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I remember a mental health expert at an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) conference talking about anxiety, depression, and AATD. I’ll never forget how she simply and boldly stated, “Depression is not normal.” The thought struck me because depression is something I have had to fight before.

Patients with AATD are more at risk for things like anxiety and depression, and I have written about anxiety before, but opening up about depression is a little harder to do. I guess it’s probably the darkness of it that I don’t like to remember or think about that has kept me from writing about it.

Depression has not been a constant for me, but I have dealt with it before. It’s a battle I thankfully was able to win and it’s one that I guard myself from daily. I’d like to share some of the issues that patients with AATD deal with that might help shed some light on how others can relate to us.

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AATD patients are more at risk for depression because of several factors. They may feel misunderstood by their family, or they may feel alone if a loved one rejects them after they are diagnosed with AATD. They may feel defeated because they can no longer do the things they love because of physical limitations.

Read more about HCP resources for AATD

They may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and feel afraid of the future because they have had a taste of breathlessness. The idea of not being able to breathe well long-term sounds like a nightmare. They may have many stressors and feel constantly overwhelmed by an inability to meet the demands placed on them.

These things are understandable, but the feeling of being hopeless or numb does not need to be labeled “normal” in anyone’s mind. I have been there and it is a disabling issue. We can adjust and learn to fight it, and this looks different for everyone.

I can be a people pleaser, so I like to be able to say yes to things. This gets me into trouble sometimes when I don’t realize how much I can actually handle. When there are too many requests made of me, I feel overwhelmed, and if I don’t do anything to alleviate these feelings or the situation, this can turn into major depression. I might have to fight it for the rest of my life.

I already have COPD and other health conditions. The weight of depression is mentally so much heavier than the weight of those other issues, I would rather just have another health issue rather than depression.

I fight back in many ways. I was temporarily on medication, I got rid of unnecessary stressors, and I even broke up with someone over it once. Another thing I did was learn how to get better sleep (which meant being more physical active), thanks to my mental health professional’s encouragement.

Read more about AATD comorbidities

I learned that the stress of saying no can be better than the stress of too many promises I can’t keep. There is a lot to be said for knowing my weaknesses, as my family can attest. They do accept me for who I am, but they also appreciate it when I demonstrate that I have boundaries.

Even with all of these coping mechanisms in place, I learned that being deeply involved in my community has been instrumental to my feeling loved and valued. I had no idea this was going to be such a tremendous antidote to depression. But I know now.

I have also learned that there is a line between being involved with my community and being overcommitted. One leads to happiness and less stress, and the other leads to places I don’t want to go. We can find this line and be committed to not crossing it. Prayer has been helpful to me in this area.

Medications are necessary sometimes, and they have been helpful to many people. There is nothing wrong with taking medication for serious health problems (and, of course, depression is serious). Some people use natural supplements to help them, which is what I found to replace the first medication I had been using because it was a little too strong for me.

I still use some supplements to aid in my mental health, and even some medicine. However, my plan is to implement a lifestyle change that will give me some room to not only physically breathe, but also spiritually and emotionally breathe.

Having some stressors is just everyday life; they cannot and should not always be avoided. It’s the variety of ups and downs that make life more interesting. It’s the people in life that give it meaning. Together, we can stop depression from keeping us away from it.