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Oh, the irony!

imageOnce upon a time more than fifteen years ago, when my husband was completely in the grip of crippling depression, anxiety, and panic disorder and therefore unable to work, I innocently entered into the process of applying for Social Security Disability for him. He had paid into the system for a number of years. We had three dependents in the household. His doctors were unanimous in declaring him unable to function at a level that would allow him to hold a job. It made sense.

But the months-long application process was cumbersome, onerous, demeaning. There were reams of paperwork on my part, endless phone calls, and requests for medical reports, and then my husband was required to attend an appointment with a government-appointed psychologist. After interviewing him for 15 minutes, this “medical professional” who had no familiarity with our case denied our application.

Distraught and exhausted I set it aside for a few months. We tried again. Denied. A few months later we tried again. Again denied.

And then we paid a visit to a legal aid office in a nearby suburb. Our new counsel was supportive and knowledgeable. Within six months we not only had a favorable decision, we had two years of back payments for the period of time when we were wrongfully denied. Victory, of a sorts. Healing for my husband was still quite a few years off, but at least we had a small income. It was in 2005 that he was able to return to work and leave the Social Security and Medicare system.

Fast forward to April, 2013. In a bizarre accident, my husband walked into a fast food restaurant and within three minutes sustained a painful knee injury from an enormous, unsecured slab of melamine that spontaneously fell off the serving counter. Trip to urgent care, x-ray, crutches, and three days off work – both jobs. He’s spent two months now playing phone tag with the human resources department of the fast food company and with their insurance representatives, trying to get reimbursement for medical expenses and lost wages.

Finally yesterday, he received a call from this insurance company saying they definitely admit liability. However – IRONY WARNING – my husband cannot be reimbursed for any medical expenses because according to the Social Security Administration, he is still receiving Medicare benefits.

Let me explain. No, it is too much. Let me sum up. (Thank you, Inigo Montoya.)

SSA screwed us many years ago when we legitimately needed help. Now they’re screwing us when we have a legitimate claim completely unrelated to SSD, 8 years after my husband became truly ineligible for Medicare and disability benefits when he returned to health.

Supposedly a trip to the local SSA office should start the process of fixing this astonishing ineptitude. As you may imagine, I have my doubts.

I know many others have experienced the great joy of proving disability due to brain illness. I’d be fascinated to hear your stories – please share. Misery loves company, right?


Trust in God but Tie the Camel

I happened on a column of the evangelist, Billy Graham, today and I was very heartened by his response to a parent who was asking for prayers for his daughter who was depressed and had even spoken of ending her life.  Here is Mr. Graham’s reply:

I strongly urge you seek the best medical advice you possibly can for your daughter, if you haven’t already done so. Prayer is important, but sometimes God answers our prayers through other people, including those to whom He has given special gifts and abilities. This includes men and women with scientific and medical skills; one of the Apostle Paul’s closest companions was Luke, whom he referred to as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14).

I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist, of course, but I understand that depression can have many different causes. Some (such as chemical imbalances in the brain) often respond to treatment, and you should do all you can to be sure your daughter is properly diagnosed. Your pastor or family doctor may be able to suggest the best options in your community. In addition, let your daughter know that you’ll always love her, and that God loves her also, whether she “feels” His love or not.

Too often I have encountered people who have a loved one who is struggling with depression or another brain illness who don’t see the many ways in which prayer may be answered.  Mr. Graham says it well when he states that God answers our prayers through other people.  The work of God is in the therapy sessions and in the medication and in the support of the community.  We need to recognize that. 

An old Middle Eastern proverb says, “Trust in God but tie your camel.”  We who live with brain illness day after day have to indeed trust our Higher Power but we have to reach out to the many helpers the Higher Power gives us in our lives, those who can help us on the road to healing and health.  Thanks, Mr. Graham, for that reminder.  

– Bernadette


A Caregiver’s Lament

Okay, I will start with saying that this probably has a lot of baggage with it – growing up as the youngest in a family of eight, having a disabled and depressed father, a mother who worked and took care of said father, being not noticed despite whatever I did good or bad – a lot of baggage,


None of that helps with my present feelings, namely feeling unappreciated, not chosen, and taken for granted.  I know this is the lot of caregivers world wide but does it have to be?

