Chronic Illness, Clinical Depression, and Suicide…

Anyone who knows me really well, knows that I suffer from chronic illness – specifically, Ankylosing Spondylitis (A.S.) and Hereditary Hemochromatosis. Several months ago, I joined an online support group for A.S. and have found it to be incredibly helpful in making me feel more “normal”.

Last week, I became one of the admins for that group which consists of over 9,800 people, all of whom are suffering in various stages of this terrible illness. As I’ve participated in the group, I’ve noticed that almost everyone  has suffered from depression at some time or another… some clinical depression for years (like me) and others situational depression that comes and goes. Anyway, I tend to look for similarities and patterns among the people in that group and there are a couple of things I’ve noticed:

  1. Autoimmune diseases tend to have a high incidence of comorbidity, which is the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions. In fact, I would even say “multiple comorbidities” seem to be prevalent. Many people with autoimmune disease have so many other health issues simultaneously that it’s no wonder there is such a high incidence of depression… which leads me to my next observation.

  2. Many people who suffer from illnesses with chronic pain also suffer from depression. I’m not just talking about sadness every now and then, I mean sustained, overwhelming sadness that doesn’t go away.  Clinical depression is the more severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. Symptoms of clinical depression include:
    • Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as constant irritability)
    • Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in all or most activities
    • Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
    • Insomnia or increased desire to sleep
    • Either restlessness or slowed behavior that can be observed by others
    • Fatigue or loss of energy
    • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
    • Trouble making decisions, or trouble thinking or concentrating
    • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt

      So this isn’t something you can tell people to “cheer up” and they’ll get over it. It isn’t a choice and it isn’t brought on by a lack of effort on  one’s part to “be cheerful”. Imagine being in a wheelchair and people constantly telling you to “get up and walk”, that’s all you need to do to get better. Or, similarly, imagine being blind and someone telling you that you aren’t trying hard enough to see; if you would just force your eyes to see, then you could. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?! But the exact same thing happens with depression… people don’t understand so they go about issuing platitudes or solutions as if one magic little thing would fix it. “Cheer up!”, they say, or “What do you have to be sad about? You have a great life!”… as if you have no right to be depressed. How horrible would it be to suggest to an amputee that they had no right to lose that limb, or a to any person with a visible, physical disability that they are less of a person because they choose to be that way or they must’ve done something to be in that position. This condemnation of the condition of depression leads to piling on more of the feelings of worthlessness and certainly does more harm than good. The lack of understanding leads to a more drastic feeling of isolation and so the downward spiral goes.


  3. This brings me to my final observation: suicide. Ever since I was a child, the word “suicide” has always been taboo. People almost cringe at the mention of the word and, therefore, don’t want to even think about it, much less talk about it. It is offensive to people when they think that something, or anything, can be worse than death. I’ve come to understand that there are some things in life that are actually worse than death. Things like constant pain, depression, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, medical problems, isolation and extreme loneliness that comes from chronic illness which others cannot possibly understand – all piled one on top of another on a single person. I can tell you that being a part of a group of people who all share the same problems, I see the recurring theme of suicidal thoughts. People suffering from chronic illness are prone, not only to clinical depression, but the inevitable side effect and it’s constant companion – suicidal thoughts. “They’d be better off without me.” or “I can’t take it anymore… I’ve reached the limit of what I can handle.” or “I’m alone and suffering in constant pain. Nobody cares about me; they all think I’m a burden.”

If you know someone who is chronically ill, chances are they are suffering from depression, as well. If you care about them, let them know you care… for real! In tangible ways, you can let people know you care and are thinking about them with a simple phone call, an invitation to do something like go to dinner or to do something they enjoy. A warm hug, a friendly smile, a sincere, unrushed conversation, a handwritten note in their mailbox can all be encouragement maybe in one of the darkest hours of their lives.

Chronic illness is sometimes “invisible” and so is depression, but they go hand-in-hand and I can assure you that the suffering is very real… probably more than you could ever imagine. Take the time to let someone you know you care. You may be the person who makes a significant difference in someone’s ability to live for another day. Just don’t try to “fix it for them” by playing it down, or trivializing it. Don’t try to offer simple solutions that makes them feel even worse, and do not tell them that everybody is sad sometimes, but they get over it. Nobody would choose depression over happiness. Nobody.

Posted in Life Tagged , , , , , , , |

Licensed one of my images recently….

A couple days ago, I licensed one of my images to a very large corporation. Can’t wait to see how it is used in their advertising. You may see it in your local grocery or in national ad campaigns soon. This is the image. She was such a good little actress to get this shot… Even ate broccoli without complaining! :)

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Posted in Photography

Another Pencil Portrait (by Eve)

Here’s another pencil portrait I completed recently. I really enjoy the simplicity of drawing with pencils because it’s fun to start with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and reduce the subject down to the most basic shapes and forms to create a portrait. I love the idea that pencil and paper are what kids carry to school every day, and that’s all you need to create art.

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Posted in Uncategorized

I don’t care what people think…

 …about me, that is.

In my 43 years of life, I have often “worried” about what people thought about me. I’ve always wanted to be seen as a “nice guy” who “cared about other people”. But here’s the deal: I don’t care what people think anymore. I don’t care if they think I’m weird. I don’t care if they don’t like how I live. I don’t care if they like the choices I make. I don’t care if they like the people I hang out with. I don’t care if they like my tattoos, or my bald head, or the style of facial hair I choose to wear on a particular day of the week.

