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Lunatics Unite!

Someone used a word the other day that I hadn’t heard in quite a while.  The word was “lunatic.” 

 The dictionary reads:

 Lunatic” is an informal term referring to people who are considered mentally ill, dangerous, foolish or unpredictable; conditions once called lunacy. The term may be considered insulting in serious contexts, though is sometimes used in friendly jest. The word derives from lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck”.

 Synonyms for lunatic include, balmy, bats, batty, bonkers, brainsick, certifiable, cracked, crackpot, crazed, crazy, cuckoo, daft, demented, deranged, fruity, haywire, kooky, loony, insane, mad, maniacal, mental, nuts, nutty, psycho, psychotic, screwy, unbalanced, unhinged, unsound, wacko, wacky,

 See what we are up against when we try to fight the stigma aimed at brain illnesses? 

 And lists like this make me wonder where is the line drawn between good humor and over the line? 

 Or am I just crazy when I think things like that? 

 – Bernadette

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood….No Matter What

It’s amazing how many outside forces can affect us. Right now it is yet another gloomy day in Kansas, rain dripping and a gray sky enveloping everything. And I can almost physically feel the pull of the day on my mood.

Yesterday it was sunny and warm with a cover of blue sky and I was full of energy, working in the garden, doing all sorts of errands. My mood buoyed me into a number of activities and the day ended on a great note.

If we are caregivers for someone who is dealing with depression, we need to be aware of these forces so that we can be ready when they start to pull us down, if for no other reason than to keep us from beating up on ourselves for feeling down. We need to be aware of the positive force of a good day and be able to take advantage of those beautiful times.

Sometimes when we are in the thick of caring for someone with depression, we tend to just take the days as they come, without noticing them. We let one day go into another and we just try to get by.

When we notice the day around us, we can allow ourselves to respond to those days, allow ourselves to know that we are being pulled down by a gray day so that we can decide that we perhaps need to be around friends who will laugh with us or so that we can put on some music, turn on some lights and sing away the grayness. And when those beautiful days happen, we can take the time to notice all that is good about the world, all that is good about our depressed loved one, all that is good about ourselves.

Outside forces can influence our moods but what we decide to do in the face of those forces is up to us. Here’s to a beautiful rainy day in Kansas.

– Bernadette

Self Preservation? Or Just Being a Jerk?

I had a close encounter with mental illness today.

Last night, an extended family member asked me to contact another family member who is in the middle of a full-blown meltdown. These meltdowns are a fairly regular occurrence, and I’m sometimes tangentially involved. But this time she was specifically asking to talk to me, and I agreed to give her a call today. I do care about this person, and I would like to see her reach a point of healing and wholeness.

But I wasn’t surprised to find that this phone call was a big mistake. It was a hysterical, circular conversation on her part, unproductive for her and certainly unpleasant for me. I couldn’t be of any help. To be honest, at this point I don’t think anyone can help. Sometimes people reach a point where there’s nothing anyone else can do to make things better. That’s where this relative has been for a very long time. Encouragement, positive suggestions, expressions of concern, physical and emotional support…all meaningless. The naked truth – that the only way out of the place she’s in is to get professional help and follow a course of treatment – falls on deaf ears. Conversations inevitably become abusive and irrational.

It’s all so hopeless, so ugly, I’ve deliberately distanced myself from her over the years, with only occasional contact. After this phone conversation today, I’m coming to the decision that this is the end of communication for the foreseeable future. My plate is very full at this point in my life, both from a very mundane schedule perspective and from an emotional overload perspective. I simply have no more to give.

So now I’m left reflecting on myself and my actions. If it were someone else, I would say that they were erecting healthy boundaries and doing what they needed to do to in a very difficult situation. I would say that no one can “save” another person who doesn’t want to be saved – and usually not even someone who does want to be saved.

But because it’s me, I question my own motives. Is self-preservation a legitimate excuse for estrangement? Or am I just a selfish jerk? My inner critic and my inner nurturer are playing a nasty game of tug-of-war. And the game could go either way.
-Amy

Wait…….

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to a Josh Ritter concert in Lawrence, Kansas. Ritter is a great alternative singer and it was a wonderful concert with lots of energy, engagement from the audience, and some fine laughs. But there was also the waiting.

Doors opened at 7 p.m. and we waited in line from 6:20 and went through the doors about 7:10. Then to our seats and another wait until 8 p.m. when the warm up singer started. Twenty minutes later we were waiting until 9 p.m. for the Ritter concert to begin. Wait, wait, wait….

