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    By Amy and Bernadette
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Vassar Alumni Act Toward Respect and Change

imagehttp://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/21/opinion/la-oe-daum-westboro-vassar-gay-20130221
It’s not easy accepting, proclaiming and living in our society as a homosexual man or woman. Gays and lesbians encounter discrimination at many turns. And this continuous upward battle often gives way to depression and suicide.

So it was with sorrow in my heart that I learned that Fred Phelps’ famous gang from Topeka was going to picket at Vassar College, a small college in upstate New York, one of the former seven sister colleges, because, as they put it, the college is an “an Ivy League whorehouse” and a “filthy institution”.

Vassar College has for many years carried a very open and welcoming policy toward gays. So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that when Westboro announced its plans to picket outside Vassar’s gates on Feb. 28 for 45 minutes, an alumnus organized an online fund drive for the Trevor Project, a national LGBT suicide intervention group. The alumnus had the goal of raising $100 for each of those 45 minutes. Within days more than that amount was raised (at present it is up to $87,000).

I’m proud of institutions like Vassar who offer an open and comprehensive course of studies including real world action. And I’m proud of the many Vassar alumni who quickly, with no second guessing or beating around the bush, raised this money to support those individuals who have the right to all the respect and love and pride that each of us do.

Maybe that group of committed individuals from Vassar can truly change the world.

-Bernadette

Snowed Under

13746680-help-word-written-on-rear-car-window-covered-by-heavy-snowfall
Our part of the country just received its second foot of snow in less than a week. I think it's great fun – a snow day at home (#3) for everyone, all working together to save the food when the power goes out, clearing enough of the driveway to get one of the cars out. It's quite an adventure.

My husband, though, doesn't see it that way. Because of what he's been dealing with lately (going off his depression meds for the sake of a sleep study and taking a second job are at the top of the list), he sees nothing but gloom and doom at every turn. He would sleep all day and all night if he could, and it's almost impossible to get a positive comment or a smile out of him. Grouchy, irritable, and negative are the three words that describe him best right now. And I know that's not the real him. I do remember how much fun he can be when depression is not in control.

We've traveled this road before, what now seems like a long time ago. And though I'd much prefer NOT to be dealing with this again, I'm thankful that a few things are different this time around. There are a couple of things I've learned and internalized as a result of the work Bernadette and I do. One, the stigma surrounding depression can be almost as crushing as the depression itself. So I tell the truth about what's happening with my husband. Many of my friends and coworkers know what's going on, and that helps a lot more than hiding it. Two, talking to other people who live with and care for a depressed person really makes a difference. I know therapists are helpful and necessary for a lot of people, but what works for me is to talk to others who have experienced the same truly rotten stuff I'm living with.

And now, to continue enjoying the "snowpocalypse" as we've been calling it. Oh yeah – that's one more thing I've learned. I don't have to go around being miserable just because I live with someone who feels that way.

-Amy

Acting “as if.”

When I started in Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the things that was said that I puzzled over was the importance of acting “as if.” I was to act “as if” I was a happy, healthy individual. They said it would help me on the road to recovery. Granted, I was never able to do that with any consistency, but the times that I did act “as if” I found that I began to feel better. I began to feel that not having alcohol in my life was a real possibility, that I was a good person and there was a big new wonderful world opening for me.

Now, over 28 years sober, I realize more and more the value of that advice and now I think in terms of applying that to depression. What would happen to someone who is caring for a depressed person if they could envision their loved one feeling good again? What would happen if someone who was taking medication and beginning to feel better began to act “as if?” What if they were able, even if only for five or ten minutes, to feel that wisp of happiness, that glimmer of hope, would that make it a bit easier to deal with the depression?

I know that when I was dealing with my drinking, there were ways that I sabotaged myself, kept myself from acting “as if.” For openers, I would spend too many hours watching mindless television. I would change the channels looking for something that would interest me or I would simply watch whatever was on. Being the true couch potato got me thinking…stinking thinking about what a loser I was, how I couldn’t do anything, how I wasted time. Turning off that television was a good “as if” move.

