Left Out

Hillary Clinton released today a detailed agenda for addressing mental health issues in the country.  Top on the agenda, and rightly so, was improving veteran care, protecting mentally ill from police violence, treating drug addiction and strengthening access to housing and jobs.

There is a lot of goodness in this agenda.  Training of law enforcement to better handle encounters with the mentally ill, dealing with drug addiction both in and outside prisons, seeking to erase the stigma of mental illness, and improving suicide prevention  are all good things she proposes.

However, one thing continues to be left out whenever we talk about depression and brain illness.  We leave out mention of the people who care for these individuals, who have a mother or father or child who suffers from brain illness, or who are totally strung out from the craziness of living with a depressed individual. We leave out the importance of having family and friends part of the recovery process, the ones who should also be speaking to the psychiatrist and psychologist helping the depressed one.   And we don’t address programs that might help those who have to deal with the long arm depression and mental illness has in reaching the family, the friends, the community, and the nation.

Cheers to Ms. Clinton for addressing the issue.  However, let’s also remind her and ourselves that depression and mental illness is not a one person disease; rather, it is an illness that spreads far and wide and weakens those without support.  Let’s urge her to remember those people who day in and day out seek to stay healthy despite the tentacles of depression or bipolar or schizophrenia or the myriad other mental illnesses that seek to destroy not only the one they have but also the ones helping.

  • Bernadette

 

What the Books Don’t Tell You….

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For all  of you out there who either have a loved one who is being taken off their medication in order to start a new one, or those of you who have someone who just decided on their own to stop their medication, here are a few possibilities of things that might happen. This is not researched and I do not know if science has looked at this phenomenon but I’ve just spent the last two weeks living through it so you might say I’m  an on-the-scene reporter.

My husband has been on medication of some sort for depression for over twenty years. Pills have been added or subtracted, dosages increased or decreased, all in an effort to find the right combination that would deal with his anxiety and depression.

Last week he had had enough and told his psychiatrist that he was willing to try something drastically different, something that would stop the deep pain he was suffering on a daily basis. The psychiatrist agreed it was more than time to try something different.  He wrote out a schedule for going off the meds – five in all – and then starting the new medication – only one pill that would be increased if it showed indications that he was improving.

And so the journey began. The first couple of days were full of sleeping and depression and not talking hardly at all.  He was out of it and went to bed at an early hour.  The second day was about the same with a little less sleep.  The four days that followed were repeats with variations.

This is probably one of the biggest things I observed. The amount of sleep increased and the feeling of being totally and utterly exhausted was a frequent complaint.

Then the new medication began. He awoke the first day very angry and depressed.  No one on the earth could do anything to please him.  He got worse as the day went only complicating it with the conversation that he wanted to die – not necessarily commit suicide but he stated he would be content if he just went to sleep and never woke up.  Picture a talk like that fill with the “f” word and you have an inkling of how that day went.

By this time you can imagine that I was about ready to either sock him silly or bang my own head against the wall. I didn’t.  Instead I channeled Mary Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.  I put out an e-mail to family and friends and said simply, “Okay, I need some help.  A phone call or visit or email to him would really help and it would take a bit of pressure off me. Whatever you can do, will do and don’t talk about depression except to inquire how he is doing.”    

It helped more than I could have imagined. It was good for both him and me.

The next day he awoke feeling depressed but not as bad. But some of the stuff that was surfacing was interesting. He didn’t have filters over what he said to people and suddenly after so many years of not dreaming, he was dreaming and wanted to talk about the  dreams.

And the day after that he felt even less depressed.  He even started to compliment me.  He joined in conversations.  He did some work around the house.  We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a good stretch for both us.

I think when medication is removed or added, it affects the brain in ways we have only begun to understand. So I share this for those of you who care for a hurting other to help in the understanding of this difficult time, an understanding that books or doctors don’t usually tell us about.  Everyone’s experience will be different but threads will be the same.

The important parts:

  1. I tried to stay calm during all of this. It wasn’t easy at some times, but in the long run it helped immensely. I also tried not to react even when he talked about wanting die.  Both of us just talked about it as something that had surfaced and needed to be brought into the light.
  2. I made sure to take time each day only for myself. If I needed to get out, I did. If I needed to just read a book, I did.  I made sure that I was okay during this time.
  3. I willingly asked for help when I realized I could not do what everyone together could. And I wasn’t ashamed to ask. And it was absolutely wonderful that  everyone responded.  I think that people need a concrete way in which they can help.  Visiting, emailing, calling.  All of those are good.  But what’s even better is for the caregiver to tell them exactly what is needed.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. The report is in and the past days have been very positive and hope is strong.

