What to Say

Lots of times we have written in our blog about some of the things you should NOT say to people with depression.  In this entry I would like to highlight some of the things you SHOULD say.   Let’s start with a simple question.

Have you taken your medicine? Of course don’t say this in the heat of an argument but say it at a time that you know it will be looked upon as a reminder and only that.  Haven’t you appreciated when someone asked if you had done something?  Same is true about the medicine because we can all just forget because we are human.

And since we are on questions….

Do you want me to go to the doctor with you? Statistics show that it often takes ten years before someone goes for help with their depression.  Maybe an offer to go along or to set up the appointment is just the push that the depressed person needs.

Another good question is:

Do you want to go for a walk? Remember how that is worded.  It is not saying, “you need to go for a walk to deal with this depression.”  Rather, it is an invite to join you….and besides the walk with or without the depressed person will be good.

On those days when plainly the depressed person doesn’t want to do anything, ask if you can help with anything. Maybe the person needs to just sit with someone and feel their presence or maybe they just want to take about how they are feeling.  Be there for him or her.  Sometimes the greatest help is just being with another.

Another big thing we can say to a depressed person is to tell them that they deserve help. Oftentimes, the depressed one will feel that people don’t want to take up their time with a depressed person.  Tell them again  and again that they deserve help.

And tied into that is telling the depressed individual that they are great, appreciated and loved ….but just not in general terms…..tell them particular reasons why you like them, why you appreciate them, why you love them. Be concrete.

And lastly,  Physical contact is one of the greatest things we can give a depressed person.  It reminds them that they are not alone, that someone cares.

Why not practice saying some of these things to the depressed person you love.

– Bernadette

 

Still shell-shocked.

Recently I wrote about how hard it is for me to answer an unexpected phone call. Throughout my adult life there have been way too many calls that a) brought horrifying news and/or b) had a hysterical, mental/emotional illness-induced rant from a loved one on the other end. Lately, there’s been the addition of c) the drunken, abusive phone calls from a family member who I can’t honestly classify as a loved one. Oh, and don’t forget the recent addition of d) drunken, abusive emails from that same (c) family member, which make the simple act of opening Gmail a cringe-worthy event.

And so I tiptoe through the minefield of life, holding my breath for the next blow-up. Sometimes the bombs really do drop; sometimes I create them in my own, shell-shocked mind.

Case in point:

Last night The Husband was more than half an hour late returning home from work. Usually he lets me know if he’s running late. This time, nothing. It’s a long commute, on rural highways. In the dark, with ice patches in the winter weather. Compounding those everyday-type concerns is, of course, the fact that The Husband is my nearest cause of shell-shock. Twenty-five years of depression and other difficult diagnoses lead to a lot of nail biting for me. And in the last few days he’s had a cold coming on. For most of us, a cold is an inconvenience. For my husband, with his anxiety, panic, depression, and other issues, a cold is a full-on assault on his ability to cope – even though, for the most part, he’s in a fairly good place in terms of living with his diagnoses.

When it finally occurred to me, at about 6:20 yesterday evening, that he was late and hadn’t called, internal panic set in. I called his phone, and it went to voice mail. Immediately I relived the many times (years ago, but these wounds open up in such moments) when his illnesses caused him to regularly check out of life and disappear. Usually he returned within a few hours, puzzled by the depth of my worry. Once, he ended up hospitalized.

Yeah, that’s where my brain goes in those moments. Even more so when I’m also dealing with additional stress from other ill family members, as with the recent phone calls  and emails.

Last night there was a (relatively) happy ending. The Husband came in the door around 6:30. He’d forgotten to call, and had bad cell service on the way home when he did think of calling. It was a difficult evening, though. I was still off-balance from the momentary worry. And that cold I mentioned made him morose, unable to think clearly, and argumentative. Not much fun.

Sooooo….the big question in times like these, as a person trying to survive the mental illnesses of loved ones, is this: What am I doing to take care of myself?

