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Mental Health


Relentless adversaries: HIV and depression

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 Written by // Joshua Middleton Categories // Mental Health, Health, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Joshua Middleton

Joshua Middleton says depression is one of the most serious conditions one can face and the consequences if left untreated can be as severe as if HIV takes control of one’s body.

Relentless adversaries: HIV and depression

It is a dark cloud hovering over the life of someone day in and day out like a bad dream that never goes away. It is like a tree that is receiving no water and is simply withering away inside little by little until it comes to a breaking point. The world around seems to be passing by while the mind is simply going through the motions to survive from one day to the next.

A fatigued body that has been battered by months or even years of storms that seem to get bigger every time they roll in, shadow the mind from finding the true roots of the problem. You know something is wrong but you somehow convince yourself that if you just suffer in silence for long enough, if you simply toughen up, you can overcome this demon that has overtaken your life.

Even when you recognize your enemy you feel helpless as countless attempts to defeat it have proven pointless. While it may be subdued for a short time you know the feeling when it creeps back into your life like a thief in the night, without warning or notice.

Your mind struggles to find a solution but due to a chemical imbalance becomes overwhelmed with the thought of facing the tyrant once more, and simply often surrenders in defeat.

As a prisoner in your own mind, restrained in bondage to depression, you have lost the love for yourself in the process. People know something is different about you but the front you put on makes it seem like everything is fine, they don’t know the true struggle do they?

The struggle of depression is real and can have drastic consequences in not only the individual’s life but the lives of those that surround them. It can turn into a downward spiral like an airplane that has lost its wing, doomed for disaster with nothing able to stop the inevitable.

Depression isn’t simply a condition that can affect one’s life, it can take over ones being and mind. The struggles of day-to-day life and constant obstacles including a major life changing event such as a HIV diagnosis, simply trigger the sleeping giant.

Are you someone who is living with HIV & depression? I urge you to keep reading. 

The World Health Organization’s most recent estimates from 2012 show that globally over 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.  It can range from mild, moderate, major, to severe. It has the potential to cause suicide which accounts for one million deaths a year. In the United States alone the number of people with depression is skyrocketing compared to other areas of the world however what is more alarming is the number of HIV positive patients suffering from depression compared to that of the general population.

Those living with HIV are three times more likely to suffer from depression and one in every four living within the US has experienced some form of depression (CDC Study March 2014).

Although the percentages vary for studies of depression in HIV+ patients it is believed to be as high as 60 % of all patients living with HIV currently suffer from depression. They are two completely separate treatable conditions however if left untreated depression can lead to inability to adhere to HAART medications as well as quality of life and lifespans.

Symptoms can differ in men and women in terms of prevalence however in general can encompass constant sadness, hopelessness, irritability, overeating, sleep disorders, and loss in interest.

I myself have suffered from depression ever since my mid teenage years but it truly went into full swing after surviving Necrotizing Fasciitis in 2010. I would classify my depression as mild however it is not to say that it has not been a struggle. Over the yearson and life has presented more obstacles, depression has tried to take a hold time after time.

My HIV diagnosis was simply another trigger that threw my mind back into the maze of depression that one can truly never escape from. With such a life changing diagnosis grieving is normal however when symptoms of depression begin to appear, it is a red flag to halt it in its tracks. It can bring the strongest athlete in the world to his knees and it has the ability to alter someone’s mind forever if left untreated long enough.

Although someone may be able to put on a front for so long eventually the reality of the situation has to be unmasked. Even after my depressive episode after being diagnosed in 2012, I thought I had been through the hardest obstacle of them all, I was wrong. Losing our baby in February re-triggered those thoughts and put me back on the battlefield which I continue to fight on a daily basis.

Although the enemy may try to persist I will not allow it to win. I am a big advocate of people speaking with their doctor about mental health and getting the proper referrals if needed. Speaking with a psychiatrist to explore treatment options, going to therapy sessions with a psychologist/therapist, and opening up about ones feelings is one of the most important steps one can take. In my own experience a combination of medication, therapy, and a relationship with Jesus have served useful.

In conclusion depression is one of the most serious conditions one can face and the consequences if left untreated can be as severe as if HIV takes control of ones body.

The first step is recognizing the problem and that can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. We need to learn that putting an emphasis on our mental health and addressing the root of the problems are as important as facing the triggers. This may take a course of time in your life when antidepressants are necessary, therapy may need to be in place to help one deal with obstacles facing ones life, but above all it takes the will to say "depression will not run my life". We deserve so much more than what our mind wants to convince us we are worth.

Living with HIV can be a major challenge but confronting other challenges in our life will help us not only to grow but to turn our mindset from a victim to a survivor. It isn’t an easy battle and I know this from personal experience. 

No one can completely understand what you are going through except you yourself. You are capable of being able to love yourself again, begin to heal the wounds of the past, and move forward as a triumphant warrior. It is not to say that you will never face a depressive episode again because in all reality you most likely will, but with the proper therapy you will have the tools necessary to better fight it every time.

If you feel you are going through depression speak with your medical professional for a course of action, take that first step in repairing the love for yourself. Don’t become another statistic but a shining light for others to know that surviving depression is possible. Share your feelings with someone close to you and let them know those thoughts that constantly are racing through the head. You are no stronger suffering in silence and no matter how much weight you try to carry on your shoulders, even the strongest need a helping hand from time to time.

Make today the day you say that depression does not define you, there is hope, and yes even if you are HIV + and depressed. We are in this fight together so gear up soldiers, victory awaits!

This article previously appeared on Joshua’s own blog PozitiveHope here

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