I slowed down to turn into my driveway and glanced in the rear-view mirror. There sat a young woman talking on a cell phone and driving dangerously close to the bumper of my little, black Ford Ranger.
I tapped Elizabeth's brakes ( all of my vehicles have names), and the young woman hung back so that I could make my turn safely. It was 6:45 pm, and I was ready to get inside, and out of the horrid heat.
As I drove slowly up the driveway, I loosened my seat belt. It was a struggle to do that. I parked by the garage, and slowly turned my body so that I could gently “fall” out of my little truck. My feet gently touched the gravel, one at a time, making slight “crunching” sounds as I shuffled to my back door.
My home is my haven from the world and all of its troubles. I stood there a moment and let the peace wash over me. After a few moments, I continued inside.
This has been my evening routine for the past several months. I am struggling to get through my days. I am struggling to work.
People who do not have RA cannot really understand how we struggle to do the simple things that most take for granted. Sometimes brushing our own teeth is not possible. Sometimes we need help getting dressed.
When you find yourself struggling, how do you fight depression? I view depression as a beast. If you don't manage to keep it at bay, it will consume you.
I do have some coping strategies I would like to share with you. And I would be interested in hearing what actions you take, what thoughts you think, to keep yourself floating above the pain and despair of depression that is so common among those of us who suffer from chronic illnesses.
Anti-depressants: My RD is a smart women. She started me on an anti-depressant from the get-go, for the obvious benefit, and to help with pain. I believe this helps to daily stave off the beast that is depression.
Support Systems: Everyone needs a support system, but a support system is critical for those of us with RA. If you don't have a good support system in place, do what you can to build one. Seek out a support group, join an on-line support group, or share your story with those you see at church or at social gatherings. There are people out there who care, and it is important for us to develop these relationships.
Don't forget pets! They can be good for the body and the soul!
3. When Things Get Bad, Make a Plan: Nothing tempts me to give in to depression more than feeling helpless. At the beginning of this article I shared part of my life with you. I am struggling to work, to drive, to walk, BUT I have a plan. I discussed this situation with my husband after three doctors, in the space of one week, told me it was time to quit working. At first, I just cried, softly and quietly. Then, I shook myself out of it and started making a plan. I will be resigning my position at work sometime in the near future.
I thought about everything logically and tried to examine all of my options. The truth is, I just cannot continue to work. That does not mean my life is over. It is just changing, and I will adapt. No matter what the “bad” situation is---pain, family issues, work-related issues, financial issues---we need to look at the situation for what it is and come up with an action plan to make it better. It won't get better on its own.
4. Keep Your Sense Of Humor Intact: One warning sign for me that I am teetering on the edge of depression, is a decline in my sense of humor. I laugh at myself...a lot, and every day! When that “normalcy” changes for me, I know it is time to take stock, and determine what I need to do to get back on track again. A good sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at oneself, is one of the best ways I know to fight depression.
5 Control Your Pain: Do not let your pain get ahead of your medicine. RA pain isn't like the pain people without RA experience. RA pain is unrelenting and seems to grow exponentially if you miss your pain meds. If you take your medications on a regular schedule, stick to that schedule. You might want to consider carrying medications in your purse or briefcase, in case something keeps you from returning home at your usual time. If your current medication is not keeping your pain at a manageable level, talk to your RD. You may be referred to a Pain Management Specialist.
6. Count Your Blessings: Counting one's blessings is a humbling experience. I think most of us are pleasantly surprised when we literally count our blessings. There are many simple blessings in our lives we may not even notice until we stop to think about it. One of my simple blessings is a woman who works at the convenience shop where I stop every morning on the way to work. She always has a bright smile for me, always asks how I am, always wishes me a good day.
7. Forgive People Who Have Hurt You: Holding onto grudges keeps us stuck in the past, unable to appreciate the here and now. When we forgive, even though the person may have not asked for forgiveness, we become free. Free of the all-consuming, destructive emotions of anger, hurt and resentment. We don't have energy to waste. Best to forgive and move on.
8. Surround Yourself With Positive People: Negative people can literally drain the life out of a person. Some people have nothing good to say about anyone or anything. Avoiding negative people goes a long way toward keeping the Beast at bay. Choose to spend your time with positive people---people who make you laugh, people who are kind, people who care.
9. Assemble A Medical Team You Can Trust: Let's face it. We are complicated patients. Most of us have a more than one doctor. I have an RD, a GP, a Cardiologist and an Orthopedic doc. Having this many doctors works well as long as they communicate well with each other, and with you. If you have more than one doctor, you need to ensure that they share information such as blood tests and MRI results. We need to be comfortable talking with our doctors, so keep searching until you find the right fit for you. Remember that you are part of this team. Having doctors who listen to you, will help you remain positive and in control of your treatment.
10. View Life As A Journey: Don't take life for granted. We have so many opportunities to meet new people, to have new experiences, to grow spiritually. I wake up every day thinking about what the new day will hold. I may have to shuffle around every morning on my way to get my medications. I may have to lay down for an hour so the meds can work. But while I am waiting for the meds to kick in, I think about the newness of each day. I think about the opportunity I have to grab happiness and make it part of my life. After all, life is not just something to “get through”. It is a journey, an adventure of sorts, toward becoming a complete person. The things we choose to think about stay in our minds and control your emotions. Choose laughter, kindness, and understanding. Choose life.
Published On: September 04, 2012