I spend a lot of time helping people, listening to their challenges, trying to be understanding of the pulls on people from so many places, and in general just trying to be there for them.  Therefore, when I express a need or suggest something that I would really want to do, why is it that I am met with reasons why they can’t meet that need or obstacles that keep what I really want to do from happening?

I am a caregiver.  I give of my time freely.  I love the people I have to care for.  I understand where they are and I am generally accepting of things, gently but surely helping them to recognize the things they need to in order to progress.  I am, however, also a person.  I need to be recognized.  I need people to care about me.   I need someone to take me in their arms and tell me that they understand the challenges of caregiving.  I need to be chosen – to be the one asked out for coffee not the one doing the asking, to be the one invited to dinner, not the one entertaining.  I need to be chosen – to be the one you want to spend time with, to be the special friend.  Is that asking too much?

I guess so. So Mohammed will continue to go to the mountain and hope that someday the mountain will come to Mohammed.

– Bernadette

Medication Frustration

20130523-192940.jpgIn the last week I’ve been to the pharmacy for different medications for myself and for family members six different times (it’s infection / allergy / asthma season in Kansas), so admittedly I’m over-exposed to this issue. But the first pharmacy run-in in the string, which took place late last week, had nothing to do with acute symptoms with relatively easy solutions. It was about antidepressant medication, which is something you just DON’T mess with.

Background info: My husband had three days worth of his antidepressant left, having run short due to an increase of his dosage a few weeks ago.

Here’s the summary of what went wrong:
-My husband forgot to mention that he was almost out of meds. Because we have a mail order insurance “service,” refills need to be ordered at least a week and a half ahead of time.
-As I tried urgently to get a refill called in, the doctor’s office insisted on leaving  messages on our house phone even though my husband repeatedly asks them to call his cell so he can get calls while at work.
-The receptionist at the doctor’s office literally never answers the office phone – it always goes to voice mail.
-Apparently, neither the doctor’s office nor the local pharmacy knows how to get new dosages approved.                                                                                                              -The local pharmacy very generously offered to sell us two days worth of medication due to the immediacy of the need – at a cost of $25 for four pills. Our normal co-pay is $8 for a month’s worth.

After this final indignity, I saw red and explained (in incredibly controlled tones, considering the provocation) that the pharmacist’s offer was completely unacceptable and that I would take matters into my own hands as they were obviously unable to handle this situation, which surely they confront on a daily basis.

I was finally able to take care of it all with calls to the mail-order insurer’s member service (which is ridiculously hard to get through to but when you do get them they’re extremely helpful and pleasant). Because it was a “code red,” meaning it was a med that can’t be just dropped, they had the pharmacist call for an override code (which, according to the member service representative is actually standard procedure), and we got a full month’s worth of antidepressant at the new dosage, and at the regular co-pay price. I wish I could say I found it amusing when, two days later, a three-month supply of the medication – at the old dosage ?!? – came in the mail from the mail order service. We still don’t know how or why that happened.

I expect the whole tragedy (certainly not a comedy) of errors will have an encore in a few weeks when we have to order refills at the new dosage.

My take on this ridiculous incident:
• If a medical doctor prescribes a different dosage, insurance companies have no business holding veto power. Who went to medical school? Who better knows the needs of the patient? Certainly not a for-profit pharmacy run by people we’ve never met.
• Doctor’s office staff and pharmacy staff should be in the business of helping patients get what they legitimately need. They should be conversant on procedures and on patients’ contact information, based on the records the patient has provided. Throwing up their hands in defeat is not acceptable. Especially when you’re talking about a medication you can’t just stop cold turkey.
• My husband is an adult. Why was I in charge of fixing this debacle? Yes, my schedule is exponentially more flexible than his. I offered to step in because it was urgent and I had more time (I have to throw in, though, the fact that I was extremely ill during these few days.) But having been, by default, my depressed husband’s personal life manager and detail wrangler for so many years, I sometimes feel resentful.

Dealing with depression and with the nightmare process of finding adequate combinations of medications is hard enough. Depressed people and their families shouldn’t be thwarted at every turn simply because they’re trying to follow their doctor’s orders.


The “Can” Film Festival

imageThe Cannes Film Festival. Quite the event for film lovers everywhere.

I remember when I was operating a flow room for a group of kids that had not qualified for the gifted program – “the almost gifted” the school system dubbed them. I thought differently and these kids went on to write, produce, direct and star in three films. One film won first place and best of division at the Kan Film Festival, the state of Kansas’ answer to the Cannes Film Festival.

