Loneliness vs Depression
There is a common misconception among people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and those that care for them between loneliness and depression. Although this is not new information, there is still confusion about the diagnosis of clinical depression and loneliness. Stay with me on this! Science has shown us that living with Parkinson’s can lead to or even present early signs of depression. According to the National Institutes of Health about 40-50% experience some type of depression.1 It is important to recognize these signs when they occur because ignoring them could lead to a bigger or long term problem that would otherwise be treatable. It is key to mention to your doctor and care partner if you feel depressed. Often symptoms go unnoticed and are subtle but extended periods of feeling apathetic or having no desire can be overlooked.
Signs of depression
- Excessive Fatigue
- Feelings of Apathy
After living with Parkinson’s for over 21 years, I have come to realize that I am not alone. There are approximately 60,000 Americans diagnosed every year, and nearly 10 million people living with PD globally.2 After I was diagnosed I didn’t know much on day one. I felt alone. I felt like I was the only person I knew who had PD. I literally didn’t know much of anything about PD. I committed myself to the library (places where books are kept) and soaked up as much information as possible. This was before the internet was a credible source of information. I was determined to learn as much as I could about PD but in the interim remained positive. After all, I was young and was hardly ever sick in my life. I believed that I could beat this thing called PD.
About a year into my diagnosis, I found that after a day of work, I was ready for a nap. It didn’t seem to matter what time of day or what evening routine was scheduled, I was exhausted. Of course, this threw off my sleep schedule and I found myself wide awake at one o’clock in the morning…alone! Although technically I didn’t consider myself depressed, the lack of sound nighttime sleep began to affect my daytime job performance. A small adjustment in medication seemed to work for a while but PD is a progressive disease and PD crept up on me again. Although I tried to remain positive, there were times when I withdrew from the social scene and just wanted to be alone. Was this depression, I thought? It would only last a few days but again, I informed my doctor.
The information age
In 1991, the internet became available to the public but wasn’t mainstream for several years. Eventually I caught up to this new source of information but you could hardly say it was the “information super highway.” America Online was cutting edge and hip back then as was Yahoo and Hot Mail. Once I got up to speed (32 megabytes per second) or as much as my phone line could handle, I discovered all kinds of additional information about PD. Some of it was credible but a lot was snake oil that claimed to cure everything which still exists today. As I delved into various websites and chatrooms, I soon realized that I wasn’t so alone anymore and also there were groups of people living with PD that met together and shared information and personal experiences with each other. I even started my own chatroom for young people like me who were dealing with PD. I also learned that many of the people I met “online” experienced or was experiencing depression but they were no longer alone.
Hope is a good thing
I’d like to offer a disclaimer. If you or your care partner or a medical professional believe you are suffering with depression. Take steps medically necessary to deal with it. Although having hope can provide that impetus to living a life of wellness, it does not guarantee that you won’t be subject to depression. Everyone living with PD at some point in their life experiences times of loneliness but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed. If I could offer any advice it would be to live life to the fullest, making every day count. Have hope for the future because tomorrow holds the cure for PD. You are never alone. Keep battling my friends!
- Marsh, L. Depression and Parkinson’s Disease: Current Knowledge. May 24, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4878671/
- Parkinson's Foundation. Statistics. http://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Causes-and-Statistics/Statistics