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The effect of depression and anxiety

By Mary Pettigrew

There has been a lot of discussion about mood swings and depression as it relates to multiple sclerosis over the years. Depression has been highlighted quite a bit and its cause seems to reveal how and why it might manifest in people with MS. Could it be because of the life-changing event of being diagnosed with an incurable disease in the first place? Could it be because of living with this disease? Or could it be a part of the disease in and of itself? Studies have shown that it could be because of all these factors. It’s especially interesting to explore mood disorders with regards to MS and where certain lesions may be taking up residence in the brain. For more on this please consider at these two resources:
  1. Anxiety and Depression with MS 
  2. MS and Mood Disorders by Rosiland Kalb

Depression is only one mental health and mood facet so many of us deal with, but what about anxiety? In my opinion, not nearly enough conversation has taken place with regards to anxiety. For me, anxiety is my mainline when it comes to mental health issues. Depression is somewhat secondary for me, but when the two come together, it is a perfect storm. When this happens, it can be extremely difficult to navigate through the white caps and stormy skies in search of calm waters and clear skies. 

My health took a turn for the worst in February and things didn’t let up until just a couple weeks ago. My IBS took hold of me and when the dehydration set in, I could barely think or function. Spasticity was nonstop, the pain and discomfort was ongoing, and I was a bedridden mess for quite a while. When you add my MS symptoms and debilitating fatigue into the picture, needless to say, this was a monster of an experience I hope to never have to go through again. It’s no wonder I became increasingly more depressed and anxious during this time. I completely shut down – No email, texts, social media, phone calls, etc. All I could do during this time was stay in bed (or the bathroom) and wallow in the painful abyss of chronic illness and gut-wrenching melancholy. I almost wanted to give in and give up. But, that’s not me. That’s not in my makeup. I had to work hard with my doctors to figure out what to do in order to get better. It was a long, tough road.

For many of us, depression and anxiety could have been a part of our lives for years before MS came into the picture. Maybe we were already aware of this, or maybe we weren’t until MS forced us to recognize these issues. Who knows. Of course, we’re all different, but this is such an important topic to explore, and we need to talk about openly with our doctors, family, and our chronic illness community of peers. 

Here are just a few things to consider when the waves of depression and anxiety come crashing down on you. Some of these might be considered controversial, yet they continue to be studied and explored by doctors and patients in the ongoing search for ways to find some relief, improve quality of life and mental health.
  • Try some of the apps for anxiety, insomnia, etc.: I just started using the Calm app and it helps with breathing and decompression to aid in reducing stress and it can also help set the tone in your mind and body for sleep. It’s not a free app, but so far, it’s been worth the annual fee.
  • Antidepressants and antianxiety meds: Sometimes these are helpful. Sometimes these are necessary. And, sometimes these come with intolerable, risky side effects, so pay attention to how you feel when taking them and report anything odd to your doctors.
  • Cannabis
  • Exercise: Try to keep moving, even if it’s just a few minutes each day
  • Pets: Unconditional love and companionship, helps to boost mood and well being.
  • Creative activities: music, art, writing, cooking, TV/Films
  • Support groups or contacts to reach out to for help.
  • Ketamine

A lot of people continue to suffer in shameful silence or confusion when mental health issues are in play. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but sadly, there’s still a stigma surrounding these issues and we all need to keep talking about mental health – whether we have MS or not.