Another way in which I failed to act “as if” was to stay indoors, not getting dressed, giving excuses for not involving myself in activities away from the home. Often I would say that it was good for me to relax but I often failed to note that I had had three weeks of “relaxing” in a row. Acting “as if” got me out and meeting people and doing things that kept the stinking thinking at bay.

Acting “as if” is not easy but when you take a chance, if only for a little while, it can make a difference in your thought processes. It can help you to thinking more positively about yourself and those around you. And if you argue that there is no energy for this, remember that you only have to make a small move. It doesn’t have to be anything big or splashy. You don’t have to act “as if” for a day or a week. A few brief moments will do. And if you keep at it, chipping away as Michelangelo did to those lumps of marble, you will find one day that it is no longer “as if” but rather a strong part of who you are.

–Bernadette

And the Oscar goes to…

Sometimes I think that Amy and I are the only ones who are pointing out how mental illness still carries a terrible stigma today despite everything we have learned about it. But last night at the Oscars, we felt very much less alone. Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie that addresses the challenges mental illness brings to families and relationships.

Life doesn’t always go how we want it to. In the movie, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything due to his mental illness – his house, his job, his wife – and he has to resort to living with his parents when he is released from an institution. Pat tries to keep the positives developing in his life but he finds difficulties at every turn. When he meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), someone who is struggling with her own issues complicated by depression, what develops is the rest of the story.

After her Oscar win, Ms. Lawrence said, “I don’t think we’re going to stop talking about mental illness until we get rid of the stigma for it. I know David (David O. Russell) won’t. And I hope that this (movie) helps. It’s so bizarre how in this world, if you have asthma, you take asthma medicine; if you have diabetes, you take diabetes medicine, but as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s such a stigma behind it.”

Day in and day out Amy and I encounter the stigma surrounding mental illness when we talk with those who struggle with it in their day-to-day relationships. It is good to hear someone who has voice to a larger stage take up the cry. We need to get over being afraid of the illnesses that strike the human brain. Once we do that, we might be able to look in a fresh light at how those illnesses can better be treated and perhaps even cured.

Thanks, Ms. Lawrence, for your words of wisdom and congratulations on that Oscar. Job well done on both counts.

–Bernadette

Helicopter Parenting and Depression

It’s that time of year when colleges inform thousands of college bound students of their acceptance into the college’s hallowed hall. And then comes the mad rush to deck out that dorm room, to get all the necessary “equipment” for the first year away from home, and to balance issues regarding finances and roommates and odds and ends of starting a new phase of life.

One of the things that is often not addressed (although it has of late been getting a lot of press) is how the parents react to this life change for their child and themselves. The term “helicopter parent” was coined because of the unique method these parents have of hovering over their kids and attempting to solve the problems that occur instead of allowing the child to deal with his or her own challenges. Well, it is official now: helicopter parenting is not good for your kids. It can often cause depression.

According to Bonnie Rochman, a Time Magazine columnist, a new study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that being overly involved in your grown-up kids’ lives can do more harm than good. The research was conducted by the same scientists who showed last year that intensive parenting — constantly stimulating your children — can make moms more depressed.

When my kids left for college, I was very sad. Our relationships would change. Their need for me would change. But I felt it was very important for them to become their own persons. I can’t say it was easy or that I didn’t make mistakes, but I think because of my “back off” attitude, they have become two very strong, competent, and loving people. And our relationships have only grown into nurturing adult friendships.

Helicopter parents often deprive their children of making decisions, of trying to solve problems that arise, and of becoming their own person. When we, as parents, refuse to let go, we actively work at creating a generation of people who don’t know how to make decisions, who don’t trust themselves to make those decisions, and who get depressed because of their inability to meet the simple challenges of life.

