Suicidal Ideation & Chronic Illness Part 2
**This post may be triggering to those who have experienced suicidal ideation, depression, have lost someone to suicide, or suffer with a mental illness of any kind. This post is not intended to substitute professional health. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation please reach out to a trusted loved one and seek professional advice. This post is only intended to shine light on an important issue and share what has personally helped me.**
If you are currently suicidal and are in the U.S. please call: 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 (from anywhere in the US) to talk with a trained Crisis Counselor. If you are currently suicidal and are in Canada you can find crisis numbers and services in your province at this link:
If you haven't yet, you can check out Part 1 of this important conversation over here.
I talked about the prevalence of depression, why and how it plagues those with chronic illness, and shared my personal experience with it.
With this post series I had the broad goal of opening up this important conversation within the chronic illness community while providing some hope. This is a complex topic that no one has completely figured out so I won't be able to do it the justice it deserves. However, I hope any of the things that have helped me might eventually help you.
Throughout my years studying psychology we're often told how suicide results when one's pain outreaches their coping mechanisms. This definition may seem redundant but let's think about it. When you have a chronic illness you are suffering with more physical ailments than the general population and have a limited amount of resources for dealing with them: less energy, a shorter attention span, etc. Throw in unsupportive people, dismissive doctors, and lack of treatment and you have the perfect storm.
I don't know a single person that didn't become depressed, anxious, and/or traumatized by the lengthy, dismissive, and torturous diagnosis process before receiving their accurate diagnosis of POTS. I had panic attacks multiple times a day after a traumatic one-month hospital stay. I tried supplements for depression and anxiety, CBT, mindfulness, meditation, and nothing helped. Something switched in my brain during that trauma and nothing helped besides going on a low-dose of an antidepressant.
It's then that I gained my life back.. It's then that counselling became effective in addressing the trauma. It's then that I could go out in public and give back to the community (effective in some forms of depressive treatment: altruism/Adlerian theory), be around friends, and face my fears with only having a tiny bit of anxiety instead of severe, debilitating anxiety.
So if you're reading this and you're suffering with depression, anxiety, or PTSD because of your journey with chronic illness and a doctor has recommended an antidepressant but you're hesitant about it,
just like you take medication to treat your physical symptoms, there is no shame in taking medication to treat your psychological symptoms.
I'm not saying you need to take it. I'm just saying I don't want you to feel shame for taking it. It may even be beneficial for your physical health for you to get this aspect of your health under control. I was previously mentally healthy and had no idea what a panic attack was like, but once I became ill I was shackled by fear. After being traumatized by the medical system, I was paralyzed by fear. There's no way I could've became reconditioned without going on my antidepressant because I was so extremely fearful of enduring any more physical symptoms.
Your body and mind are connected: when one is under intense amount of stress it WILL affect the other.
I know a lot of us are often worried that being on an antidepressant or being diagnosed with depression will affect the way doctors treat us for our physical ailments. I was incredibly worried about that myself and hate that it's something that gets in the way of us seeking help. However, this wasn't my personal experience. Doctors inaccurately suggested a diagnosis of anxiety before I was accurately diagnosed with POTS, in the absence of psychological symptoms. However, once I received a correct diagnosis of POTS there was never any suggestion of a psychological diagnosis because there were no psychological symptoms. It wasn't until 6 months into my fight against POTS that I started developing anxiety. Before I developed PTSD, but shortly after developing POTS, a doctor I saw said he was referring me to a psychiatrist. I was offended and voiced that to him because I had no psychological symptoms.
My doctor's response was "if you're not depressed now, you will be by the time you see him."
Don't get me wrong, he shouldn't have said that. If someone took that seriously it could've easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But just like my family doctor who prescribed me a couple Ativan tablets "just in case I develop anxiety because of POTS," I now understand where they were coming from. When I had my first panic attack and was pacing up and down the hallway thinking I was going crazy, that Ativan came in handy.
Developing POTS wasn't your fault and was out of your control.
Developing a mental illness/psychological symptoms wasn't your fault and was out of control.
However, there are ways you can learn to cope with both the physical and mental symptoms and gain some authority in your life. You can learn to give yourself the grace of experiencing suicidal ideation without judgment but not allow the thoughts to control you.
Don't let your suicidal thoughts be dictators when they are simply indicators.
Indicating that you've been fighting a really tough and unique battle. Indicating that you are tired, lonely, afraid, and in pain.
Indicating that you don't want to live like this.
People from the POTS community often reach out to me saying
"I don't want to live like this."
But it's those last 2 words that show me you still have the tiniest bit of hope left.
To that, my response is more or less: "then don't." Don't live like this. Live like something else. Just live. In any way that you can, with the limited resources you have, with the energy that you have.
Next week I'm going to post my final addition to this post series by sharing how I gained authority in my life and chose to fight to kill my chronic illness instead of myself.