When you’re suffering with an illness it’s good to hear from others how they deal with their illnesses. Sometimes people have different coping methods. Each person needs to find what works best for him or her. With this in mind, I decided to interview my friend Kelly, who like Cheryl, has fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses.
Aimee: Does your chronic illness cause depression?
Kelly: Yes. I have lived with pain every day for the past eight years. I also have debilitating fatigue, migraines, and stomach issues much of the time. It’s very depressing.
Aimee: How does it make you feel emotionally?
Kelly: I experience a variety of feelings related to the chronic illness. I grieve for the me I used to be. I’m super sad about the many things I am no longer able to do. Sometimes I’m angry that my illness has stolen so much from me. I get scared thinking about the future, with potentially 30 plus years more of misery. I occasionally feel worthless because I’m unable to work.
Aimee: How does depression affect your life?
Kelly: Depression makes everything worse. It saps the little bit of energy my illness hasn’t taken. It depletes my motivation, so I sit around a lot. Too much inactivity makes the physical pain worse, which worsens the depression. When I’m depressed, I don’t take good care of myself and good self-care is essential in managing my symptoms.
Depression also affects my relationships, because sometimes I just want to crawl inside myself and not talk to anyone. If I isolate myself very long, though, I get even more depressed. These vicious cycles can be hard to break.
Aimee: How do you cope with depression?
Kelly: I’m thankful to say I’ve learned a lot of coping strategies. I’ve seen a therapist. I take medicine as prescribed. I make a point of spending time with positive, supportive people. Walking outdoors makes me feel better physically and emotionally. I keep a journal to help me work through my feelings. Meditating on scripture and praying calm me and center me. Eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep are important keys to my well-being.
Aimee: What steps have you taken to fight negative feelings and reach the light from your sadness?
Kelly: There are two big ones:
First, I try hard not to lose the light in the first place. I do this by paying close attention to my thoughts. As soon as I catch myself thinking things like, “I’ll never get any better,” or, “I can’t stand 30 more years of this,” or “I’m useless,” I tell myself to stop it. Then I replace the negative thoughts with life giving messages like, “Maybe they’ll find a cure,” and “Right now I only have to get through this one day and I do that.”
The most important way I reach the light is through my relationship with Jesus. He experienced pain and suffering, so I know he understands how I feel. He is always with me providing strength and comfort. He reminds me that my worth and value come from who I am, not how hard I work. Because of Him I can be joyful despite the difficulties and hopeful that the future will be brighter.
Aimee: What advice would you give others suffering with a chronic illness?
Kelly: 1. Deliberately and daily choose to acknowledge things you are thankful for, rather than counting up all you have lost.
2. Dabble in creative activities like painting, scrapbooking, writing, cooking, jewelry making, etc. Until you find one brings you ease and pleasure.
3. Don’t give up ever! The cure for your illness might be discovered tomorrow.
4. In the meantime, though, try to make peace with yourself by accepting your current reality. We only multiply our own misery when we fuss and fret and focus on all those “if onlys.”
Aimee: Do you think you have reached the light from depression?
Kelly: I’d be lying if I said I never feel depressed anymore, but with God’s help and by remaining diligent in doing things that improve both my health and my mood, I live in the light the vast majority of the time.
Kelly and many others suffer from chronic illnesses that spiral them into depression. If you face such illnesses, find a coping technique that works best for you. You can also stand in the light like Kelly.