Diagnosis: Major Depressive Disorder Secondary to Chronic Illness

  The life of chronic illness is always a challenging one and it has never been easy for me and the older I get, the harder it seems to get – not only on me but also on my husband.  He has been my main support system (along with my biological family) but lately I have been feeling a lot of pressure by him to “get well”.  I have felt repeatedly over the past few months that he is pushing me to feel better when I have been steadily going downhill once again. 

I am the type of person who typically holds my emotions inside and I do not scream, yell or go on a rampage when in reality, I would probably feel a lot better if I could just get it all out.  Things would always get heated like that with my ex-husband and I hated having a relationship like that. 

When having illnesses like CFS & Fibromyalgia, particularly CFS, stress is so damaging.  For one, our bodies are not equipped to handle stress because of the hormone deficiencies we have.  This is hard for my husband to understand.  He doesn’t realize that the amount of stress that I feel is beyond my control because my body is physically not able to function with it because of the illness.  It’s not an excuse – it’s the reality of ME/CFS.  So many things happened at one time that would have created stress for anyone – he lost his job right around Christmas; I had to research and find new health insurance coverage and prescription coverage for the three of us; I had to try and re-budget all of our finances; and I also started working more hours to help pick up some of the financial slack.  What would have been a lot of stress, but MANAGEABLE stress for someone healthy, was just too much for a sick body.  I tried at the time to tell him all of this.  But his idea of helping was to tell me that, “I know you can handle it and figure it all out”. 

Then I started having mini-flares of my ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia, then the Interstitial Cystitis flares came back and I was getting very overwhelmed.  Then to top it all off, I was very sick with my sinuses and it took two rounds of antibiotics and a week’s worth of steroids to finally get rid of that problem.  But I haven’t been right since then.  

A few weeks ago, I found that I was starting to cry a lot and I am someone who normally does not cry very often at all.  I started having anxiety attacks and I have been feeling completely stressed out at work when it is busy when normally that doesn’t affect me.  I have worked with the public for years and have had years of experience doing what I do now.  All of a sudden seeing a line of people at my register over the past couple of weeks makes me panic.  I think I have done a pretty good job of hiding it so far but I knew I needed to get to the doctor before I had a meltdown in front of everyone at work.  That is the last thing I need to happen. 

I had also started noticing that my pain has steadily been getting worse and my doctor noted when she saw me today that she had noted in my file that I had mentioned an increase in pain back in January.  So I have been dealing with my body not being able to handle stress, more pain, lack of sleep, all of the crying, and my husband getting on me.  I knew I needed to get to the doctor and fast.

When I went to see her today, she told me that I had Major Depressive Disorder secondary to chronic illness.  To be honest, I wasn’t surprised because I knew that I was feeling different and it was more than my normal chronic health issues going on.  I have felt like I have all of the pressure on me at home to get better and that I am being blamed for being sick that it is just making things worse for me emotionally as well as physically. 

I told her how I have been feeling:  the anxiety, the stress, the pressure to be well from my husband, his getting on me all of the time about my job –  it has just all built up and I have gotten to where I have lost the joy I once had.  Yesterday I had another breakdown because my husband got on me while I was talking to him on the phone on my way to work about how I’ve been different and how I need to cut my hours at work and how I need to get well.  He was not happy about me going back to work in the first place but I need something besides being at home all of the time.  I can’t bear the thought of not having somewhere to go and something to do a few hours a week – and we need the income.   So I had my hours cut once again. 

But I’m going to get sick regardless of whether I’m working or not.  I’m not going to get better – these illnesses are not going to go away.   As a family we have to learn to live with them and deal with them.   It seems like it is only the things that I want to do for myself (like work – which is really a necessity) that he always has a problem with.  If it is something that he wants me to do that has to do with him, then I never hear anything about how I need to get enough rest or I need to take it easy. 

The doctor also told me that MDD is common in chronic illness, particularly after a patient has experienced a period of time where they have felt really well for a while and then has a relapse.  She said couple that with everything else that has been going on and the fact that I have been sick so long – it is just a lot for me emotionally and physically. 

