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I Told You So….Maybe Not

One of the things we seldom talk about is that people with depression will deal with it on their own time frame and sometimes that fact can causes a great amount of friction in the family structure.

Maybe it is the thousandth time that you spoke with your loved one about the need to not dwell on stuff, to quit the ruminations, the stinking thinking.  But a good friend of hers or a paragraph in a book says the same thing and somehow it gets through to your loved one.   You throw your hands up and you bite back the remark “I already told you that” and somehow you try to feel good that at least change is happening:  he’s no longer stinking thinking or dissecting the life out of a subject.

If you are the regular caregiver, you spend a great deal of time dealing with depression through making appointments, monitoring medication, juggling the family finances and finding other ways to meet your needs from your no longer healthy relationship.  Along comes an outsider, says what needs to be said, what you’ve said a thousand times, and somehow the depressed person listens.  Somehow the time is ripe.

Just as we have to work out our own problems, just as we have to hear the words at the right time, those suffering with depression have to work through it also.  They have to be ready to learn that taking the medication regularly makes a difference.  They have to be open to the fact that they might carry some responsibility when they allow themselves to ruminate about negative things.  They have to be ready to accept the fact that they are dealing with a disease that is not easily dealt with and very rarely cured.   They have to want to get out and walk, knowing that exercise helps.  We can’t force it.

We who have a loved one with depression have to respect the person, walking the fine line of caring without stripping them of their dignity.  So the “I told yous” and the “why didn’t you hear it when I said it?” and all the other ways we wish to remind the depressed one that we were right – all those things have to drop away and you have to concentrate on the fact that someone somewhere has made a difference in your loved one’s battle with depression.  It doesn’t matter who gets through, it just matters that the message is heard and acted on.

– Bernadette

Sword of Damocles

I think one of the cruelest things about the disease of depression is when the depressed individual and the caregiver get a glimpse of what life is like without depression. Most people take feeling good for granted. Trust me, we don’t.

We appreciate those moments when everything is going well, when it seems we have our friend, our lover, our parent back. We can laugh and talk and just bask in the warmth of normalcy. And yet, there is always the feeling that the other shoe is going to drop. We have the feeling that this can’t last. We’ve been on the road of up and down and up and down and we know that the fall can be just around the corner, coming in the morning or as night settles in. We fear it and we accept it.

So we train ourselves to enjoy the moment. It may not last and it may last. Whatever happens, we have this moment of happiness and we know that depression has not claimed this moment in time. We’ll enjoy it while it lasts, mourn it when it is gone, and remember that “all will be well.”

– Bernadette

Scapegoating Mental Illness

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last year is forever burned into our memories. Out of unimaginable pain and sorrow, many surviving families have arisen to fight for ways to prevent similar events from ever happening again. I am thankful for their determination and perseverence.

Sadly, though, many officials have found a scapegoat that they’re trying to offload future possible disasters onto: the mentally ill. It’s been in the news repeatedly all year: We must identify the mentally ill. We must keep the mentally ill from owning guns. If we can control the mentally ill, gun violence will decrease.

This week the Kansas City Star ran an article about efforts by a suburban police department to keep schools safe. The police chief is quoted in the article as saying:
“…there should be a push to identify people with mental illnesses who show signs that they could become a threat…We have to be sophisticated enough to find out the ones who are harmless and the ones who are not.”

Never mind that, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, less than 4% of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to people with mental illnesses. Never mind that diagnosis of mental illness is possibly the least exact science in existence. Never mind that treatment for and care for the mentally ill is such an incredibly low priority that mental illness is the third largest cause of homelesness in the U.S. According to this police chief – and many politicians and policy wonks – we need to suddenly start precisely identifying which mentally ill people are likely to get hold of guns and start shooting people.

Pointing officious fingers at those who are struggling with various psychiatric diagnoses will exponentially increase the stigma of mental illness, but will do nothing to stop gun violence.

