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Blue Christmas

This may be the most depression-free Christmas season our family has ever experienced. I’m incredibly thankful that my husband is currently beating his long-term depression and that I’ve found ways around my SAD.

The holiday season is very often painful for those with depression. The pressure to experience joy and goodwill can bring on a downward spiral of guilt (for not feeling joyful), envy (of those who can enjoy the season), and despair (because it seems that peace and joy are unattainable).

In Beat Back the Holiday Blues , a post this week on the National Alliance on Mental Illness blog, Kathleen Vogtle offers several thought-provoking and practical steps to take in order to get through the season on a healthier note.

If you know someone who  struggle with increased depression during the holiday season, take a look at “Beat the Holiday Blues.” It might be the best gift you could give.


Depression Perspectives

This cartoon from Robot hugs came through my Facebook newsfeed yesterday, via the “Live Well ELCA” Facebook page (the health and wellness division of my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Accompanying the graphic were these words from ELCA: “How do you help family members or friends who are going through a rough time? Here’s one way.” The accompanying words from the artist, Rich Matli (whose work is beautifully thought-provoking, always), made it very clear that the cartoon refers specifically to depression.

On the one hand, I appreciate the effort by the ELCA to increase awareness and understanding of depression. On the other hand, I have a couple of concerns:

+Depression is MUCH more than “a rough time.” It is a serious illness that can be extremely difficult to resolve. I’m afraid what was intended to be a supportive post ends up unintentionally minimizing the reality of depression.
+My perspective tends to be that of the caregiver. Yes, it’s a great thing for a loved one to support a depressed person with the gift of presence. But too often caregivers get sucked into the depression and suffer major consequences to their own health and happiness. So I would add a postscript: Be present, but take good care of yourself, too.

A very interesting cartoon and comment. I’d be interested to hear the perspective of others on this one…



Boundaries and burnout involving mentally ill family members…we’ve discussed this topic before on Depression’s Collateral Damage. But events in my life over the past week have made me return to the issue and I’ve come away with some new (to me) insights.

I have a fairly close family member who struggles with borderline personality disorder. It’s obvious that life is hell for her, and I’m truly sad for what she has to deal with. I’ve had to pull away from her, however, simply out of self-defense. The sobbing, weeping phone calls, the manipulation, the accusations and verbal nastiness, the constant crises and emergencies…it’s too much for me. Yet I felt a huge burden of guilt over my disengagement. After all, I have a good, stable life. A job I love, wonderful kids, a loving husband, friends, hobbies, etc. So many things she would love to have – but which her illness prevents her from having. So I should be generous. Reach out, spend time with her, help her find a healthy place. I’m tough and strong, right? I should be paying it forward.

Twice last weekend she ended up coming to our house. I tried very hard to enjoy her company. She behaved, to the untrained eye, pretty normally. But in the wake of those visits, I was more than drained. I was depressed, anxious, angry, and confused.

It took several days of soul-searching, but in the end I had an epiphany.

**Warning** I am about to use a word that I would never use to describe anyone else’s experiences with mental illness. But I feel it’s the word I want to use in the context of my own experiences and the way I feel about them. Please forgive me if you find the use of this word offensive.

I have had to live with crazy for my whole life. My mother, my father, my grandparents, my husband – all have contributed significant amounts of different kinds of crazy. I’m not just talking about the typical “family stress” pretty much everyone deals with. I mean seriously, diagnosably ill. In forms that have affected my life in extremely real and painful ways.

So back to my epiphany…the only way I’ve managed to live a joyful, peaceful life is to create large bubbles of safety between me and the crazy of my family members. That bubble is pretty small for my husband – I’m invested in his recovery and his quality of life and I want our life together to be good. But with everyone else, the safety bubbles have to be significant. Again, I’ve long felt a ton of guilt for keeping my distance from so many family members, but no more. I know it’s a matter of survival. And In the case of my close family member with BPD, the safety bubble has to provide complete isolation. I’ve reached my lifetime limit of crazy. I simply can’t go there and still have peace.

I spelled all this out for my husband earlier this week – he’s in such a good place now that I was able to say it all to him. And he understands and supports my need for those safety bubbles 100%, including facilitating my complete isolation, as needed.

