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    By Amy and Bernadette

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Fled the Premises

My husband and I were on the ride back home from visiting our children and grandchildren in our nation’s capital.  We had a good time – or at least I did because I love playing with 3 and 7 year olds.  My husband did okay with them but it was hard for him to relax and just enjoy them.

With his depression it is hard to predict if he will be up or down.  For three wonderful days he was doing really well and then the downward spiral began.  It manifested itself most markedly in his gait and in his participation with the other family members.  And sometimes he often just sat and people could easily forget he was there.

And that’s the real pain of depression for those that have a depressed loved one.  It is as if the person you know and love has fled the premises.  There is a different individual behind those eyes.  And sometimes that person stays for day on end with no sign of the one we love.

I often think I have to spend time with this new person.  My reasoning is that perhaps if I know this person better, the one who I have known for longer might come out.  But it is hard to know this other person.  He rarely talks.  He sits and stares.  He stumbles and cannot do much of anything.  He literally can’t do anything.  That’s what depression has done to him.

I hope for the days when my loved one comes once again onto the premises.  When  that happens, I will enjoy every minutes I have with him and hopefully this time, he will not leave or at least leave only for a short time.  That’s the hope each of us must have when we wrestle with the demon of depression in our loved ones.  The really important thing is to love them throughout the depression no matter what.  It’s a hard task but I’m glad I get to love all the sides of the person I love.

-Bernadette

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Killing Friendship

Friends.  Everyone needs them.  Lots of people find them absolutely necessary for their survival.  A person  has fun with friends, is able to confide in trusted ones, and willingly help if a friend is in need.

Depression kills friendship.

As many of you know, my husband has been struggling with depression for all of the 40 plus years we’ve been married.  Recently the depression has really reared its ugly head, so much so that there are noticeable change in my husband’s gait (medication), to his ability to remember (depression and medication) and to his willingness to reach out to others (depression) .  Each day is a struggle.

For him, the depression will lift when he is around people, so he goes to the coffee shop when he is doing somewhat well where he is able to be immersed in humanity.  Other times he joins friends who are going out for coffee.

Those times with friends used to happen with great regularity.  Now they happen very little and usually only if he initiates it.  Depression has done it again – killed friendships.  The fact is that most people don’t like to be around people who suffer from depression.  It is the ultimate Debbie Downer.  And because of that friendships drop off.

No one likes to be around someone who is always down, who is obviously not “all together” and who struggles sometimes to be part of the group.  I can’t blame them. There are days when I wish I didn’t have to be around someone with depression but because I love him and care about his well being, I am there for him.  Granted, there are times when I absolutely have to get away to nurture my own well being and that is important.  But overall, I look for the person not the depression.  I look for the humor that is hidden but still there.  I look for the concern for others that also is hidden but still there.  I look for the person who is NOT the depression.  And that helps me to continue to love and care for him.

Friends are important.  They can be a source of strength and love.  Don’t let depression take your friends from you and don’t be a friend who allows that to happen.

– Bernadette

Advice from the President

abraham-lincoln-1432905_1920.jpgThe election this year reminded all of us how vulnerable we are to depression, how much outside and inside events can influence how we think and feel.  Without being attentive we can find ourselves on the slippery slope to the blackness of depression. 

 

The election also reminded us of leaders of the past who let with integrity and purpose despite dealing with depression.  Lincoln battled depression – his law partner often said that “his melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” – but he also gave us wisdom, faith and hope, and forgiveness.

 

Depression today seems to engulf us.  Much of that is due to the instant information we can get via news or Facebook or Twitter and other media outlets.  Mayo Clinic defines depression as a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.  For some of us it is temporary and for others it is a constant companion.

Depression  can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion that bears down on us, saps our energy and destroys our dreams.
One of the greatest steps to fight depression came from Lincoln who learned this discipline and suggested others follow it.  “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again,” he said.  And to a friend he wrote, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better.  Is not this so?  And yet it is a mistake.  You are sure to be happy again.  To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now.  I have had experience enough to know what I say.”