As an aside, I’d like to state for the record that our schools (and by that I mean the schools in my suburb – I can’t speak for anyone else’s schools) are safe. I’ve worked in them, volunteered in them, dropped our kids off at them every day for the last 18 years. Horrifying events like the Sandy Hook shooting are NOT the norm, and our children are in no more danger today than they were last November, pre-tragedy.

What’s changed is that our nation was reminded that guns are dangerous; that the NRA has redoubled its efforts to pretend that guns are safe and necessary; that people struggling with mental illness have been made public scapegoats.

And that is yet another tragedy.


Can Words Help or Hinder Depression?

Oh perk up!

We all have our crosses to bear.

If you don’t like feeling that way, change it.

Just try a little harder.

Why do you always have to be so sad?

I don’t care who said it. I don’t care what the circumstances were. I don’t care if it was a mother to a daughter or a husband to a wife or a friend to another friend. These lines should never cross the lips of anyone who has a friend or family member struggling with depression.

These lines constitute cruel and unusual punishment for the depressed individual and the caregiver. These little sayings are not what you say to someone who is grappling with an illness that strips you of energy, direction, happiness and time. Depressed individuals want to perk up. They realize others have their own struggles. They are trying as hard as they can. And they cannot control the sadness.

What you can do is remember these phrases:

I know how difficult it is to fight depression. Perhaps if together we smile or share a joke there might be a bright spot today for both of us.

I know you are doing all you can to fight this depression. It is hard.

I am happy that you are trying each day to face this illness and to work at getting better.

It causes my heart to ache that you are so sad. If I could be the miracle worker, I would make it better. But I’m not so I will just be your friend and love you through this illness.

Our words can help or hurt. When depression hits a household, let’s opt for helping. And remember that it is up to you to illuminate the earth and to help others understand depression.

– BernadetteImage

He’s Not Depressed!

“You don’t look depressed.” Or the corollary for caregivers is “Depressed? You can’t say that person is depressed.” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I heard the second line.

My husband has had the ability to put on a face for people he meets and works with and another face with me at home. People we know consider him a person with a great sense of humor, in love with life, and just fun to be around. They have never encountered his other side: An inability to laugh at jokes, sleeping immediately after returning from work, quick to anger and very self centered, talking for hours about how all of life impacts him and how he is responsible for everything that happens. They have not encountered the dourness that encompasses his being or the hopelessness that creeps into him.

I don’t mean to minimize the fact that my husband does indeed have a good sense of humor, is very loving and can pinpoint the crux of a situation clearly. But that doesn’t take away the fact that the illness of depression does cloud those gifts, especially for the ones he holds most dear.

Somewhere someone said, “Everything is not as it seems,” and that is so true about depression. Depressed people can be very good at hiding their depression (as can the caregivers) and they can be very good at acting the way a situation wants them to. But those abilities do not have any impact on the fact that they are depressed, that they struggle day in and day out with this illness.

When people said my husband couldn’t be depressed, they minimized me and my feelings, caused me to question if I was seeing the picture correctly. It was yet another thing to cope with in a sea of already great obstacles. When I needed a life raft, I received only more waves, telling me once again that perhaps I just didn’t know what I was talking about, causing me to doubt myself.

Next time someone tells you their loved one is depressed, do not counter with “he/she can’t be depressed” because you see only one small window into a person. Be aware that there are many facets to this person and perhaps the one who is saying he or she is depressed is the one who is looking through the right window.


Caregiver burnout: finding empathy

I’ve lived with depression in my household for almost 20 years. There have been times when the illness was fairly well controlled, and times when the “black dog” took over every minute of every day. We’ve been in one of the down times for the last year or so, and I’ve found my reserve of empathy is decreasing. Certainly I grieve for what my husband is struggling through. At the same time, though, I’m weighed down by how worn out I am, and how the illness affects me.

