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    By Amy and Bernadette

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Happy List

image credit to catholicdadsonline.org

image credit to catholicdadsonline.org

There are a lot of people who espouse a mistaken and hurtful belief that positive thinking and intentionality can overcome depression. If you’ve ever experienced depression yourself, or if you’ve ever lived in close quarters with a depressed person, you know how ridiculous this notion is.

On the other hand, those of us who are not struggling with the brain illness called depression (which attacks thoughts, moods, and bodies just as thoroughly as cancer, diabetes, or other “approved” illnesses) can take steps to live more joyful and positive lives. If we are living with someone who is depressed, these steps can help us fight off what can be a very contagious illness.

Zefrank1, who creates hilarious and thoughtful videos on his Youtube channel, has one that really resonates with me, titled “What’s on your HappyList?” Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syR_NinJ2B0 He’s referring to small moments, small actions, that bring great joy. His list includes digging his fingernail into the skin of a navel orange and getting the last little bit out of a bag of chips.

A few items included on my list would be:
-crunching acorns under my feet while taking walks in my neighborhood
-the smell created by the first moments of rain, which has the amazing name of petrichor. I love it all the more because it has a name.
-when the load of towels I’m folding contains the exactly correct matching washcloths (hmmm…is this an indication of a small life?)
-getting into a bed just made with fresh, clean sheets

I think there’s power in recognizing that even the most mundane of happenings can bring deep satisfaction. Here’s to all of us finding and appreciating those moments in the coming week.
-Amy

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Finding Silver Linings

On the trek over torn up street, yards, and sidewalks to find my car this morning, I had occasion and time to reflect on silver linings – unexpected good that comes from bad.

My musings started as I passed and visited with two different neighbors I’d never met before. One had pushed his granddaughter in her stroller to the edge of the construction area to view the interesting trucks. The other was finding a new route for walking her very happy and friendly dog, as their old route is now impassable. Both encounters made me smile and be thankful for the short-ish, though extremely hot and humid, hike I have to take every morning. A silver lining.

It made me recall a much harder-to-discern silver lining I discovered some time ago that was created by the long-term depression and anxiety of my husband. When our children were very young, their father was too ill to hold a job. It was a terrible time in too many ways to count, but there was a very positive result: He was home with our children for all their preschool years and into their early elementary grades. Though he has sad memories of not being able to truly enjoy that time, what the children saw was a Papa who was right in there with them for every diaper, every play time, every meal, every silly game. I saw and appreciated these things, too, though I also saw the tears and despair he worked so hard to hide from the little ones.

When his health improved just enough and the kids became just old enough that it was “safe” for me to go back to work (a long and painful story for another day), another silver lining appeared: our children never attended day care or after school care. Their father continued to be a stay-at-home dad, and it didn’t hurt that as a teacher my schedule was fairly accommodating to their needs. I know this is a touchy subject and a topic of acrimonious debate, but it was absolutely a non-negotiable for us to have our kids at home until they went to school, and for them to have a parent at home with them after school. I’ve seen the benefits of this cornerstone decision over and over again as they’ve grown and matured, and for me it is perhaps the most important aspect of my husband’s illness, as hard as it was to achieve in terms of my husband’s and my emotional health and our financial stability.

So here’s the deal: The nasty street construction makes me pretty grumpy at times, but it’s led to some lovely encounters. My husband’s brain illness made our lives suck in many ways, but it led to three really awesome kids and priceless family memories.

Silver linings…if only they weren’t so hard to come by.

-Amy

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The Renewing Smile

The Mona Lisa smile. We have seen it. We have heard it talked about. Speculation abounds about who the woman was and why she was smiling. Her hint of a smile might not seem like much but it is enough to relax all the muscles in the face. That hint of a smile has the potential power to chase away worries and fatigue.

When the world of depression is too much with you, try a half smile. At least for a moment, you will remember what peace is like. As the noted Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns to us the peace we thought we had lost.”

Dealing with depression day in and day out can zap your strength. Renew yourself with a half smile. It has more power than we give it credit.

