Chronic illness and Depression | As my body attacks itself

Chronic illness and Depression | As my body attacks itself

I had a neuropsych evaluation last week. He diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder.  Here are the reasons he gave for this diagnosis:

“The patient said that she had difficulty in accepting her functional losses.  The patient said that she had experienced sadness, loss of pleasure in doing things that she used to enjoy, sense of helplessness, excessive worrying, anxiety, irritability and anger.”

Yes, those statements are correct.  But they don’t come from being depressed. He never asked for any explanation for why I was feeling those things – he just asked yes or no questions.

The author goes on to explain each one of the depressive symptoms the psychiatrist listed, pointing out her “symptoms” are a normal reaction to dealing with chronic illness.

Yes, I have had trouble dealing with my functional losses.  It’s hard to have things taken away from you.  It’s hard to no longer be able to do things you once could.  It’s hard to have these functional losses impact your family, friends and loved ones.  Of course I have trouble dealing with those things.

Yes, I’ve experienced sadness.  I don’t have the energy and “spoons” to do all the things I want to do – of course that would make me sad.  If it didn’t then I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be normal.

Yes, I have loss of pleasure in things I used to enjoy.  But it’s not because I’m depressed.  It’s because THEY HURT!

Yes I have lost pleasure in these things I used to enjoy because they have become physically painful.  Wouldn’t you lose pleasure in something if it became physically painful?

I haven’t lost interest and the love for doing those things – I’ve lost the pleasure in actually doing them simply because they are physically painful now.

Yes, I’ve had a sense of helplessness.

Yes, I feel helpless in that I can’t find a way to get all these life-changing symptoms to stop (or even ease)

Worrying and anxiety.  Yes, I’ve had those

I feel like those things are normal worries given my situation and circumstances.  I don’t feel those qualify me for a depression diagnosis.

Irritability.  Well, yes, I do get irritable.  I’m in constant pain.

Anger.  Yes, I’m angry at this disease.  Not at people.  Not at myself.  I know that I didn’t ask for this.  I know that no one did this to me.  It is what it is and I’m angry at the disease – not at anyone (including myself) about it.

So, yes, I do exhibit those symptoms of depression.  But each and every one of them is explainable in ways that I do not feel warrant a diagnosis of depression

And just like you can exhibit symptoms of a disease without having that disease, you can exhibit symptoms of depression without having depression

In my case, I whole-heartedly believe they are not due to depression but rather normal reactions to the circumstances in my life at this moment.

I think anyone with chronic disease, chronic illness, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, etc., is going to display some of the symptoms of depression.  And absolutely dealing with a life-changing chronic disease can cause depression – and it does for many people.  And there’s nothing wrong with that

About the Author:

Kelly Morgan Dempewolf, PhD, is a mother of two, wife, science educator and Sjögren’s Syndrome patient. She is the author of a high school chemistry textbook “Discovering Chemistry You Need to Know”, NSTA Press’s book “Mastery Learning in the Science Classroom” and numerous science education articles. She began the blog as a way to process and communicate her struggles with chronic disease and as has expanded that writing into her new book “As My Body Attacks Itself”.

Her science education work can be found at and her writings about her autoimmune disease at

2 thoughts on “Chronic illness and Depression | As my body attacks itself

  1. Pingback: Chronic illness and Depression | All Things Chronic

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