Made me think about the journey with depression. So much of it is wait, wait, wait. We wait for the depressed person to arrival at acceptance of their illness or we wait for something to occur to bring them to that point of acceptance. We wait while the doctors sort out what medications might work. We wait for those medications to take effect or not and then we wait more when the medication is wound down and a new one tried.

We wait for people to realize that depression is indeed an illness and we wait for someone to help as they help those with cancer or heart disease or other visible ailments. We wait for the days when we can get away and kick up our heels and forget if only for a time. Wait, wait. wait.

But like my experience with the concert, there is the pure joy and excitement and pleasure when the music begins and it was all you ever hoped for. That’s what it can be like when that medicine finally kicks in, when a neighbor brings over dinner, when together you are working toward recovery. The waiting is forgotten and the beautiful concert of health begins.

Here’s to waiting and the journey to joy.

– Bernadette

Loss in a Time of Aging

Loss in a Time of Aging

I think one of the biggest things about growing older (and I’m into my 6th decade), is the losses you experience. When I think of the losses both big and small, I can’t help but understand that depression is always lurking around the corner. When will the next loss be too much to bear?

Looking back on my childhood, I remember my father spending a lot of time on a chair, staring at the television, after having come home from work. I often wondered why he wasn’t like the other dads who did stuff with their kids or who worked around the house. I always chalked up that to the fact that he had a heart condition. Looking back, I wonder if it was instead depression as a result of all the losses he experienced.

He had experienced losses early in life which he dealt with. He couldn’t go to college because his mother decreed that the money he had saved would go instead to educate his younger brother in the priesthood. On the heels of that his favorite sister died at 14 as a result of appendicitis. He worked in a job that didn’t hold much chance for advancement but with eight children to feed, he probably felt stuck.

When he entered his 50s after two rounds of heart attacks and strokes, he lost the ability to walk and to talk. The first time round he learned both again, but was faced with having to make some life changes as a result. After the second round, he bade goodbye to the ability to walk alone and to run and to talk clearly.

During these times, my mother and father both had to move from the house they called home and after a series of rental places, ended up in senior citizen housing. Their full life with cherished books and music and mementos had to be pared down to fit into a two room apartment.

The list could go on. Loss was something they faced daily. Big and small losses. Even in the strongest of us, loss takes a toll. And probably one of the biggest losses is that of the ability to be understood in this time of change. Very few of us understand what it is like to be old and to be facing these mounting losses. We think we know but do we really? I wasn’t aware with my dad. I wasn’t with my mom. And sometimes I feel like, even though I struggles with loss, I’m not even aware of it in those around me.

Loss is hard and given the right circumstances, it can open the door to depression. And if we as caregivers are oblivious to loss, we might not recognize depression either when it happens in those older ones we love.

– Bernadette

Kaleidoscope Treatment

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            Outside in the courtyard of a church in southern Kansas there is a tall fountain- like structure with pieces of different colored glass of various sizes.  Attached to the fountain’s side is a large tube looking much like a telescope.  When you look through it, you realize that you are looking through a kaleidoscope, one full of different colors and shapes.  With this kaleidoscope, however, the bits are not incased in the telescope; rather, a person has to move around the various sized pieces of glass to achieve a unique awe- inspiring effect.  The beauty offered can only be achieved with effort and with never being content with how the present stones are laid out.  

Moving the stones is something we often avoid.  We all tend to have a mode of operating in our chosen professions, based on our education, past experience, and our own beliefs and preferences.  And often that way of operating serves the purpose, giving us a chance to complete the task in question and to do it well.  However, many times we fall back into uttering “we’ve always done it this way.”  We feel uncomfortable with the change that might have to take place and ill at ease if we do make the change, convinced that things will not work out.  We are afraid to move the pieces of glass so as to achieve a wonderful piece of art.  When it comes to professionals working with someone who is depressed, moving those stones is so very important.  

Unfortunately, many professionals have one given mode of operating when dealing with depression or they feel they have heard the story one too many times and consequently, jump to those conclusions – I’ve heard this.  I’ve dealt with this.  I know what to do.  

Depression is a disease of uniqueness. It is plays out in many different forms:  those who continue to work no matter that depression claims them once they return home;  others who never work again; one who disintegrates in tears and don’t come up for air;  still others who hold themselves together only to collapse in a heap at a time least expected.  We don’t even know how to diagnose depression with 100% accuracy.    

Treating only the person who is suffering can certainly make a difference, but when you deal with the whole family and/or significant others, the healing process creates a happier and healthier environment for all concerned.    

