I was diagnosed with RA the day before Christmas via a phone message left by my rheumatologist. He said, “I am so sorry to tell you that your MRI showed you have RA. I really didn’t expect this diagnosis. I really thought we were dealing with some type of virus and all of this was going to passover without any difficulty. Again I am so very sorry. I need you to come into the office as soon as you can so we can discuss treatment options.” At the time, I was sitting alone in my car. I began to cry. I believe those tears were actually some tears of relief because i finally had a name, a label, an explanation for the daily fevers, the achy joints, the fatigue. The following week I sat in my rheumy’s office as he explained treatments, meds, side effects, monthly blood work, and used such words as bone erosion, joint damage, joint deformity. He said his goal was to put me in remission. Sounded like a great plan to me….
The one thing my rheumy did not mention was how this disease was going to effect every aspect of my life. I was getting ready to go on an emotional roller coaster ride that I was not prepared for.
The depression came on like a thief in the night. There was no warning. All of the sudden I found myself in a deep, dark pit of depression. I cried and I don’t mean just a few tears trickling down my face. I did the big ugly cry where your face is distorted, eyes swollen, red face, deep gut wrenching painful cry. I drew myself up into a fetal position and found myself crying for my mother, who I had lost 33 years ago. I was losing interest in all the things that at one time brought joy to me. I was feeling a sense of worthlessness. My life was changing dramatically right in front of me and I felt I was losing control over everything.
As I talked with other people with autoimmune diseases, the one common thread I found in many of us is that at some point during diagnosis and treatment many people find themselves dealing with depression as well. Not everyone will find themselves in a deep dark pit, but depression will rear its ugly head in some form for the majority of patients. If it is so common among us then why aren’t the doctors addressing these issues on our visits?
It is important that we become our own advocate for our healthcare. We have to educate ourselves about our disease, our treatment, our meds and all the possible side effects that can come with our new diagnosis. As for depression, be aware of the signs and symptoms: decreased appetite, weight loss, (however in some people it can be increased appetite and weight gain), feelings of hopelessness, no longer finding pleasure in the things we use to enjoy, crying, fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety are just some of the symptoms of depression. It is important to recognize these signs and request treatment immediately if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms.
For myself, my depression requires medical intervention. I can’t get through it on my own. One of my family members said, “well honey you just gotta think about the good things in life, think about all your blessings, go take a walk and get in the sunshine and you will feel better.” I do wish that would take care of my depression, i wish it was that easy. But for me…it is going to require medication, counseling, therapy with a trained physician that is familiar with treating depression. This disease has taken away my personal identity because I can no longer do the things that at one time defined who I was. I am now trying to get to know the new person I have become and that my friends is a tough journey to be on. I am having to find new things that bring me joy, new hobbies, new activities and in some cases new friends. It truly is an emotional roller coaster ride and in the end I want to come through the gate with my hands held high and screaming, “What a ride!!”.