The students in the study reported that when their parents hovered, taking over the decision making, the student often felt depressed and anxious. They often felt incompetent. The parents, on the other hands, felt exhausted and often depressed themselves, feeling that the sacrifice they were making was worth it because they were “helping their children.”

Let’s not open another avenue for depression to creep in. Let’s land the helicopters now and look to be the “good-enough” parents who are there and willing to help when asked but not interfering in situations that might help their child grow and keep the black dog of depression at bay. –Bernadette

Depression Quest

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/02/depression-quest-review-pcmaclinux.html

I enjoy video games, especially if there is a mystery connected with the game. It gives me a time to relax, enter another world – much like reading a book – and interact with the characters and, besides, I love playing games of any kind.

When I came across a game called Depression Quest, I was immediately skeptical. A game about depression? But then I remembered that I was the one talking animatedly with whoever would listen about “Depression: The Musical.” After reading more about the game, I decided to try it.

It is not your conventional video game with graphics and hidden pictures and items to search for. Frankly, it brought me back to the early computer games I liked that let you make choice about what you would do – meet the dragon head on or hide until help came. Throughout the game you make choices and you realize somewhere along the way: it is not the choices you make but rather the choices you don’t make that spell the difference.

In the game you play as someone with depression. Through a series of everyday life events, you not only have to take care of your illness, you have to manage relationships, your job, and choices about treatment. The game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.

The game was designed to spread awareness so there is no amount you have to pay to play the game. Should you wish to give something to the developers of the game for the work they have done, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to iFred, an organization aiming to shed a positive light on depression throughout the world to prevent the onset, to research causes and treatments, and to fight the negative stigma attached to depression.

I tried the game, and although I did not play it to the end, I realized that it was indeed presenting me with the choices that I needed to make if I were to meet depression head on and deal with it. Try it yourself for free at http://www.depressionquest.com/
-Bernadette

Fighting My Way Through SAD

For those of us dealing with SAD – seasonal affective disorder – we’re in the toughest part of the year. I’ve been on a low dosage of antidepressant since mid September, and I know it’s helping. But I also know I’m not doing my part.

I should be exercising more. But I’m having an awful time getting up in the morning (very not like my normal self), and that’s the time of day I’m most able to find time to exercise. The street and sidewalks near my house are completely torn up with construction, so it’s hard to get out and walk.

I bought a light box last fall, as my doctor suggested a year ago. The directions were so off-putting I returned it without ever using it. And I haven’t been doing my best to get outside and soak up vitamin D, which I know would help.

Excuses, excuses, excuses. In the meantime, my work is suffering, I’m probably something of a pain to live with, and I don’t feel all that great. And I know it doesn’t help that my chronically depressed husband had been in a low spot for months. Yuck.

Which is all to say depression is really rotten, no matter what form it takes. Too many people are dealing with this illness, too many people aren’t coping with it well, and too many people are afraid of the stigma attached to admit they have it. If you’re dealing with symptoms yourself, or you know someone who might be, here’s my advice: Get yourself some help. And be patient with yourself and with others. Who knows – that guy sitting in the cubicle next to you, the one who drives you nuts with his negativity and decreased productivity? It could very well be that depression is at the root of his problem.
-Amy

Supporting Robin Roberts and More

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/robin-roberts-returns-to-good-morning-america/?hp

Robin Roberts of Good Morning America returned today following her treatment for Myelodysplastic Syndrome. She is in good shape and very happy to be returning to work. Throughout her time dealing with this illness she has had the support of fans and colleagues and family. She even was guaranteed her job on her return no matter how long it took. I am happy for her and most especially for the continuing support she received. It did, however, start me thinking.

What if she had had severe depression instead? What if she needed to seek in-hospital treatment in order to arrive at an even keel or some degree of wellness? Would her job still be waiting for her? Would she receive the unabashed support she received from fans, colleagues and family? Would people be smiling and waving and happy to have her back or would they be wondering when the next setback would be or why she let herself get depressed in the first place?

