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Resolutions for depression recovery

It often surprises people when Bern and I talk or write about how hard it can be when a seriously depressed person finds health and recovery. Getting better should be all sunshine and roses, right? What could be hard about that?

Here’s the thing: When one half of a couple has spent literally years in a dark, dysfunctional place, coping patterns inevitably emerge. The well spouse over-functions. The unwell spouse under-functions. The well spouse begins to take the role of a parent, while the depressed spouse takes the role of a child needing care and direction. These patterns may be the only way to keep the family going when depression is present.

With a return to health, these old patterns no longer fit. The caregiver is worn out from all that over-functioning, and the recovering spouse wants very much to step up to the plate. But letting go of the roles taken on during years of depression doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve been through this cycle more than once. Most recently, my husband has experienced the fullest depression recovery I’ve ever witnessed in our 28 years together. Things are changing so rapidly (for the better, thank goodness) that I can hardly keep up.

Since we’re just about to say good-bye to one year and move on to another, here’s a list of New Year’s resolutions that this caregiving spouse will attempt. I can’t promise I’ll succeed, but just making the list may keep me on the right track:

+Don’t panic when a bad day pops up. Everyone, including non-depressed people, has a downer, negative day sometimes.

+Let go of the responsibilities your spouse is willing to take up. You need the break, and you don’t have to be in charge of everything.

+Don’t overreact when symptoms / behavior you see in your spouse echo his depression symptoms / behavior. It’s been so long since you’ve seen him not depressed, it’s quite possible these behaviors are simply part of his personality. Take the time to learn the difference.

+Make time to have fun together. Get to know each other again on these new terms. Remember why you came together in the first place.

Hoping for the best. Happy New Year!


Stepping into Christmas

Today is Christmas and for many who suffer from brain illness, this is a most difficult day. These people are surrounded by others who are happy about the holiday and who
often feel that “if you would just relax and enjoy yourself” everything would be fine.

Unfortunately that is not the case. As we have said time and time again, depression cannot be cured by just wishing it so or by pulling up those boot straps. Instead, try acknowledging that the day might be difficult, but urge the depressed person to try and remember that taking the day a step at a time is the way to go.

You can get through the family dinner one step at a time. You can watch the opening of presents and be okay. You can recognize the happiness in others without feeling devastated. One step, one minute, one hour, one day at a time enables us to get through anything. We might not like it or enjoy it but we can get through it. And gradually, we will find that those small moments can be dealt with more easily, that those moments of tension can be dissipated. Going one step at a time does not cure anything but it gives us the power to get through days that are difficult and to relish the days that we want to cherish.

Christmas is one day out of the year and it can be dealt with one moment at a time, moments that might surprise us by being among our most cherished ones on the bumpy road of depression.

– Bernadette

Supporting Depression?

I’m out in Ohio visiting my sister who was recently diagnosed with Mantel Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and the treatment is vigorous. Everyone – family and friends – is helping in someway to make this journey padded with love.

In her living room is a stack of books from well wishers one of which is a cookbook entitled The Cancer Fighting Kitchen by Rebeccca Katz with Mat Edelson. As I was browsing through it I came across a page that talked about the importance of having a culinary support team. and the author recommended the book Share the Care by Cappy Capossela and Sheila Warnock, written following the illness of a close friend.

After reading these,I thought how great it would be to form Depression Support Teams for family and friends coping with this unpredictable illness. Some of their suggestions for the culinary support team (which would be easily adaptable for Depression Support Teams) include:

  • Give people tasks they enjoy
  • Have only one captain to delegate assignments
  • Rotate the captain weekly, if possible
  • Take everyone’s emotional temperature every few weeks to make sure no one is getting crunched
  • Recognize that caregivers have other responsibilities they need to attend to
  • Always keep feelers out for other people who want to join the team.

Cancer and other challenges in life often bring along depression and that often complicates the primary illness. Cancer treatment can cause loss of appetite well as depression and the combination can spell disaster for a healthy body trying to fight a crippling disease.

Depression support teams have the ability to help not only the depressed individual to continue to feel connected but also to help the primary caregivers stay healthy. I want to look into the possibilities of this further and someday, hopefully, teams of support will help depression dissipate in this country and the world because of the force of love and care.

Sites to check out about caregiving and such teams include: http://www.sharethecare.org, http://www.lotshelpinghands.com, and http://www.caring bridge.com. And please send us your suggestions for forming such teams, what has worked for you and what you feel has been missing.

– Bernadette

How Is Depression Like the Post Office?


No, this is not the beginning to a joke; rather, it is a reflection on my trip to the post office yesterday.

