I have suffered with depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997.
Over the past two decades, not only have I had to contend with Fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with neurological problems that are ever so-slowly-robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days, most days, are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days, days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, they have taught me that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy for others.
Every day is a pain day for me. Some days the pain is manageable and it fades into the background as I write. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic man. Most days are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain meds, try to function, and live for another day.
Along with Fibromyalgia, neurological problems, loss of function, and pain, I’ve had to deal with skin cancer, cysts, a recent pancreatic cancer scare, loss of appetite, on-and-off loss of cognitive function, a not-yet-repaired labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in chase of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but close inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.
All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live it on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man, a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will, I tried to see things as they are.
Having a father die at 49 and a mother commit suicide at 54 tends to give one a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital tends to remind one that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life and I know path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.
My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain, Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again.
As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain…it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things like:
- Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
- Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
- Emails and texts to friends who never respond
- Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
- People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that…
- Dropping a dish on my foot
- Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be
- Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
- No internet
- The printer running out of ink or toner
- Needing a quarter for a cart at Aldi and not having one
- The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my chair or bed
- Making an error in the checkbook
- Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
- Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
- The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
- No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illness. It’s often all they can do just to live another day. So, when a small insignificant thing is thrown on top of their load, it can and does bring them crashing down.
Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.