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Life Redefined: The Elephant in the Room

Post Published: 07 December 2010
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Category: Column, Life Redefined, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column
This post currently has 6 responses. Leave a comment

Have you ever noticed that depression is not an illness that’s easily discussed? People who aren’t depressed don’t talk about it. People who ARE depressed don’t talk about it enough. Why? I think because it’s equated to weakness. There’s this stigma surrounding depression that suggests that to say you are depressed is to say you are weak. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A few months after I was diagnosed with cancer, my mom told me she thought I was depressed based on several different things. I was tired, I wanted to stay in bed all the time, and I had no desire to do the things I love, to name a few. She told me in a totally appropriate way and it was completely out of love; however, I thought she was wrong. I told her my thyroid medication needed to be adjusted and that would fix things. Depression and thyroid disease tend to have a lot of cross-over symptoms, so I just knew that changing the dose of my thymeds would get me feeling more like myself again. After changing my dose a couple of times within a few more months, I still didn’t feel right. I had no energy. I had no desire to get out of bed. I wasn’t me. And I realized that I was depressed. I think I knew my mom was right when she told me several months prior, but I didn’t want to believe it then because I didn’t want to be seen as weak. My breakthrough moment came when I realized that seeking help was not an act of weakness, but a necessary step in my pursuit of healthiness.

I went to see my endo, and when I told him I felt depressed he told me he wasn’t surprised. I was NOT expecting him to say that to me. He went on to explain that I’m in my 20s, in grad school, trucking along with life, and then cancer comes into my life out of nowhere; OF COURSE that is going to throw me off track. Did he tell me I was weak? NO. He told me that depression so very often comes along with cancer and he was expecting to have this conversation with me at some point. Before I left his office, he gave me a prescription for an antidepressant. And gradually, very gradually, I started to feel more like ME. Now, I’m comfortable with my emotional and mental state, and so is my doctor. But he doesn’t even want to start weaning me off my antidepressant until we are pretty sure I’m cancer-free. Why? Because he knows that my depression is situational, and until we can really change the situation (ie, get rid of the cancer in my neck) we will continue to treat the depression. We cannot cure cancer, but we can manage the side effects.

Illness can be life-changing. If you are depressed as a result of having to figure out how to live with illness, THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU WEAK; IT MAKES YOU HUMAN. I cannot reiterate this point enough. Accepting you are depressed does not mean that you are a pessimist. It does not mean that you are unworthy. It does not mean that you are unwanted. Cancer may completely change your life; it may be accompanied by other illnesses like depression. But you know what? It’s still YOUR LIFE, and your life is worth fighting for. If you need help, please reach out.

Is anyone else in a similar boat I was in? If you think you might be feeling like I was feeling—no energy, do desire to carry out my daily activities, like I’d lost my sense of self—then please reach out for help because YOUR LIFE IS WORTH IT. I don’t want to sound like one of those horrible commercials, but if you think you might be depressed, be sure to talk with your doctor. And yes, there are a lot of cross-over symptoms between thyroid disease and depression, so make sure your doctor looks at your situation from all angles.

Depression tends to be the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s talk about it. Do you deal with depression as a result of living with another illness? Did/do you equate depression with weakness? Who did you reach out to for help? Talk to me, peeps.

With love,

Joanna

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6 Responses to “Life Redefined: The Elephant in the Room”

  1. Oh my gosh, I remember being in the rheumatologist office at the Mayo Clinic and the dr saying, “You look very depressed.” I recall my husband saying to him, “No shit! Wouldn’t you be?! How could any one person handle all that she’s handled since 1997 and NOT be depressed! Of course she is but it however does not mean the autoimmune diseases are not physically consuming her as well as mentally.”
    The most recent prescription however was last year when having to add bio-identical hormones to the menu of meds along with Zoloft, the happy pill. Though the pain remains I’m just alittle bit more happier about it than before.
    Lisa

    • Cate says:

      Lisa,

      Powerful post. I’m sorry to say, I feel all of your pain, especially the one called, Why am I paying these people to hurt me?

      Cate

  2. Amanda says:

    Joanna,

    Great article. I don’t always know what to say when you write about cancer, but this is something that I can understand. Being depressed is not a sign of weakness, but it is looked upon that way. Been there, took meds, felt better, weaned off. But it wasn’t related to cancer or chronic illness. I think both of those things bring a deeper level of stress, fear and depression.

    I think this is so well written, it will be so helpful. Thank you.

    Amanda

  3. Denise says:

    About 5 years ago I went to the doctor because I was crying every day and just couldn’t cope anymore. At the time I thought it was due to my mother dying 3 years earlier and said I could no longer cope without some sort of help. I was on anti depressants for about 6 months (I came off them after my son was mugged and I felt none of the things I should have at such a dreadful thing). I think that my depression was nothing to do with my mother however and was actually my thyroid making itself known at that time. I remember feeling so useless and it took me nearly a year before I actually plucked up the courage to admit that I needed help. My family are the type who never ask for help and very rarely even tell each other things that are going on and anything like depression is looked upon as something you will shake yourself out of and just embarrasses them and makes them feel uncomfortable if spoken out loud. It should be spoken about more though and not seen as a weakness – my aunt committed suicide this year and I do feel that if she had been able to talk about her depression then she wouldn’t have felt so alone and resorted to that.

  4. Bonnie says:

    Joanna,

    You stated that beautifully, I was prescribed an anti-depressant years ago, after a second miscarriage. When I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer, I saw myself exhibiting the behavior you described, and recognized it as depression and did not hesitate to take the anti-depressant (Paxil). My interest in the things I love has returned (still very tired, but I am only 5 weeks post op – have returned to working full time and attending college part-time, and I am 54 years old – so I will allow myself some slack on that one). I think that many people fear being labelled as having a “mental illess” if they seek help, sadly many of those people are the ones that could benefit from it.

    Thank you again for bringing up the subject!!!

    Bonnie

  5. mike5816 says:

    Thanks for sharing. For some people, thyroid disease can be the seed of depression. For others, thyroid disease is the fertilizer that makes depression grow worse.

    Either way, being able to talk about it is what being strong is all about. Once you can talk about it, appropriate treatments can begin. Depression is a disease of the brain. We certainly don’t consider people with disease in other organs (like the heart, kidney, liver, pancrease, …thyroid) to be weak, do we?

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