It was with hidden delight that I would tell anyone who would listen that my class achieved this honor. People automatically thought it was the Cannes Film Festival and were very interested until I explained the difference.

I was thinking the other day how too often that is exactly what happens when people hear about someone who has a brain illness. People will automatically think it is a distinctive disease until they hear depression and then the interest fades. Nothing glamorous about depression. Nothing one of a kind about depression. Nothing award winning about depression.

And yet it takes a lot of guts to deal with depression, both on the part of the person depressed and on the people who love them. It involves a search for the best directors – a good psycho pharmacologist and therapist who will treat the illness so as to reach a level of excellence. It means writing a new script each day, always not knowing what will take place but ready to try the lines that will work. The monies have to be produced to pay for the medication and the therapy and the endless doctor visits and that’s not taking into account the monies needed for a night out or a massage both of which will keep the caretakers on the road of health. And finally there is the star – depression – which everyone is trying so pointedly to unseat so that the star in the wings – health – can take over the part.

This production takes place day in and day out in so many households across the country and the achievements are often unnoticed. But they are the members of the Can Film Festival – the festival that can, does, and will defeat depression day after day after day. Kudos to all of you directing, producing and writing the way to the cure for this wicked illness.

– Bernadette


Thank you to our readers!

photo-versatile-blogger1liebster2Yes, this post is indeed a thank you to our readers who encourage us, inspire us to keep writing, and touch our hearts with their own stories.  I’ll also throw in a thank you to the best writing partner and friend a gal could have – Bernadette Stankard.  She’s kept Depression’s Collateral Damage up and running beautifully while I’ve been dealing with the many school and graduation events of our youngest over the last month.

It’s also a thank you to Carrie Lange of “Little Blog of Letting Go” (http://littleblogoflettinggo.com/2013/05/20/more-awards-oh-my/) for two blog award nominations. The first, for the “Liebster” award, came about six weeks ago.  The second, for the “Versatile Blogger” award, just arrived yesterday.  Life has gotten in the way recently so Bern and I never got around to dealing with the first one…but having been down with a sinus and upper respiratory infection / asthma / allergies for nearly a week, and therefore being bored out of the bounds of reason, I’m dragging myself into an upright position to do something productive and accept these two kind nominations.  (And as a nod to the theme of our blog, I must state that being under the influence of illness for so long can definitely result in depression-like symptoms.  Bleh.) Anyway, Carrie is awesome – a loyal reader and an post-er of truly excellent and thought-provoking words and images.

So, now to fulfill our nomination requirements (and I apologize for the length of this post, due to the combination of two awards at once.  Way too much navel-gazing here, so feel free to move on with your life as needed):

Liebster (requirements consist of naming your nominator and providing a link to that person’s blog, posting 11 facts about yourself, answering your nominator’s 11 questions, nominating 11 more bloggers, and creating 11 questions for those bloggers to answer) :

11 facts about myself:

1.      My husband and I have three really amazing kids that we love to be with and who, I think, actually like us.

2.      I’ve been married to the same, very interesting, man for 28 years.

3.      I love to play games – board games, video mystery games, word games, cards.

4.      I’ve published one book on my own and two with my amazing friend and co-author, Bernadette.

5.      I formerly taught 4th and 5th grades and kindergarten, and have also worked as a special education paraprofessional.

6.      For the last 8 ½ years I’ve been working as the Director of Children’s Ministry for a large ELCA congregation.  One of the perks of using my education degree in this way is that, unlike when I was in the classroom, I am allowed to go to the bathroom any time I want to.

7.      I am an incurable Anglophile.

8.      I read a ton – cozy mysteries and history, mainly. Oh, and juvenile fiction.

9.      I actually enjoy looking at other people’s family and vacation photos.  Weird.

10.   The only nation outside the U.S. I’ve visited is Ireland, and it was awesome.

11.   I would love to publish in the fiction genre one day.

Answers to Carrie’s questions:

1) What are you most afraid of?   Not getting over this incredibly long and violent sinus and upper respiratory infection!

2) Do you have a favorite quote or personal motto? If so, what is it?  Gosh, too many to list!

3) What is the most difficult life event you have experienced?  When three things happened within a few weeks of each other, any one of which should have knocked me over: 1) a miscarriage, 2) my husband’s total emotional collapse, and 3) I found out that a close family member was a pedophile.  That was one killer year.