It’s an incredible relief to allow myself permission to do what I need to do and be who I need to be. Not to mention to have the support of my husband in this effort. And just in time for the holidays…


Officially a success

I’ve been using a light therapy box for almost a month now, after having resisted the idea for two or three years.

imageWhy resist? Partly, I suppose, because of the inconvenience I thought it would cause. Partly because the directions included with my box were quite annoying, including a warning that light therapy can cause serious side effects in people taking antidepressants (tell me how many people NOT on antidepressants are using these!). And partly, I have to say, because I didn’t want to admit to the fact that I probably needed it.

Yes, that last reason is coming from someone who fights daily against the oppressive stigma in our culture associated with mental illness. From someone who deals every day with a husband who has struggled with crippling depression for many years and who would do nearly anything to feel better.

Well, I am a convert. I’ve been using my light box for at least half an hour in the morning and sometimes half an hour in the early afternoon. I find that I have more energy all day long. My mood is improved compared to the last few years of SAD. I’m able to be awake and alert until at least 10:00 in the evenings (as compared to 6:00 previously – no joke).

And so, here’s what I have to share: If your doctor or therapist has every recommended that you try a light box, go for it. There’s every chance you’ll be very glad you did. And if it doesn’t help, at least you tried. Best of luck.

Mental health issues and the innocent bystander

The statistics about young people and suicide are shocking. Frightening. Recently an 8th grader I’m close to and care about deeply was affected by this issue.

Over the course of a day, she received numerous texts from an acquaintance at school who was saying, in many different ways, that she no longer wanted to live. They have a couple of classes together, but my young friend didn’t even know the girl’s last name – just knew who she was.

With help from her mom, from an excellent presentation on kids and technology that coincidentally was going on at our church that evening, and with help from school counselors, my young friend got through the situation and handled it well, making sure her acquaintance was referred to the help she needed.

And I am left with conflicted feelings about this situation:

  • Sorrow that a young girl reached out to someone who doesn’t really even know her. Does she no true friends? No loving, supportive adults in her life?
  • Fierce, mama-lion anger that my young friend was thrust into an extremely difficult position, and that she had to be put through an emotional wringer most adults aren’t prepared for.

I recognize that, in part, this anger comes from my own baggage. I have recently been forced back into a relationship with an extremely unstable family member. Her behavioral health issues cause her to live in a state of histrionics that my low-key, introverted self absolutely despises. I resent this intrusion in my life (and yes, I feel selfish admitting that fact) so I’m extra-sensitive to what my young friend had to deal with.

It’s just one more example of how issues of poor mental health can seriously affect us innocent bystanders.


Early Thanksgiving

The actual holiday is almost two weeks distant, but we’re already celebrating Thanksgiving at our house. Actually, we have been for a few weeks now.

My husband just finished his fourth out of five weeks of schooling for a career change he’s wanted to make for many years. He’s already received two very good job offers, and all of this change has done wonders in lifting his depression.

I know very well that simply making changes in your life is no miracle cure for depression. Depression is a physical illness that is extremely complicated and not well understood. Each person’s path to healing is unique, and no one course of treatment or set of decisions or actions can be considered “The Way” to recover from depression – no matter what you might hear on talk shows or in prescription drug ads.

But for the first time in many, many years my husband is beating his illness and is a joy to live with. The changes he’s made in his life are working for him. And we’re giving thanks.


No Need for Blame

Blame. We all are familiar with it. We all have experienced it. And yet, somehow most of us grow beyond blaming another and blaming ourselves. We realize that so much more can be gained if we skip the blaming.

And so much more would be gained if all the blaming about whose fault it was that the national health insurance website got off to such a shaky start ended and we all turned our energies to seeing that the website got fixed and to helping people access it easily and quickly.

What would be gained?

People who have not been able to have insurance up to this time would be able to sign up for it.

And people who are struggling with mental illness would be able to seek the needed treatment without worry.

And that’s just the beginning of the good that could come out of the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s stop blaming and instead let’s band together as the community we should be to help one another no matter the mistakes of the past.

