30 Aug Depression and Chronic Illness
Ever since the news broke of the suicide committed by one of my childhood heroes, I started to formulate the blog in my head.
I knew I wasn’t going to write about how Robin Williams was an inspiration for me as an aspiring actor. Nor was the blog to be about how I always wished he could be my crazy uncle who sat at the end of the dinner table making wild, obscure gestures and jokes while we tried to eat. And I definitely was not going to follow the path of the rest of the content marketers on the internet who wrote about Williams just to get attention from the public.
No, this is about the bigger issue.
Reports have been circulating that Robin Williams committed suicide after suffering through the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease(1).
A chronic disease.
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, more than half of those who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease also experience clinical depression (2).
In fact, it is widely known that depression is extremely common in those suffering from chronic diseases.
As someone who has dealt with the ongoing pain and suffering of a chronic disease, this struck a chord with me.
I’ve never written about this topic before, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because it never really seemed important enough to talk about. Maybe it was because it was actually just hiding beneath the thoughts and words I was writing about other topics. Or maybe it was because it’s not something one just wants to talk about. Either way, today, I feel, is the day to bring it up.
Years ago, during the toughest part of my disease from the ages of 11-13, I was suffering excruciating, unending pain in my stomach, I was unable to eat, I did not have enough energy to sit up, and I spent most of the time in the bathroom. But, beneath all of the physical pain and anguish I was feeling, there was also something going on in my head. I would lie on my bedroom floor, stare into the mirror on my closet, and look at my pale, sick skin, deep into my grey, glassy eyes, and say out loud to myself that I wished it would all be over.
While I was never officially diagnosed by a clinician, I feel as if I can safely say I was depressed. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, (now known as Crohn’s and Colitis Canada), has reported that people with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis have a higher risk of developing psychological problems, such as depression, than the general population (3). I believe I was one of those people.
I had depression.
During the worst part of my disease, my parents tried to get me counselling. While it was thinly veiled as having a social worker come in just to “hang” with me in my hospital room, I was smart enough to know what they were trying to do. And, being the stubborn kid that I was (I’m a stubborn adult, now), I refused. I told my parents that I didn’t need any therapy. After all, I knew that I would be happy again once my pain was gone.
To be honest, for quite some time, I felt I had been right.
Once I recovered from ostomy surgery and felt healthy again, my depression seemed to go away after the following few months. I never experienced a day where I knew it was just gone, but I had started to realize I was happy way more often than I was sad.
Pft, therapy. Who needs it?
It wasn’t until the passing of my father, 5 years ago, today that the feelings of sorrow and despair crept back into my mind, engulfed my every thought, and was felt through every bone in my body. The man who gave me my love for computers, the man who told me inappropriate inside jokes that I wasn’t supposed to tell my mom about, and the person who held my hand through almost all of my unpleasant and painful medical tests, had just suddenly disappeared from my life. My daddy was gone. I was a mess.
Was I more susceptible to a depressive episode because of my chronic illness? Was I depressed because of the medication I was on? Or were these feelings normal from the loss of a person so meaningful to me?
To this day, I’m still unsure.
What I do know is that after my father’s death, I actually went to get help from a counsellor. Yes, I gave in and listened to my parents.
But you know what? It helped me more than I could have ever imagined. Not only was I able to talk about the feelings of losing a parent and learn to deal with those emotions, but the therapy I went through helped me work through the feelings and thoughts I had experienced through my chronic suffering so long ago, that I had never dealt with.
I have not had one of those depressive episodes since those few months after my father’s death.
Do I think that this is the end of depression for me?
As someone with a chronic illness, it would be naive of me to think that. With pain comes sorrow, and if I am to fall back into the pit of suffering that is Crohn’s disease, I am almost certain the feelings of despair will follow.
But, if this ever is to happen to me again, I now understand that I need to get over my stubborn ways and accept help. Because, you know, they call it “help” for a reason. It helps.
Luckily, I haven’t been quite as sick as I was back when I was 13, and as 5 years has now passed since my dad’s been gone, there is little I have to depressed about. I am living a happy life with great friends, an amazing boyfriend, an awesome job, and a family that I love. But, if I am ever to get into a situation again, where I feel like I have fallen into a pit of despair, I know there is help.
I knew I needed to write this blog to bring attention to the depression that many of us are susceptible to because of our chronic conditions. Whether you have suffered, are suffering, or haven’t recognized your depression, I wanted to take the time to tell you that you should be reaching out for help – in any form.
Whether it comes from a counsellor, a family member or a friend, or comes from simply asking to talk to someone on our Facebook page, I just want you to know that it does get better if you ask for that help.