The Bogey Man Waiting to Pounce

Yesterday I realized that I had to get out of the house. Usually I have no problem being in and around the house.  There is plenty to do – a yard that needs regular care, projects galore in my office and the rest of the house, and good places to relax and reinvent.

But yesterday I realized that the depression that has overtaken my husband was threatening to overtake me. Gloomy days with the threat of rain usually give me a feeling of coziness, of wanting to nest and just be, reading when I want, working when I want.  But this gloomy day was affecting my mood from the time I opened my eyes.  I couldn’t do my regular gym workout.  Something was holding me back.  I ate more than I usually do at breakfast, and I was unable to get into any of my projects, opting instead to play solitaire and binge watch a program on Netflix.

Dishes sat in the sink, the bed was unmade, and I announced that dinner would be whatever anyone could find – a practice I don’t usually engage in. And just before lunch I found, horror of horrors, that I was sitting in the living room chair, just as my husband does each day with his eyes closed, contemplating his worries or swimming in the darkness.

I jumped up and announced that I was going out. I grabbed the car keys and went, no destination in mind.  I drove for a bit, stopped, messaged a good friend asking to get together sometime soon,  and then went to a park, got out and walked, taking in the smells and watching the birds in their spring frenzy.  I don’t know how long I was gone but I do know that when I returned, the house was my haven again.  I didn’t see the darkness hovering.  I could see my husband in a calm, caring light.  And I felt myself buoyed up by my interactions with people and nature.

Whenever we feel depression threatening to overtake us, we have to act with haste. We need to do something for ourselves, do something that will renew us, will give us strength, will make us laugh.  Whether it is talking to a good friend, running, treating ourselves to lunch.  Whatever it is, we, as caregivers, need to help ourselves and sometimes that comes in a flash when we realize that those things that gave us life are slipping from us.

When you recognize this happening to you, don’t hesitate. Your life and the lives of those you take care of depend on it.

– Bernadette

When there’s nothing you can say.

Depression and anxiety can manifest themselves in so many ways it can be hard to keep track. But I was hit with one of those manifestations over the weekend, and knew it for what it was immediately.

What did it look like?

Let’s see if I can come up with enough negative adjectives to paint a picture of what I experienced in my husband in this situation: Cranky, cruel, critical, hateful, mean, selfish, unfeeling. How’s that?

Nothing earth-shattering was happening. My mom had come to visit overnight. The Husband had been working on his mother’s tax return all day (never a good omen). Our daughter and I prepared an excellent meal. The Husband came downstairs (late) for dinner.

Every word out of his mouth was unpleasant. A scowl was permanently attached to his face. He criticized just about every aspect of the meal. It was impossible to ignore, and made for a very uncomfortable dinner hour.

And there was absolutely nothing I could do.

I know from past experience that any mention of his negativity would have created an even uglier scene. I might have just gotten up from the table and made myself scarce, but couldn’t bring myself to abandon my mother and daughter.

I was hurt. And I don’t like feeling silenced and helpless.

So far I haven’t even been able to bring it up to him in retrospect. He’s still wrestling with the taxes and the resulting depression and anxiety. And while his demeanor has improved (having taken a break from the annual task yesterday), any mention of his behavior during that dinner will send him in to a tailspin. I know. From LONG experience.

I ask myself why I put up with this crap. A large part of the answer is that the ugliness my husband sometimes displays is not who he really is. When he’s not under attack from his diagnoses, he’s generous, kind, thoughtful, and loving.

But it’s extremely difficult to remember who he really is when depression and anxiety take over.

-Amy

Is it a mystery worth solving?

One of the many, many difficult aspects of depression is the fact that it’s not an illness with a definite cure.

Rather, it’s an illness that must be managed constantly, one that can come roaring back without warning, just when you least expect it. And when it does come roaring back, it’s hard not to ask “WHY???”

For about the last week, my husband’s depression was with us in full force. He was unable to think coherently. Unable to answer questions. Literally moaning whenever he had to complete any simple task. Sleeping much more than usual. For someone who generally operates in depression-recovery mode, it was a huge change.

I spent a lot of time over the last week asking myself that big “WHY???” Trying to come up with some explanation in my own mind for what had triggered this particular episode. Gently discussing with him whether he ought to go see our GP, as it’s been quite a while since he’s had a routine checkup. (His answer, with a moan: “That would mean making an appointment.” Clearly not a task he was able to even contemplate).

And, all the time, going as easy on him as possible. Asking little, even to the point of deliberately not even engaging him in conversation – because every exchange seemed to create unbearable stress.

Then, today, suddenly a switch was flipped. When I got home from work around noon, he was digging into our tax paperwork so he could start the process of filing. He spoke normally, even showed concern for me when I declared I felt like I was coming down with something. Later in the afternoon he spent a couple of hours on vehicle maintenance, unprompted by any requests. He was, apparently, back to his usual self.

So I started asking that “WHY???” again. And I couldn’t help but piece together a trigger that I’m not sure makes sense, but that I’m pretty sure I’m seeing. His depressive episode clearly began when our son come home for spring break, and concluded the day he left. Thinking it over a little more, I recalled that the same had happened over winter break, as well.

