I always believed I could understand the feelings of anxiety and depression that plague some of my loved ones, even though I never had experienced them. But in the weeks before my diagnosis, lupus gave me a small preview of what it’s like to have those two devils attack my mental health. I never could’ve imagined just how far off my perception was.
For the better part of my life, I always had associated depression with the color blue and the emotion of sadness. As a teenager, when we were taught about declining mental health, they described it more like a quick stumble off-path — easily recovered from, yet incredibly important to detect.
The way depression and anxiety were presented to me was not as a serious health issue, but more of a hindrance or irritant, as if it was an optional part of a person’s life. Yet, as I grew older and came to know of the ongoing struggle some of my loved ones faced with these mental health challenges, I realized they are anything but optional.
The only thing that mental health awareness in high school portrayed correctly was that detection is an incredibly important part of struggling with mental health. What they failed to mention was how difficult it can be to see in others — no matter how close you might be to them — and how sometimes it can be almost impossible to notice in yourself.
My entire life I’ve been known for my seemingly ever-present smile and an attitude so positive it’s almost painful. And resulting from that idea, as silly as it might sound, I never had considered that one day depression could knock on my door. There seems to be this misconception that depression will visit you only if you’re already sad, or that anxiety is specific to those who worry too much and too often. This could not be more inaccurate.
Just as we are all vulnerable to the ebb and flow of our emotions, the changing of our situation, and the circle of life and death, we are all vulnerable to depression and anxiety. And there is no shame in that.
Less than 24 hours before I was diagnosed with lupus, I remember a moment in my life when nothing was right. I lied on the couch in a heap, crying my eyes out for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint, the seemingly unjustified tears running down my face into the couch. I didn’t know what was wrong with me — I was usually so happy and positive. Why couldn’t I find my way out of this?
More than being sad
No one had ever told me that depression is not just sadness; it’s even more than that, something worse, something harder to overcome. It’s an utter hopelessness. No one had told me that depression was a slow process; it was always made out to be a sudden and abrupt change. They never told me that it would be a slow descent that would leave me completely unaware of what was coming for me.
So, just like that, I found myself sad and without hope, simultaneously fighting to find a way out of that state, yet unable to rally myself to decide on a way forward.
Lupus was the reason behind my experience with mild depression, and every day I’m grateful for my diagnosis the very next day. I’m grateful because I have no idea what living with that state of mind could’ve done to me over an extended period of time. But I do know that it would’ve been the hardest thing in my life, lupus included. The fact that lupus makes me more susceptible to anxiety and depression is terrifying, as even having it occupy me for a short period of time was like not knowing myself at a fundamental level.
I never could’ve understood before I experienced it for myself, but depression and anxiety are not just a battle, they are undoubtedly a war in and of themselves. And I know I’m not the only one with this type of experience. If you’re currently struggling and reading this, please know that you are so loved. There is so much support for you. Although I’m sure it feels relentless, you will find your way out of that hole.
From one lupie to another: You’ve got this. I’ve got this. We’re in this together for the long haul, and no matter what, we’ve got this!
Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.