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.




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? 


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.


Enjoying the Present and Fearing the Past

I’m in that happy-apprehensive time that depression gives those who love someone with the illness.

It’s the time where you get glimpses of what life is without depression, the time where you relish the laughter, the little things that make you smile, the time together.

It’s also the time when you keep looking over your shoulder making sure that depression isn’t hiding around the corner.  It’s the time when you feel you are under the sword of Damocles, wondering when it will fall and change everything forever.   When something seems a bit off, you worry that the demon is coming back again, that it will engulf you before you know it.

It’s hard to sit back and relax and enjoy this time, but sometimes this is the only time we get and we need to relish it as best we can.  And enjoying it despite the apprehension is the best thing we can do to prove that depression will not conquer us.

  • Bernadette

Depression and Mildew

photosOur thanks to a mother who has and is weathering depression in her son and graciously let us post this.  Those who support those with depression have to grapple with many things others don’t see.  

It all started with cleaning out the room that had become the junk room in the basement.  Just as we began we discovered mildew, ugh!  At first it was only on a few old coats so those went in the trash.  Then suddenly it was on the covers of scrapbooks, yearbooks…precious memories.  Memories I had not thought about that much since depression entered our lives.

As the clean-up continued, I began to realize that depression has become the mildew in my life.  Silently creeping along and filling me with its grey haze.  Since then I just feel lost.   I look at those old photos and I don’t remember who I was before depression.  And I know that I cannot go back there anyway because depression has changed me.   While we were able to wipe away most of the mildew, the impact of depression cannot be wiped away.

Now the room is empty and the contents chaotically cover other rooms.  But I cannot bring myself to continue sifting through items.  What to keep, what to discard, what to donate?  It should be an easy process but it is agonizing, like I’m discarding parts of myself.  Yet, are those parts still real?  And I cannot bring myself to put anything back into that room.  As if the  mildew may be gone from that room, but depression still fills our house.

All this is happening as my son seems to be improving and learning to live with and within his depression.  Am I afraid that if he gets better then I might not have a purpose and that I might actually have to figure out who I am now.  And as I wipe away the mildew of depression and look at what is left of myself, what if I don’t like what I find?

The Elusive Illness of Depression

thermometer-833085_1280Depression is an illness that continues to amaze me. My husband has been struggling with it for almost forty years and still we can’t identify a pattern or a cause or what works best. There was a time early on where it seemed like overcoming depression was a piece of cake – he took the one pill and soon he was doing so well, feeling so good, that he thought he didn’t need the medicine any longer.

Surprise! That only opened the door for a deeper, more difficult depression. So the different medications began their parade and then the mixing of the medications to arrive at that elusive cocktail. And there were the therapist sessions and the tries at different possibilities – yoga, meditation, exercise. Even the magic light used primarily by those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder was used in the hopes that it would make a difference.

And always, when I thought we finally had it conquered, something changed, something went wrong, something happened whether that was the medicine suddenly stopped working or a fall that resulted in a concussion that caused all hell to break loose as far as the depression went.

Right now, we are still in search of that elusive cocktail and there are more moves to delve into understanding himself and the trying of new ways of dealing with the depression. And there continue to be surprises. My husband the other day announced that he had never really comprehended that depression was an illness. He had always felt guilty, that he felt he could have more control over it. Somehow, realizing that depression was an illness enabled him to say, “Today is a good day. I think I can do this and this and this…” and he would proceed to be engaged in life. The next day might mean hours spent in bed and he accepted that as a not-so-good-day of the illness. None of this behavior was new but what was new was the realization on his part and mine that depression was indeed an illness (before we only gave homage to the words) and as such, operated as most illnesses we know.

Someone with cancer has their good days and bad days. They go for chemo and they try to exercise and eat right but sometimes they just have to sit back and be, sometimes even feeling sorry for themselves. Someone with arthritis has good days and bad days. Sometimes the pain is so bad, the most they can do is sit and read; other days are so good, they play for hours with their grandkids. So too with depression which can give us energy and happiness on one day only to strip it away from us on the next.

Depression indeed is the illness that keeps surprising us day in and day out.

– Bernadette

Other Advice for Living with a Depressed Spouse

There’s a good down to earth article on living with a depressed spouse at Check it out.  Sound advice is always good to hear again and again and again.

– Bernadette


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