To critics and others concerned with the bottom dollar, yes, it does cost time and money initially, but that cost is soon eaten up by the return to health of the entire family.  No longer do you have the chain of events that start with treating the depressed individual and leaving the family to cope on their own, opening the door for possible depression or other challenges for these family members.  Treating the whole family, not just the depressed individual, means that health and wholeness has more of an opportunity to take hold sooner with greater results.

Our society looks at the self made man, who, no matter what, pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes a difference, never looking back, never stumbling.   The reality is we need one another and if we are co-dependent, why do we keep insisting individuals, whether the depressed one or his or her family, go it alone during such a devastating illness as depression

Gypsies have an excellent record when it comes to health.  Part of this is because the family plays a huge role in establishing a good health environment.  When a gypsy gets sick, it is not unusual for seven or eight others to accompany him or her to the doctor.  This not only provides a support system for the one who is ill but it also creates a high expectancy for getting well.  So let’s be like the gypsies.  Let’s expect good health and let’s support it in the new ways we treat depression.

The Sex Talk

When reading about depression, the subject of sex is very often not addressed. If it is, the subject is usually surrounded by all the euphemisms that occurs when we talk about sex with children or with each other.  And for all the glitz and glamour on television and in the movies, sex is still a subject to be avoided.

I’m not avoiding it. We are going to have “the talk.” – Yes, the sex talk.

Sex is a casualty of depression.  It is a sad fact that right when we need the physical expression of love the most, when a spouse or significant other is suffering from depression, it is not there. Whether it be the gradual disappearance of sexual intercourse or the sudden interest in pornography or the need for a sexual outlet with a prostitute, the damage within a relationship can be devastating and often misunderstood, causing even more pain.

With the hallmark withdrawal that accompanies most people’s depression, noticing someone you love is often not a reality.  Kisses, hugs, touches become few and far between.  Intercourse dwindles until one day you realize that it has been months since the two of you expressed your love in this manner.  And through all this you are trying hard not to think that you are the one at fault.  You might be thinking if you lost some weight, took better care of yourself, showed more of an interest in what your partner talks about, this wouldn’t be happening. Unfortunately it would still be happening and a big thing to remember is that it is NOT you.

Depression messes with the brain.  It affects sexual desire and causes many body functions to misfire making intercourse impossible.  Loss of ability to achieve an erection or an orgasm, or a severe drop in libido is not uncommon. Even understanding all this, we still want to feel that we are desirable, that we are wanted, that we are loved in a very special way but depression often makes it impossible.

Other couples experience devastating effects when their partners turn to pornography for relief.  The partner cruises the internet for pictures or live cams and often masturbates during the cruise.  The other partner is left to struggle with the same feelings of no longer being able to fulfill even this basic need in the relationship.

And then there are those suffering depression who seek relief from call girls.  No relationship required.  The depressed person may think, “I can still stay within myself and get sexual relief.”  Perfect for someone with depression but not so perfect for the partner – and that’s not even mentioning the diseases that can be brought home.

Depression is a wicked disease. For all couples it can seriously hamper and often destroy the relationship that was once vibrant and growing.  It can tear at the confidence of the caregiver in ways that surprise us. Right when we need the therapeutic effects of a good relationship, it is taken from us.  Instead we are feeling in the way, unwanted, or unloved.

Sometimes we interpret the low moods and crazy behavior of our partner as evidence that the depressed person wants out of the relationship when in reality they have neither the energy nor outward focus needed for a good relationship.  And the truth for the non-depressed partner is it is difficult to stay calm and confident when you are up against this.

We can do things for ourselves that can help.

  • Try not to take it personally.  Remember depression is a disease and your partner needs to recover from this illness. Even when you give plenty of tender loving care, the recovery will not be rapid.
  • When it seems at its worst and you doubt yourself, try to remember that your partner is the same person underneath that depression.  On some days you just have to dig harder for it.  .
  • When you need the physical outlet of sex, pleasure yourself and don’t feel guilty about it. Masturbation is a normal part of our sexual lives.
  • If possible, talk to your partner about your needs and discuss how they can be met during this time of illness.  You might be surprised what might develop.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about sex with your partner.  Do, however, choose times carefully and judge their ability to enter into such a discussion.
  • Remember that sex is much more than intercourse.  Kisses, hugs, intimate talks – all these can be a physical expression of love.  Spend some time sitting next to or cuddling him or her.  Physical touch is extremely important for both of you.
  • And remember that you are not alone.  Very few people have the dazzling sex lives that Hollywood films portray.  Most people, however, have an excellent chance to build a good physical and emotional relationship no matter the obstacles.   -Bernadette