I don’t care if they like the way I dress or the fact that I am a geek. I don’t care if they like my shoes or my house or the style of glasses sitting on the bridge of my nose.

BUT…. I do care how people see me as a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m glad that people think I’m weird because I don’t like a lot of the things in this world.

  1. I’m not crazy about material possessions; I have better things to do with my money than to “own stuff”. I have nothing against you owning stuff, and I’ve owned my share of stuff, but I don’t need it just for the sake of having it. If it doesn’t have a purpose in causing happiness or helping others come to know Christ or if I can’t share it with others, then I don’t need it.
  2. I don’t like sin, but I don’t judge others for their sin. That is not my job, it is God’s. And if I choose to have friends who “look like sinners”, it’s because I care about them and want them to know Christ through knowing me. The apostle Paul said: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” I don’t like the fact that, as the church, we have somehow gotten the idea that being a Christian means being offended by everything. We are so busy criticizing everyone around us that we forget to love them. When Jesus told us to “Go…” He didn’t mean to “Go be offended by everything!” His Great Commission was to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” His greatest commandment was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He said the second greatest commandment was to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”   I know God hates sin and we should hate sin, too… but I have never read any teaching of Christ that says we should hate the sinner! On the contrary, we are supposed to love people and teach them about the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ.
  3. A lot of the Christians I know think I’m nuts. But I have to say: There is a mile-wide gap between “knowing Jesus Christ is your savior” and “knowing Him as Lord”. Dr. Randy Davis was able to articulate this in a way I had never quite heard before when he said QUOTE: “The ‘lordship’ of Jesus Christ is different than knowing Him as your Savior. When you know Christ as ‘Lord’ then things in your life are different and you live your life for Him.” END QUOTE  I know that the act of doing good things does not get you into heaven, but I believe that there should be evidence of your salvation through the way you live your life. If we are living the same way the rest of the world lives, then we are missing the boat. I think that’s what Christ meant when he said “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” 
  4. “Holier than thou” isn’t a bad thing… it just depends on how it is presented to the world. If it is a mean-spirited and judgmental attitude towards others then it is wrong. But If it is offering our lives through obedience to the will of God, then it is absolutely right! Being righteous by its true definition is a good thing; being SELF-righteous is a bad thing. Being holy is a good thing when it means setting yourself apart as a holy, living sacrifice to God. Turning that into  judgmental self-righteousness is wrong. If I may be so bold, this is what keeps millions of people from coming to know Christ… the self-righteous attitude of many Christians sitting in church pews who have somehow gotten it wrong. Condemning people to hell is not the same thing as loving them to Christ.
  5. Worship doesn’t sanctify your life; your life sanctifies your worship. Sanctify (v) – To make holy; purify. A buddy of mine, Rob Harris, preached a sermon on this topic years ago and I have never forgotten it. One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. The fact that you attend church on Sunday doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. If you go to church on Sunday with the idea that it sanctifies the rest of your week then you’ve got it backwards. Instead, the way you live your life all week long makes your worship on Sundays pleasing to God… not the other way around. If you live a sinful life all week, then you go to church on Sunday hoping to make it right, I think God knows better. It’s called hypocrisy and is another thing that keeps people from coming to church.

Well, that is the longest rant I’ve had a quite some time. I just had to get some things off my chest that have really been bothering me lately. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have gotten mixed up over the years. But if we boil it all down, Christ said to “GO” and to “LOVE”. He wants us to care about people, not to hate them. Hate the sin, love the sinner. And understand that “we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God.” I wish my church had a big, fat banner outside that said “SINNERS WELCOME”. Maybe I’ll suggest that at the next board meeting to see how it goes. 😀

Posted in Perspective

Recent rebranding for Relevant Hope

Thought I would showcase some of the materials from a rebranding effort on behalf of Relevant Hope. I’m pleased with the logo design, photos, and design of the materials. I hope it serves them well because they are on the front lines; literally helping people who people choose not to see. Great people doing great work!

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Recent Pencil Portrait (by Eve)

Pencil portrait I recently finished for an auction. This is just an example of the type of portrait that will be done when someone wins the bid.

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Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland

Sleet, ice, and snow mixture about 5 to 6 inches deep on my deck this afternoon. This little beauty came for food at our feeder. Click on the image to see the high-res file.

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What is it about portraiture that “moves me”?

 

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Just thinking today that I love portraiture more than any other subject in photography. There is just something magical about the photo that captures a part of the soul. Of all the photos I’ve shot over my career as a commercial photographer, portraits are my favorite and this is one of my all time favorites because it is a hyper-real glimpse into the soul of a man and it has made a great impact on a lot of people. This is the first and only time many people have looked into the eyes of a homeless man (a man without a home). I spent several days with this dude and would voluntarily spend more time with him than most people I know. Three days and multiple visits with him changed the way I view people as a whole… People are people first and their circumstances, second. (Thanks Tree Smith and Jimmy Turner for that!)

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Crooked Old Man

In one of the photos I shot of smoke, I see a bent and crooked old man… his head bowed in despair. Click on the image to see the high-res version.

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Vanderbilt MD’s – USA Network

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I shot on the set of the television show “Vanderbilt MD’s” almost a year ago. I spent 4 days at Vanderbilt hospital shooting episodic and promo shots for USA Network. The show is finally on the air, and I didn’t even know it until I was having a casual conversation and it was mentioned. It was an incredible experience to be on set shooting for the network and then seeing the shots used for the show. Really cool!

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Posted in Photography