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Thriving with Chronic Illness and Depression
Better, not bitter!
He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.
Life with lupus can be challenging. With symptoms that come and go, disease flares and remissions, and the uncertainty of what each day will bring, it’s normal to experience feelings of unhappiness, frustration, anger, or sadness. It’s also normal to grieve for the loss of the life you had before.
There was a period of time during which I sank into deep depression. I had finally been diagnosed with what my doctors realized were causing all the other issues I was previously diagnosed with....heart, lung issues and neuropathy....and although I should have been relieved, I was actually very terrified. I had never heard of lupus before, but it became imperative that I learn as much as I could about it, so I could figure out how to live with this chronic illness, as well as thrive with this disease. I had no intention of succumbing to this illness.
Realizing that I was getting to a point where I had lots of questions, but no answers, I became severely depressed and sought out a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I had never been in this place before. I was becoming angry, craving the life that I had before wherein I was active, had lots of energy, and I was becoming bitter.
My doctor let me know that what I was experiencing was natural for someone who had been through the path of sickness that I had. He told me that affliction can make us bitter.
...but this was not a place that I wanted to stay in.
How was I to find my way from bitterness to a better attitude?
I had to, and the journey began with this first visit to the psychiatrist.
Depression: A Cage Without A Key
Symptoms of depression
These are among the most common psychological and physical symptoms of clinical depression:
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Crying (often without reason)
- Insomnia or restless sleep, or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain
- Feelings of uneasiness, anxiety, or irritability
- Feelings of guilt or regret
- Lowered self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate or difficulty thinking
- Diminished memory and recall
- Lack of interest in things formerly enjoyed
- Lack of energy
- General slowing and clouding of mental functions
- Diminished sexual interest and/or performance
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of Depression
For millions of people, chronic illness and depression are a way of life. Serious illness can cause tremendous life changes and limit your mobility and independence. A chronic illness can make it impossible to do the things you enjoy, and it can eat away at your self-confidence and your sense of hope for the future. It should come as no surprise, then, that people with chronic illness often feel despair and sadness.
Stages of Chronic Illness
What can you do to help yourself?
- Seek help from a psychotherapist. I remember the first time I thought about going to a psychiatrist, I felt weak. I thought to myself that I must be going crazy. Only crazy people need shrinks, right? I was embarrassed and very hesitant to speak when I first got there. However, I was made to feel very comfortable, and very empowered that I took that first step in my emotional healing process.
- Take antidepressants, if you feel you can benefit from them. Depression has been given such a negative connotation, that those of us who suffer from it are made to feel worthless, and very often lock ourselves away from our friends and family. I started off with antidepressants, but also used essential oils in my depression protocol. It was critical for me to climb out of that slump. I had children to take care of and I had a job that I enjoyed doing.
- Manage your pain. Pain can be very debilitating, and can drive someone into deep deep depression. In addition to medication, you can take herbal supplements, such as turmeric and ginger, which are great for pain and inflammation reduction. Be sure to work with your doctor when taking herbal supplements, as these can sometimes interfere with other medications. One of the things that I found very helpful is martial arts. You can try tai chi and yoga, also.
- A strong support system is critical when dealing with a chronic illness and depression. You do not want to feel isolated, which can happen very quickly with someone who is chronically ill. So many of us become like hermits, recluse, when we get diagnosed with a chronic illness. We are afraid that our friends and families will look at us differently because we are ill….and sometimes that is true. This is probably the toughest part for me, being so far from my friends and family. I try to keep in touch using social media such as Facebook, as international calling can be very expensive. Other methods also allow free calls, such as WhatsApp. Use social media to your advantage.
- Talk positively to yourself. Constant negative self-talk can be detrimental to your healing process. I'm not saying this is easy, but it is something that I work on everyday. I also practice gratitude each day. When I wake up I always whisper a prayer thanking God for waking me up again to see a beautiful day.
- Volunteer. If you are able to, find ways to volunteer your gifts. Sometimes it helps to get the attention off your pain, especially when you see that there are others going through challenging times such as what you are going through.
