Depression: The Taboo Topic For People With Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness and Depression

Depression: The Taboo Topic For People With Chronic Illness

My dog saved my life. Well, I’m sure there were a few others who helped too but with the puppy-dog eyes and fluffy cuteness, I’m giving my dog the credit. So now that I’ve gotten the cuteness out the way (I may come back to it later) I can talk about the meat of the matter: dealing with depression and my chronic illness.

Help with Chronic Illness Depression


My Chronic Illness Battle

When I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Sjogren’s in 2009, I had already been suffering from symptoms of the diseases for 5 years. I was no stranger to the effects that RA can have on the body; I was a physiotherapist specializing in Neurology and Elderly care and many of my patients had the disease. So I was mentally prepared for the joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue and how to cope with it, or so I thought. What I hadn’t thought about was the emotional impact those symptoms, over an extended period of time, would have on my mind.

The Low Point

In 2016 I started having days where I felt low. You know that feeling of being “down in the dumps?” But I always bounced back to my optimistic self after a few days. However, those low days became more frequent and lasted longer. My RA cocktail of Humira and Methotrexate wasn’t controlling my pain as well as it did a year prior. My pain got worse, I was having difficulty sleeping, I had more migraines, and did I mention the pain got worse?

I kept going back to my rheumatologist and she’d adjust the dose of my Methotrexate, and prescribed Celebrex. Pain was becoming a guest who had overstayed their welcome and next thing I knew I had a tenant who I couldn’t kick to the curb. I would wait until everyone left the house in the mornings and I’d cry for hours at a time. Sometimes it was due to pain, at other times it was seemingly for no reason. I felt worthless, hopeless, useless, and as if I was a burden to my family. The worst of all this though, was the feeling that I was alone; that I was the only one ever to feel these emotions.

Chronic Illness Depression | My Dog Saved Me


Tackling the Taboo

Soon, I began to think that there was only one way out. After having suicidal thoughts for weeks, I went in my bathroom and gathered all the pills I could find. That day was the day I would relieve my family of the burden I thought I was placing on them.

So what stopped me? Cue the cuteness. A little black and white fluff-ball pushed his muzzle through, then his head and stood there looking up at me with (what I thought to be) a concerned look. I broke down crying and put the pills away.

I knew I needed help but I could not bring myself to consider I was depressed. That word seemed to weigh a ton with the stigma behind it. If I went to the doctor would it always be on my medical record? Would it change my insurance premium? Would it affect me getting a job? Would my friends and family think I was weak?

Fortunately, I was able to wrestle with those concerns and push past the fear and stigma and make an appointment with my rheumatologist. I was referred to a psychiatrist and started to get the treatment I needed.

Chronic Illness and Depression

There is often a direct link between chronic pain and depression. Together they create a vicious cycle: pain can cause depression, and depression changes your perception of pain.

Sure, if you look up symptoms of RA (or any other chronic illness) somewhere way down on the list, you’ll see depression. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that’s talked about enough, in my opinion, neither by health care professionals nor people living with a chronic illness. This can tend to further make us feel alone when we’re going through low emotional points.

While coping with depression without help is hard, overcoming the stigma to talk about it and seek help can often seem even harder.

Things to Consider

  • • When you’re feeling depressed YOU ARE NOT ALONE You’d be surprised how many other people with chronic illness feel this way. Thank goodness for social media as I was able to find support through that medium and reach out to people in a similar situation.

  • YOU ARE NOT WEAK! I think it takes incredible strength to deal with chronic pain and/or fatigue EVERYDAY and still carry on with family life, jobs, and maintain friendships. Having depression does not make you weak; it makes you human.

  • • Exercise really does help. There were days I didn’t feel like even getting out of bed. Thanks to my little pup, who loves to be taken for a walk, I was forced to go walking each day and even that small amount of exercise helped me.

  • • Seek professional help. Please, please, please do this especially when your mind tells you that suicide is the only way out. When depressed, chemicals in our brains can make us feel that that’s true. It’s not. Speak to your rheumatologist and be honest about what you’re feeling and going through. IF your rheumatologist doesn’t take you seriously, please seek a second opinion.

