Let the Sun Shine In

Yesterday I went into the bathroom to find a spot on the wall. It was white and looked like it was perhaps some toothpaste or a spray of soapy water.  I took a cloth and started rubbing it and it wouldn’t come out.  And to my horror, more spots showed up.  I paused, looked again, and then realized that I was trying to erase spots of sunlight that were filtering through the blinds.

This incident – which caused a great deal of laughter on my part – carried a huge lesson for me.   Recently we have been struggling with the effects of depression in our household.  And when depression strikes, I take my trusty cloth and try to rub it away.  But in taking that trusty cloth, I find that too often I overlook what is good about what is happening or I overlook the good in the person with depression.   I try to rub away any sign of hope, of sunshine in the situation.

What that little bit of sunlight taught me is that in every situation there is a shred of light, a tiny bit of goodness if we only look. Whether it was a good word spoken by the depressed one to you or whether it was the fact that medications had been taken on time for a week or that there was the sound of laughter if only for a couple of minutes.  Whatever the nip of sunlight, it is to be recognized and celebrated and cherished.  They may be few and far between but by recognizing them, we don’t lose sight of the person who is there, the one suffering from this terrible illness, the person who deserves hope and happiness, the one that we love.

Don’t be like me and try to rub away the sunlight. Jump all the way in and relish those droplets of sunshine wherever they occur.  It’s one of the best actions a caregiver can do to stay well.

-Bernadette

A Poster Person for Depression

the-sun-470317_1280I watched mesmerized as my husband answered the doctor about what the depression he described as the worst he ever had felt like.

“It’s like a cloud of darkness is coming down on me and it is going to suffocate me. It is so thick that I think I can just reach out and touch it.  But I can’t push it away no matter what I do. And slowly it is suffocating me, draining me of everything.”

We were in the psychiatrist’s office, meeting with him because the depression my husband has been dealing with for many, many years had come with a force which he found unbearable.

We talked in the doctor’s office – he describing his symptoms and his concerns, me answering questions asked by the doctor. I was there because my husband asked me to be.

And that is the number one reason I see him as a model for others:

He is not afraid to talk about his depression and HE IS NOT AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP.

He is not afraid to have the family members and friends he trusts know what is going on. He treats his depression as the illness it is – something he didn’t ask for, something he is getting treatment for, and something he needs support for.

He’s not less of a man for doing this. He is more of a man because he is willing to meet this terrible foe head on.

More than 6 million men are suffering from depression and more than half of them do not seek treatment because:

a) they don’t recognize the symptoms;

b) they see depression as a sign of weakness;

c) they try to self medicate rather than seek professional help; and

d) they fear for the stigma that might arise in work and family situations.

All these barriers can be dealt with and I am not dismissing the fact that lots of times it will be difficult but it can be done.  We can trust others who describe our symptoms to us.  We can seek professional help instead of reaching for that drink.  We can continue to show that depression is an illness, not a weakness and we can continue to fight the stigma in every situation we encounter.  It’s not easy but nothing changes if nothing changes.

My hope is that more men will “man” up and take a cue from my husband and be open and honest with the people you trust and not be afraid to seek treatment for this very crippling illness.

My hat’s off to my husband and all the brave men out there who are not afraid to seek help for depression.

– Bernadette

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
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