandma as she is aging, etc. I did well for a while pretending all was good when really on the inside, things were far from well.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I was no longer trying to grin and bear it. I wasn’t trying to hide it. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about much of anything. I started staying in my jammies, lying in bed all day unless I had something I had to get up for. Until this point, I felt like I had done a decent job hiding how deep in a hole I was mentally from my family. I probably hadn’t, but in my head I did. By early August, my temper was growing shorter by the second and I was snapping at my family for no real reason. My poor sister got a lot of that because she’s the one I usually saw the most. (Sorry Sis!!) I wasn’t really angry, I just had no tolerance for anything. The smallest of things would set me off and I would just sit and cry. I would cry even when I didn’t know why I was crying.

Last week, everything came to a head. I had gone over to help my grandma with something, her flat tire I believe. This was a project that normally would have been no big deal but that day, I wasn’t in a great place mentally — and I physically felt awful. For whatever reason, it seemed like last week was just a never-ending battle with one task after another of things that had to be done for someone else. I lost it — like totally and completely lost it. I had a full on mental breakdown full of yelling and screaming at my mom. Not that I was really mad at her, but mainly because she just happened to be the person who answered her phone.

Once the tears started, it was like a never ending waterfall that continued for the whole day. It was like a pipe had burst and there was no shut-off valve to be found. I haven’t cried like that in a long time. Once it was all over, I felt completely void of all emotions.

It was the strangest feeling. I almost felt like I was watching my life from the outside — like I was on the outside of a snow globe. I didn’t care what happened to me or anyone else. I made some stupid comments about suicide and totally freaked my family out. For the first time, I really realized just how depressed I was.

I felt like I was a walking zombie. I slept for days, which is so unlike me — and would have slept for more if I could have. I think my friends finally realized how badly depressed I was when I decided to take a break from my group. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t be positive and provide support to others when I didn’t feel even an ounce of positivity within me. I didn’t care if I ate, if I showered or if I even got out of bed. I just didn’t care.

I feel like this is a good place to mention that I never wanted to actually die when I made the comments about suicide. It was never a plan or something I really thought about; it was more of a fleeting thought. It was the thought of being totally pain free and how amazing that would feel, which was appealing. I never wanted to die.

Somehow, I had enough sense about me to call my therapist. I am sure that had my mom realized just how deep into the dark hole of depression I was, she would have called for me. But somehow I seemed to be doing a decent job hiding it. Or maybe she just didn’t want to admit it either. Thankfully, they got me in right away. I don’t know if they really had an opening that quickly or if they could just tell from the sound of my voice that I needed to be seen. Either way, I was very thankful.

The first thing my therapist said to me was, “Oh my! You’re very clearly depressed.” Not “hello” or “how are you?”  It must have been pretty obvious what a hole I was in considering I had not seen this woman in over three years. During that visit, we talked about what was going on in my life, my current stressors, how my health was, etc. I even admitted, very cautiously, that I had threatened suicide more than once. I felt that was important for her to know, but I had to do so cautiously so she didn’t put me on an unnecessary suicide watch.

Something about just having an unbiased person to talk to made me feel better. Now I’m not saying I came out of her office skipping and whistling, but it felt good to just get all of that “stuff” off my chest.

I still wouldn’t say I am better. I currently feel foggy and cloudy mentally. I haven’t found my joy yet and don’t have much energy. My pain is still high and the fatigue never ends. But I know there is a way out and I know I don’t have to fight this fight alone.

It’s interesting that even a person like me who has so much education and training on depression still has trouble reaching out for help. I’m still worried about what others may think or how they might view me. It’s sad that mental health still has such a stigma surrounding it. Why would we seek help for other issues and not do the same for a mental illness??

Depression isn’t new to me. It’s not something I’ve never experienced before. In fact, I’ve been fighting depression for more than 10 years. But somehow, it still seems to sneak up on me at times. No matter how prepared I feel or how many resources I have.

What I want each and every one of you reading this to know is that depression is real and you are not alone. And it can happen to anyone. Anyone of any age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. Depression is not biased. It doesn’t care who you are, what’s going on in your life or if you “have time” to be down or not. It can hit at any time with little to no warning. It can stick around, like the uninvited houseguest who never wants to leave.

There are millions of people worldwide who live with some form of depression. When you look at those numbers, it becomes very clear that if you have ever dealt with depression, you are not alone.

Also, if you ever feel like the world is too much to handle and the only way you can deal is to end your life, please reach out to someone. Suicide might end your problems, but it’s just the beginning for your loved ones.  We are never going to break down the walls and the stigma surrounding mental illness without talking about it and sharing our experiences. We have to do all we can to break the stigma.