Depression: The 600 LB. Gorilla in the Room!
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and we have made it to the middle of another work week. I hope you are having a safe and great one so far.
It has been a rough week for me. I have not been feeling up to par. Plus I have been under a ton of stress. There have been daily meetings, conference calls and I have over a thousand pictures to process from the several events Dab the AIDS Bear participated in during the past week.
I have also noticed I am starting to get depressed. Now it has not reached the point where I feel like I am trying to climb out of a deep dark hole. I have been there before and it sucks.
But I do feel like depression is starting which I have discussed with my Infectious Disease doctor. It could be because we have started an ADAP waiting list in Florida. It could be because the ADAP waiting lists are growing in the ten states that already had a waiting list. It could be because three more states have announced they will be starting ADAP waiting lists. Or it could be all of these and the fact I am getting older and do not have the energy I use to have.
But I am not unique. A majority of people with HIV and AIDS experience depression at least once after being diagnosed. Some, like me, have depression more than once. I have had three serious cases of depression in the past. The first time was when I was first diagnosed in 1982 after the death of my first partner which took me months and months to get over. I loved him so much. He had helped me come out of the closet and be proud of who I was for the first time in my life. It broke my heart not to be able to hold him as he was dying in quarantine. All I could do was get a nurse to give him a teddy bear, tell him I loved him in notes she would take to him and stand on the other side of the glass and let him know I was there. When he flatlined and they pulled the sheet over his face, I felt a piece of me die that day. Then a few weeks later I was told I also had the virus and probably would not live to see my 20th birthday which was only six weeks away.
The second time I had depression, it was in 1994 after I was diagnosed with full blown AIDS. We did not have the life saving anti-HIV medications we have today. I had just finished chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma but the treatments had destroyed what immune system the HIV had not. I was down to four T-cells and my weight had dropped to the point where I was one of the walking dead. My doctors has told me to get my affairs in order which basically meant they had given up on me surviving.
Luckily for me, Marty came to my rescue and got me into clinical trial studies for the protease inhibitors which today help keep people with HIV and AIDS alive. It took several months but I finally regained some of my immune system and started to put some weight back on. But the depression held on for several more months while I went through therapy. Not only was I depressed about being diagnosed with AIDS but I also had survivor's guilt. Now for those of you who have never heard of survivor's guilt, it used to be common in long term survivors of HIV and AIDS. We felt guilty for living when our partners and friends had died.
So here I am again, fighting the beast. Now I do not show my depression to my friends or other people with HIV and AIDS. I am known as one of the longest surviving people diagnosed with HIV and I try to be a positive role model. So I keep a lot of it inside. But when things reach the point in our country with HIV and AIDS care, it is hard to keep a positive attitude if you will excuse the pun.
Now what to do about it? Well I have started taking Zoloft again which has helped with my depression in the past. I am also trying to concentrate on the positive things in my life while trying to make a difference and help those in need. I could easily drown myself in my work with the community. But I have to make a conscious effort to keep up my workouts, spend time with my wonderful pets and keep a stiff upper chin.
Just know if you are currently going through depression, you are not alone. But do make sure you get help. Talk to your doctor. Talk to a therapist, friend or relative you feel comfortable with sharing.
Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,