A man with axial spondyloarthritis slumps in a seated position as rainclouds rain down on him.

Dealing with Depression Caused by AxSpA

People living with chronic pain and chronic medical conditions have a higher risk of depression than those not living with those conditions.

I am one of those people.

About a year ago I started experiencing symptoms of depression. I did not recognize my struggles for a few months, and I got to a very dark place both mentally and physically by not dealing with it properly.

Caused by AxSpA pain

For me, depression is directly pain related.

It began during my diagnosis process. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect, I was incredibly frustrated by having inexplicable pain. I was hurting, I didn’t know why, and it was causing me to act very uncharacteristically.

Before my diagnosis, my depression festered without dealing with it. The longer it went unattended, the worse I felt and the more I lashed out. It got to the point that I, a very extroverted and social person, did not want to be around anyone. I was so miserable and didn’t even realize it.

Now, when I’m having bad flares, I always notice my mind go back to the negativity of depression. The difference is I always deal with it right away and it rarely lasts through the whole day.

Getting help

I implore anyone struggling with their mental health to seek professional help.

The best thing I did was to visit a counselor. I went for six sessions over two months, coinciding with the timing of my nr-AxSpA diagnosis.

It was an incredibly confusing time, and having a professional helped me understand what was going on with myself.

My counselor helped me realize two key things that changed my perspective on dealing with AxSpA and the mental health challenges that go along with it.

Firstly, they validated my struggles. Jamie, you are dealing with depression and that is normal for someone learning to live with chronic pain.

Secondly, they helped me realize struggling is normal. Everyone has their struggles, I’m not in this alone. Everyone has bad days and the world still keeps turning.

One thing I was asked by many people is if I felt suicidal.

I do not, but for some people, depression will lead to suicidal feelings.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also live chat at www.suicidepreventionife.org.

For me, depression doesn’t manifest as suicidal thoughts. My brain likes to create what I think is the saddest scenario possible, living life alone. Depending on the day, it will vary from people shunning me to everyone I know tragically dying in my mind.

I used to give in to these thoughts and for a few months, my mind would justify how and why everyone I love was going to leave me stranded. Mostly, I thought nobody wanted to be around me because I am broken, tainted, diseased.

Now, I’ve learned that these thoughts are a red flag for my brain. As soon as these types of thoughts pop up, I recognize it as time to go to battle with depression. If anything, people have checked in more to make sure I’m doing alright.

Dealing with it

The best thing for me is to deal with it immediately. If I try and ignore it, the depressive thoughts will just continue to grow and worsen.

The remedy is never the same, but I’ve developed a checklist to start.

  • Have I slept properly this week?
  • Have I eaten enough healthy food today?
  • When was the last time I exercised?

Sometimes it’s as easy as a nap. Other times, it takes slogging through the day to get out of my negative haze. Often I hate getting started, but feel better once I go do something outside.

During the oddities of social distancing and COVID-19, my new rule is to get out of the house every day. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m getting stuck in my own mind until I get out into the world for a bit.

Finally, I need to talk about it.

It varies who I talk to. I’m really lucky to have a fantastic support system around me, so I always have someone who will listen. I even wrote a song about it, and it’s been very therapeutic to sing it.

So, that’s a snapshot of how I’m dealing with depression. For anyone else dealing with their own mental health challenges, I’m always willing to listen if you need someone to talk to.

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