Four down, one to go.

That’s a rather fatalistic view of my family and the likelihood of the presence of depression/anxiety-related illness. But it seems accurate.

I’ve just sent the second of our three out the door for a visit with a therapist. After months of creeping depression symptoms and distinct anxiety symptoms, it’s a necessary step.

I know depression and anxiety too well. They’ve been constant, intrusive partners in my marriage for over twenty years. They’ve both hit me at times. Our oldest was diagnosed with both this past winter. Now I feel fairly certain our middle child is struggling with them. How long will it be before our youngest goes down the same path?

To be quite honest, I’m sick to death of brain illnesses – or at least I’m sick of dealing with them in close family members. Tired of the constant vigilance, the watching for symptoms, the dealing with mood swings and dark clouds that sometimes hang over the household. As it becomes more and more apparent that this is what we’re seeing in daughter number two, I find myself thinking, “Not again. I don’t have it in me.”

But of course, I do have it in me. I have to. Thankfully, it’s an open subject in our home. The obvious family tendency has forced us to talk about symptoms to watch for and what to do when we see them.

And I refuse to hide it. As Bern and I have said over and over again, the best way to overcome the stigma associated with brain illnesses is to talk about them just as we would any other illnesses. No hiding, no embarrassment.

But that doesn’t mean I like it.

-Amy

Are We All Mentally Ill?

When are we going to learn that we have to act, not just bemoan the fact that these shootings happen again and again. And we fall again as a nation into a temporary depression until we forget. But we don’t do anything to resolve the issue.

Some things to consider:

- We need to be serious about getting halfway decent laws about gun and gun possession and use into our laws.

- We have to as a nation re-look at the second amendment and stop using it as a way for people who think they are entitled to have guns “just because.” That amendment didn’t apply to your neighbor and you arming yourselves against perceived dangers. Give our forefathers better credit than that.

- We have to get better in how we treat mental illness. We have to draw the entire community into the treatment and we have to teach each other about mental illness so together we can help people get better.

- Maybe, if that entire community is working to learn and respond to mental illness, there won’t be enough time for people to think only of themselves and to what they are entitled.

- We have to address anger – anger at our government, anger at our lives, anger at each other and anger at ourselves. We have to learn better ways of dealing with our anger than with guns.

- We have to address fear which will only continue to grow with each and every shooting. We have to see that fear empowers those that would harm us.

We have to be ready to do all of the above and not go into the safe haven of seeing that it has happened again and we turn the page onto other things that are easier to digest, easier to do than finding a way together to solve the problem of guns in our country. We need to become mentally healthy.

Bernadette

P.S. This is addressed to gun advocates and gun foes alike. Until we can talk together in a measured and open way, we will continue to have things like this happen and we will continue to be a nation depressed until one day we find we can’t climb out of the fear and anger and depression and the nation we love is no longer. People with mental illness deserve better and we as a people deserve better.

Speaking Out About Teenage Depression

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html

Not too long ago at a high school journalism event, two young high school women had the courage to share their depression with one another.  This sharing between the two of them gave them support from one another they hadn’t expected.  In addition, these two women wanted to help their community in the high school by publishing a school newspaper issue dealing with depression.  It would contain the honest stories of those who were dealing with the illness.  The school stopped publication.

Read the opinion piece in the New York Time (link above) and  consider what you think about this issue.  Studies are finding that when depression asserts itself in the early teens, one can expect the illness  to only worsen and be a life long struggle for the individual, particularly if a support system is not in place for the individual.

Amy and I have always talked about the importance of truth in dealing with this demon.  These young women have been truthful.  We need to let their voices be heard.  Maybe then, we will make very needed changes in how we view and deal with depression.

- Bernadette

Yes to Baby. No to Depression

baby-102472_640Today I received a call from a friend who had recently given birth to her first child. The voice I heard was tense, terrified, upset, and scared. I immediately got in the car and drove to her home only to find her in an agitated state. The baby was sleeping peacefully in the crib but the mother was anything but. I was witnessing the descent into depression for this young mother.

We talked and talked and I listened as she stated her fears, her concerns, her agitation, her feelings of being overwhelmed, her inability to sleep. It was a difficult three hours as we waited for her ride to the doctor’s office.

Post partum depression is not fun. Right when you want to enjoy your infant, you are struck down with being unable to laugh at the baby’s antics, to actively take part in the day to day schedule or feeling that you are not part of the action unfolding around you every day.

Luck was with this young mother. First, hospitals have begun screening for post partum depression and she had her test and it was quite clear that she was a candidate for the illness. Right away she made an appointment with her psychiatrist. She knew she couldn’t fool around with what was happening. Having struggled with depression in the past, she knew that if she didn’t act soon, things would spiral out of control.

Her depression is not solved. There will be bumps on the road but I have to give my friend enormous kudos for being proactive, for being strong enough to say that something was not right, that something needed to be addressed. She will be faced with hard decisions – breast feed or bottle feed so medication can be taken – dealing with the guilt she will feel for not breast feeding and for not, in her eyes, being the good mom who breast feeds for the good of the baby – being comfortable with decisions that will impact both the baby and her and making those decisions for health and not from pressure from family and friends about how a mom is supposed to be.

