On this the final day of Vasculitis Awareness Month I thought I would share my thoughts on Vasculitis and Depression.
Most of the other vasculitis sufferers I have spoken to also suffer from depression; it seems that depression and vasculitis go together like evil jelly and icecream.
In general, with depression one of the main symptoms is exhaustion, so it would make sense that people with autoimmune diseases would become depressed – I am tired literally 100% of the time.
When I started to get ill I went from being an active, annoyingly cheerful person (not my words) to a tired, grumpy, really sad person. To try and manage I stopped doing everything I enjoyed to keep on top of my life; I would prioritise work over personal time, and any spare time or energy I had would be spent on housework or other tasks I’d had to put off because of my exhaustion.
It takes me a lot longer to do something than it used to because of my fatigue – see my previous post on Vasculitis and Exhaustion. This means I have less spare time than I used to – by prioritising things I had to do or should do over things I wanted to do I was living a joyless existence. I became even more depressed.
I attended a stress management course on the advice of my GP, and despite going in there thinking I already knew all of the strategies (hello, I can Google?) I actually found it really useful.
It also helped me to reassess my life, and what I wanted. My husband and I had been saying we wanted to move to the seaside for years, it was our long term plan but then I thought, why the hell not just move now?
I have felt a lot more cheerful and optimistic since moving; even if I’m having a bad day I can go for a little walk on the front and get some fresh air. There are benches everywhere, so I can rest if I need to. Sometimes the awful negative thoughts can overwhelm me, and I will just take half an hour to go and watch the sea. The sounds of the waves crashing into the shore are so relaxing; I could sit there for hours.
See below for my tips on coping with vasculitis and depression:
1. It goes without saying, but make sure you speak to you GP or consultant.
2. Tell your loved ones and work how you feel; there is still a huge stigma attached to mental illness, so there is an instinct to not talk about it, but honestly the best thing is to tell them how you’re feeling. It will be a huge relief just to say it out loud. If you explain what’s going on to your boss/ manager they will be able to take this into account and help you.
3. Ask about workshops or counselling sessions available in your area; your GP should be able to refer you to some sort of activity to help cope with depression, which should be free on the NHS.
4. Exercise – I know! You’re exhausted, and have a million things to do. Seriously take half an hour and go for a walk, or do a silly fitness game on a games console (I love Zumba on Xbox). It will give you an energy boost and improve your mood.
5. Healthy Eating – my instinct when I’m down is to eat a pint of icecream, or a large bag of crisps, which when added to steroids and a year spent lying on the settee equals huge weight gain. Not good. I’m working on eating more healthily, packing in the fruit and vegetables, less of the refined sugars. I’m not saying I’m never going to eat icecream again – perish the thought!- but I’m focusing on a balanced diet to help me feel better. Yesterday I cycled along the coastal path for a few hours and then had some chippy chips. Balance.
6. Pampering – when I’m depressed I make myself indulge in body care products; bath bombs, moisturisers, scrubs, facial masks. There is something so lovely and relaxing about pampering yourself in this way. Also personal hygiene and grooming unfortunately seems to drop off a bit when you have depression, so this kills two birds with one stone.
7. Music – at one point I realised I hadn’t listened to music in 3 months. Music is a big thing in my family, at family gatherings we would get together around the piano and have a sing song or just put some music on and dance. To me it feels like depression makes you punish yourself by taking everything you love out of your life. I listen to music for at least half an hour every day. Or sing disney songs whilst I do household chores. Whatever works for you.
8. Alcohol – Drinking and Depression don’t mix, especially if you are taking medication.
9. Social Events- During my worst period of depression I cancelled everything. I was that friend who always drops out at the last minute. I hate that person. It got to the point where I’d start to feel anxious about even travelling to see my friends ( the majority live a looong way away!) I’d stay at home instead. Now I try to make time to see my friends or catch up with them once a month. This sounds like a long time -especially considering I used to see them daily!- but we’re all in our thirties now and have jobs, families, commitments. I have to ensure I have enough time for myself, as selfish as that sounds, so I try to make sure 3 out of 4 weekends are free for things I want to do, or just to have a potter. I will sometimes have to cancel or rearrange because of health issues, but I am absolutely honest about it with my friends, who all know what I’m dealing with.
10. Get creative! I love to paint, draw, and write. Hell, some of my happier hours have been spent with adult colouring books. There is something so soothing about losing yourself in a creative project.
These are just my tips, how I manage my depression, in line with my vasculitis diagnosis. I hope they are helpful, but I am not a doctor. As above, please talk to your doctor if you think you might be depressed.
This is my last post for vasculitis awareness month, but I will post more on this subject throughout the year. It is important to raise awareness about autoimmune disorders and mental illness.
Let me know your thoughts and tips in the comments below.