 

You may be under a doctor’s care for your depression.  That is well and good as often the depression fight involves medication for the ill brain.  However, there are things to do in addition to that.  Get up and get out to exercise in some way, shape, or form.  And get around people while you are doing it.  We all know how depression plays on loneliness.

 

And depression plays on our allowing the thoughts depression offers to grow and take over.  One of the most powerful things we can do when we are able is to strike down those negative thoughts with positive ones, no matter how small and no matter how often we do it.  Any positive things we can think of is one thing that dims the depression.  It might not be a cure it but it does help.

 

And if you haven’t sought help for your depression and you feel you need help, remember that in the words of Lincoln, “Melancholy is a misfortune.  It is not a fault.”  Seeking help gives you even more ways to attack the demon of depression with a positive train of thought and activities.

-Bernadette

 

Echoes from the past.

I had a painful flashback this morning. A reminder of an extremely difficult moment from the many years during which my husband was in the depths of depression, unemployed and unemployable, when we had three small children in the house, and I felt as if I were on my own and was, quite frankly, terrified.

I won’t describe the trigger or the memory. I just don’t want to go there.

Here I am, twenty years later, a full-fledged grown-up with a good life, a solid career, and new opportunities on the horizon. But that moment this morning served as a reminder that I’m still haunted by that extremely dark time.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder how I survived those years. How our marriage survived those years. How we managed to raise three truly amazing and well-adjusted children.

I suppose that survival depended a whole lot upon my dedication to taking care of myself. I learned to ask for and accept help. I learned to protect my time and my emotional boundaries. I learned to say “no” to extended-family commitments that were simply too stressful. I learned that I can only deal with a limited amount of baggage, and it’s okay to be selective about which piece of that baggage I deal with at any one time.

Today’s flashback gave me another reminder. I can’t stop taking care of myself just because today the worst of that depression in my husband is at bay. There are still plenty of issues we have to struggle through. Day-to-day life with someone who has underlying depression (and multiple other diagnoses) will never be a walk in the park.

At times I feel like the lengths I go to in order to protect myself and my emotional state are overkill or selfishness.

But today, I recognize that I have to be good to myself.

I hope you’re being good to yourself, too.

-Amy

From Those Who Have Been There

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May, the writer of what follows, has been an acquaintance for some time.  Often she would come into our café and read and just chill out. Later she was serving my husband his daily dose of coffee at the local Starbucks.

Because I knew her only casually, I never realized what she was dealing with until I read a Facebook Post of hers.  She deals with depression and with its stigma every day.  I thought her words were spot on for what many individuals have to face each and every day.  And her advice, woven so skillfully into the piece, is good for those suffering from mental illness as well as for their caregivers.  Thanks, May, for knocking down more of the stigma.  

As many of you know, I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for quite awhile. I’ve been through doctors, a stay in the hospital, therapists, psychiatrists.  There is no “cure”, only learning to live with it.  Some days are better than others.  Some are worse.

Mental health still has a huge stigma all around the world. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I’m not broken.  I’m not defective.  I deserve love and happiness as much as anyone else.  And so do you.  You’re not broken.  You’re not defective.  And you’re important.  So important.  Please never be afraid to ask for help.  There are many resources out there for you.  Reach out to family.  To friends.  To a help line.  To a therapist.  To a doctor.

Depression is an illness. It’s an invisible illness and it can affect you in many different ways.  Not all treatments work for everyone.  It takes time to find what works for you.  But don’t give up.  You can make it.

Build a support group. Surround yourself with people who will remind you how important and special you are. Find someone who will tell you that you matter when you’re at your weakest.  I’ve been in that dark place.  It’s scary.  It feels hopeless.  But it’s not the end.  I was lucky.  My attempt on my life didn’t pan out.  I woke back up.  I was given a second chance.  It took a lot of work but I’m okay with myself now.  Most days.  I had to fight.  I HAVE to fight.

And I will fight every goddamn day.

I have never used them but I still keep these numbers in my phone. Just in case.

Depression hotline: 630-482-9696

Suicide hotline – 1-800-273-8255

There are many more out there. You’re never truly alone.  There’s always help.

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