– BernadetteImage

Oops! Did I Say That?

 

We have to get together sometime. 

How many times have you heard that line?  And how many times have you heard that from someone you were talking with about your loved one’s depression?

Recently my husband suffered a concussion.  It not only brought along the normal results of a concussion – slower response, slower gate, fear of falling, and other issues – it brought along an increase in his depression symptoms.  Everyone who saw him in the beginning days usually ended the conversation with “we have to get together soon.”  No visits transpired.

We became a couple in a boat out in the ocean with no hope of rescue in sight.  I tried to keep the boat in the direction of the shore but on too many days it became a task that seemed insurmountable.   I was dealing with a person I didn’t know – the concussion had seen to that.  I was dealing with an increase of depression symptoms – it’s hard to keep upbeat when surrounded with such sadness.  In addition I was having to answer his wondering “where everyone was” and not really knowing what to say.

I know that looking at someone who has changed, being around a depressed person, looking at your own fears is never fun.  But if you don’t want to do it, don’t say your want to get together just to soothe your own self.

Having talked with many who live with and love a depressed person, I found that many had similar experiences, even without the concussion factored in.  They talked of no longer being invited to dinner or asked out for coffee.  They remembered being conveniently left off of party invitations. They would see people they knew who would literally walk on the other side of the street or duck into alleys to avoid seeing them.

We who struggle with and love someone with depression and those who are depressed have feelings.  We can feel left out and abandoned.  We can wonder why our friends no longer call or come over, especially when they said they wanted to get together.  We can feel as pariahs in our own community.

Lots of times we say things without thinking, using the rote response.  Have a good day!  See you later!  Let’s get together.  In the field of depression it is hard to distinguish these nuances – after all, it takes most of our energies to just get through the day in a sane way – and so when you say you want to get together, we are inclined to believe you really want to get together, that you want to offer a time of respite from the normal routine.  We want to believe you care.

The moral of this story is:  Follow through on what you say.  Say what you mean.  And care about those you say it to.

– Bernadette

Which Is Witch?

As a caregiver or a spouse or a partner – anyone – who has to live with a depressed person, do you ever feel like you have a huge trunk inside you and as you approach your loved one you go into the trunk and don the appropriate persona to meet them? It might be a cheerleader, or a clown, or a doctor or a friend or a pharmacist or a car salesman – the right outfit with which to interact with the depressed one.

Some days I feel like a cheerleader who urges my husband to try something that he has been toying with for some time.  Others I am the friend he needs to just sit and listen to him.  On still others, I am the doctor, answering his concerns about his body as the depression screws with his thinking.  Sadly, though, on too many days, I pull out the witch’s persona.

If something doesn’t get done that I asked to have done, I make sure he knows about it.  If he doesn’t follow through on making an appointment or calling about his medicine, I roll my eyes and walk out of the room.  Other days I am the bitchy office manager and I let him know everything he has done wrong not only that day but all the days past.

I need to get rid of the witch.  Not that I’m not entitled to take time for myself, or to state my needs or address poor follow through.  I need to do all that, but I need to do it with a respect for my loved one.  I have to do it in a way that will not only keep his dignity in tact, but my own.  I find that when I am able to do that, the whole situation is better.  I don’t beat up on him and I don’t beat up on myself.

The poet Rumi wrote, “Keep the love of holy laughing in you.”  If I concentrate on the fact that both he and I are good people, I am able to deal with whatever situation comes up and I am able to laugh and cry and grow along with him….even growing into a good witch.

– Bernadette

Stop that Comment

stop signs

 

Remember growing up and being told to eat everything on your plate?  When you complained you were told that the poor starving children in Korea (or China or Sudan – you pick the country) would appreciate having what you have.  If you smarted off you said you would be happy to pack up the food and send it. Nine chances out of ten, though, you simply ate the food, not really understanding why.