– Bernadette

Depression: We need to talk about it.

Yesterday on my other blog I wrote about an encounter I’d had while getting my hair cut (one of my least favorite things to do), which included talking about depression (not exactly my most favorite thing to do, but it’s important).

It may seem odd that five minutes after meeting someone at the corner Great Clips you’d find out about their husband’s suicide and their own subsequent depression. But after living with, writing about, and presenting about depression for so many years I don’t find it odd any more. Depression is out there. All the time. Everywhere. You don’t have to look far to find it.

What’s harder to find, though, is people who are willing to talk about it. That’s why Bern and I make a point of bringing the subject up casually in everyday conversation. We figure the more people talk, the less stigmatized people will feel, and the more chance people have to get better. 

The hair stylist yesterday shared about her husband’s suicide. She told me about her feelings afterward, and how her family tries to cope now. What she didn’t say was that her husband had been depressed. So I said it for her:

“Depression is a terrible, cruel illness,” I said. 

She stopped working and looked at me for a moment in the mirror. I could see the relief on her face.

“Yes,” she said. “Depression is terrible.” 

We’d named it. And then she kept sharing. 

We need to talk about it.

-Amy

Not the Baby Blues

baby feetToday there is a lot of conversation about post partum depression. Recognizing that this depression is different from the “baby blues” which about 80% of women experience according to the American College of Obstetricians’ and Gynecologists, is just the beginning of dealing with this illness.   People need to learn what not to say as well as what to say to make the person suffering feel that there is hope for change and health.

First of all, post partum depression does not happen to everyone. It is NOT the baby blues.  It is a serious mental illness that, if left untreated, can cause much damage not only to the mother but also to the baby and the family.  Often we approach this illness with the words, “if you did this, you’d feel better.”  Doesn’t work.  It puts more pressure on the person experiencing the depression to feel guilty for not doing more or at least doing what you suggest.

Another thing to avoid is the reference to the fact that you skipped post partum by being too busy with the baby or you remind the person of the fact is that this baby was always something the depressed person wanted, so why the unhappiness? Depression is NOT a result of not being busy enough or deciding you didn’t want the baby in the first place.  Depression just happens.  Saying these or other similar things only lays more guilt on someone who is already feeling guilty that they are not doing enough for their child or being as happy as the rest of the world tells them they should be

The worse possible thing you could say is that the depressed person doesn’t need medication. Granted in some instances, medication is not necessary; however, in most post partum situations, medication is needed and is often short term.  Medication helps people to get better.

Now that you know what not to do, let’s look at some positives.

We’ve heard it many times before. There are ways to listen and often we don’t listen to those suggestions because we think they are silly.  They are not.  People suffering from post partum depression rarely know what they want, but they do want to be listened to.  So listen actively by putting the “I” into whatever statement you are going to make.  “I feel frustrated when I don’t feel heard,” avoids the guilt of a similar statement which might be “I get so angry when you don’t listen to me.”  Which one would you prefer?  So imagine if you were depressed?  Yes, the “I” statements win hands down.   A simple but effective listening technique.

Be sure an avoid open ended offers of help.  Offer instead to come and take care of the baby at a certain time, to go to the store, mow the lawn – whatever – just make it specific.  Remind the person that what they are experiencing are symptoms.  It is NOT who they are.  And it doesn’t hurt to point out to them that you realize how much they are trying. They need to know that others see how hard they are fighting this illness.  And something we always don’t think about – give the person with post partum permission to get away for a time each day. Give them the space they need to recharge and enter into life again.

Taking care of someone with post partum depression is a hard job. If you are a member of the family, there is no time you are off duty.  The job is tiring, messy, frustrating, unappreciated.  But this is a job so necessary for healing. And assure the person with post partum depression that you are here for them for as long as it takes.

And most of all remember to take care of yourself if you are helping someone with post partum depression. Depression is insidious and creeps in whenever we neglect that most important tenant of all:  self care is important for our well being and for our ability to help others in a positive manner.

– Bernadette

Depression and Politics

The World Health Organization states that about 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, a staggering statistic. Makes one wonder, with the political conventions going on the past couple of weeks, why we are not seeing more depression among those involved in politics – or are we?

The list, if you are able to ferret it out, is long. Tom Eagleton was forced out of running because he had electroshock therapy for his depression.  Mark Dayton who ran for governor of Minnesota and Lawton Chiles of Florida both disclosed they struggled with depression.  In the annals of history, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln both dealt with the “black dog.”