4) What is the most joyful life event you have experienced?  For deeply, life-changingly joyful, the births of our children.  For sheer over the moon excitement, when my first short story was published and I was paid quite handsomely for it.

5) Who are your heroes? Fred Rogers and Madeleine L’Engle

6) What is your favorite “thing” in all the world?  British television and films

7) Do you believe in life on other planets?  Yeah, probably.  But I don’t bother thinking about it much.

8) If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?  I would make the production or creation of any sort of firearm  magically impossible.

9) If you answered the phone and a voice on the other end said, “I have a loaded gun to my head. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t pull the trigger?” How would you respond?  Ouch.  Not sure there is a good answer for that one.  How about “Because I love you and if you weren’t in this world my life would be a dark and empty place.”

10) What do you think the most important words in the English language are?  “You are lovable and cherished.”

11) How do you plan to make the world a better place?   Two answers to that one.1: I think my husband and I have done that by raising three intelligent, concerned, and caring kids who have their own plans to make the world a better place. And 2: I use my love of writing and my passion for issues of mental illness to try and help others who are struggling.

Create 11 questions for your nominees.

1.  Who is your favorite author?

2.   If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

3.  What kind(s) of music do you like to listen to?

4.  Name something you would love to be able to do that you haven’t done yet.

5.  What is your proudest accomplishment?

6.  What is your name?

7.  What is your quest?

8. What is your favorite color?

9. What is the capital of Assyria?

10. What’s your favorite comfort food?

11. What’s your favorite activity for a rainy day?

Nominate 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.

  1. http://Notaloneinthere.wordpress.com   
  2. http://justgoodenoughmum.wordpress.com
  3. http://dropbearexterminator.wordpress.com
  4. http://thehippygeek.wordpress.com
  5. http://thegoodmoodfoodie.com
  6. http://shellybeachonline.wordpress.com
  7. http://helptohopeblog.net/
  8. http://sharelistenhelphug.wordpress.com/
  9. http://thepreppypanda.wordpress.com/
  10. http://askanaspergirl.wordpress.com/
  11. http://debhumberstone.wordpress.com/

And now for the Versatile Blogger Award (requirements consist  of naming your nominator and providing a link to that person’s blog, sharing 7 personal things about yourself, nominating 15 other bloggers, and leaving them each a note about their nomination.)

Note: in the interest of time, imaginary internet space consumption, and my flagging energy due to illness, you’ll note some repetitive-ness in the answers below. Please forgive me if this practice flies in the face of the rules of these two cool awards.  I plead delirium, as my head seems to be completely stuffed with really disgusting bodily fluid.

Share 7 personal things about yourself:

1.      I love to play games – board games, video mystery games, word games, cards.

2.      I’ve published one book on my own and two with my amazing friend and co-author, Bernadette.

3.      I formerly taught 4th and 5th grades and kindergarten, and have also worked as a special education paraprofessional.

4.      For the last 8 ½ years I’ve been working as the Director of Children’s Ministry for a large ELCA congregation.  One of the perks of using my education degree in this way is that, unlike when I was in the classroom, I am allowed to go to the bathroom any time I want to.

5.      I am an incurable Anglophile.

6.      I read a ton – cozy mysteries and history, mainly. Oh, and juvenile fiction.

7.      I actually enjoy looking at other people’s family and vacation photos.  Weird.

Nominate 15 wonderful blogs, and let the blog owner know:

  1. http://Notaloneinthere.wordpress.com   
  2. http://justgoodenoughmum.wordpress.com
  3. http://dropbearexterminator.wordpress.com
  4. http://thehippygeek.wordpress.com
  5. http://thegoodmoodfoodie.com
  6. http://shellybeachonline.wordpress.com
  7. http://helptohopeblog.net/
  8. http://sharelistenhelphug.wordpress.com/
  9. http://thepreppypanda.wordpress.com/
  10. http://askanaspergirl.wordpress.com/
  11. http://debhumberstone.wordpress.com/
  12. http://4mizanthropy.wordpress.com
  13. http://balfourthrb.wordpress.com
  14. http://myperfectlyimblncdlife.wordpress.com
  15. http://ptsdperspectives.org

Again, thanks to everyone who has ever checked out “Depression’s Collateral Damage.”  We appreciate each and every one of you.


