Thursday, October 22, 2009

Depression vs. Chronic Illness

I recently read an article about depression in a magazine. I was surprised how much the article resonated with me.

Sentences like, “The depressed make their world smaller and smaller until the depression becomes the centerpiece of their life”, really hit home. How easily could you replace the word depressed with chronically ill! Essentially, the “shrinking of my world” was prescribed to me by my doctor. He calls it “shrinking the bubble of my life”.

There was more. “Depression robs people of the ability to recognize others as sources of comfort…The depressed drain others and make it difficult for even the best-intentioned to be around them.” Wow, that is something I can recognize in my own life. Lyme disease is so hard to explain to others. I can feel the strain it causes on my friends and family when it comes to our relationships.

Have you ever read a list of “Symptoms of Depression”? Lack of energy, exhaustion, trembling hands, disturbed sleeping patterns, excessive worry, irritability, isolation, panic, worthless feelings, guilt, headaches, muscle pain, racing heartbeat, loss of appetite, excessive gain or loss of weight, loss of sex drive…

How do we manage to cope when the description of depression so closely resembles the life our illness imposes upon us?

Another relevant passage, “No type or amount of medication will build you a support network or make you more socially skilled. Good relationships are essential to establishing, maintaining, and restoring mental health”.

The shrunken bubble of my life does not seem to have much room left. It is only able to contain precious few things; me, my house, my doctors, limited family and friend interactions and, of course, my computer. I am not trying to shut myself away from the world. But what do you do when the potpourri of a store or the pitch of someone’s voice can cause physical pain?

Every dinner out with friends is carefully planned, even my doctors appointments are thought out. In addition to the pills and timing of meals, naps must be factored in.

We undoubtedly have reason to be depressed. But, we needn’t let the definition define us. We have a choice in whether or not we are sucked down into the depths of self-pity.

I read another article on the same day. This article suggested that it isn’t depression that is the problem with the “depressed”. The real problem is a lack of fun. If you are having fun, concludes the article, it is impossible to be depressed.

This new “illness” has been termed; Fun Deficiency Syndrome (FDS) or Lack of Fun Disorder (LFD).
While it may seem too simple or construed as belittling of people who legitimately suffer from depression, they have a point. You really can not be depressed if you are experiencing fun. It may only be glimmers here and there but they are real and in that moment of enjoyment you cease to be depressed.

For me fun use to be floating down a powdery slope with snow flying up all around me, climbing to the top of a rocky peak, eating and extravagant meal complete with a glass of wine and a beautiful dessert, traveling to all corners of the globe with nothing more than my husband and a backpack.
What is left of that life at present? Memories, photos, and longing. If I simply left it at that, I suppose I would be really depressed.

I choose not to be sucked down into the depths of depression and self-pity. I have carved a new life out of my circumstances. I focus on those things that I enjoy and spend the majority of my day pursuing them. I have “established” a support network filled with other Lymies who understand me and what I am experiencing. They really do help me to “maintain and restore my mental health”.

I am not depressed. I have no intention of being labeled with FDS. I am positive and excited about life. I enjoy the moment and I look forward to tomorrow. I find solace in my “support network” and I cherish the relationships and encouragement and laughter I find there. My life may not be a bowl of cherries but, every cloud has a silver lining.
Yapko, Micheal. “Secondhand Blues.” Psychology Today October 2009, 87-93
Kent, James. “The Perils of FDS: Fun Deficiency Syndrome” H+ Magazine October 7, 2009

Also posted at


Kim said...

I can't tell you how often I worry that I'm not a very fun mom. I'm tired, I'm irritable, I'm in pain. I don't have energy for all the outings so many moms do with their kids. BUT, I can laugh at silly things, little things, we do around the house everyday. And I think, I hope, that fun relationships trumps fun things.

Alix said...

Ashley, this is a great piece - I love the idea of substituting the words "chronic illness" for every mention of depression.

Is "fun deficiency syndrome" a joke "disorder?!" Usually "disorders" are created and named when a drug to "fix" it is in clinical trials.

Kim said...

Ooooohh. Alix you're on to something. A fun drug? Oh wait, those are illegal.

onely said...

It's unfortunate and endlessly frustrating that depression mirrors the symptoms of so many invisible chronic illnesses. Destructive, too: I cannot count the times I've been told to go out and take a brisk walk to help myself feel better--nor how many times I've followed through on that advice, to my great detriment.

I get so sick of factoring naps, assessing the energy requirements of different activities, and weighing pros and cons of exerting myself to do something fun. It's like I'm doing math all the time.

FDS= Freaking Dumb Syndrome.

This is a resonant post; thanks so much!