Recognizing the Anguish of Depression in Time for Help | Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior

Recognizing the Anguish of Depression in Time for Help

Negative spaces are only part of the picture

Space shuttle AtlantisI was stirring early in the morning when everything was still gray. Something I saw looked like a fish for a moment. There’s no pet fish here, especially in my room.

“Negative spaces,” I heard myself whisper. That’s what is in between the shapes of what is really there. A stray thought from a college psychology experiment. Did you do it too? There is an old lady and a young lady in the same drawing, depending upon which spaces you concentrate on.

Really, both women are there. And the shape of a fish was in my room, the same way that there are bunnies in the clouds. Negative spaces can seem more real than the shapes in between that create them.

Sometimes, the negative spaces are all we can see.

Depression, pain, and suicide are negatives that we ignore when we can. But they intrude all of our lives, directly or indirectly. This world around us is at least as tough to interpret as a college psych experiment.

We know that depression is common with RA for at least two reasons. There is the chronic, progressive nature of the disease, which I’ve described as an endless cycle of blows. And there is the intense, relentless pain, rarely relieved completely. However, the private and invisible nature of RA can also contribute to a tendency for depression. Any suffering, without help can eventually lead to depression.

Depression isolates a person even further. However, depression can usually be treated. There is a valuable new e-book by Steve Woodruff called Clearing Clouds. You can download it free at that link. Steve lost a good friend to depression, but the book is also his own story – and his plea that we all reach out for help if depression plagues us.

Unnecessary and tragic death of a celebrity with RA

Astronaut Charles Brady press photoSpace Shuttle astronaut Charles Brady was not quite 55 years old when he lost his fight with Rheumatoid Arthritis in a horrible way. From what I can tell, the pain and immobility were more than he could bear and he took his own life. When Brady’s Wikipedia page was Tweeted by Patricia last month before epatcon, I’d been working on this depression post.

I  re-posted the link and then read over 50 articles about Charles Brady, looking for any other reason contributing to his death. I set aside this post as I looked for answers. As a NASA fan living with RA, I was hungry to know as much as possible about his life. NASA articles on Charles Brady do not mention RA, but it’s likely that RA was a reason for his early retirement.

Until then, Charlie’s life had been crammed with achievements. I told my own Eagle Scout candidates that Brady had won a Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. It was a picture of a hopeful young life eventually shattered.

RA patients often ask when a celebrity will make a difference on behalf of the disease. Typically I give reasons why that hasn’t worked and conclude that the RA patients themselves must be our own celebrities. I hope we can also remember Charlie Brady’s sad story with its warning of the dangers of undertreated pain and the limits of what a human being can endure without the right kind of help.

We cannot always manage severe chronic pain or depression alone. We must get help if it’s needed.

Recommended reading

Kelly O'Neill

Kelly O'Neill (formerly Kelly Young) has worked about 12 years as an advocate helping patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the author of the best-selling book Rheumatoid Arthritis Unmasked: 10 Dangers of Rheumatoid Disease. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Through her writing and speaking, she builds a more accurate awareness of rheumatoid disease (RD) aka rheumatoid arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creates ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and brings recognition and visibility to the RA patient journey. In addition to RA Warrior, she writes periodically for newsletters, magazines, and websites. There are over 60,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook page. You can also connect with Kelly on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is a mother of five, longtime home-schooler, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. She has lived over fourteen years with unrelenting RD. See also https:/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

13 thoughts on “Recognizing the Anguish of Depression in Time for Help

  • October 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

    “There is the chronic, progressive nature of the disease, which I’ve described as an endless cycle of blows. And there is the intense, relentless pain, rarely relieved completely. However, the private and invisible nature of RA can also contribute to a tendency for depression. Any suffering, without help can eventually lead to depression.”

    This. So much. And thank you for this post. It’s a good one.

    • October 7, 2011 at 10:23 am

      You know what Mary, I’ve gotten two other replies that quoted that sentence back to me. Those are the reasons RA tears up our soul aren’t they? It’s hard, but we have to speak up and fight back.

  • October 7, 2011 at 11:39 am


    I only realised the implications of the chronic pain caused by RA when i fell into depression(for some other explicit reasons). My doctors- psychiatrist and rheumatologist- only started to make connections between my disease activity and the depression, when the depression persisted despite very aggressive psychiatric treatments. I too, then started noticing the correlations between both conditions.

    With RA and the relentless pain, i thought i was coping fine with my ‘grit and bear’ approach, and it went on for a few years. But i really wasn’t, and in fact it contributed a lot to me falling into depression.

