Depression and Lupus: Let’s Talk

If you are in crisis, please go to your local hospital or call 911 immediately.

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January 30th is Bell Let’s Talk Day – the annual event that “promotes mental health awareness, acceptance and action“. It’s built on 4 pillars:

  1. Fighting stigma;
  2. Improving access to care;
  3. Supporting world-class research, and;
  4. Leading by example in workplace mental health.

Although I’ve always believed in and supported initiatives aimed at mental health, particularly those that help to break down the stigma associated with it, it is only within the last couple of years that I can confidently speak from experience. I now intimately understand what depression feels like, including inducing suicidal thoughts, and I hope that by sharing how I’ve felt:

  • If you’re struggling, know that are not alone and (more importantly) do not be ashamed.
  • If you know someone who is struggling, actively reach out to them and eliminate your instinct to judge.

It’s complicated teasing out the individual ’causes’ of my depression as I’m unsure if simply go back to 2015 and my failed Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike attempt with the associated funk and subsequent lupus diagnosis or do I go back further, to my pre-teen and teenage years, when I felt isolated and recall memories of suicidal thoughts?

Ultimately, I land on the PCT as it is (quite obviously) of most recent memory and I just do not recall how serious those thoughts and feelings were over 20-25 years ago. I do know I had lupus symptoms when I was younger and I do know I often felt upset –  including thoughts of not wanting to be here anymore – but I can not definitively state that those feelings were true suicidal thoughts or depression. Conversely, in recent years, I absolutely realize and recognize those moods.

Lupus and depression often go together and, like most of lupus, the medical community doesn’t really know “why”. Do the symptoms of lupus slowly wear down on a person, particularly during a flare, and induce a depressive state? Or are chemical or genetic factors at play in the brain that can be inducted by a lupus flare? What I know is that when I become overly stressed, alongside physical symptoms such as joint aches and pains, my mood shifts, my energy and interest levels plummet, and fatigue takes over. I’ve become aware and am capable of recognizing these shifts which allows me to make adjustments in my life, such as reducing my commitments and increasing meditation sessions.

Not surprisingly, getting outside is also another key activity and coping mechanism for myself. When I am able to regularly get outside for extended sweat sessions – such as 3-4 hours at the ski hill or 2+ hour bike ride – I have a noticeable improvement in my demeanour. It spills over into my school and work as I’m more focused, energized, and capable of finishing tasks. However, that tactic only works when I feel well. When work or school begins to pile up, I find myself either incapable of committing the time to those longer activities (less time at desk = more work later) or dreading the energy expenditure of my normal intensity. Realizing I’m not excited to the prospect of skiing or biking is an early warning for me. At this point, I have two options: (1) ignore it and hope for the best tomorrow or (2) address it. Yes – it has taken some soul-searching and self-realization but if I address it, I can take the above steps to reduce the impacts that can manifest. These are the days I turn to walking as I can make the walk as long or as energy intense as I’d like.

I initially wrote the sentence with the wording “the simple movement of putting one foot in front of the other” but quickly deleted it. This is a key takeaway: it’s not simple. Some days it’s really, really hard. When I say “dreading the energy expenditure” of a more intense activity it is quite literally that: I do not have the energy stores to power through anything. I can not go “sweat it out” because there is nothing left inside of me to do it with.

I acknowledge that I do not experience the extreme episodes of depression that some people may. Just because I have been able to manage with self-reflection, exercise, and meditation does not make it the case for everyone. 

Some people need medication and that’s OK.

Bell has donated nearly $100 million in in mental health initiatives since its inception in 2011. Although impressive, it’s the awareness and interactions that are more so. In 2018, there were 138,383,955 interactions via this campaign.

Keep talking. Keep sharing. Eliminate the stigma.

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Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canadian Mental Health Association: https://cmha.ca

Lupus and Depression: https://www.lupus.org/resources/lupus-and-depression-know-the-signs-and-how-to-get-help

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