These are just some of the bumps she will face but she will do okay because she is not afraid to ask for help, not afraid to make the decisions that will spell health for her own family, and not afraid to say no to all the others who say she should be doing things differently.

Post partum depression strikes when the happiness quotient is supposed to be high. How we respond to that first hit will go a long way in determining how we ride out that depression.
- Bernadette

Avoid Looking Through Depression Colored Glasses

571Recently my daughter came to visit.  It is always a treat because, although in touch regularly through emails and facetime, there is nothing like having the person in front of you to hug and hold.  We had a good time hanging out and doing various things.  When mail of a neighbor’s was delivered to our house by mistake, we both walked over to deliver it.  The young mother of five was talkative and welcoming, very pleased to see us.  As the conversation went on, it inevitably turned to the young mother’s struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  She has suffered from it for several years and finds winter one of the most difficult times to handle.

After we returned home my daughter asked me a simple question:  Don’t you ever get tired of talking about depression?

It stopped me in my tracks.  It was not something that I consciously thought about but with my husband, several friends, neighbors and acquaintances dealing with the disease and with having to do presentations on the subject and hear the tales of others dealing with depression, I had to say that I did indeed get tired of talking about depression.   I had to watch that it didn’t color everything I said or did with someone.  My antenna was highly sensitive to even the slightest hint of depression in the person or persons I was speaking with.

As I answered my daughter, I realized that I had to take the time to remember that life without depression was the norm for a great many people and that life with depression could achieve that norm.  I had to remind myself of the importance of laughter, of taking care of myself, of looking to relate to people as people not people with depression.  Sure people wanted to talk about their experience with depression either as a person with it or as a caregiver, but that did not have to define the relationship I had with them.

When people have depression or any life threatening illness, it is important to relate to the person as a person, not as someone with a disease.  Relating only to the disease causes people to back away, avoid each other, treat each other differently.  There is a deep human need to be treated as a person who laughs and cries and works and plays in his or her own unique way.  Yes, the disease is present but it should never define the person and when we catch ourselves always thinking about it or relating to the person as a person with depression, we need to stop and see that the person is not depression.  And we need to examine ourselves and if talking about depression is too much with us that we look through depression colored glasses at each and every person we meet, it’s time we stepped back and smelled the depression free air that does exist and is a part of many people’s lives, even those with depression.

- Bernadette

You Gotta Have Heart…..and Mind Too!

cardiac-156059_150Many of us are schooled in the risk factors of heart disease.

We know that smoking, inactivity, being overweight, and high blood pressure all contribute to cardiac disease.  Depression, however, is not usually listed as one of the risk factors of heart disease although it has been on the list of risk factors for over a decade, but few doctors take that into account when dealing with their patients.

“Depression is a risk factor that needs to be taken as seriously as any other – it’s up there with smoking,” says Professor Gavin Lambert, National Health and Medical Research Fellow at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.  “Not only is it a risk factor for developing heart disease, but it may also exacerbate existing heart disease. If you already have heart disease and go on to develop depression you’re four times more likely to die within six months.”

We talk about depression as being a mental illness and often neglect to realize that it is a physical illness as well.  Depression can cause damage to the heart by increasing the production of stress hormones.  Too much of this hormone can damage blood vessels over time.  It can constrict the blood vessels, making them narrower than they should be, can raise blood pressure and increase plaque build up as well as increase inflammation which can in turn cause clots to form.  This doesn’t even mention the effects that naturally flow from depression – low moods that can lead to or increased smoking or to drinking too much or to eating poorly or to forgetting exercise or medication.

We know that often people who suffer serious illness like cancer or a heart attack are prone to experience depression but we seldom consider that depression can arrive because of such illness.  “It’s possible that there’s also a physiological affect on the brain – your brain needs oxygen and nutrients like any other part of the body so if circulation is affected by disease it could have an impact on the brain,” Lambert says. “There’s also a strong link between inflammation and heart disease and inflammation and depression. It could be that inflammatory chemicals that contribute to heart disease could also cause changes in the brain, but we don’t know.”

Today people having suffered a heart attack are seen by physiotherapists and nutritionists but they are not usually seen by a psychologist or a social worker who would deal with the mental health of the patient.  Perhaps we need to see that physical and mental issues cannot be isolated and that we have to treat the whole person, not segments of them.  Just raising the awareness of the possibility of depression as a factor in heart disease is a beginning.  Sadly it is a factor in far too many physical diseases.

-Bernadette

 

Stand up.

20140501-061521.jpg

A friend (a real friend, not just your run-of-the-mill Facebook friend) posted this graphic yesterday. I happen to know she’s been observing a situation in her workplace in which someone with serious depression has been the target of an undeserved vendetta. These “political” attacks could have serious consequences for the state of his emotional health.

As it happens, this gentleman is also a good friend of my husband, who has himself fought against depression and anxiety for most of his life.

These illnesses are hell to live with – for everyone involved. But if you’ve seen what they do to a person, you can’t help but admire the strength and perseverance it takes to fight back. Every day. Every moment. For years and years and years.

It was the least I could to to accept the not-so-daunting challenge of posting this graphic on my own FB wall. Care to join me?

-Amy

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