I didn’t understand what depression was until lupus. Before my diagnosis, I would feel a little down occasionally and allow myself three days of a pity party before I’d say, “OK, solutions.” I would find an answer to whatever was bothering me or stop worrying about it. That was the extent of my dealings with sad feelings.
When people whose lives looked wonderful would mention depression, I would think, “What do they have to be sad about?” It’s funny how life comes from behind you, right into your face, and challenges you to think differently. It stands there, staring you down, daring you to blink first.
I frequently hold hands with depression and anxiety as we skip through my new life as if we are best friends forever. I hope not. But they keep showing up as if I have invited them to afternoon tea.
My first anxiety attack happened before my diagnosis. I thought that I was dying. I’d moved to a new city, had no friends or family nearby, and hadn’t left my apartment in months. I could barely walk or talk. Then I had a horrific thought: If I were to pass away, how would anyone know? It felt as if a wrecking ball had hit me in the chest. I struggled to breathe. I was overwhelmed and didn’t understand what was happening to me.
As I took deep breaths and told myself that everything would be OK, I regained my composure. That day I learned what an anxiety attack was, and I discovered how to calm myself. I have had quite a few of those experiences since that first one. They come out of nowhere for what I deem irrational reasons — but sometimes the causes of my attacks make sense.
Depression has symptoms. I didn’t know this before; I had believed that depression was merely sadness and nothing more. Because I’m a self-proclaimed joy junkie, I had no clue about how to deal with the sadness and physical pain that accompany depression. Aside from lupus, I was uninterested in any other reasons for my pain, so I would try to smile it away, but my mind wouldn’t let me dismiss it easily.
My struggle to reconcile who I was with who I am now caused me much distress and confusion. I couldn’t simply smile through it. I felt hopeless, sad, and useless. And for a formerly ambitious workaholic, useless was the worst feeling to me.
I was tired, and my brain wasn’t working the way I needed it to — that further increased my feelings of uselessness. If I can’t think clearly, how can I solve problems or be helpful? I didn’t recognize that a lot of this mental anguish was not just related to lupus, but depression, too.
I live alone in a foreign country, and many of my social interactions are online. I realized three things: I needed to connect my past with my present, get offline and into the real world, and push myself to find activities that brought me a genuine sense of usefulness.
I sought out a therapist. I take four- to six-week breaks from social media. I am learning how to sew, edit photos, and do face paint. These activities take hours of my time, keep my brain occupied, and give me a sense of accomplishment when I finish a project. I love to learn things, and my hobbies help preserve my sanity. I still have my moments. I am not “over” my depression, but I am doing much better. Lupus and depression stink, but I won’t let them overwhelm me.
How do you combat depression? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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.