Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), anxiety, and depression all come to my mind as 2018, the NEW YEAR, is just days away. Because this time of the year can be full of expectations, stressors, and reflections, our emotions can be amplified and emotions can amplify our pain and other symptoms of RA. Hence the reason I want to talk about the connection between RA, anxiety and depression. My desire is for this conversation to be natural and comfortable for us with RA to discuss freely. I want us to recognize the connection as a potential part of living with this autoimmune disease.
The reasons are many for a person with RA to experience anxiety and depression. The reasons start before the diagnosis is ever made. The pain and swelling of RA is usually significant and often accompanied with fatigue. These symptoms alone can wear on a person. Add the concern and worry of the unknown only compounds the distress.
Then the RA diagnosis itself is a shock and disturbing. The thoughts of disability and a life of pain and suffering are depressing. The reality that your life is forever changed is daunting. Sometimes it’s too much to digest all at once. That your body is attacking itself is creepy. Even if the disease is brought under control, you still have it and it can flare up at any time. The mental aspect of living with a chronic disease needs to be acknowledged.
Finding the medications that best work for you is usually not instant pudding. It is trial and error. The medications can require getting routine lab tests and they can have side effects you may need to get used to. All of these decisions and trying different medications can be trying. The cost of the biologics is great, so the payment issue is an issue. Then when you find a medication that you are responding well to you hope the formulary of your insurance plan doesn’t change or the insurance plan itself doesn’t change. All of these things are anxiety provoking.
What about all the changes that come to your day-to-day life. Washing your hair is a major ordeal if the joints involved are those being affected by the disease. When you cannot do a simple task you’ve done forever such as walking the dog can be sad and upsetting. Your life feels out of control and it is scary to think you’ll never be able to do these things again. You have to think about how you are going to be able to get to the grocery store, or get the kids to school, or get to your doctor appointments. It can all become overwhelming.
Relationships can be affected, sometimes beyond repair. Heartbreaking. You may not be able to do the job you have enjoyed and are good at. Another loss of something that brings great satisfaction.
The latest edition of the publication The Rheumatologist addresses this connection. Like I’ve shared, RA can be a cause of anxiety and/or depression and in turn anxiety and/or depression can worsen the RA. There is much more to learn about the connection, but we know there is a link between RA, anxiety and depression.
The point I’m raising is to be aware of this connection and get help if you need it. Sometimes it just takes a little tweaking of your thought process or how you are thinking about the losses caused by the disease or the particulars of the treatment or changes necessary to live your day-to-day life. A good friend could be the help you need or professional help may be the best option to help get over the hurdle. It’s okay to get help.
This is an opportune time to address this important connection. RA, anxiety and depression coexist. Looking at each of the diseases I can see how one can complicate the other. The first step in treatment is identifying it.
Let’s have the conversation. Please leave a comment with your thoughts.
Health and Happiness in the New Year!
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