Depression and Illness

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • Last November I started getting sick with a sinus headache and fever. At the end of a week, I was so sick that I ended up throwing up in a bathroom stall at work. The doctor diagnosed a sinus infection. Not unusual for someone with allergies, but I hadn't had one in years. I got a prescription for antibiotics, and thought that was the end of it.


    Nope. For a few days after I started the antibiotic, my fever abated and I felt better. But even before I finished the last dose, I was feeling crummy again. I went back to the doctor. She diagnosed a viral infection and prescribed a week in bed. I spent the whole week of Thanksgiving in bed. Nothing changed except that I got a lot of knitting done.

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    So that's how nine months of continuous sinus infections began. I had a fever almost every day, sometimes up to almost 102 degrees. I saw four of the doctors at our general practitioner's, an infectious diseases specialist and an ear nose and throat doctor. I had every blood test under the sun. I was tested for TB, mono, HIV and pretty much any other disease you can name that might cause a fever, nausea and fatigue. I had a chest x-ray, a CT scan of my sinuses and an uncomfortable examination of my sinuses with a camera attached to a little tube. I tried nasal washing, which didn't keep away the sinus infections, but at least unclogged my sinuses a bit, although my husband compared it to "water-boarding yourself." I theorized that somehow my seasonal flu shot, which I had received the week before this started, had somehow triggered something, although I had never had anything but a skin reaction in the past. The only possibility left that anyone could think of was a fungus.


    Because of my Multiple Sclerosis, a fever is dangerous. If your core body temperature rises, it can bring on new MS symptoms (goodbye forever to hot tubs and saunas). So I had been taking lots of Tylenol to keep my fever down. So when I went to the doctor with a sinus infection for the umpteenth time, I asked her to order a liver function test, just to be on the safe side. "And," she said, as a thought struck her, "I think I'm going to have them check the level of Vitamin D also." With my 102 degree fever fogging my brain, I grunted assent. I was so used to tests by this time, and had so little faith in them finding anything, that I didn't think much of it.


    But a few days later I got a message from the doctor saying that my Vitamin D was very deficient, and she was prescribing prescription strength Vitamin D to be taken once a week. From the moment I took the first dose till now (three months later) I haven't had another sinus infection. Who would have thought? My guess is that without the Vitamin D, my body wasn't able to protect me against the consequences of my allergies as well as usual.


    Whenever I'm sick with a cold or a virus, I get a depression "hangover." Anywhere from two days to a week after a bug hits, I start feeling the familiar signs of depression. Usually it's the depressive thoughts and feelings. I'll be watching the news, and all of a sudden it's unbearably depressing what's happening in the world. Yes, I know that a case can usually be made for feeling that way when you're watching news, but it's not normal for (un-depressed) me. For some reason, my antidepressants are not protection against this end result of illness. Maybe my antidepressant level is just enough to keep me un-depressed when my health is normal, but being sick tips the balance in the other direction. Possibly it's a result of vitamins and minerals being temporarily deficient in my system.


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    Oddly enough, though, this bout of illness was slightly different. Thankfully, I didn't have the depressive thoughts. I think nine months of those would have been a torment, even though I would know where they're coming from. No, this time the mild depression arising from my illness resulted in apathy. I couldn't seem to get the smallest things done, like putting clean linens away. Some of them sat in hall literally for months.


    In some ways, it was hard to distinguish this from the fatigue that was part of the sinus infections, but there was a difference. When I'm sick, I have the desire to get things done, but not the energy. When I'm depressed, the will and mental energy is gone. A couple of weekends after the end of my last sinus infection, I was a whirlwind of activity. Within a day, I had finished all the little tasks that had sat undone for months. The only limit to my productivity was imposed on me by my Multiple Sclerosis.


    If you're on antidepressants, and they're moderately successful or better, this is something to watch out for. If you go through a short illness, your depression may temporarily come back. If even a few days is too much, you might want to talk to your psychiatrist and see if he or she has any suggestions. If this hangover happens to you a few days after you recover, as is sometimes the case with me, you might want to try some exercise, which temporarily boosts your mood. No matter how you decide to handle it, remember that it will pass.

Published On: November 04, 2009