Not enough, apparently. It’s time to take a closer look at that.

-Amy

Blue Christmas

We’re almost a week past the Longest Night (winter solstice, Dec. 21), the night on which we acknowledge the fact that for many, Christmas is not a season full of brightness and joy.

For several years I’ve observed this practice from afar, glad (in a rather detached way) to know that those who struggle with grief, depression, loneliness, and other sorrows were being recognized and supported. This year, though, my perspective shifted. Longest night began to hit home.

There’s my severely, long-term mentally ill sister, who this year wanted to “reconcile” with me (I had to cut her out of my life several years ago to preserve my own mental health). Couldn’t go there; had to say no. Consequently felt cruel and guilty.

Even worse, a 40-year-long situation with my step mother grew exponentially worse this fall, so that I didn’t feel able to spend any time with my father this year for Christmas. That situation was compounded last night, as I started receiving abusive phone calls and emails, and one of our children was even dragged into the ugliness with a voice mail left on her phone. Where before I was stressed and upset, now I’m angry.

On the whole, I’ve been able to focus on the joy of my own nuclear family being together, and the fun of being with other members of the extended family who are safe, comfortable, and supportive. But ugly, hurtful feelings tied up with other family members are always lurking in the background, ready at any moment to jump out and bite me in the ass.


This saying may be a little trite, but it’s true. Let’s all try to remember it, beyond the Longest Night.

-Amy

What If?

light

What if when you have been used to dealing with depression in someone you love and suddenly the depression is gone? What if you anticipate all kinds of things happening on a trip, things you don’t need or like, and they don’t come to pass? In short, what if suddenly depression is missing and you need to start the trip all over from a different point of view?

Right now my husband and I are in Vienna, Austria, visiting our daughter and her husband. We had flown in from two weeks with our son and his wife in Washington D.C.  And everything that I feared would happen on this trip has not come to pass.

My husband played with his grandchildren in D.C. He had good times with his son and he entered into games and family meals with a gusto I had not seen in quite awhile.  Here in Vienna, he is eager to go sightseeing, take in the Christmas markets, and is even talking about doing more traveling. And the man who didn’t like Christmas carols for each Christmas that I’ve known him, is actually listening to carols and enjoying them.  In short, I am dealing with a totally different person than who I left Kansas with.

And I don’t know how to deal with it.

It has been so long since I dealt with him as a person without depression, I keep finding myself falling back into old behavior that is not needed or appreciated on this trip. I’m finding that I need to curb what I am about to say and think it over before I open my mouth.  I’m finding that I am jealous that people around us are enjoying him. And I’m finding that I have to re-discover who I am with a partner who doesn’t have depression.

This miracle of Christmas might not last, but I have to get in gear and respond appropriately and enjoy it while I can. Perhaps it will last and perhaps not but I do have NOW and that is most important.

Whether you are dealing with depression in a loved one or having to cope with the absence of it, be sure to take time for yourself and those you love. You only have NOW.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

– Bernadette

Keep it to yourself.

I readily admit to being pretty opinionated.

But there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to provoke a visceral reaction in me, which I can’t promise won’t end up in my punching someone in the gut. And so I’ll share a piece of wisdom, to protect you from future harm should you ever venture into this territory in my presence:

Don’t EVER say a single, solitary word about medications others take to help them deal with brain illnesses. 

You have the right to choose NOT to take antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, ADHD medications, etc. And each other individual has the same right to make that decision.

Want to know what you don’t have the right to? An opinion about other people’s medication choices.

There are many, many people out there for whom these medications are literally saving lives. People in my own family are in this category. Yes, it would be a lovely, sunshine-and-rainbows world if they didn’t need meds simply to have a normal, productive life. But that’s not the real world for many of us. And those of us who need brain illness-related meds absolutely do not need to hear anyone else’s opinion about the medications we decide to take.

