Note to readers– I wrote this post in November of 2014. It has been sitting in a file labeled “Blogs Ready to Post” for almost 4 years. I have to admit that I never published it because, like so many others, I was a bit ashamed of acknowledging that I once suffered from depression. I kept it well hidden behind a smile on my face. In light of the recent deaths from suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the time seems right to post it. My hope is that, one day soon, depression and other illnesses will be thought of and talked about the same way cancer, heart disease and other illnesses are shared, because only then will people who are suffering get the help they need! Cindy
I live a wonderful life; not always an easy one, yet one where I find joy and happiness. When I look back over the years (yes, there are many!), I remember the happy times—the laughter, the adventures, my family fun and all of the good times we’ve shared. But, if I look very closely, there is also a little island of depression that I once visited on my journey. I’m thankful that I had a round trip ticket and, with love, support and treatment returned from the darkness. I’ve been fortunate as depression has not been a recurring battle I’ve had to fight. The stigma of mental illness runs deep in our society and, unfortunately, often makes it difficult for those suffering to get the help and understanding that they so desperately need. I’m sharing my personal story now because I know that many, many people with chronic illnesses (and many without) are suffering silently with depression. It is a dark and lonely place and my heart goes out to them.
Living day in and day out with chronic illness is not easy. As the limitations of the disease mount and life as we know it slips away, patients like me who are already struggling to cope with one illness may find ourselves facing yet another as we tumble down the slippery slope leading to depression. Not to mention the medications used to treat the disease, which can have a whole set of side effects including depression itself. And here’s the part that can get doubly challenging: The illness doesn’t take a little vacation when we need to deal with the normal challenges of life. No, unfortunately, people living with chronic illness are not exempt from divorce, infertility, financial stress, aging parents and all of the other difficulties that people encounter.
So, you can see that life can get a bit overwhelming if we are not very, very careful. My one visit to the dark little island of depression was enough for me to realize that I never wanted to return. I missed my zest for living, my spunk, my smile and my quirky ways. They seemed to be sleeping under a heavy blanket, waiting for me to wake them up and reclaim them. And oh, did I miss them! What those who are fortunate enough to live life without a chronic illness don’t realize about those of us who do is that we don’t want things to be the way they are. I can tell you that I want to be healthy and happy more than anything in the world. I like myself better when I’m healthy and happy and have the energy to enjoy my days.
I can also tell you that we often turn to those closest to us to make us happy. I remember looking at my husband when I was depressed and desperately wanting him to make me happy; to lift the depression and give me back my happiness. Unfortunately, I had to learn that it doesn’t work like that. He had not hidden my happiness away. I had to find my own joy, my own happiness and my own way off the island of depression. Others might support me in my recovery (and would have at the time if I had told them), but ultimately it was my responsibility to reach out, ask for help, and take the treatment steps necessary to reclaim my joy and live my best life.
Thankfully, my encounter with depression was brief. As with many parts of learning to live with chronic illness it goes into the bank of life experiences from which I’ve learned a great deal. For me, life had more sparkle and joy after my bout of depression. It was like coming out of a dark movie theater and immediately reaching for your sunglasses because you realize just how bright the sun is.
Today, I know that when things get tough for me and lupus limits the things in life that I enjoy, I must focus on the things in my life that remain… those things that warm my heart and make me smile (new shoes anyone?). I know that depression lurks at the edge of chronic illness and, if I’m not careful, will suck me in. Thank goodness, over the years I’ve learned to recognize this and take steps to prevent it. Today, my little unsinkable spirit simply refuses to play in the darkness!
My wish is that each and every person suffering with depression will speak up and seek out the help and support they need to recapture their joy in living and see the sparkle in life.
About Cindy Coney: Ambassador of hope and author of The Wild Woman’s Guide to Living with Chronic Illness, Cindy Coney is a nationally acclaimed speaker, trainer, human resilience expert, and philanthropic force. Dedicated to helping both children and adults achieve optimal health and success, Cindy has taught thousands of people to move beyond coping with limitations to recapturing joy and fulfillment in their lives.
Diagnosed with lupus in 1980, Cindy has since driven a race car 124 miles per hour; completed the Chicago Marathon; championed countless nonprofit organizations; presented to the World Lupus Congress as a keynote speaker; and shared her inspiring, empowering story from Belize to Baltimore.
Follow Cindy’s Blog at www.cindyconey.com