When I was growing up and people would come over to our house my dad would tell them, “Take off your coat and stay a while.” Sometimes I feel like discouragement has taken its coat off for a nice long visit. I don’t believe I’m alone in my experience with depression it seems to be pretty common for people living with chronic illness.
Depression comes from the grief of not being able to do the things that were once commonplace. When we don’t have enough energy to do all of the things that helped us feel accomplished in the past we struggle with feelings of self-worth. Depression comes from guilt for not doing more, shame for not being more, fear of wondering if body and mind will ever get better, and the sense of hopelessness when treatments fail.
Depression messes with our perception of the world around us and of how we fit into that world. It throws questions in our faces that don’t have reasonable answers. I sometimes wonder why my mind isn’t stronger so that I can convince my body to do things it refuses to do, or exactly what it is I am supposed to do with an illness that saps all the energy out of me. These are despairing thoughts that come to me when I’m the most tired and worn down from chronic discomfort.
Every person with chronic illness is most likely going to deal with his or her situation differently than another and some are going to have more depression than others. Some people are more introspective, some tolerate pain better than others, some have a stronger support system of family and friends, and some are simply more vulnerable to depression biologically.
Everyone is unique, and something that works for one person may not provide the same relief for another. Some people are able to find medication that works well for them, others have to search further to find the help they need, and still others have a very long road to travel down with many obstacles to overcome on their journey toward recovery. We all have our own stories and each one is significant and meaningful because of the experience it presents.
I have days that are better than others, but there are days when the storm hits and the sun can’t get through. There are people who don’t understand this feeling and believe that someone who is depressed isn’t grateful for life. Yet, I do know that gratitude is strong medicine because it keeps me hanging on when I feel battered and bruised by the darkness of depression. One of the things that people on the outside of depression may not understand is that on the inside of depression there is disparity between knowing we have extraordinary blessings in our lives and still finding it hard to be happy all of the time.
When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.
We all deal with illness differently and have different perspectives about how it is affecting our lives. Some people are going to suffer from depression in deeper levels than others. Each of us has different things that contribute to how we feel about our illness and how we deal with our depression, but we have the same feelings in terms of pain and sadness.
The purpose of this book is to offer a sense of relief from knowing that you are not alone in your experience with chronic illness and depression. I am writing to individuals with chronic illness who have symptoms that are challenging to deal with and to those who have feelings of grief, sorrow, pain, and despair. We all need to understand that while we are working through feelings of depression there is hope, we are not alone, our feelings are significant, and our lives have meaning in the midst of our illness. To feel a sense of purpose and know that our lives matter is such a hard thing to grasp when depression is upon us.
“’Your soul is like your shadow,’ she said. ‘Sometimes it just wanders off like a butterfly and that is when you are sad and that is when you get sick, and if it comes back to you, that is when you are happy and you are well again.’”
Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
Some of us have to deal with depression swirling around our illness and zooming in when we feel the most vulnerable from our ongoing symptoms. Other people may not understand our feelings, but we are not alone when we experience pain and sadness.
It’s very hard to find the right words to explain how we feel sometimes, but I wonder if there isn’t a reason for our not being able to precisely explain everything we are going through. The process of trying to describe how we feel and make ourselves understood may help us better understand our selves. I’m not saying this process is pain free because it isn’t. Learning to deal with feeling misunderstood is part of our life when we are living with a concealed illness. People can’t see why we are sick and their expectations don’t always match our ability to perform. It's just downright frustrating sometimes.
Our individual perceptions are unique and complex. When chronic illness unexpectedly enters our lives we have to take a step back and learn how to deal with our specific situations. We are each going to find different ways of coping and different ways of trying to fit the pieces of our personality into the world of illness.
All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times, but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.
Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
• What do you think people who feel depressed have in common?
• How do your feelings about your illness affect your level of depression?
• What are some of your coping strategies that help you feel a little bit