Depression….Too Much with Me

I have been struggling, trying to get myself to sit and write about depression. And I have come up with every excuse in the book (and then some) as to why I cannot write at this time. I have dishes to do, I have letters to write, I have a garden to plant. I cannot write about depression. It’s too beautiful a day, it’s too full of activities to write about depression. The truth is depression is too much with me.

Several of my family and friends are struggling with it now. Amy and I both are dealing with depression flare ups with our spouses. Everything I read seems to scream depression. In short, this is the time when I want to say that depression is something I don’t want a part of.

And yet I can’t escape it. In the morning I find it sleeping next to me in the man I love. At lunch it is in the conversation with a good friend as she relates what is taking place with her son. In the evening, it is a phone call which carries the franticness of someone who is facing a loved one who is considering suicide.

I don’t know how therapists and psychiatrists do it. How do they maintain their own equilibrium? How do they love their families and friends despite facing depression each day? How do they look and deal with yet another client who has depression without falling into a form of tried and true treatment while neglecting the unique story of the person in front of them?

I know this feeling toward depression will pass. I know that fighting the stigma is an important part of who I am. I know that despite the present feelings, life is good and loving those around me is so very important that, yes, I will listen with new ears and an open heart to yet another depression story because hope is always around the corner. Let’s hope that all people working with those who are struggling with depression feel the same.

– Bernadette

Magic in the Land of Depression?

Sometimes depression is too much with you.  When you see your spouse struggling in the darkness, when you see yet another notice of a suicide, when you hear another story of someone trying to make sense of the depression in their loved one, you just want to scream, “No more!”

And then I remember a quote.from Roald Dahl, the children’s book author.  It reminds me that you can never lose sight of the magic of hope.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.  

Perhaps great secrets to living are hidden in the unlikely place of depression in the people who cross our paths.

Here’s to another day of searching for those secrets and being open to the magic.

– Bernadette

Attached Information Not Necessary for Medical Examination

The following was attached to an information sheet common in doctors’ offices:

– refused to believe that Santa Claus did not exist and spent hours at the library trying to prove the rest of the world wrong.

– lying in the grass, he would imagine marvelous pictures in the clouds

– has a mother

– likes strawberries

– at six, worried that there were monsters under the bed

– worries now if the job he has might be cut

– enjoys sports and outings with his family

– cries at sad movies

– tries to be a good person by helping neighbors

– enjoys a good joke

– at times is bitter and feels sorry for himself

– love birthdays

– wants to be loved


Remember the person behind the brain illness.

Happy Mothering Day!

 My mother had eight children.  Much of her time was spent in taking care of the household, seeing that laundry was done, food was on the table, and everyone was doing what they were supposed to do.  As Mother’s Day approaches, I realize that she also dealt with one very depressed and very sick husband.  She became one of the principal bread earners and because of that, went to school, studied nursing and graduated.  She worked evenings, was home in the morning to get us all up and off to school, slept when she could, did my dad’s physical and mental therapy, and then went off to work for the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.  

 There are a lot of caregivers out that that have to do that and more, trying with all their resources to help the situation.  And in all those situations, the caregivers have to find time for themselves, for their own emotional health – my mom went off with a friend each Monday to have coffee and go to church for the weekly novena, finding enough there to feed her soul.   

 So as Mother’s Day approaches, I want to acknowledge all the “mothers” out there – those who are actually mothers and those who become “mothers” when brain illness darkens the doorsteps.  They are the ones who are on the front line fighting to keep depression from swallowing up their families.  Without them, so many families would be aimless, caught in the bog of emotional upheaval. 

 Hats off to all of you.  And our Mother’s Day present to each of you is a simple soup recipe that tastes great and can be done with a minimum of work.  Remember, taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do when fighting brain illness and part of that caretaking is eating well.   

 Happy Mothers’ Day! 


Amy’s Potato Soup Recipe

 Cut up and boil 5 baking potatoes and one chopped onion in 4 cans of chicken broth. When fully cooked, reduce to simmer and mash the potatoes in the broth with a potato masher. Add one 8-oz. package of cream cheese, cut into small squares. Mix with a hand mixer and cook until cream cheese is melted. Add salt and dill weed to taste. Serve with shredded cheddar and bacon bits as a topping. Serves 6.

 – Bernadette