Emily M. DeArdo

writer

The Big Bad Wolf

CF, essays, health, transplantEmily DeArdo2 Comments

I’ve had depression and anxiety issues since I was 15 years old.

Maybe I was born with them and just never really had an episode until I was 15, and I had a TB diagnosis that came really late and almost killed me. “This is just what CF is,” said a doctor in my CF clinic. But when I started coughing up blood, my regular doctor decided to look a little deeper, and she found I had non-infectious TB, something that only 4% of the CF population ever gets.

So it was a brush with death that hit a little close to home. TB is called “consumption” for a reason. It consumes you. The meds made my stomach hurt so much that eating made me cry. I cried thinking about eating ice cream. Who cries about eating ice cream?

The TB seemed to awaken this depression and anxiety in me. I became afraid of the dark. I had no energy, no interest in anything. It was the only marking period in my high school career where I didn’t make the honor roll (and you needed a 3.0 to make the “basic” honor roll). I stopped voice lessons.

I don’t know if many of my friends noticed, but it took awhile to get over the feeling of intense worry and doom (and that’s not too strong a word) that hung over me. As spring and summer came, I slowly got better, both physically and mentally.

Of course as my body recovered, that helped my mental health recover too. The two are linked. But what also helped was my fabulous doctor discerning that I probably needed some additional help, in the form of both a psychologist and medication.

She approached it very gently and made it clear that it wasn’t a mandate, it wasn’t that something was “wrong” with me or that I was “crazy.” She thought that it would be the best way to keep me healthy going forward, and she was right.

I’ve seen my therapist regularly ever since--that’s more than twenty years now, with the same woman. She’s not allowed to retire, ever, basically.

But I’ve also taken medication. It’s changed, over the years, because of drug interactions. But I need it--I can’t go off it, or I get a little unhinged.

I should probably describe what “unhinged” means for me. It means that I start worrying about everything. I feel like I’m a burden to everyone, that nothing is going to go right, that my body is my enemy. I have trouble breathing and have a lot of chest pain. Now, as I say that, I can differentiate between the Big Bad Wolf of anxiety/depression as opposed to the chest pain and troubling breathing of a pneumonia or lung infection. They are different, and I can tell said difference. Some of that is just being older and learning how my body reacts, and what else is going on.

If it’s emotional, then I’ll be very withdrawn. I won’t want to go out. Everything will be much harder than it should be. I will be cranky and cry at the drop of a hat.  I won’t want to leave my house, get dressed, or do anything other than sit on the couch. I won’t even want to read.

It’s not good for me to be in my head that much.

And the other thing I’ve noticed is that most people get seasonal depression in November/December. For me, it’s right now--it’s June/July. This time of year is not a good time of year for me. Maybe because I’ve had a lot of home IV bouts, hospital stays, and work stress in early summer. Last summer I noticed this for the first time….I really don’t like June and the beginning of July. But after the beginning of July, around my transplant anniversary, things start to lift.

I don’t know if it’s PTSD or what. I hate to think it is PTSD because I honestly don’t think of my life as traumatic. But whatever it is...I know it now.

So I’ve talked to my doctors and we’re upping my medication dose for a little while, until I get over this patch. It’s helping already--so that was fast.

I don’t react well to lots of stress, either--so when you combine stressful events PLUS this time of year, it’s really not great.

And part of it is I need to be less nice. I need to stop worrying about making everyone else happy and worry about making myself happy, or, at the very least, healthy. That’s gotten me into trouble before, the idea that I have to do everything even when my body says no. I have to stop letting other people’s expectations dictate what I do--and that’s a lot easier said than done.

I hate to let people down. But at the same time, if I was honest with people, then I bet they wouldn’t want me to run myself into the ground and into the black hole for them, because there’s nothing I do that’s really that important. Let’s be honest. I’m not running the world here.

That’s one thing I want to say to people who struggle like I do: life is not an emergency. (Thanks, Ann Voskamp.)

You are not running the world.

If you have to take a day off, you can do it.

But you have to be vulnerable and tell people that.

And that is hard.

I know it’s hard.

I’ve wanted to write this for awhile, but I’ve been afraid of what people would think or say or how they’d view me.

But you know, we need to be honest, guys.

We need to bring this stuff out into the open.

There are not enough people talking about depression and anxiety and how we just deal with it every day.

We talk about cancer and everything else, and I talk about my transplant.

But sometimes we need to talk about this stuff as well.

Because it happens to everyone--those with faith, and those without. Single and married. Poor and rich. Every color, every race, male and female.

So, here we are.

I’m writing about it.

And I hope that this helps someone, even marginally.

I look really happy most of the time. But that doesn’t mean I am happy.

Sometimes it’s all too much and I need a break, but there’s a difference between a break that I call for rationally, and a break that is imposed because my mind is going five million miles an hour and I just need to clear the decks.

In fact, that’s a good description of what my medication does. It helps me clear the decks and be rational and logical and awesome.

I think I’m going to write a few posts about this. This one is a good starter, a good ice-breaker.

The take away is this: Get help. Ask for help. Be honest and vulnerable, and you’ll be surprised at how people will support you. (If they won’t support you, then you don’t need them in your life. Full stop.)

For me, this was the hardest part. Being vulnerable is NOT something at which I am good.

But it’s worth it.