Many people who lose vision go through a short period of mild depression as they grieve their loss and adjust their lives. But many others experi ence prolonged periods of depression that are unhealthy for the body and spirit. We know a great deal more about depression than we did twenty or thirty years ago. We know that it's not a sign of weakness, laziness, or moral failure. We know that depression happens to people who have no other psychological diflficulties. We know that depression can happen to you later in life even if you've never been depressed before. And we know that depression is very common among people with low vision. There is nothing shameful about it, but there is something very tragic about living with depression without getting help.
Common Symptoms of Depression
Consider the list below and ask yourself whether or not any of these symptoms are familiar.
What Causes Depression with Macular Degeneration?
Depression with macular degeneration may arise from deep feelings of rage, grief, or frustration, from isolation or loneliness, from prolonged inactivity or boredom, from self-judgment, from fearing the future, or from feeling out of control or without options. Some people may be genetically predisposed to depression. Your diet and exercise patterns may also make a difference. If you live in a car-centered area without good public transportation, like most of the Midwest and many suburbs, and you lose your driver's license, you may also be more likely to experience depression. Losing your license may initially contribute to isolation and loneliness, especially if you've always relied on cars. It may also affect your sense of independence and personal style. That doesn't mean that everyone who lives in the Midwest becomes depressed when they get low vision, or that New Yorkers never get depressed with low vision, but losing your driver's license can be a major blow.
Why You Can't Always Strong-Arm Your Way Out?
Many seniors make the mistake of thinking they should strong-arm their way out of depression. Worse, they think that if they can't strong-arm their way out, there's something wrong with them. Worst of all, they think they just have to live with it. People often come to my office to talk about their low vision. They say, "Well, I guess I just have to make the best of it," then set their jaws, and look away. Sometimes, the gentlest people cry, and sometimes the proudest people cry. They don't mean they have to make the best of low vision. They mean they have to make the best of being depressed with low vision. But depression is not something you want to put up with and embrace as a partner in life. It's bad for your physical health, your emotional health, and your spirit. Depression can also nega tively affect your relationships with other people and strain your marriage. Don't decide that you just have to make the best of depression. And don't camouflage it.
There are two reasons why you may not be able to strong-arm your way out of depression, and neither of them has anything to do with being weak. First, depression is a real physiological condition, not just a mindset or a bad attitude. Research suggests that stressful situations and significant losses in our lives affect the production and regulation of chemicals in our brains that influence our emotional state and our immune system. Once you are depressed, you may remain depressed if you do not receive professional help and take direct action, because the balance of chemicals in your brain may actually promote your depression, or at least sustain it. Second, if your depression was triggered by loneliness, iso lation, or inactivity, it is unlikely to lift from thinking alone. You need to address the root of the problem.
The more you do, the better. The first thing you should do, however, is talk to your doctor. Then act on the following suggestions with his or her advice.