May 26, 2016
It was about five years ago that Candice experienced her first bout of depression.
With treatment, she found herself symptom-free for a year; until a diagnosis of a neurological condition known as Arnold Chiari Malformation triggered a second episode of depression.
She was successful at finding treatment, once again, only to learn this year that the body pains she had been experiencing were caused by Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is an oft-misunderstood chronic condition that causes fatigue and pain in the muscles, ligaments and muscles. People may also experience, among other symptoms, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal problems and anxiety.
Candice refers to the dual diagnoses of depression and fibromyalgia as a “double whammy.” “With fibromyalgia I feel isolated because people can’t see a burn or wound of the pain I feel,” she says. “With depression, I already had a cloud over me.”
Today at twenty-six, Candice is still unclear as to what triggered her initial bout with depression. “It just reared its ugly little head and affected my life in one way or another ever since.”
She didn’t understand the feelings she was having. “I didn’t know what this emotion was because I had never felt it before,” she says. “I’d be ready to take on the world and a couple of days later I didn’t want to go to school or see friends. I told my mom and she helped me find a therapist.”
Candice worked with her therapist for three years and parted ways once she felt she was in a good place. And she was … until the morning she awoke to discover she was blind. It was the day after Christmas but somehow Candice’s mom was able to find an ophthalmologist who would see them. When Candice failed all four of the doctor’s tests he ordered an MRI for the next day—he expected to find a tumor on Candice’s optic nerve; instead, they learned that she had a neurological condition called Arnold Chiari Malformation (ACM).
As Candice’s sight came back over the next few days, she and her mom pored over the eighty or so pages on ACM they downloaded from the Internet. And they learned what lay ahead for the now twenty-four year old. Candice experienced numbness in her hands and feet that left her unable to hold a cup or drive her car. She would sometimes say the wrong words. And she experienced painful migraines that led her to isolate herself in her bedroom. She spent weeks seeing specialists and going for medical tests before undergoing life saving brain surgery six months later.
Not surprisingly, her depression resurfaced during this time. “I took a leave of absence from work for a month and a half,” she says. “I probably should have taken six months. My body was on the road to recovery, but emotionally I was a wreck. Everyone wanted to see me because I was recovering from life saving surgery but I cut myself off from everyone except my family.”
Candice didn’t recognize her feelings of isolation as depression. So it was at her parents’ urging that she again talk to a therapist. She found a new one and, according to Candice, “he did amazing things” helping her work through family issues, her illness and the changes that come with physical limitations. She would continue to rely on him after learning she was suffering from fibromyalgia.
“Fibromyalgia tends to go hand in hand with ACM,” she explains. “Plus, my mom had suffered with it for some years. So it was inevitable–but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t in shock when the doctor told me.”
Candice is very close to her family and spends most of her time with them. “My mom is my absolute best friend,” she says. “When I’m not with my family or close friends I do a lot of reading, relaxing in the garden or sitting in the backyard and watching the birds.”
She manages her fibromyalgia by swimming, following a special diet, and taking medication. And she stresses the importance of finding a support group. “Fighting fibromyalgia on your own isn’t easy,” she says, “But finding others who are suffering like you is like finding a lost family member. We connect on a level other people don’t understand.”
Candice keeps the depression at bay by continuing to see her therapist once a week. “I’ll do that until I feel I no longer have the need,” she says. “It’s hard to say that tomorrow I won’t be symptom free. But I manage everything by letting the day’s stress go and taking things day by day. Am I still depressed? No. Do I still suffer from depression? Yes.”