If you’ve been depressed or if you are a caregiver of a depressed person, you have probably heard the line, “Remember there is somebody worse off than you are.”  Sure there are people who are more depressed, although how you can figure that out is beyond me when we can’t even accurately diagnose or treat depression. And people all over the world are worse off – living in poverty conditions, losing all their family to war, dealing with earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes.

But the bottom line remains:  thinking this, remembering this DOES NOT help anyone’s depression or the depressed ones they live with.   It only serves to reinforce the fact that people don’t care, that people don’t want to help, and that the person struggling has to go it alone.

Next time you are tempted to use this line when talking to a depressed person or a caregiver, STOP!  Remember that each situation is unique, that each person is struggling in a way we can’t understand, and that we are not the people to decide the plan of action.

Instead, think about saying, “I can’t imagine what it is like for you.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be.”  Maybe you’ll learn something and the depressed individual or the caregiver will feel that someone does care.  And that is the best thing you can do.

– Bernadette

P.S. Congratulations to Amy on her eldest’s graduation from college!

Rise and Shine! I Hate Depression in the Mornings.

credit to photo-library.com

credit to photo-library.com

I’ve always been a morning person. It’s easy for me to get up at sunrise, but by mid-afternoon I’m already starting to wind down. I do have some changes in my body clock when SAD starts to kick in sometime in the fall, so I have some experience with how depression – even mild-ish depression – can keep you down in the morning.

My husband, on the other hand, is naturally an evening person. Compound that fact with serious, chronic depression, and you have a recipe for morning disaster. He can sleep through endless alarm snoozes. He often turns the snooze off. Thankfully on days when he simply must get up and get himself to work he is generally able to do so. He stays in bed until the last possible moment, though, and barely leaves himself enough time each day – which results in a frantic rush and grumpiness as he tries to get out the door.

On days when his alarm clock isn’t set (either because he forgot to set it, or because it buzzed and he turned it off), he can easily sleep past noon. And I get the joy of trying over and over again to get him up. I have to be the wake-up police, and it’s not pretty. He doesn’t like it – obviously I’m annoying him and making him miserable. I don’t like it, either. I have plenty to do in the morning, and I’d like to be able to enjoy doing it. This situation has been going on for so many years I’ve long since lost any patience I ever had. And so we often start out the day with both of us frustrated and angry.

I’ve tried just letting it go – letting him sleep as long as he likes. His waking up is not my responsibility, right? It’s not worth it for me to get so frustrated and for him to get so upset with me. Why not let him just do his own thing and deal with the consequences? Here’s why: there are consequences for me and for the entire family, as well. The most obvious one is jeopardizing his job by being late. There are numerous others, which are too complicated to outline here.

But the waking up portion of the morning is only the beginning. Depression continues to keep hold of him long after he gets out of bed. While I’m reveling in morning coffee and the paper or dashing around the house using my energy to tackle chores, he’s sitting on the couch, staring. Or sitting at the breakfast table, head in hands, brows furrowed. It takes quite a few nudges to get him to have some breakfast, take a shower, move on to a better part of the day. And in the meantime his sorrowful affect becomes contagious and my mood often takes a nose dive. Not to mention the fact that I feel incredibly sad for him because he has to go through this misery day after day after day. And heaven help both of us if something has come up that morning that really needs discussion or action; I can either bring it up and take cover as the fallout rains down, or I can keep it to myself and hope an emergency doesn’t ensue before he reaches a functional state.

Later in the day, when he’s at a slightly better place emotionally, we sometimes discuss how to better handle the mornings. “Day Guy” is very reasonable He’ll suggest consistently getting to bed earlier or setting the alarm for an earlier time, and ask me to remind him in the mornings that he wants to get up earlier. But every single morning “Morning Guy” wins out. Morning Guy couldn’t care less what logical arguments Day Guy has for his getting up at a regular time. Morning Guy is sure he’s the only person in the world who has to get out of bed each day, and believes I’m cruel for trying to nudge him awake.

So that’s a snapshot of a morning in a life (and a marriage) weighed down with depression. Sigh…searching desperately for a better attitude…