Facing a serious and potentially life-threatening disease is no easy feat. When I look at my life, it is now divided into two parts. Before diagnosis and post-diagnosis. I am also divided between who I was before this all happened, and who I am now. It has affected every aspect of my life, such as ending my career, to complicating my relationships with not only my partner but my parents and friends.
I was diagnosed
with Pulmonary Hypertension at the age of 25, and it completely
unraveled me. I had lead my life thinking that I had my whole life
ahead of me, only to find out it may end out much sooner than I would
have hoped. I was certainly aware that I wasn’t invincible, but being a
young adult gives you a false comfort of time. Throughout my youth I was
a bit of a loner, and worked very hard to balance a part-time job while
attending university. I was preparing for later, for when I thought
life would really get good. I was saving up to move
out, started my first real career job, dreaming of getting married and
thinking about having kids when I found out that I have PH. I feel like I was treating life as a
lay-away plan, hoping to enjoy it once I reaped the fruits of my labour.
What I really wanted was a simple life, and that is what I was waiting
to enjoy. It feels like my diagnosis has taken many of those plans away
from me. As you can imagine, it became very difficult to find anything to look forward to.
struggled with depression my entire life. I remember being as young as
four or five years old the the first time I had dark thoughts. I was a
very shy child and also suffered from crippling anxiety. I was often ill
as a child and had spent some time in and out of the hospital. I learned in school that being sick and hospitalized often as a child can contribute to depression and other mental disorders later on in life. I began to really
struggle with depression as a teenager. I was eventually offered
medication from a family doctor. I politely declined, feeling it wasn’t
the right choice for me.
I was very hard on my self, and I never felt I
was good enough. I am not sure where this feeling came from because my
parents have always been incredibly supportive. I put an unreasonable
amount of pressure on myself. Depression affects everyone differently. I had a hard time finding value in myself, or value in the life I
was trying to make for myself. I felt like such a loser no matter
how hard I tried at things. I felt unlovable and unworthy (even though I
had incredible love from the people in my life.)
couldn’t see how good my life was for a long time.
took the brink of death to help me really appreciate life.
This isn’t to say that life after diagnosis is a blessing, or that I no
longer struggle with depression. After diagnosis I was recommended
medication to treat my depression. I explained to my doctor’s that of
course I was depressed, look at the news I had just received. I politely
declined medication for treatment for depression once again.
depression I now faced was paralyzing. I cried before bed and when I
woke up, and sometimes I cried throughout the day. I barely spoke or
ate. I became withdrawn. It was hard to find a reason to get up most
days. That is the weird thing about living with Pulmonary Hypertension. I
want to live so badly, but not under the conditions the disease offers
to my life.
I decided that I was tired of wasting my valuable time feeling so terrible- so I started seeing a life coach, and spoke to my alternative health practitioners about my depression.
Living with a life-threatening or chronic condition can
understandably place a damper on one’s life. Suddenly it feels like we
are in a world we no longer belong in because of accessibility issues,
or the need for medical equipment. Sometimes it can be hard to enjoy
aspects of life because of the all of the side effects of medications,
the new equipment we need to stay alive, the pain we feel, the emotional
burden we carry, and whatever else comes along with a disease.
found myself having a hard time knowing who I was anymore. The disease
weighed so heavily on my self-esteem. Suddenly, I felt and looked like a
different person and it wasn’t a version of myself I liked. I would cry
sometimes looking in the mirror, seeing how frail I looked, and having a
nasal cannual attached to my face made me self-conscious. Prior to PH I knew
who I was, and I had already created and obtained my own identity. After
diagnosis I had to figure all of that out again. I am still trying to
figure out who I am (and who I can be) now.
Unfortunately, there is
still a stigma around mental illness and chronic conditions (like
PH.) To the naked eye people with depression, PH, or both, can look
‘fine.’ A lot of symptoms are chalked up to being in our head, or easily
fixable (which is often not the case.) What outsiders fail to realize
is that we would much prefer not to have these problems. I didn’t decide
to have Pulmonary Hypertension, but life had other plans.
If I had my way, I would have preferred to have a life less complicated by disease.
I hope that
this can bring light to the fact that depression, and other mental illnesses
like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) are very common among people
within the Pulmonary Hypertension, (and chronic illness) community. We are constantly exposed to triggering environments. Such as the hospital, where routine tests are often performed. This environment, the treatments and the tests are often associated with negative memories and experience. I experience vivid nightmares where I wake up because of the sound
of my scream, covered in sweat. I also have panic attacks when I have to go back to the hospital where I was diagnosed. They left me in a wheel chair facing the wall while I cried. This hall way is where I used to do a walk test. Needless to say it was hard to get good results when all I was reliving the worst experience of my life. Luckily, these nightmares and attacks rarely happen anymore- but of course I still struggle. It would be very
difficult to go through many of the experiences of having a
life-threatening illness and come out of unscathed.
If you are struggling, please do
not be ashamed to find the right treatment for you. There are lots of
ways to seek treatment. Talk to a doctor, family member or friend that
you trust. When finding professional treatment, do not settle. Find
someone who you have a connection with, someone who you trust and helps
you feel a little safer. There are not only doctors you can talk to, but
psychologists, social workers, life coaches, alternative health practitioners and so on. These qualified
specialists can help discuss various treatment options with you as well,
and help you develop coping skills.
Ironically enough, my depression
is probably the best it has ever been in my entire life. I have found a
regimen for myself that works well for me. I practice different alternative therapies along with meditation and yoga. I know that I am human and
still allow myself a few days if needed to be sad. This usually happens
after a PH appointment. It is very difficult to get used to, but I try
very hard to live in the current moment. Even though things may suck (for lack of a better word,) there are still things around me that I can enjoy. There are also many things that I am grateful for. This experience has really taught me to appreciate things more, including myself. When I was first diagnosed I thought I shouldn't enjoy things until I got "better." Now I have learned to try and enjoy things while I can.
My life isn't perfect, or what I had hoped it would be. However, my quality of life was so bad before that it has helped me appreciate my health now. Sometimes I get caught up thinking about the
future, which can be pretty scary. It is human to be scared, but you have to be able to find the right balance. I give myself a few days to deal with the grief, but try to let deal with my emotions and let them go. What I am going
through isn’t easy, so I have learned to be more patient and kind with myself. This has also helped me learn how to be more compassionate towards others. I am no longer hard on myself. I have also learned how to
love myself, which I desperately needed to do in order to take care of
myself and truly love those around me.
I hope that this can encourage
anyone who is struggling to reach out. Please know that you are not
alone. Reach out to someone you love and trust, and find the best
treatment plan for you. Don't be afraid to speak up about how you are feeling, and be kind enough to yourself to find help.