- Develop a hobby. If you love to paint, then find times and ways to continue this. If you are used to working large, then choose smaller canvases and work from the bed. Frida Kahlo used her own casts as canvases during her time of illness. Matisse used long poles with brushes and other devices attached. If you love to write, then start a journal. Document your journey with your illness. Write poetry or songs. Don't give up on those gifts. I decided to do an art show and have been working feverishly on this over the last few weeks. I even had the opportunity to become a Designer and I jumped at the chance.
- Try to accept your new YOU. This is probably the toughest part for anyone going through a chronic illness. We grieve for the old days, and what we used to do, but we should focus on what we still can do and build a new life around that.
- ASK FOR HELP! This was a challenge for the old, independent me. No one knows what you need unless you say something. If someone offers helps, accept graciously. This is not the time to act shy or embarrassed. We all need help from time to time.
- Have dreams, and strive for them, no matter how big or small.
Chronic illness: No one gets it until they get it!
Rediscover things you enjoyed doing in the past.
Take control of your future with chronic illness!
It is so easy to slip into a mindset of feeling hopeless and angry, but you have to decide if you want to be a victim of your chronic illness, or a Thriver, in spite of your illness.
Life with chronic illness is always challenging, but I have discovered ways of thriving, since I got sick with lupus and other overlapping illnesses 15 years ago. Although I've always been an upbeat person, chronic illness has made me more acutely aware of how important it is to find joys in my everyday life, even when things seem bleak. I'm not always able to do the big things that used to bring me joy – like vacations, long hikes, continuous cooking, or lots of socializing – but I have learned that ordinary life holds many extraordinary moments of small joys.
Plan your road map to Joy!
It's the little things.
It's the little things!
What are your favorite things to do before you got sick? These are the things you should be doing daily to bring joy into your life.
Some of mine are:
- Focusing on today. Live in the moment.
- Watching the bees buzzing around the flowers.
- Seeing the dew glisten on the flowers and grass early in the morning as the sun rises above the horizon.
- Going through old pictures of my children when they were younger.
- Looking at crazy, fun time videos of the kids
- My morning cup of Turmeric Milk
- Working on a new sketch or painting
- Listening to music – the rhythms of the Caribbean.
- Seeing a shooting star!
- Warm fireplaces.
- Being outdoors.
- Freshly cut grass
- Eating – and really savoring – good food with a variety of flavors, made with fresh ingredients, like Indian food.
- A good book.
- Hanging out on Facebook to see what's going on with my friends and family.
My Favorite Things
Tiny moments of Joy
Having a chronic illness can be devastating and make you feel incredibly helpless. While you have little control over your diagnosis, you can take charge of your responses and reactions. A chronic illness doesn’t have to stop you from leading a fulfilling life.
As you can see, none of these things I wrote down were all that unusual. All I wrote were tiny moments in the day that I experienced. To others they may seem ordinary, but to me they were spectacular small events, tiny moments of joy in a very ordinary, quite limited life spent mostly at home.
If you make a deliberate attempt to live well with chronic illness, you will begin to notice these moments more and more, and to create them more, also.
Tiny moments of Joy
Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough!
Recognize what joy means!
Once I recognized joy, I was also able to make sure I had more joyful moments in my every day life. I took time out to do those things which I enjoyed, like sitting outside watching the bees buzzing around the flowers, or watching the same movie for the hundredth time with my youngest son. Maybe it's cooking up a storm in the kitchen when energy allows, or just working on the picture album. As an artist, I also take time to create, to allow my creative juices to flow. I made myself a Feel Good playlist so that I could listen to music that lifted my spirits when I was having a challenging day, or I just let the Christian Radio Station play all day and night and bombard my home with uplifting thoughts and words, and sounds.
Celebrate joy everyday!
Recognizing the joys in my life helped me to experience more of them. It’s a self-perpetuating thing – the more you acknowledge the joys in your life, the more joy you have. Take a look at your own life. Keep a Joy Journal or a diary of what you are grateful for so that you can learn to recognize what makes you happy. Every life – even a restricted life of chronic illness – contains many small moments of joy. Identify those moments of joy and celebrate them every day.
This is my favorite essential oil blend to use in the shower. A few drops on a washcloth on the tub floor, and my spirit is uplifted.
I will survive!
© 2015 Gina Welds Hulse