By Jeannine Ricci
Last month brought awareness to not only cystic fibrosis but also mental health. This is fitting since it’s estimated that CF patients are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression when compared to the general population.
I haven’t escaped this statistic; I’m one of the estimated 19% of CF adults that struggle with depression and one of estimated 33% of adults that struggle with anxiety. Choosing this topic wasn’t easy. Although it’s not something I hide, having hundreds of readers know my personal mental health battles is daunting, so I’ll keep this post more informative than expressive. Another deterrent was the idea of writing an article could sometimes suggest that you’ve overcome an obstacle and want to share your tools for success. Truth be told, anxiety and depression are still very present in my life and I’m far from being on the other side. Despite these hesitations, I decided to go ahead and choose this topic that is uncomfortable to talk about because that’s the only way to remove the stigma of mental illness– acknowledge and validate it and by doing so, reassuring those challenged by it that they are not alone.
I decided to hone in on 3 insights that I hope to be beneficial for others to hear; this benefit will be defined by impact and not by number of people helped because I’ll be writing about topics that only the minority of those with anxiety and depression can relate to. But reaching this minority is so important because as I can personally attest, it’s such an isolating place to be.
As counterintuitive as it seems, improved mental health does not always follow improved physical health. Having a disease altering medicine, such as Kalydeco, change the trajectory of your disease may lead to confusing, conflicting emotions, sometimes even leading to worsening of anxiety and depression. When the burden of CF is lightened, other issues that you didn’t have the mental energy and strength to cope with may begin to surface. There can be many facets involved, including regret about past decisions made based on a now altered blueprint of your future, shift in identity, and survivor’s guilt to name just a few. My guess is this is a response shared by a small minority and I don’t expect most to understand as it’s taken me years to delve into the complexities. My goal in sharing isn’t so much to explain to those who can’t grasp how emotional healing doesn’t always accompany physical healing as it is to reassure those reading that have had similar struggles to know that you aren’t alone. I hope that this knowledge in and of itself will bring you comfort.
Panic attacks can lead to symptoms beyond the well-known fight or flight symptoms of increased heart rate, hyperventilation, dizziness, nausea, tingling sensations, sweating, and tremors. They can also cause feelings of being detached from your body and/or surroundings. This is called depersonalization and derealization.
In other words, panic can lead to the terrifying, deeply disturbing feeling that you are going insane. It’s a symptom that’s rarely talked about even though it’s been reported to occur in about 40% of panic attacks. The distress that comes with the feeling of losing touch with reality contributes to the panic cycle and heightens feelings of intense fear. Having the knowledge that this is a temporary symptom and is your body’s defense mechanism built in to protect you will hopefully help to deescalate feelings of anxiety and loss of control when in the midst of a panic attack.
Think outside the box for treatment strategies when conventional treatments aren’t effective for depression.
For most people, treatment for depression is highly effective. It’s estimated that between 80 to 90 percent of people with depression respond well to traditional treatments such as counseling and/or antidepressants.
But what about the 10-20% of people who aren’t responsive to these treatments? Becoming your own advocate and researching alternative treatments is crucial to finding a treatment that may benefit you. One such treatment is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS was FDA approved in 2008 for treatment of major depression in adult patients for whom traditional therapies have failed or for those unable to tolerate the side effects of antidepressants. TMS uses a magnetic force in an effort to stimulate areas on the left side of the brain that are usually less active in depressed patients. It’s generally well tolerated and covered by most insurance companies. Its success rate in lessening depressive symptoms in those with treatment resistant depression is about 58%, with a remission rate (total cessation of depressive symptoms) of about 37%. A word of caution for those who have a diagnosis of both anxiety and depression: as TMS lifts your depression, you might have an increase in your anxiety symptoms. Discuss this with your doctor prior to starting and ask if they have a plan should this occur. Some doctors will alter their protocol and administer treatments on the right side of the brain simultaneously to counteract this issue.
My hope is that this post will help someone in their battle against anxiety and depression whether it is through lessening feelings of isolation, alleviating some of their fear, or delivering a flicker of hope where there was none.
Mental health resources:
Cystic Fibrosis Research Inc. (CFRI) support programs: Psychosocial Support Programs & Classes
TMS information (note: this website doesn’t have up-to-date information on TMS providers. Check with your insurance company to find an in-network provider): What is TMS