Funny thing about some chronic illnesses. They are often invisible. And sometimes other people, even those who are well-meaning and genuinely concerned, can get the wrong idea. Sometimes a person who has a chronic illness can look like someone who is depressed.
I live with a chronic condition which at one time rendered me unable to leave my house, with a hypersensitivity to lights, sound, and movement of any kind, including my own.
It goes by several names, for instance it has been called at different time myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME, chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS, chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome or CFIDS, and now systemic exertion intolerance disease or SEID.
I remember one kind-hearted friend giving me coupons for a local coffee shop, saying she knew I had been down, and maybe getting out would be good for me.
I had tried to describe my illness before and realized I hadn't gotten through. I decided not to try again. She thought I was depressed, a little under the weather. A little encouragement to get out and about and perhaps I would feel less depressed.
But the reason I wasn't going out was because I wasn't physically able. I could walk, but I couldn't navigate through a store, or restaurant, or field the sensory (over)stimulation of lights, tables not to bump into, and people talking to me too quickly for me to understand.
I also could not eat any of the baked goods or drink the coffee due to the food sensitivities that made my symptoms flare like fire.
Mind you, though the reason I couldn't go out was not depression, I'd have to say I was also depressed. And that can often be the case for people dealing with chronic conditions.
Very wearing, not being able to do the things you'd like to do, the things you used to do. Being chronically ill doesn't necessarily mean a person is helpless but many are. And others are able to care for themselves but may have had their lives and their activities sharply curtailed.
Many are no longer able to support themselves, and may be working part-time, or not at all. Some can get around their houses but can't go out to do their own grocery shopping or run their own errands.
Often the view is predominantly from a couch or bed, looking out a window on a scene that they are no longer part of. The people going by are not a part of their lives, even if at one time they had been.
And all of that is depressing.
A person who is chronically ill may over time forget who they were -- and who they still are at the core of their being. This is not dementia or even some cognitive dysfunction. It is human nature.
The person who used to be outgoing, who used to run meetings, a business, a community group, no longer sees or feels any evidence of this past. The friends, co-workers, supporters and fans may well have wandered off.
The use of the phone, the writing of emails, the speaking in front of an audience are no longer habitual, no longer automatic. And thinking of walking down the street and buying a couple of groceries and making small talk may be more than the body, and the soul, can handle now.
Haven't I always been lonely and isolated and ... small? I don't remember a time when people were interested in sharing my life. I don't remember a time when people encouraged and supported me.
I just remember this interminable trudging from bedroom to bathroom to couch ... and back to bed. Did I even get dressed every day? Put on some mascara before running for the front door to meet friends?
So yeah, this can be depressing. It can alter a person's sense of who they are, of their self-esteem, of their currency with the world around them -- or the world that exists without them.
The CDC website says, "Chronic diseases are non-communicable illnesses that are prolonged in duration, do not resolve spontaneously, and are rarely cured completely ... Chronic diseases include illness such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis."
"Chronic illnesses are health conditions that either have symptoms on a constant basis or flare up episodically, such as: diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary problems, hypertension, mental disorders, stroke, cancer and obesity," according to the American Psychological Association website.
Not everyone with a chronic condition will be depressed, or angry or filled with anxiety. Not all will have trouble holding on to their identity and the things that have been important to them.
But many do. One thing they all have in common is a need for support from others. Whether that support is offered in small ways or big ways, the person who is weighed down by the presence of a chronic illness will appreciate the intent, and respond to the giver.
You may not be able to do anything about the chronic illness which is causing all this mess. But if you can touch and lighten the heaviness and worn spirit that so often accompanies these physical conditions, you will have done well.
Mental Health and Chronic Diseases
Psychologists’ Role in Treating Persons with a Chronical Illness
Emotional dimensions of chronic disease
Reviewed January 3, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN