I wasn’t sure I was the right candidate to broach the subject of depression. Then I read through the symptoms of depression and realised, although many people may or may not have felt the full scale of depression; there’s a high chance the majority could have experienced a variation or touch of depression. Light or severe, the statistics themselves are enough:
More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015 (World Health Organisation statistics 2017)
And actually, my experience with a chronic condition means I, and others like me are prone to depression, because of how debilitating and limiting a severe disease can be.
And boy, do I feel like I’ve been through the wars in the past few weeks. The story I’m about to tell is one that feels like it could be made up and made me laugh and cry at the same time. It made me realise, what I thought was serious already, got even more serious and severe.
I recently wrote a post on ‘When the going gets tough’ about how 3 weeks ago I was admitted into hospital with Haemoptysis (coughing up blood). I was there for 3 days and discharged after it settled with medication. For about a week or so, it was clear and I felt fine again. But oh no no no, the universe decided to batter me down again and it started. All over again. Only this time, there was even more blood than the first time and I was admitted into hospital for another week.
Jeez, was the first time not enough?!
Half-way during that time in hospital, I was being taken care of by the ward doctor on standby that particular week, whilst my on-going consultant was on holiday. Because Haemoptysis is not a typical symptom of Emphysema (COPD and what I ‘have’), it triggered the doctor to look at my x-ray and scans more closely. And he had a different theory based on his experience. Because of the ‘cysts’ he saw in my lungs (instead of misshapen bronchial tubes which is what others saw) and the bleeding, he said that I, ‘99%’ had another severe lung disease called LAM. Yes that’s its actual name with the real medical term being:
Lymphangioleiomyomatosis. What the actual f*ck?!
My last name. And what a stupid name for it. A 25 character word. Then I made the mistake of googling it. It’s an extremely rare disease that happens to 1 in 3 million people and seems to target women only. No one knows the cause. Things like life-span are shortened, the ability to have children are slim and the likelihood or a lung transplant is high.
I was heart-broken, devastated and plunged into darkness. So did my family and it all felt like my world fell apart. All the symptoms I was showing seemed to add up.
To add the cherry on top, I was getting other symptoms, including cysts elsewhere on my body. And it was physically painful as well as trying to battle the mental turmoil.
So for three days and out of all my hospitalizations, this particular stint has been the one where I have felt the most shattered, let down and wanted to give up trying on everything. The next day I was dizzy, I couldn’t eat and I was sick all day. I slept from 2pm until 10pm tired from it all. When these things happen, of course you feel helpless and hopeless.
Then my on-going consultant returned from his 2-week holiday, came to see me on his first day back (what an awesome, loyal doctor) and expressed his discontent with the ward doctor. He told me he reviewed what has been happening, checked my scans again, and discussed it with senior colleagues and an experienced radiographer. His opinion was a u-turn and completely opposite to what I had been told. He was certain it was NOT LAM disease. He told me the other doctor hadn’t reviewed my whole case and hence came to a premature conclusion. However, they’re still not sure what it could be and there’s a very small chance it could still be LAM.
Whilst I was grateful to him and felt like my prayers had been answered, it was all the more confusing. Because of the new symptoms I’m showing, I felt like what was patient zero again and back to square one. I had accepted the diagnosis of Emphysema a year ago, but will be going through a series of new tests over the next few weeks – again- to get to the bottom of it. I seem to be displaying symptoms of different lung diseases and have all the professionals/experienced doctors ‘baffled’. So to this day now, I’m not sure what I have and what the cause is. Not having answers sometimes makes it difficult for me. Because if I don’t know what it is, it’s hard to manage it.
But my whole point is though, that even though I’d gone through this horrific time in hospital, before that I realised, the whole time, I’ve probably been tackling more than I thought I could handle in the past two years. And no matter which condition you have, common or uncommon, it’s hardly easy to navigate.
There’s a term called ‘functioning depressives’ and it refutes the idea of an atypical depressive person who would be in their depths of despair and lay in bed all day avoiding people. I was doing none of these things, but was still achieving things, a high performer, speaking to my friends and family and trying to live to the full.
But there were still days I’d feel lethargic, tired, anxious, worried, stressed and to the point that, despite doing and achieving things, I wasn’t sure they were making me happy or relieved, or gaining any pleasure from.
No doubt, it is part in parcel due to the debilitating condition I live with. And in many ways, I have adjusted to cope with it best I can, but I feel no weakness in revealing the toll it can take on one’s mind and one body.
By acknowledging this in my own mind, I realised that potentially I had or do have a touch of depression. Not the full-blown kind where I isolate myself and consider it to be a threat to my life. But sadly, for many this is the case. And in fact, by acknowledging, I feel it’s always one of the first, but also biggest steps to healing.
And recently, I watched ‘13 Reasons Why’ on Netflix, which is a VERY powerful, poignant story that narrates the subject of bullying and depression. So whether someone is suffering it from lack of self-confidence, loneliness, bullying, chronic condition, grief or whatever it maybe that’s causing you to suffer any of the said symptoms or for you to lose your edge, I’d say addressing depression is extremely important. And talking about it is important. What happened in the Netflix series is sadly true for many, but the ending could have been SO different, if the main character spoke about it and more people listened.
How that is done, is unique to each individual, but talking to friends and family is a start. Or a qualified professional, counsellor or psychologist. Sharing intimate thoughts and feelings, especially with a stranger may seem daunting at first, but it gets easier and easier, then you begin to see how empowering and therapeutic it can be, even if they’re not able to offer immediate, tangible solutions to begin with. Just getting it off your chest can be a massive release. Hell, even writing this blog helps me get through! Then it goes from there and a plan, small step by step can be tackled to get you back on the path to a content place.
Don’t get me wrong; I am nowhere near an unhappy individual as I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. I have the best boyfriend in the whole wide world, amazing super-star parents and great friends. I have a beautiful little puppy, a roof over my head and I get to enjoy many things that are not available in other parts of the world. But with a chronic condition, it can be very hard. And you can’t do it alone. No one can and no one expects you to. Having practiced meditation and contentment, I’m a very self-aware person, which has enabled me to take the more ‘prevent rather than cure’ approach. And I’m on a journey with everyone else who has all their own battles to fight. I also want to make it clear, that even for those who do have LAM disease, the feelings I was experiencing were before the possible diagnosis I was given, but a shock at the time I was told. It is also a note to say, that whatever it is we all have, nothing is ever insurmountable. Technology, medication, cures and support are ever more advanced and there are ways round everything. Positivity and strength of mind really are the key to better health.
So my advice would be two of the biggest steps to overcome it are acknowledging it’s there, then taking the plunge to talk about it. Really, what’s the worst that could happen more than what you’re already feeling, if you talk about it?
If people judge, or you self-judge, thinking that your weak, or you’re worried about what others think, it’s natural; but it’s also a reflection of their negative attitude and behaviour. Not yours.
So even if you don’t think you’re anywhere near text-book, full-on depression, nipping it in the bud before it grows into that is probably a wise idea. Even for me, I have been assigned a counsellor who deals with lung disease patients. And it reassures me because I can speak to a non-family member of society and not be worried how much it impact them with how I am feeling. And it ensures I can lead an open, healthy frame of mind where I can tackle difficult things with the help of others. Like I said, no one has to do this alone.
For more resources and inspiring video’s or advice, you can check out British Lung Foundation’s website which deals with specifically lung diseases.
World health day (07th April 2017) is managed by World Health Organisation and they are a leading a global campaign on ‘depression’ for World Health Day 2017, with the goal of enabling more people with mental disorders to live healthy, productive lives.