Why Being Diagnosed With Shingles Turned Me Into A Depressed Recluse

shingles gave me depression

It's surprisingly common.

Two weeks before my right eye exploded in blisters, I was pretty sure I was going through an depressive episode.

My self-esteem was nil. 

That's not unusual. I'm a medicated anxiety and depression sufferer, and the summer has always been a trigger for me.

If you would like to pause and imagine me binge eating Tostitos while Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness plays, I will allow it.

Frankly, this is not far off. 

I have the tools to combat the malaise and insomnia that accompany my bouts of — as the French would not say — Le Grande Sad

I put on my gym clothes and walked to the YMCA. I took my usual classes and feigned a grin. I tried to believe that I loved myself. Then I went home and "napped" for four hours. 

Two weeks of this and I was having stress dreams wherein my family was forced to have me institutionalized. (That is, when I was sleeping at all.) 

Then one morning I woke up and everything was a little different. The right side of my head and neck were in total agony. It was like some was boiling pins and them jabbing me with them. It was all I could do not to shriek each time the nearly electrical sensation struck. It hurt so badly I almost peed a little. 

I went to the bathroom to splash water on my face and noticed that my right eye was looking a little puffy. It was at this point that I, totally rationally (eye roll) began to assume that a blood vessel in my brain had ruptured and I was slowly dying. Thanks for that, WebMD. 

Having self diagnosed my imminent demise I did what all sane people do and waited a full day before actually going in to the doctor to verify my sorry state. 

By the time I was in his office, my right eye was swollen nearly by a patch of blisters. It looked like someone put a cigarette out on my eyelid. Frankly, I bet that would be less painful.

"Yeah, you've got shingles." My doctor is the best. Reeling over the news that I was not going to die, I barely took in what he was telling me the first time.

If you've had chicken pox as a kid, you can get shingles as an adult. It's the same virus, and in adults it reactivates in your nerves, sending sharp shooting pain over just one side of your body, along with a rash, in just one place.

It makes you feel exhausted. It makes you feel depressed. 

Strangely, it wasn't the fatigue or the depression that got to me as I started taking my medicine and applying my holistic potions. I could deal with taking naps (I'm a pretty sleepy bear anyway) and I can cope with depression. 

The hardest part was looking in the mirror. 

Now my self-esteem isn't stellar on my good days. I've never believed myself to be beautiful. But looking at my swollen and pus-filled eyelid my inner critic was just as loud as she had been when I was twelve and wore a matching eggplant purple velor jumpsuit to my first dance thinking I looked cool. 

So in addition to being so tired that almost nothing made sense, I was now avoiding mirrors like a homely Dracula or else devolving into a puddle of pus, snot, and weeping. 

When they tell you that shingles make you depressed, they don't tell you that shingles make you depressed because you are afraid to leave your house, and because your face doesn't look like your face, and you're worried it never will again. 

The first day my blisters seem to be healing I took a deep breath and went for a walk. The pain was my constant companion which made me feel very melodramatic and like a Bronte character. I made it to the local nursery without incident. Then, as I took off my sunglasses to inspect a potted plant, I heard a kid ask him mom. "What happened to her eye, mama? What's wrong with her eye?" 

If I had been in possession of a velvet cape to twirl about myself as I skulked off into the darkness, believe me, I would've. 

But I didn't. So instead, I pocketed my sunglasses and smiled at the kid in question. "Do you know chicken pox? This is chicken pox for grown ups." He considered this as his mom squirmed. "Do you get to stay home?" I nodded "Yup. And watch TV."

In just a matter of seconds I'd gone from the Beast to the queen of cool. 

It made me wonder what my life could have been like if every time I was confronted with something crushing, something that made me ache for the proverbial cape, if I'd just turned, pushed up my glasses and explained myself. " We don't have a lot of money, these shorts are hand me downs," or "I thought this eggplant color was the coolest" or " I have to wear a bra, it hurts when I run." 

I'm still blistery and keeping a relatively low profile, but I'm no longer housebound. I'm also no longer avoiding my reflection. I look and assess and I don't see good or bad or pretty or ugly.

I just see a face, and if I look super close I can almost make out myself. 



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