Mental health and physical health often go hand-in-hand. People who suffer from mental illnesses quite frequently have other physical illnesses. And conversely, many people with physical illnesses develop signs of mental illness, most commonly depression. Some illnesses such as heart disease and cancer….may also trigger depressive episodes (National Alliance for Mental Health, NAMI.org). But while the two are not always mutually exclusive, one is not always caused by the other. Sound confusing? Let me illustrate:
I have Major Depressive Disorder, and I also have Type 1 Diabetes (insulin dependent). But my depression was not caused by my Diabetes. In fact, my depression was diagnosed several years before my diabetes. On the other hand, after having a heart attack followed by major surgery, a friend’s father developed Major Depressive Disorder, which his physicians attribute to his life-altering illness. In another connection, mental illness can make some physical illnesses worse, mostly because of interference with self-care.
I’ve been looking more into these relationships because someone close to me is dealing with a fairly recent cancer diagnosis and incredibly invasive treatments. She has been confined to her home and sometimes the hospital because of her chemotherapy-induced weak immune system. When I last spoke with her online, she seemed to have a great deal on her mind, but was unable to express it. “I try not to complain,” she said, “because people just cannot handle it and I get the weirdest reactions.” So on top of feeling the mental and physical stress of what she is going through, she feels as though she has no one she can really talk to.
She is a smart woman and a strong woman, so she knows she is really in the worst part of her recovery and it will get better. I almost liken it to when you decide to do some major cleaning and before you know it, your house looks worse than it did when you started and you think, ‘how the heck am I going to get through all of this?’ Somehow I see her feeling a similar way, knowing that this part is necessary, but being so overwhelmed by it that she cannot see the positive outcome. And I can totally understand that.
I think because of my own battles with depression, I can see signs more easily in other people. It doesn’t mean I can diagnose someone with Major Depressive Disorder. It just means that I can see signs of depression. So what do you do when you see someone in that situation? We cannot go and visit her, considering my kids could have any number of germs clinging to them from the other kids in school and she is immune-suppressant. But I know that I can handle listening to her honest feelings and concerns, and I would really like to do that for her.
So one thing we will do is set up a Skype date, so that she can see the boys and talk to them, which will give her a little boost in spirits. And then I can shoo them away and have her talk frankly and openly with me, in hopes that it will help her sort out what’s going through her mind. I really feel like she needs that in order to keep her strong enough to make it through her recovery.
Wish us luck, and please leave any suggestions you may have for helping to keep this recovery period from causing too much depression.