Here’s an analogy for you. If you heard someone ranting derisively about  a cancer patient’s decision to undergo a course of radiation and chemotherapy, you’d assume the ranter was a fringe freak. Cancer is often a life-threatening illness, and we support those who receive the problematic treatment for that illness. In the same way, mental illnesses are often life-threatening, and the medications that treat them are often problematic. It is simply cruel, thoughtless, and damaging to speak out against undergoing a course of treatment for an illness of the brain.

And yet, many, many people out there do just that.

Seriously – keep your mouth shut.

-Amy

 

 

I’m NOT waiting for the phone to ring.

I’ve long hated talking on the phone. An unexpected phone call coming in can throw my day completely off-track as I try to recover from having to suddenly be “on” enough to have a spontaneous conversation.

My assumption has been that this phone-phobia stems from my extreme introversion. 

But last week I got a smack of reality upside the head when my iPhone buzzed in my pocket just as I was leaving work. Because this particular call was of a type I’ve received over and over and over again in my adult life. The kind of phone call that makes your heart leap into your throat, sends the “fight or flight” juice coursing through your veins. 

It was a panicky, tearful, nearly incomprehensable call from a loved one. A call that sent me dashing home as quickly as possible, my mind frantically trying to come up with words of wisdom, comfort, and advice. 

I truly cannot count how many times I’ve gotten that kind of call over the last 30 years. Having both a nuclear and an extended family with multiple brain illness diagnoses, I’ve gotten hit from all sides. 

I’m the solid one. Everybody’s sounding board, everyone’s rock. The one who’s turned to for clear thinking, action, and support. 

And so, last week, it finally hit me why I hate phone calls so much. 

Can you blame me? 

-Amy

Supportive parenting: Kids, college, and depression

I’ve spent most of my adult life working with kids and families. Through my mom blog, I get to read and have conversations with other parents who are invested in figuring out the whole “parenting” thing.

Pretty much every conversation I have with other parents can be summed up with one sentence: “Being a parent is hard work.” And moms and dads with younger kids, who are still struggling with diapers, tantrums, bedtimes or teen angst are generally shocked when I tell them that the hard stuff doesn’t end when the kids hit the college years and strike out on their own.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a study in 2011 concluded that 30% of college students reported themselves as feeling so depressed it was difficult to function. Six percent of college students reported seriously considering suicide.The college years are seriously stressful in many ways, Compounding that reality is the fact that there are several mental illnesses that manifest themselves at the ages kids tend to be while they’re away at college.

I can back one of those statistics up with personal experience. With three kids in college, we’ve had two who found themselves in need of treatment for depression and anxiety during their university years. The third has consulted with me several times regarding close friends at college who were struggling with depression and were resistant to seeking help.

I feel unbelievably lucky that all three of our children reached out to me when they recognized that they (or someone they cared about) were fighting the life-threatening illness of depression. Because, to be honest, universities are a really crappy place to fall victim to a serious illness. I don’t care how many reassurances they give you at parent orientation about the health center, the counseling services, and how well they’ll care for your kids. In my experience with four different universities that’s a crock. Not only is care from these services very carefully rationed, it’s not good quality. And, I’m sorry to say, two of the institutions I have experience with have world-class reputations for their medical schools.

I say all this not to scare those of you who have a child heading off to college in the near future. But I am a strong advocate for deliberately keeping in touch with your college student. Have a frank conversation well before move-in day about depression symptoms and increased risk over the college years. Once school starts, check in regularly – it doesn’t have to be intrusive, just sincere. Go out of your way once a week or so to send a short “thinking of you” text. “Good morning – you’re awesome!” “You’re going to rock that mid-term today!” “Thinking of you today. What’s new?”

And I don’t think it’s too much to touch base when they’re home for break. Ask some deliberate questions about stress level, what they’re doing for fun, how they’re managing their time, what kind of support systems they’re developing among other students.

They don’t need us any less just because they’ve hit that magic age of 18.

-Amy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 457 other followers