– Bernadette

Depression Treatment For All: Thinking Outside the Box

An article on PsychCentral this week  (Screening, Home-Based Therapy Help Low-Income Moms Combat Depression) blew me away in two respects:

  • The study reviewed shows that screening for depression and providing therapy IN THE HOME can relieve depression in minority mothers. These were low-income women, unlikely and/or unable to attend therapy sessions if left to their own devices. Someone had the incredible insight to go where these women live and help them. The group studied, on average, experienced an improvement of scores on a widely used depression inventory – from 27 to 9.6 (a score of 19 or higher indicates major depression). These results remained in place eight months after the program ended.
  • The lead researcher, Dr. Sheree Toth said of the importance of depression screening, especially for high-risk populations, “When I go to the doctor, they ask me if I use my seatbelt. Why would we not be asking questions about depression when we know the chances of being hit by a car are way less than the chances of being hit by depression? People are suffering needlessly.”

It’s unusual to read of a depression study with such practicality, such impressive results, and such compassion. Framing the way we look at depression the way Dr. Toth has done is an enormous step in the right direction.


A Different Kind of Veteran

This post is for all the unsung veterans of mental illness, both those who have suffered with the diseases the brain deals out and those who have had to live with and love those who are struggling with brain illness.

I salute the people who have flashbacks from a particularly painful threat of suicide they witnessed and I salute those who have had to face suicide head on as the unbelievable but so very real outcome of brain illness.

Today I honor all of those who have had to deal with the “all about me” aspect of depression which excludes everyone, loved or not, from the picture, leaving only the depressed person as the person who counts. I recognize the loneliness, anger, and sadness that the “all about me” aspect brings to the caregiver.

I acknowledge all those who have to deal not only with depressed and angry spouses but also with children who don’t understand what is happening in the house. They are the ones who cuddle and explain and help all those around the depressed one realize that it IS an illness.

I remember today the chairs and couches and beds that have been the sites of a once again recitation of concern from a loved one regarding the terror they feel from the brain illness that is engulfing them.

I honor all those people who have had to handle all the finances and often spend their nights worried about money in addition to the already long list of things in the treatment of their depressed loved one.

I salute all those people who suffer from some sort of brain illness, those people who are not afraid to seek treatment, who are willing to share their struggle with another, and who are working to erase the stigma surrounding their illnesses.

And I remember and honor all the people who live with, care and love these people, and the professionals who understand these diseases and tirelessly work toward an answer to dealing with brain illness.

These are the veterans who serve day after day after day and too often they are overlooked, underpaid, and unacknowledged. Let those “veterans” in your life know that you appreciate them.

– Bernadette

Happy Veterans Day?

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, a holiday set aside to honor all those who have gone to war, but reflecting on that started me thinking (sometimes a very dangerous activity).

First of all, there is the theory of just war. I don’t think looking back on all the wars fought in my lifetime that there was ever a just war. Secondly, for the 13 years of the new millenium, there has not been a day that I have not read about a war we as a nation are involved with. And lastly, we say we honor our veterans but then I ask the following questions:

If we care about our veterans, why do we (especially those who decide wars) send them in to battle to be wounded and maimed and killed?

If we care about our veterans, why do we offer such poor help when it comes to post traumatic stress syndrome? Why do we let so many of our veterans live their life out in terror from the things they have witnessed and received in war?

If we care about our veterans, why don’t we give them and their disabilities, both physical and mental, treatment with more speed and caring?

If we care about our veterans, why do we continue to use stereotypical answers for the service that do? We call them heroes when some of them are ashamed of what they have been asked by their country to do.

Mental illness is not dealt with well in the armed forces. Our veterans (and those presently serving) are not given the necessary tools for for coping, the necessary resources to understand and TALK about what they are or have been experiencing.

Is it macho to hide the fact that horrible happenings have attacked the minds of those called into battle? Is it asking too much for the people who send these mostly young people into war, to make provisions for their mental and physical care, giving them the best available? And is it too much to ask to give them this help in a very immediate and timely manner?

I remember having a party at our house. A couple who were good friends were in attendance. During the party, the husband, a Green Beret in the Viet Nam War, would often disappear into our back yard. I remember going and asking him if he needed anything. He shook his head and said, “Only if you can stop the cries and the blood and the screams that play out time and again in my mind. I don’t want to be part of having hurt those people but I am.”

Happy Veterans Day?

– Bernadette