Ask the Expert – Emotional Impact of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C doesn’t only affect one’s physical well-being but also has a great impact on their emotional well-being. Many in our community have asked how to manage the emotional impact of hepatitis C. We asked our expert, Barry, and here’s what he said below.

Barry’s Response:

Barry EdgeEveryone diagnosed with a life-threatening illness faces the possibility of experiencing depression, anxiety, fear, and worry, and that’s the short list. Hepatitis C is an insidious disease. It is known to cause personality changes that can impact family life. I know this from experience, but not until my family told me about it. I was exhausted all the time. I’d come home from doing errands and about an hour later, my tail would show up, dragging behind me. I became crabby – sometimes outright mean.

When we’re sick, even with a cold, it’s easy to find ourselves grumpy and non-communicative. With HCV, we’re dealing with chronic disease. In terms of human evolution, our bodies have yet to catch up with our minds. Our minds know about antibiotics, anti-virals, vaccines. Our bodies know nothing of these things until they’re in our systems. Illness can have an effect on how we appear to others. We don’t look right. We struggle with daily tasks. We suffer with short-term memory loss, become apathetic, lose our love of food, experience intimacy problems. We slow down. These sometimes vague symptoms are nature’s way of broadcasting illness to other humans. It warns them to stay away from us to avoid infection. If I’m anywhere near someone with an obvious cold, I back off. When I was obviously sick, people tended to recoil until they were educated, when I assured them I was not infective through casual contact. My wife reminded me that I became difficult in stressful situations.

This is why HCV awareness is so important. Potential support people can’t support when they’re afraid, and this happens all the time. When I was blogging regularly, I received an email from a guy who told his fiance of his infection. They were to be married within a couple of months. After he shared his lab results, she packed up an left him. She said, “I can’t do this,” and she was done. Now I believe this was a rare occurrence – supportive people don’t usually haul off and leave, but situations like this are common. When spouses, children and friends avoid us, it can be heartbreaking. So, what’s the answer? I subscribe to the motto, “Better Living Through Chemistry.” These days, even Primary Care doctors can write prescriptions for depression or mood changes. However, I’m of the opinion that if a patient can afford it, he’s better off with a real psychiatrist – Primary doctors don’t always understand the finer points of depression and anxiety. A psychiatrist is more likely to delve deeper into the issues, and a good psychologist, counselor, or social worker can help immensely.

If you decide to put yourself under the care of a mental health professional, it’s important to be medication compliant. If your initial prescriptions don’t work well after say, three months, tell your doctor it isn’t working. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right drug, or even the right counselor, so be patient. These things take time.

Another, more obvious help is actually curing hepatitis C. Things might not get back to normal immediately, but in time, you’ll start to feel better with a healed liver.

Need help now? Check out my friends at help4hep.org. Their counselors are trained to help you, every step of the way.

How have you managed the emotional impact of hepatitis C? Let us know in the comments below.

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