Depression and Chronic Illness
Karolyn Smith
Article Author
Karolyn Smith

Karolyn is an author, writer and blogger who has lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogren’s since 2004. She worked as a Physical Therapist and in the corporate world until her autoimmune illness forced her to stop. She now spends her time trying to keep up with her two young children and her precocious Shorkie dog and writing every chance she gets.

  • Avatar
    Brian W. Sharp
    Posted at 19:23h, 02 March Reply

    The battle with depression is so true, so very real. I’ve been there, and still to this day let my thoughts overwhelm me, but I do everything I can to fight it off. As Karolina stated, exercise helps a lot. The body produces those chemicals to ward off depression, as well as produces endorphins which is a natural pain killer for the body. Through my Running Journey I’ve had more good days than bad and no longer have the need to take medication for depression (Thank Goodness), but there was a time where I too sank to the lowest point in my life and nearly ended everything.

    • Karolyn
      Posted at 16:00h, 04 March Reply

      Great that your running journey helps you to have more good days than bad ones. People do sometimes tend to overlook the benefits of exercise, even a 10 minutes walk can make a difference!

      • Avatar
        Posted at 18:49h, 03 April Reply

        I have rheumatoid arthritis. lupus, sjogrens and fibromyalgia and my dog is who helps me through every day, she makes me laugh & smile so much and is my constant companion.

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    Andrea Delangis
    Posted at 08:38h, 03 March Reply

    Reading this Makes me SO HAPPY! I have had RA since I was 16. I’m 28 now. I have a blog too! It’s been my process through the years. I’m getting my hips replaced too! Thanks for sharing!

    • Karolyn
      Posted at 15:56h, 04 March Reply

      Isn’t it always such a good thing to know that you’re not suffering alone?! All the best with your hip replacement!

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    Posted at 20:30h, 03 March Reply

    I, too started to have a suicidal thought and told me Rheumatologist and she referred me to a Psychiatrist. It’s been two years since I started seeing a Psychiatrist and a counselor and I am glad that I did. I am in a much better place and feel free these days. I hope more people seek the help they need.

    • Karolyn
      Posted at 15:58h, 04 March Reply

      I’m so happy that you sought help and that it has been helping. I too wish that more people would seek help when they need it.

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    Vanessa Bain
    Posted at 14:37h, 05 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing…I to just talked to my rheumey who referred me back to my primary who is now helping me cope with the depression…this is a horrible disease that I wish people could understand, sad when you lose friends …who you thought were friends…so now I’m heading in the right direction…I know who my true friends are and taking one day at a time. Hugs to you.

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    Posted at 21:19h, 07 March Reply

    That beautiful fluffy Dog surely puts a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing. I think I’m depressed some days or is it the RA and Methotrexate combo. I do know the fatigue and feeling like I’m floating through my day is tough to explain to others and at times don’t want to just make it about me. I definitely cry often. It’s almost is if I don’t know what happy feels like. I have had RA 3yrs luckily w the meds I’m not in pain and very mobile. Yet systematically I’m not the same. Definitely can’t wait for spring and I need to exercise, stress less. Thank you again for sharing and listening.

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    Posted at 12:41h, 09 March Reply

    I haven’t been able to admit it, but I’m depressed. Thank you for sharing your story with us

    • admin
      Posted at 13:20h, 09 March Reply

      Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share how you’re feeling too. We’re here and so is our online community if you need support!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:52h, 23 March Reply

    Karolyn, I love dogs, and I love your beautiful story and writing ability. I also have RA and have experienced those “low” days. For me, it was the worst soon after my diagnosis when I began learning more about RA. The future seemed so frightening at that time. I am doing better now, but I realize there may be times ahead when the low times might resurface. I find it interesting to reflect on how much closer I have become to my dogs since being diagnosed; they certainly seem to lift up my spirits simply through their devoted companionship. I wanted to thank you for sharing your lovely, meaningful story.

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    Posted at 15:31h, 03 April Reply

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences! I, too, have RA and have had bouts of depression. Luckily, I receive excellent care at my local VA and was able to talk to a psychologist and get the help I needed! Your dog is adorable!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 06:28h, 15 August Reply

    Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage
    -lao tzu-

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