Lupus can be stressful and stress can cause lupus flares. This simple fact compelled me to reconsider my definition of ‘health’ in favor of a more holistic and inclusive one which takes into consideration its psychological component. This perspective became increasingly relevant as I came across a surprising number of social media posts from fellow lupies who were mentally hitting rock bottom as they battled the disease.
From what I have gathered, below are a few of the ways lupus can have an impact on one’s mental health:
- Living with a Chronic Illness
Over the years, several researches have established a link between chronic illnesses and depression and/or other mood disorders. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 15-60% of people with a chronic illness will experience clinical depression, the most common cause being “the emotional drain from the stress of coping with the complications of physical illness. Add to that economic, social, and workplace concerns.”
One notable pointer is the process of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) as one experiences the loss of the former ‘healthy’ self.
Other sources highlight the way chronic illnesses can limit one’s involvement in rewarding activities (For instance: Lupus photosensitivity = Not being able to spend too much time outdoors during the day. Unexpected lupus flare up = not being able to attend social events which were planned a while back).
- Lupus Can Affect the Central Nervous System
As lupus can attack any part of the body, including the central nervous system, brain involvement can lead to depression (amongst other disorders such as mania, schizophrenia, and psychosis). Other cognitive dysfunctions can occur, including confusion and memory loss.
- Side Effects of Medications
Several medicines used to treat lupus – from Prednisone to painkillers – have been shown to affect the mood and sometimes cause depression.
There’s a common misconception that seeking professional psychological help is a sign of weakness and the inability to take charge of your life. Ideas such as “It is your mind, you are the only one who can sort through it.”, “Since you’re going to have this disease for your whole life, you need to toughen up and get used to it.”, “There are people who deal with worse problems than yours, and they do it on their own.”
Unfortunately, the taboo about mental health issues (like many other taboos) only worsen the situation by making people hesitant to reach out for professional help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is currently helping me to see things more clearly, and tame that irrational fear of life-threatening complications, the frustration of having to give up on some activities, the anger of my body not living up to the expectations of my mind… I cannot stress enough how important it is to accept our own limitations in dealing with these challenges, and how there is nothing shameful in seeking professional assistance.