Van Gough's Sorrowing Old Man

Van Gough’s Sorrowing Old Man

So yesterday when I read the post (excerpts below) from raventaylorauthor at http://meandmydepression.wordpress.com/, I was thankful for her simple and honest description of what it feels like to be depressed. Yes, I need a break from caregiving and a break from depression, but I also needed the reminder…

I’ll use a really basic comparison to try and explain how each day feels during a ‘down’ spell. Imagine you have broke your leg. You’re feeling pretty crap. Little things you found so easy the week before, like walking up the stairs or even just standing, are suddenly impossible. But no one would expect you to do these things. You wouldn’t have to get up each day and walk up stairs or drive a car. You’d be given time to feel better again. With ‘depression’ it’s like getting up everyday with a broken leg and being asked to stand and walk as normal while creating the illusion for everyone looking on that you are ok. For that is what people expect. You get up, you got to work, and you put on a fake smile and pretend everything is fine because to do anything less is unacceptable. It becomes exhausting. It’s harder than I can explain. It’s so tiring and by the time you get home at night you’ve nothing left to give, and you break. Then your family suffer because you have no more fight left in you.

The other thing I get asked a lot is ‘well, you seemed happy enough when you were on that day trip/out for that meal etc the other day. How is it an illness if you don’t have it at these times?’ That’s not true. I always have it. So again we go back to the broken leg analogy to try and explain. So you break your leg. It hurts. You are in a hell of a lot of pain, but you get given some painkillers. The pain goes away when you take them. You feel a little better. Doesn’t mean you don’t still have the broken leg. You do, of course. Time with family, holidays and days and days out are like pain killers to me. Take me away to the country for a day and for a while I’ll feel a bit better. It’ll still be there, but the symptoms are some what relieved. Take away my days out and my family time and you take away my medicine. It’s no different from taking away painkillers from a person with a broken leg.

I’m thankful for these words, as well as for the writings of so many other bloggers who offer comfort, perspective, and insight.

Mental Health Over the Airwaves

The other day I was listening to a local pop station – not my usual choice, but I get a kick out of pop music on low-key, relaxed summer days – and heard an ad for a local psychiatric treatment facility. I suppose it caught my attention for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’m always on the lookout for articles, information, and references to mental health.Then, too, the typical ad on this station is for laser hair removal, weight loss systems, liposuction, and tanning salons – note the trend? Psychiatric treatment is definitely outside the box in this setting.

credit to serviziovolontarioeuropeo.it

credit to serviziovolontarioeuropeo.it

The ad stated that mental/emotional health issues are real, common, and treatable. Certainly a good message to get out there, and I appreciate having it presented to an audience who, perhaps, might not have been exposed to it before.
On the other hand, the ad was clearly hawking a certain treatment facility. I have no idea what kind of reputation this place has – possibly many people have been helped there. But my guess would be, since they’re buying ad time, profit has to be a pretty strong motive.

My own experience with in-patient treatment for brain illnesses was not good. There was a point at the beginning of our journey when my husband was in such a bad way that I made the choice to hospitalize him in hopes of keeping him safe and finding a path to healing. We were forced, due to our not-so-great health insurance company, to place him in a facility that stripped him of dignity, ignored my concerns, and gave us very mixed and negative messages; it was a complete disaster. Before even the first 24 hours were up, I checked him out, for the well-being of both of us.

So, I’m wondering whether a facility that costs a bundle, as I suspect the one advertising on this pop station may, offers better treatment than what we experienced. If a family can afford this kind of treatment, that’s a good thing, right? Or are they just taking advantage of people who are hurting in a nightmarish situation?

Bottom line, I just don’t know. It was definitely food for thought.

Walking a Fine Line

New statistics out today indicate that up to 68 percent of people within ministry are dealing with symptoms related to depression or have actual depression. That’s a staggering number. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is more than a ministry problem. It is a caregiver problem.

Ministers are regularly reaching out to others, taking on the problems of others, and dealing with stress from the situations that arrive in the lives of their congregations. The same is true of caregivers. They are day in and day out reaching out to help, taking on the challenges of their depressed loved one and dealing regularly with stress that can arise at the drop of a hat.

