It’s no secret any chronic illness can take a toll on the body, but what about your mental wellbeing? Dialysis is exhausting both physically and mentally. For the last 26 years, I’ve been battling to stay sane. Let’s face it, between doctor appointments, pill reminders, blood tests and needle sticks, nothing seems fair or sane about kidney failure. When diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, I think more patients should be warned about depression. It seems as though depression is still a taboo subject a lot of people do not wish to talk about. Unfortunately, most of us have had to face depression. So, lets talk about depression and face this pandemic head on.
My first dealings with depression were second hand. My mother had kidney failure. Doctors back then never really talked about depression. If her situation wasn’t tough enough, she was dealt the difficult task of having two young children with kidney failure. Even worse, doctors could not offer her a reasonable explanation as to why we went from perfectly healthy children to extremely ill.
Looking back now, her endless days in bed make sense. How could anyone manage all that plus having to endure watching your children going thru what seemed like torture? In the end, the answer for her was never recovering from the black hole which dragged her inside.
My brother and I were already anomalies in the kidney world being so young on dialysis.
I started dialysis at the age of six. My parents sheltered me a lot from all the decisions and medical issues. My step-father, Ian, was the first person to really sit me down and talk to me about kidney disease. I was 15 and my second transplant just failed. He wanted me to make a decision on my treatment of choice. Still, I managed to stay above the depression line until my twenties.
My personal struggle with depression came in my twenties. At first, it was little personality differences – nothing major to set off alarms. I would start avoiding friends or conversations with loved ones. I’d want to sleep days away. I didn’t want the world to see my scars. I felt the questions complete strangers would ask about my scars were rude. Even if they didn’t mean it, the questions just added to my fear that I was a complete outsider in the healthy world. I played it off whenever someone asked how I was feeling. Ashamed of what they would think if I said candidly how I really felt. It took me years to admit to myself something was off. Why would I ever admit to my doctor whenever I felt any emotion other than fine? “Fine” became a feeling category and not a good one. Instead of fine meaning excellent or wonderful, it now meant dreadfully covering how I really feel. As many of you already know, when you have a chronic illness it’s very normal to get depressed or down occasionally. It’s okay to be upset, angry, mad, depressed or wanting to scream when someone sticks your access wrong.
These days I realize it’s not natural to be one sided when dealing with dialysis. I would be worried if a patient came in happy 100 percent of the time. Of course, I would ask my nurse what they were taking. Can I have some of that?
For me, finding the right balance between the kidney world and staying active has helped keep me sane. Working full time makes me proud because I know I can overcome all odds. I have worked hard to build a life despite my past and present kidney situation. When I have time, I like to volunteer in the kidney community. Staying connected to a world I spent most of my life in, helps me make a difference. Also, I do a lot of cooking classes. I love to cook. Finding things I enjoy and can still do, helps keep my mind off the sadness, which leads to depression.
We can overcome kidney failure one step at a time. Kidney failure doesn’t define you or me, neither does depression. Everyone gets the blues. Talking with my treatment team, whether it’s the tech, social worker, or nurse, helps me realize the struggle is real and I’m not alone, which means, neither are you. All you need to do is ask for help. We are all here to help each other. Any questions, ask a tech near you!