More often than not, rheumatoid arthritis is looked at from a physical point of view where treatment is focussed on alleviating the bodily symptoms. But more often than not, the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are chronic fatigue, chronic pain and depression. Yet strangely enough relieving depression is rarely being taken into account and part of the treatment.
Rheumatoid arthritis’ (severe) chronic pain and chronic fatigue can alter your life drastically and these changes can greatly affect your emotional well-being and can result in depression.
The ever changing ‘rhythm’ of rheumatoid arthritis can disrupt your life and plans and requires (a daily) acclimatisation to its symptoms. So much so, that this can lead to gradual withdrawal from activities that are rewarding and bring joy, as well as being able to function ‘normally’ in the ‘real world’.
Your sense of value and purpose can be greatly diminished. You can experience (extra) financial stress and worry. And changes of loss can occur in your personal relationships with your family, friends and partner.
Feelings of sadness, powerlessness, grief, anger, anxiety, rage and loss of hope for the future are all too common when experiencing chronic pain and chronic fatigue, which can then lead to even more isolation and depression.
Through research it is estimated that 30%-54% among people who deal with chronic pain also experience depression. This is a significant rate.
Yet often times a rheumatologist may not even ask about your mental state, but is solely focussed on checking and treating the immediate physical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
This is unfortunate, as well as peculiar:
Medical research describes how depression may be caused by the medical treatment that’s given.
Furthermore, depression is not only a possible effect of the medication or indeed the impact of living with rheumatoid arthritis’ symptoms, but in fact can be a contributing factor to the physical symptoms of RA.
Regrettably, depression is often mistaken for sadness and grief that is expected among people who live with chronic pain and chronic fatigue. Yet, depression is more severe than that and needs to be addressed and recognised as a serious symptom or indeed illness.
Besides the importance of discussing any emotional difficulties with your rheumatologist, there are several other things that can also help you when you feel depressed:
- Talk to friends you feel safe with and explain how you feel.
- Meet up with, speak to or write with other people who experience chronic illnesses. You can share your stories about chronic pain and depression.
- Go outside if you can (or sit on your balcony or in your garden). Breathing in fresh air is good for your soul. And if you can manage it take a little walk. Movement creates ‘happy chemicals’ in your body. Even if afterwards you lie down again, you had some exercise.
- Allow how you feel. Often times there can be a critical voice in your head saying you mustn’t feel this way, but it’s okay you feel depressed. There is no right or wrong about it. You’re perfectly normal.
- Adapt a ‘today’ attitude. If you had plans yesterday and you couldn’t do them because of too much pain and fatigue, start today as today, and do what you can today. Do not play catch up and take it a day (moment) at a time.
- Find professional help with someone who specialises in depression.
- Do the things that bring you joy and give you energy. And avoid people and things that stress you out. If movement is limited, even patting your pet or a happy song can cheer your mood and alleviate depression. Just the other day the song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ from Monty Python was on the radio and listening to the lyrics made me laugh out loud.
Chronic pain and depression can strip you from the lifestyle you were used to, but from a holistic healing point of view it can help you (re)discover what and who is most important in your life. It can help you create what you feel most connected to and brings you the most joy. This then increases the quality of your life.
As tough as rheumatoid arthritis can be, it can lead you much closer to your authentic self and true nature. As you and I are experiencing rheumatoid arthritis anyway, we might as well let it guide us to our most joyful state and truth.