Ministers deal with long hours, high stress, family issues and a jumble of emotions as a result of taking on the problems of those they serve. Caregivers are no different. Often family issues arise because too much time is being spent with the depressed loved one and other family members feel neglected. Caregivers forget their role and take on the problems of their loved ones, not taking the precaution to keep emotional distance. And way too often, the emotions that arise in caregivers are not addressed or are allow to simmer until they boil over.

Ministers also, many times, don’t seek help when something is not right with their lives. If it is depression, the muzzle is often put on and no one is the congregation knows or suspects that something is going on because of a fear that people will not accept it. Caregivers also, too often, don’t seek help from others, thinking they can handle the situation themselves. Or they choose to keep it a secret, fearing that there will be repercussions from others. The ugly stigma rears its head once again.

We are all agreed that depression is an terrible disease. But we don’t all agree on the fact that we have to open the windows and let the secret out. We also don’t realize that we need to shut out depression by choosing to stay healthy no matter what it takes. Depression is waiting for us caregivers to be other victims. Guess what? We don’t have to be. We can care for our loved ones who are suffering but we don’t have to join them in the disease in order to help them get well.

– Bernadette

Finding truth and healing in fiction

As a writer and a lifelong devour-er of books, I’m fascinated by the concept of truth through story. From the bible to Jane Austen to Madeleine L’Engle to Alexander McCall Smith’s “Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, great wisdom about life, love, and the human condition is there for the taking – even in stories that are not literal or factual. Today I ran across something that reminded me of the healing power of words, even when they appear in what is considered light or even trivial fiction.

I’ve been re-reading a favorite series by Anne George (I admit to being addicted to cozy mysteries, but I promise that’s not all I read – as witnessed by the attached photo of one of the bookshelves in our house). In my current book, “Murder On a Bad Hair Day,” the main character, a retired teacher, says the following:

“There are millions of people who have had help for emotional problems, just like there are millions of people who have been treated for ulcers. Both are painful and both treatable.”

This book has a copyright date of 1996. Seventeen years ago, a thoughtful woman penned these words, and everyone who’s read them since then has been exposed to a positive and healing attitude about the issue of brain illness. I call that a score on the side of Light.


Music and mood



Music is an important part of our family life. My husband has always been a collector/curator of interesting and eclectic music, and he passed his fascination on to the rest of us. Pretty much any time of day, any day of the week, you can hear something playing somewhere in the house – choral works, orchestral pieces, bluegrass, fusion, punk, Celtic, rock. We have great memories of the kids dancing and singing in the living room on rainy days to Western swing and rockabilly. We attended local band concerts in the park on summer Sunday evenings, with our three little ones parading around the scattered picnic blankets in time to Sousa marches.

All three kids have excelled in making music, as well. Our oldest as a pianist and violist, and the two younger kids in choral and solo singing; between them they treated us to seven straight years of excellent youth-produced music at our all-state music festivals, as well as recitals, shows, and impromptu concerts around our piano. With our youngest about to start college to work on a degree in choral music education, we’re looking forward to four more years of his concerts and productions ahead.

preparing for a duet for a school show

preparing for a duet for a school show

For these many years, the children’s music and the music we played at home played an important role in keeping my husband’s depression at bay. On rotten days, blasting some raucus Cajun music could keep him going. Looking forward to a school concert gave him something to focus on, to get through the day.

With my husband’s recent depression slump, music has again proven a lifeline. Here’s the deal: We know that walking for excercise and fresh air helps improve his mood. But lately, he hasn’t been able to get himself out the door, even though he knows it would make him feel better.

This week, though, quite by accident, he learned a tactic that makes a difference. Listening to new music while he walks – something that has no connotations or memories attached – allows him to simply walk and enjoy music without thinking. He says it was the thinking (which for him so often means obsessive, negative thoughts) that was spoiling exercise for him. He’s been out walking several mornings this week, and I’m starting to see some positive changes.

What a discovery. Music to the rescue!