To treat the MDD, the doctor raised my prescription of Prozac (which I was on for the severe PMS) from 20 mg. to 40 mg. a day.   She wants me to monitor myself on that dose for the next four weeks and then call her.  If I am starting to notice an improvement, I am going to stay on just the 40 mg. of Prozac.  If I do not notice any improvement, or not any major improvement, she is going to add Wellebutrin with it.  She also thinks that therapy is a good idea because of everything I have to deal with physically and also for us as a family.

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  1. I feel your pain. I too have finally succumbed to depression secondary to my CFS/FM diagnoses. While my husband understands that I’m ill he throws major tantrums about it and I don’t deal well with angry people. I’m constantly walking on eggshells around the house worried about setting him off. This isn’t good even if I was well. Trying to deal with this with CFS just makes me even sicker. He said to me the other day that I’m sicker when he is around and I do better when my Mom is visiting. Gee I wonder why? I decided that I can’t live like that any more and I’m trying to arrange for couples therapy. I hope he goes but even if he doesn’t it will help me since the guy is also a behavioural therapist.

    I know what you are going through. Prozac has been a godsend for me in the past. Therapy has also been useful. Hang in there. I’m rooting for you.

    • Thank you so much. I hope I get some emotional relief, as well as physical. I feel this immense pressure to pretend now and that is not good either because that can just make me sicker. I feel lost. I feel like I’ve lost my best friend.

  2. Oh my God, I’ve been going through almost the same thing. Suddenly I can’t handle when it’s busy at work and I find myself near tears and panicking before I have to go in. And when you say “it has just all built up and I have gotten to where I have lost the joy I once had,” I just thought the other day (as I was crying in bed) the exact same thing, that I don’t have any joy in my life anymore.

    The only difference is that my husband thinks I’m overreacting about work and he “worries” about me when I’m down on days I have to go in — but I know it’s not worried about me getting better, it’s worried that I’m a crackpot. (Well, more of one that he knows I already am.)

    Once again, I feel your frustration. And the really anxiety-inducing part is that I really can’t afford to cut back on or even quit my job — though it’s gotten so bad that I’ve considered it. Haven’t lost it while at work yet, but I think it’s just a matter of time.

    • Hi Tricia, Next week is the holiday week so I am hoping my increase in meds have started to kick in by then but the doc says it can take up to 6 – 8 weeks before I notice any difference. My fear is having some sort of meltdown in public that I can’t control while I am this fragile. I hope you are able to find some relief and please see a doctor for your symptoms if you haven’t already. Thanks for the support.

  3. I took the plunge today and signed hubby and I up for couples therapy. I couldn’t take it anymore. It is affecting my health too much for things to continue the way they are. I was crying when I was on the phone with the doc. However, now that I’ve set the appointment up I’m happy. We’re going to get some help with this mess. It will be hard going but things can get better. I have hope again.

    • Hi Baffled, I’m glad you were able to set up some counseling for you and your husband. I think getting to express your emotions and getting to say everything that you have been holding in will be a big release for you and he may be in for some surprises. I’m sure mine will be too when it’s our turn.

  4. Sandy, Thank you SO much for your sharing about Major Depressive Disorder Secondary to Chronic Illness. I empathize with your pain. I have had Interstial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome for 15 years, and within that past year have developed symptoms of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that forced me to quit my job as a nanny which I have been doing for 6 years, and find a way to work from home. You are not alone, I am single with no children, so I don’t have the stress of having a husband wanting me to get well, BUT I don’t have a husband BECAUSE of that exact reason. For me, it was too stressful to be in a relationship while having these sicknesses and Major Depressive Disorder which I’ve been dealing with pretty much since I got diagnosed. I thank you for this site which I just happened to find while doing a search for “Accutane causes Interstial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome.” I think THAT is what caused my body to weaken, but I don’t have the medical records to prove that I was on it and when. My dr threw them out. This is just my personal belief, so I don’t want people to start saying if they disagree with my statement. But, I thank you SOOOO much for the article you wrote. There is so much SHAME put on people in this society who have A. Physical Illnesses that are Invisible or Hidden, and B. people who have DEPRESSION. Thank you for stepping out. I want to be more of an advocate for this, but because I’m looking for a job, I don’t want any potential employers to know and not hire me, or let me go, BECAUSE of it. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for this website.

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