It has been a long time since I blogged about living with depression. However my recent book review of I Had a Black Dog prompted me to do a long-overdue update. Depression is one of those conditions that, on the one hand people are opening up about more and, on the other, people don’t like to talk about. For many it is a standalone mental health condition that may or may not be triggered by, say, a life event. In my case it is both a diagnosis in its own right and as a result of living with Fibromyalgia. So on this updated version of depression and Fibromyalgia, I’ll cover:
- How depression is linked to my chronic pain
- My symptoms of depression
- How I help myself
I’ll dot mostly-appropriate gaming screenshots in here to brighten it up as we go along too.
How are Depression and Fibromyalgia Linked for Me?Although I have a separate diagnosis for depression, there is absolutely no doubt that it is linked to living with chronic pain too. Having varying levels of pain in a variety of body parts for a long time is very wearing. Fibromyalgia makes doing the ordinary tasks of a day very difficult and has radically changed what my life looks like, compared to a few years ago.
I also find social gatherings nearly impossible now – there are too many people to talk to, too many sounds to process and an insane amount of physical and mental energy required. Thankfully I have made awesome friends on Twitter and in the various games I play instead! And being an introvert makes those situation challenging even without being in pain while doing them.
My Symptoms of Depression
So what sort of symptoms does this combination of depression and Fibromyalgia lead to for me? This is not a complete list of possible symptoms, just those that I experience.
1. Becoming Extra Introverted and Introspective
One of the hardest symptoms for my wife, which she alerts me to if it happens, is becoming more introspective. This is not necessarily thinking more about myself, but being consumed by the depression that I don’t see what is going on around me. I miss signals from my family when I should be helping and I feel detached from life.
2. Withdrawing from Communications
I have to be really careful to try to spot this one. Communication in any situation determines how we relate to other people. In a marriage scenario, which is me, depression can risk me not talking enough to my wife. Or maybe more accurately, not talking about where I am at. It’s easy to talk about inconsequential things to avoid facing the real stuff.
3. Irritability and Getting “Paingry”When I am in far too much pain and feeling depressed I can be really irritable. Sometimes this results in uncharacteristic anger. I called it getting paingry, then I found out the term already existed! I try desperately hard not to be like that with my wife and NJ (my young daughter). But I can get overly annoyed with the cat when he refuses to eat food, then is sick as a result. Or, more commonly, I take it out on myself – berating myself for not doing something or not doing it well enough. Or I can mentally kick myself for making perfectly human mistakes.
4. Not Believing People’s Genuine, Positive Statements About Me
Some of this is rooted in a life-long problem of low self-esteem. I rarely expect perfection of other people, yet somehow I expect it of myself. This means, especially in depressive episodes, if a friend compliments me I struggle to internalise it. It’s not that I think my friend is being insincere (so I thank them for it), it’s just I cannot believe it of myself.
5. Not Eating, or Eating Too Much
If my depression and Fibromyalgia are way too strong, I yo-yo in my relationship to food. My wife does the cooking in my home, so will always make an evening meal. But if I am really down then I’ll either not eat, or eat too much of the wrong things around that provided meal. Sometimes this yo-yo-ing can happen in the same day!
6. No Desire to do Anything
My practical role in the home is housework and laundry. If you’re reading this post then you know I run a blog. I also play three games regularly and tweet a lot too. The problem is, these things become undesirable when the depression is really strong. I get behind on the laundry, then beat myself up when I have way too much to catch up on. Last week’s particularly bad episode even took away my desire to play games, or I was restless and couldn’t settle on what to play. But I also couldn’t do nothing!
Ways I Try to Manage Depression and Fibromyalgia Together
It was a good number of years ago that my wife told me I had to go see a doctor about my mood. I am very glad she did (now). She says now I’m much better at being able to see how I am when I have a depressive spell. This helps me, and her, when those episodes start.
Ensure I Communicate
This can be as simple as just saying, or sending an SMS to my wife to say I’m aware I’m depressed right now. Or that I know I’m on-edge and more irritable. With a small daughter we rarely have the opportunity for in-depth discussions. But opening up to her about what’s going on in my head lets her into my problem, immediately sharing the burden.
Self-Awareness about Internalising Depression
If I think I’m not expressing how I feel and getting more angry or down because of that, I try to stop. Alongside communicating with my wife, I also use Twitter and this blog to externalise it. While other people cannot make my mental health condition go away, talking to other people does help. The conversation doesn’t even need to be about depression. But taking the focus off me and talking about other people helps lift the cloud a little.
Even after so many years of taking anti-depressants, I still know I need them. Managing my meds is a joint responsibility. My wife ensures I don’t run out and fills up my pillboxes (or ‘medpacs’ as they’re referred to here, a geeky-gaming term). And it’s my responsibility to remember to take them. If I don’t, the next day it is clear to the whole world. So I use a combination of routine and phone alarms to remind me.
I am less consistent in using my Light Box (aka SAD Lamp or Daylight Lamp). Living in the Highlands of Scotland, we swing between having nearly no daylight in winter, to barely any darkness at night. A lack of sunlight by virtue of where we live and the fact I barely leave the house, does have an effect on my mood. So I try to use my Lightbox in the week. This is coupled with taking Vitamin D with my meds each day. I don’t have the latest model of this box, but you can find the manufacturer of mine over at SAD Solutions.
Housework as Exercise
Traditional exercise – e.g. running – hurts. And not in the nice “feel the burn” sense either. A short 10 minute walk can sometimes knock me out for the day. However I am not as inactive as people may think from the amount I tweet, or sit at my computer. I do the laundry, the hoovering, dusting and cleaning the bathroom. Admittedly the dusting leaves a lot to be desired at the moment, but the rest happens. Although I have an energy crash and a pain spike afterwards, for that one-two hours I am mostly moving. Exercise is supposed to be good for depression and chronic pain. But what “exercise” means for each person can be very different.
Family TimeBoth my wife and my daughter have an ability to make me laugh – and I them too. Time spent with them means less time focussing on me. Now, often family time means I have much higher pain in the moment and afterwards. But while my Fibromyalgia symptoms may increase, it is rare that the same can be said of my depression.
Focussing on Anything Else
Usually thinking about, or doing anything else can reduce my ‘felt depression’. I think in my case, depression’s power is not in the diagnosis, but how much mental energy I use while engulfed by it. Distraction is a powerful tool for me. This is not the same as denial, but by using my life to do anything else, I try not to give it the head-space it demands. So watching something funny or uplifting, reading or using gaming as distraction can all really help.
TL;DR How Do You Cope with Depression and Fibromyalgia?
Or maybe depression on its own? Sharing our experiences can often help ourselves and others. So, while the comments are open, feel free to share any of your own tips. In my case Depression and Fibromyalgia is a really difficult combination. Pain feeds mood, which feeds pain. But being aware of your signs and symptoms, communicating with those nearest to us and having an action plan when depressive episodes start really help. I hope this post helps you, or someone you know. Sharing reduces the burden of health conditions, even if it does not immediately alleviate the symptoms. Take care.