    I think it’s important to know when to say that we need help, no matter how much we think that we don’t need it. It’s difficult to do or say so, i know. But it definitely is possible.

    • October 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

      I agree Steph. It’s another invisible problem that people with RA might try to be “strong” and stuff down and ignore. Our joints don’t get better by ignoring the pain and this might not either. Thank you for posting on behalf of others who might not be able to speak up publicly.

  • October 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Maybe it’s that mentality, “Just suck it up and drive on” that is so stuck in us that we try and do this and not cause problems for other people. I don’t know. As RA has become a reality for me just this year (though now I understand what I’ve been dealing with for quite a bit longer — I seem to have some very bad flares and then they subside but never totally go away), the reactions of those around me have been to ignore the issue. They don’t want to know. So, I’ve learned to do what I have to do to get through the day and not talk about it. Right now I can do this for the disease hasn’t gotten horrible. If it does then not sure what I will do. Depression is an awful thing, deadly sometimes. I’ve been on two antidepressants for several years more for me just getting outside myself than depression but nonetheless…so sorry. I think I’ve gotten off on a tangent. I wanted to comment because this story is so sad and tragic and it didn’t have to be.

    • October 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm

      I agree Jane – with all you are saying. Tis not a tangent – it’s the reason it’s the way it is for us.
      The lesson for us is to get and give help in the best way we can – it is hard to be sick and in so much pain and have others “ignore the issue.” I don’t know about Charlie, but it is a common issue with RA.

  • October 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    It’s very strange that this is posted today. This is something I’ve been looking at and trying to figure out ways to remain positive. When I think about the changes this disease creates, I also see mourning coming into play. It really is like a part of me died and when I look back on my life pre-RA, I so desperately want it back sometimes. I miss being able to wear my high heels, go on hikes, water ski, wear my short skirts because I’m not the chunk I am now. Now that I’ve been laid off, how can I apply for a new job when I know I’m going to skew the bajeebers out of that new company’s health insurance program and rates are going to go up, possibly causing someone else to not be able to afford it for their family. I truely believe this is an aspect of this disease that we don’t look at enough. How does one remain positive and mentally healthy when surrounded by chronic issues?? That is a journey I have found myself on and it has been interesting. Thank you for the post today Kelly! I think I’m going to go and see if I can find some eagles to photograph! 🙂

    • October 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

      Great points. Grief counseling helped me the first year, but it is a continuing battle to fight dealing with new losses. Would love to see your eagles. Haven’t seen one in a while.

      • October 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

        Take a look at my FB pics, I caught one on the ice flows of the river eating a fish. It was pretty cool!

  • October 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Yes to everyone! Steph, I have been there as well. My first year after dx was lived in denial, on prednisone/mtx et at then 2 years later a rheum dr pronounced me RA neg (and fibro positive) & the pain was so intense I went into such a deep depression from not knowing what was going on with me to the feelings of I can’t do what I was always able to- I kept pushing myself & here I am a few years later with further joint damage (insurance ran out), intense pain & fighting depression with all I have, with some paxil too. It is incredibly sad when who knows how many people end up like Charlie but we just don’t know. I continue to do my best everyday to stay positive, fight the old myths of chronic pain & of RA, and learn to ask for help; although, that one is indeed the hardest one to learn. Our loved ones aren’t psychic so we have to let them know what we need & when we need it. I have found men especially (in our families) need us to talk to them even more frequently lol! Jmho.
    Pain free hugs to all & again, God bless you Kelly for all you do in this war!

  • October 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    For me your last post said it all. I think in some way we all need grief counseling. I could not say that out loud or express that to anybody. As we all know most people are clueless to our daily battles.

    I have been crying all week as my disability hearing approaches, and even asked one of my doctors again this week if he was sure there wasn’t something I could do. Keep in mind that the RA was not the cause of the disability filing, but it has caused an immense amount of depression.

    I am starting to believe that all Rheumatologists should automatically make psychiatric evaluations a mandatory follow up to anybody diagnosed with RA. It is then a possibility that stories like these can be avoided. What is one more doctor visit in our lives already filled with lab visits, etc….

    A BIG thanks and a gentle HUG for all your hard work and diligence. Without this site I think I would spend most of my time wallowing in my depression.

    • October 8, 2011 at 12:28 am

      Thank you, Carol. I appreciate you encouragement; yes it’s hard work. Knowing it helps someone helps me keep going. Knowing we aren’t the only ones helps us both.


Would You Like Free Email Updates?

Stay in touch with RA Warrior.

We respect your privacy. Your email address will never be shared.