We never question when it is an illness where we see the effects on the body. We fix meals, we send cards, we applaud the bravery of the individual, and we try our best to make their re-entry into everyday life as pleasurable as possible. We have difficulty, however, when that illness does not show outward signs. We don’t send meals or cards or even call to find out how the person is doing. And it is very rare for us to applaud the bravery of someone who has struggled with depression, let alone the bravery of those few who supported them all the way along.

Illness is illness and it doesn’t matter if it is an illness of the body or an illness of the mind. We need to see that there is no line between them and that the people who have mental illness deserve to have our support and love, and, yes, even the job back no matter how long it takes for them to get well.

I wish Robin Roberts a continued good recovery and continued support from everyone and I wish that some day soon we discover that spreading that support to every hurting person would make a world of difference.
-Bernadette

The Healing Touch

touching-1It has been a rough weekend. And such a weekend makes me wonder if there is an end in sight and if that end is not a good one. Over the information line, stories came in about a country singer who took her own life on the heels of her boyfriend doing the same., about a high increase in suicide among the elderly in South Korea as families become more splintered, about sleep deprivation complicating depression in a society that is getting less and less sleep, and about depression being right up there with vision and hearing loss for the elderly. Complicating things even further for me was the fact that a good friend plunged this weekend even deeper into the depths of depression, claiming he was emotionally dead and just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep.

One shining light that made me stop and think was a report about a decline in post partum depression if parents practiced skin to skin contact with their babies. Touch. I wonder if that is the key to everything. Have we become a touchless society? Is that why depression has climbed to epidemic proportions? We seldom shake hands for fear of spreading germs, we don’t hug one another lest we be thought of as attempting something sexual, we have strict rules about when, where and how a teacher can touch a child.

Touch is the most important, most abused and yet most neglected of our senses. We can survive without sight, without taste, without smell but studies show we cannot survive and live with any degree of comfort and mental health when we are not able to feel, to touch. Not one of us is without a need for contact with a warm being. Poet and composer Rod McKuen once said, “The need to touch someone can be so great at times that it is as close to madness that I ever hope to come.”

And granted, although we were born with strong touch needs, many of us have experienced birth trauma, injury or a physical punishment or unwanted sexual touch that makes us cringe when we are touched. But those incidents do not remove our need to be touched. Being touched is integral to our mental well being. We need to find how we can touch one another in healthy ways. When we do, we can respond like Walt Whitman in his “Song of Myself” when he said, “I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from.”

It has been a rough weekend, but I think I will find a friend I can touch or simply hold the hand of so that I don’t feel all alone, so I don’t despair, so that I know there is hope always and that hope is often in a simple touch.
-Bernadette

Depression on the Comics Page

http://www.oregonlive.com/comics-kingdom/?feature_id=Sally_Forth&feature_date=2013-02-14

I admit to being addicted to the morning paper, and every day I save the comics section for last. Our local paper carries two full pages of comics and puzzles. They’re a part of my morning ritual.

Of course I enjoy the smile or even the laugh-out-loud moment I get from a few favorites. But every now and then an artist brings an important issue to light and raises the comics page to a different level. Several years ago “For Better or For Worse” had the guts to introduce a gay character at a time in our history when that action actually required guts (in this part of the nation, anyway).

Yesterday, the strip “Sally Forth” explained the title character’s recent exhaustion, crankiness, and general malaise. Sally discovered that she may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a common type of depression that can occur during the dark and cold winter months. In discussing this condition in the popular forum of the comics page, the artists (Francesco Marciuliano and Craig Macintosh) not only inform readers of an illness they may not have been aware of, but they decrease the ever-present stigma of depression. As the story continues today, they’re balancing humor with the unpleasant effects of the illness in a very healthy way.

Being a SAD sufferer myself, and having a chronically depressed husband, I applaud Marciuliano and Macintosh for tackling the topic of depression through the comics page. Anything we can do to bring this dark illness into the light is a big step in the right direction.
-Amy