I was one of those kids who really didn’t have many issues health wise. I didn’t get sick that often. Contrary to the rest of my family, I didn’t even have to wear glasses when I was younger! I was a bit cocky on the health front. Just a little.
Everything began to change when I was in my late teens / early 20’s.
I started slipping into depression around the time I was finishing up at college and getting ready to live in the ‘real world’.
Around the same time I decided that I was too fat (I wasn’t) and started rapid weight loss. Losing forty pounds in a few months was a bit radical, and left me underweight for my body type.
Going to my family physician, it was decided we’d try to work through my depression with talk therapy and no medications.
Some of it helped, but the depression persisted.
I don’t know how else to describe what it was like other than my own personal hell. Not wanting to think because everything was ‘bad’. Perpetual repetition of thoughts that kept haunting me into analysis paralysis. So much fear, loneliness, anger, and no hope. I had even cut out playing music because that was now something ‘bad’ for me as well.
It affected not only me, but those around me. My family, my friends, my work mates, and my relationships all were strained. It’s been over 20 years, and my memory of things is getting more sketchy with time, so I will just say it probably played a part in some relationships fading away or ending.
There was one heart-to-heart discussion with my mother that has stuck with me. She tried her hardest to motivate me and keep me going. Since I’m horrible at exact quotes, I’ll interpret – “I don’t know if you’ll wake up feeling this way for the rest of your life or not, but you need to get up, go to work and keep going. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but you need to survive.” She was totally right.
I will also note, around this time the rock group Rush had released a song called ’The Pass’. That song has remained very dear to me, as it helped me walk the razor’s edge and keep working through the tough times. Thank you for that song guys.
Fast forward a few years, my physical health began to decline. Frequent nose bleeds that took a long time to stop, really bad skin rashes, swelling of joints, blood pressure issues, migraines, continued depression all started to pile up. Why? My family doctor and I had no idea. We treated the symptoms as best as possible. My depression remained untreated with medications, and I was coping as best as I could.
One day I visited my ophthalmologist for an eye check up, and she noticed something strange and gave pause. She had found copper deposits in my corneas. She asked me to take a note upstairs to my family doctor. Two days later I was back in his office, and he tossed a medical book in front of me. “Read this. I think I know what’s going on with you now. We’ll have to run some tests, but I think this is it.”
Wilson Disease (formerly Wilson’s Disease) – a rare genetic copper metabolism disorder. Basically my liver didn’t know what to do with ingested copper and I became toxic with copper, including my brain. All my symptoms were right there in front of me in that book. A week later blood and other tests were done and confirmed we were on the right path. A month and a half later I’m in Toronto General Hospital getting more testing done, and being put on Penicillamine to help remove copper from my body.
Within a couple of months after starting treatment, it was like someone had blown some clouds out of the sky and the sun returned. I felt mentally a lot better, and other symptoms started to disappear as well. Then the real work started…
When you’re depressed like I was, countering confusing and unhelpful thoughts takes a lot of effort. I’ve read that the mind changes and adapts over time, and I’m guessing this is what also happened with me during my depression. It took around 7 years after diagnosis and starting treatment to feel like my old self again. I had reactions to things that didn’t make sense anymore that had to iron themselves out again, and thought processes that needed re-sorting. During this time, the medications I took turned on me as well, and I had to switch out to Trientine/Syprine. Taking a medication that is also killing you is not a fun experience. The blood pressure has remained, and maybe related to my WD causing heart wiring problems, but we haven’t gone down that rabbit hole.
Since my issues started with copper poisoning, anti-depression medications would not have helped me. Talk therapy definitely helped though.
These days, I have short times where I’m down due to life issues, but I can also recognize what head space I’m getting into, and how to get myself out of those funks. It’s definitely not the same as before, but being able to call it what it is and take it head on is a great mental tool.
If there’s one take away for others reading my post, if you find yourself depressed, turn to the one or more positive thing that always make you happy (for me music, others arts and sports) and invest time in doing this. Music has always been a powerful motivator for me, and it definitely helped me counter the bad feelings that crept up.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and it should not be trivialized because it is not an injury like a broken arm or something more visible.
Depression affects so many people around us.
Learn about it, learn how to support those fighting it, squash the stigma.