The Connection Between Lupus and Depression
Depression, anxiety and lupus can, unfortunately, go hand in hand. There is some evidence that lupus itself can cause these distressing disorders, whilst other times, the medication used to treat the illness can cause lupus patients to feel down in the dumps or anxious. On top of that, add the uncertainty of lupus, especially in the middle of a flare, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for situational depression.
Up to 60 percent of people with lupus experience clinical depression. Lupus is closely associated with depression for several reasons:
- Lupus and its symptoms often bring about feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
- Research indicates some medications used to treat lupus, like corticosteroids, have been associated with depression.
- Lupus symptoms may be confused for anxiety, coming with fatigue and tightness in chest.
- Loss of function from lupus can bring about feelings of loss and the grief.
For me, my struggle with anxiety and depression began way before my lupus symptoms began to present themselves. I began to experience clinical depression as young as 13 and then began to have full-blown panic attacks after witnessing a particularly distressing event in college. I have been able to control a lot of the symptoms with medicine, but that doesn’t solve everything.
My anxiety manifests in the form of what is termed “health anxiety,” which is a horrible thing to mix with a chronic illness. This means that I am prone to worrying excessively or even working myself into a panic attack over feeling ill, seeing the doctor, or having procedures done.
Not long ago, I had a minor operation and awoke from surgery with a panic attack. Of course, since an elevated heartbeat can be a symptom of a major complication, the doctors and nurses took it pretty seriously, which made me even more nervous.
Likewise, depression can strike when you’re at your worst, making you feel even worse physically. Although I suffer back and forth from depression even when I’m not ill, having to lie in bed all day due to fatigue or ill health makes my self-esteem plummet.
I often feel like I’m a failure, or that I’m never going to be able to support myself in a job, even though I am attempting to carve out a niche for myself that allows me to work with my symptoms.
And the depression and anxiety can get scary. Like, really scary. Some days, I have had anxiety so badly that I thought I was actually going to die. Other days, the fog of the depression got so bad that I wanted to die.
At times, it feels like I mentally can’t go on, which isn’t something that is often talked in regards to those of us who are chronically ill. We are supposed to be heroes and inspirations to those around us, but in reality, there is no other choice but to carry on. And that only choice is a tough road.
Anger Turned Inward
With chronic illness, sometimes our depression is anger turned inward. At times when you’re feeling low, it is often a natural progression for your self-esteem to eventually plummet and feel as though you’re a burden to all of those around you.
I often feel as though I am “ruining people’s lives” just by being in them, but I have to constantly remind myself that the people in my life love me despite my illness, otherwise they would have abandoned me a long time ago.
In the past, my depression has gotten so bad that I have had to be hospitalized, which isn’t something I am very proud of because of the stigma surrounding it. In fact, it is something I am downright ashamed to admit. However, knowing the consequences of serious depression (having had a close friend of mine commit suicide), I know I did the right thing.
Seeking professional help when dealing with severe anxiety and depression related to lupus is extremely important. And it is important that you see a doctor or a counsellor who understands (like, actually understands) that you have a chronic illness.
I have had depression since I was virtually a child, so I have had doctors ask if antidepressants have helped my lupus symptoms, assuming all of my problems were related to depression. Sometimes depression can cause physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue, and it is important that you are seeing a professional who understands that while that is true, you do have a chronic physical illness as well.
It is also important to see a counsellor or therapist who is educated in helping you accept both your illness and the depressive feelings that either come and go or that are lingering for a long time. Although it can hard to cope with, remember that depressive feelings are quite normal when you’re dealing with an illness that cannot be predicted from one day to the next.
This isn’t like the flu where you know what the symptoms are going to be and know you’ll feel miserable for a few days and then feel better. Lupus is the unknown, and that is scary.
Next page: dealing with uncertainty and anxiety.