Just consider what candidates are put through day after day as they run for office:

hand-784077_1280Meeting hundreds of strangers daily, speaking at back-to-back events, having very little time for themselves.  And every day they are open to word attacks, hurt feelings, insults.  Talking about their normal human lives is a considered a no-no. In addition, consider the sleep deprivation, the crazy eating schedules and too much food and drink.  Or that they have to smile all the time or deal with rejection and that they live under the threat that one small mistake might ruin their career.  And with a depressive person, everything is personal and such simple remarks attack their very core.  For a person who struggles with the mental illness of depression all these things create an enormous burden.

And yet, when we see someone in politics who is suffering from depression, we are surprised. And most of the time we don’t know it because politicians, despite all we know about depression and mental illness, are still afraid to expose their suffering because there are people who just do not get it, just do not understand. You would also be hardpressed to find anything about depression in politicians in psychology databases.  (If you look up “narcissists in politics,” you’ll find plenty.)

Depression in politics is real, often only manifesting itself in the spouse or family members. Remember Betty Ford with alcohol and pill addition who described herself as  having no self esteem?  Tipper Gore touched the depths when her son was in a near fatal accident and the family had to deal with that grief in the public spotlight.  Kitty Dukakis wrestled with depression until she had to have shock treatment.

It’s ironic that these women were the ones who helped raise public awareness about depression as they were the collateral damage of a profession whose brutality leaves lives ruined without anyone giving a second thought.

This election year I will be looking through very different eyes when I see and hear the candidates.  Who knows what is behind the façade?

– Bernadette

Of Frustration, Sadness, and Pain

butterfly.jpgIt has been awhile since an entry and I apologize. My only excuse is depression.  Not depression in me, but in my spouse.  The last few months have been extremely difficult and even today as I write, I’m not sure I can put on paper the frustration, the sadness, the pain that I feel when I look at him.

Sometimes depression has a way of taking over no matter what you do, what your support system is.

The frustration lies in seeing medication not work AGAIN. The frustration lies in seeing someone not making any effort to change things (and, yes, I know it is difficult for depressed people to have the energy, etc., but I would like to see at least a flicker of wanting things to be different).  The frustration lies in seeing how little is given over to mental health especially when you realize there are a very limited number of mental health individuals on your health insurance plan .

The sadness comes when I look a t a totally changed person, beaten down by depression, a stranger to who he once was. The sadness escalates when I try to get in his skin and imagine what it is like to wake up morning after morning and feel there is no hope.  The sadness when you know he can’t appreciate a gorgeous sunset or the unexpected visit of a monarch butterfly or the laughter of his grandchildren.

The pain comes when I have a tiny window into what he is going through each day in the darkness.  The pain when I realize that this might be our new normal.  The pain when I see him desperately trying anything to feel better.

Thankfully there are friends and family who are there to keep me from plunging. That’s the upside of  depression.  And there are all of you who hopefully read these entries and find some hope or understanding or “ah ha” moments.  I am grateful for each and everyone of you because you let me know that life is good and loving another is the best part even if depression is in the mix.

  • Bernadette

Strange Bedfellows

double-bed-1215004_1280Depression and relationships make for very strange and difficult bed fellows. Many of us are in intimate relationships with someone who is depressed. Many of us have sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who are depressed. And in many instances we don’t want depression to destroy the relationship we had before this wicked illness came into our lives. How do we live with depression and still help our relationships to grow?

First and foremost on the list is to be sure that communication is the highest priority for you. It might be that the depressed person instead of reacting and screaming or whatever, simply says, “I’m depressed.” Those few words can make whoever you are with realize that what is happening is a result of the depression, not anything else. Talking about depression and the feelings it brings helps both individuals understand what is happening and it makes it a bit easier to deal with.

Sometimes it is difficult for someone to simply state that they are depressed. Perhaps in those times you might inquire after someone’s well being in a creative way. Is depression in the next county for you or is it just outside the room, or did you sleep with it last night? All these are ways to communicate where and how depression is affecting the one you love.

Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. Don’t let your partner get away with “I don’t feel good.” Ask questions like “physically or emotionally?” or “because of what just happened or because of the darkness?” Conversation increases and that is always helpful. And above all, don’t spend time trying to change your loved one. That’s his or her job and the therapist or the psychiatrist.. You are there to love the person and not change or cure him or her. Just being there with them is enough, listening, holding hands or talking through feelings together. All of these have the capacity to empower the depressed person and that’s what is most important.

Don’t forget too those little niceties that make us all feel better – a back rub, a good meal, good music. This will help your loved one feel better if only for a short time. Do whatever you can to let your loved one know that you still love him or her. You just hate the illness of depression. .

Relationships are never easy even in the healthiest of people. Depression in one of you makes it more difficult but remember that you are both still able to be a support to one another and you have the added gift of helping each other understand depression and come out from its tight grip.

– Bernadette

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