Coping with depression – How do you manage the inevitable lows of having RA? Do you view RA as being forever or do you look forward to remission? What are the best ways to cope with the depression associated with RA?
I’m choosing a Wednesday Wildcard, simply because this is a subject so close to my head and my heart. I suffered with depression for a while before RA, but for a few months last year the whole RA ‘package’ sent me spiralling downwards again.
One doesn’t expect to be pottering through life one minute to have everything torn away from you the next. Over a few short months I lost my health, my mobility, my career, my income, my social life, my home, my identity and my sense of who I was.
I simply couldn’t see a way forward. I’d worked so hard to build a career and had (as I think many people do) based my sense of self on my job. I was a regional manager, I travelled and project managed, I worked a million hours a week and I was known for being organised and capable. I couldn’t see who I was without this, and worse I couldn’t find any sense of self worth, I’d lost my value.
Add in new medications, side effects, homelessness, constant pain and incredible fatigue and you can see why things looked black.
I’ve more than once seen people comment that a chronic illness diagnosis starts the grieving process and it’s so true, you’ve lost your ‘life’, there is no cure, you mourn what you were and focus on what you can no longer do.
You certainly go through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – but these are not linear and we can find ourselves returning to any one of these stages at any time.
- Denial faded quite quickly for me, the sudden plethora of medical appointments and tests don’t allow you to ignore what’s happening
- Anger is one many people get stuck at. In the short term anger is useful, it makes you question and plot and plan, but over a longer period is definitely not healthy
- Bargaining was for me a slightly weird stage, you find yourself praying to any power available, you promise to eat healthier, stop smoking, stop drinking, get more sleep – anything to take the pain away
- Depression is very closely linked with RA, and as too many of us know it creeps up on you then settles in
- Acceptance is so very important for our mental health, but it’s a hard one to do. It’s taken me some months and some fantastic therapy, but reaching this stage is incredibly freeing
I view my RA as a lifelong condition, there is no cure and treatment may slow disease progress but it won’t make it go away. So bearing this in mind how do we cope with the depression?
- Medication. It’s vital to speak with your GP as soon as you realise depression is with you. Mine is incredibly supportive, and when the antidepressant I’d been on for a couple of years with good results seemed to stop working once I added RA to the mix we discussed this together and changed my medication, it’s made a world of difference
- Talking Therapy. I am such a passionate advocate for accessing professional mental health support. I used some NHS provision which was group therapy and a great start, but I felt I needed more so paid privately to see a psychotherapist. She’s changed my life. It’s that big and that important. Yes I still have low days and suffer with anxiety, but I also have tools to help me through
- Lose the guilt. I see so many people who blame themselves for not being able to live as they were, they feel they’ve become a burden on their families and friends and are no longer worthy of being loved because they can’t cook or clean house or make the school run. This is not our fault, we didn’t ask for this, and guilt is a very destructive and pointless emotion
- Friends. It’s so important we make the effort to keep in touch with people. And it’s so hard because depression makes you want to shut out the world, add in fatigue and pain and it’s so very easy not to leave the house. Yes I’ve had to cancel arrangements at the last minute (more guilt) but my friends totally understand and have been amazing.
- Leave the house. Isolation becomes a default setting very quickly, especially if like me you can spend days in bed due to fatigue. On better days I consistently make myself go out. Fresh air, change of scenery and being around people can make such a huge difference, you feel like you are part of the world again
- Hobbies keep us feeling productive and get the brain ticking over. Yes, we lose some, I adored cooking and can no longer manage it, but I’ve found others, I do crosswords, write my blog, run my Facebook RA page, knit on days when my hands allow and have rediscovered a love of reading that I never had time for.
- Music! Sing, chair dance, whatever floats your boat but music can really lift your mood when nothing else will
- Practice Gratitude. A tip from my therapist which really works. Every night before I go to sleep I run through the things I’m grateful for that day. I found this so hard at first, I would grumpily be grateful for a warm bed and pain meds! But it was a start, and with daily practice it becomes so easy – my friend called, my cat made me laugh, it was sunny, I love my new book, my cleaner has been! You will discover more and more every day. And if on bad days it’s bed and pain meds that’s OK too
- Meditation has been a wonderful discovery for me. I started with simple breathing exercises shared in group therapy, found a great meditation app and hit you tube for suggestions. I could do better, on bad days I don’t always practice, but on the days I do it really lifts me
- Find Acceptance. It takes some soul searching and a change of thinking but it’s the most important step forward after diagnosis. If you am e constantly hating your body, your illness and what it’s taken from your life you will absolutely feel awful. It was a stupidly simple phrase that did it for me, ‘Don’t ask why me, ask why not me’
- Find your tribe. There are some wonderful online support groups that offer friendship, advice, shared experiences, validation and a safe place to vent when needed! Facebook has some good ones and they are private so your friends/family won’t see your posts. I think I’d have gone crazy without my RA tribe 🙂