I can imagine a theory or two as to why this might be. But I ask myself a new question – Is it even worth it? Would knowing make any difference? I could discuss it with him, but might that make him feel even worse?

I’m still not sure what the right answer is. But one thing I do know is that I’m storing that little piece of information in my memory bank. Because in a couple of months our son will be home for the summer, and if there’s anything I can do to keep  us from having three full months of depression ruling our household, I’ll do it.

And in the meantime I’ll be thinking hard about whether the answer to “WHY???” is important or not.

-Amy

I Remember….

One of the most difficult things I find in depression is coping with the memory loss that occurs. My husband who has dealt with depression in various degrees off and on for the 45 years of our marriage cannot now remember various happenings.  I will bring something up, sure that he would remember it and he doesn’t.  He can remember in large stretches – we got married, our kids were born, he worked – but he cannot remember individual incidents.

I know that some of this is due first of all to the trauma of depression. When a brain has to deal with illness, some changes have to take place.  Perhaps memory is one of them.  Also, there is the problem of all the medication he takes.  I’m sure all of them individually are good and safe but in combination?  I’m not so sure if the cure often offers more challenges.

This is yet another loss that people who love those with depression have to deal with. I want to share the silly time when we had such a full house for dinner that someone actually sat at table with their chair in our side hall.  I want to share about how our kids would get excited about the Great Pumpkin coming to visit in the guise of our neighborhood real estate woman. There are so many memories to share, ones that pop up at odd moments through the day but I can’t share these small moments with him because it heightens his depression to know that he doesn’t remember.  And this memory loss only adds to depression when he can’t remember the good things he’s done with people, with his children.  He sadly thinks he was therefore not a good friend or father.

So many facets of depression and so few of those facets are discussed.

– Bernadette

Nurses on the Verge

I recently had a knee replacement that had me in the hospital for three days. I was  helped by countless nurses and therapists and when I headed home it was knowing that what brought me to the point of going home was the helpful staff.

That got me thinking about nurses and how very rarely they are recognized for the work that they do. Nursing is a high pressure job, ruthless and stressful.  Plus nurses see people at their lowest, at the point where most people wouldn’t want to be around them.

Is it any wonder that nurses suffer depression at twice the rate of the general population? Unfortunately, nurses often don’t seek help or recognize the fact that they are suffering from depression.  To make it even more complicated, signs and symptoms of depression in nurses is often overlooked and accepted as part of the stress of working in the healthcare profession.

Too often the rule of thumb is to hide your emotions and “act professionally.” This often ends up causing the problems associated with depression and anxiety to multiply.  And this growing monster can often compromise patient safety and cause good nurses to seek other avenues for their career.

This is just another area where we have to keep depression from having the upper hand. Nurses are valuable people and to let them flounder with little or no support is dangerous to everyone’s health.  Let’s all band together to not be afraid to confront depression in all areas of our lives.

  • Bernadette

Awesome Eeyore, Awesome Friends

winnie-the-pooh-437940_1280Today I got a message from my sister who was reading some things on a website called Higher Perspectives. The entry had to do with depression and she knows that my husband and I have struggled with that for over forty years. The quote made me realize how there have been people who have responded well during his depression and those who have responded not very well indeed.

The quote reads:

One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all his friends. And they never expect him to feel happy.  They just love him anyway and they never leave him behind or ask him to change. 

What a beautiful way to respond to someone with depression. Love them.  Accept them.  Invite them.  Don’t demand or know better or urge the use of boot straps.  Don’t leave them out because they are not fun or “aren’t the way they used to be.”  Respect them for where they are at.  Encourage when the time presents itself.  But the big thing is to love them through it.

No easy task.

That means leaving asides our prejudices, our thoughts of “if only he or she did this”, our feelings of being better than the depressed one. It means putting aside all the first responses that demand some action from the depressed person. It is setting aside the belief that you as friend have the right answers.  To go back to Eeyore, it means finding what is beautiful and present in the depression.  It is recognizing a friend who might be having a hard time but who is still someone who needs to know they are loved and cared about.

I always thought that Eeyore was a lesser figure in the Pooh stories. Now I see that he is one very central figure indeed because he and his friends’ responses teach us a great deal about what it is to be a real friend.

And thanks to all those friends and family who loved my Eeyore through his depression.

  • Bernadette

My Valentine

When your life partner has multiple mental health diagnoses (in my case, some treated effectively, some not at all) there are times when you can’t help but muse about what might have been.

Yes, I admit it. Occasionally I find myself fantasizing about what it would have been like to be married to someone who’s a fully functioning adult at all times. Someone I could always count on not just to “be there,” but to be a steady rock. Someone I could travel with happily, instead of struggling to survive his panic attacks when faced with unfamiliar situations. Someone who could look at difficulties and face them head on, rather than hiding and hoping they’d go away.

At those times I look back thirty years and wonder…would I have done things differently? I don’t know. There have been plenty of good times mixed in with the copious bad times. We have three absolutely awesome children together, and his influence had a lot to do with that – I sure didn’t raise them alone (though it might have seemed that way during the worst of times).

In the end, he’s still my valentine. But when I found a “make your own conversation heart” website, I couldn’t help but get just a little snarky, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday.

heart (1)

heart.jpg

heart (2)

Gotta keep that sense of humor.

-Amy

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