As I stood in the outer room waiting in line, I noticed lots of worn things. The pictures on the walls hadn’t been changed in years. Even the Wanted Posters were not up to date. Here and there appeared evidence of the effort to move with the times: how to print stamps, how to mail your packages and track them on line. The one postal clerk who was there to give personal help looked like he was ready to call it a day when it was just a bit past noon. He was facing a long line of people and had no help. It was at this point that I realized that I was looking at what the state of help is like for those with brain illnesses.

When we look at how depression and other brain illnesses are treated, a great deal has not changed. Doctors are treating people with brain illnesses, those with depression, like the worn post office room, treating it as if there are no new ways of doing things.  “We’ve done it this way and we can continue to do it this way” is not a mantra of change and imagination. The post office is going broke on such a mantra.

Although there has been work done on the stigma of mental illness, too many people carry it in their heads and keep up the old wanted pictures, the pictures of the crazy people with mental illness devoid of family and obviously with a real behavior problem. The people who think this way deal with the depressed in the ways they have been dealt with in the past, offering a possible fix but no hope that things might be different.

Sure just like the post office, there are the new references to moving with the times – psychiatrists and psychologists who are trying new and innovative approaches to dealing with depression and other brain illnesses. But there are not enough and you often have to really look to spot where those new approaches are and then you have to hope that those approaches are covered by your insurance.

And the postal clerk? He’s all the professionals who really want to make a change but are often understaffed and overworked and just burnt out.

We all know the post office system is in trouble. So many changes due to technology, so many poor business decisions in running the system, so much bad morale. It’s so much like those of us who live and work with people who are depressed or suffer from another brain illness. We hear of so many changes, changes that would be positive for the treatment of so many, but we watch as poor decisions are made that keep people from getting the treatment they need. It doesn’t help our morale. But like the postal clerk who comes in every morning, we will continue to speak out and work toward making the changes that need to be made to brighten the outcome of families across the country who deal with wicked brain illnesses.

– Bernadette

Are You Taking Your Medicine Correctly?


We’ve all done it at one time or another. Perhaps it has been with an antibiotic that should be taken three times a day at 8 hour intervals or with medications that say “take with food.” We end up taking the medicine haphazardly because we don’t always follow directions. I found that that can have a profound effect on someone who is dealing with depression.

When my husband returned from the regular visit to his doctor, discussing with the doctor some different challenges that had arisen – some obsessive compulsion and growing anxiety – my husband learned he was taking his medicine wrong.

Whether it was his forgetting a dose or waking at 10 one day and 7 a.m. the next and taking the medicine on arising or whether it was taking one pill at the wrong hour, the crazy medication schedule was messing with the effectiveness of the drugs. Now with a regular schedule and adhering to it as much as possible, changes are occurring.

Medication can have a profound effect on depression but it is important to work with that medicine to make it possible. Discuss with your doctor when and how the medicine should be taken and then try to keep on schedule with it. The person with depression and those around him or her will be very grateful for the positive things that come from taking the medication the right way. Maybe those teachers growing up who urged us to follow directions were onto something.

– Bernadette

The Pain from Violence Continues

The anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School is here. Once again we recall the fright, the disbelief, and the anger at such an act. What we often don’t remember at such a time is the toll it has taken on the people who were the first responders, the people who were spared, the families who lost children. We forget. We think of time healing all wounds and in our rushed society we think it is done at quick speed.

Instead there is still pain and nightmares and asking why. There is the depression and the post traumatic stress. And there is living in a world that can’t quite comprehend what it is like to experience something like this.


I forced myself to read the official transcript of the investigation. It was a difficult thing to do, picturing the intensity of the feelings and the deep sorrow surrounding the story. But it was good that I did. I won’t be able to say again to anyone, “just do something and get over it” or “it’s time to move on” or “we all have our cross to bear” and worst of all, telling someone that “our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

If we feel badly about the shootings one year later, we need to do something. We have to lobby for more funds for mental health. We have to educate people about the signs to look for and what not to do because we want to feel better. Adam Lanza’s mother complained and expressed concern about her son’s behavior to several people but still wrote a check to him for Christmas for a new gun, perhaps out of guilt.  And we have to learn how to express our sorrow to people who we know have experienced great pain. We need to know how to support them through the depression and the post traumatic stress that follows such incidents.

And I use the plural – incidents. Sandy Hook isn’t the only incident of gun violence. There have been – and if nothing is done there will be many more – numerous instances similar whether in a crowded movie theater or cafeteria or Navy yard or post office. Each of these instances have left hurt and deeply wounded people, people who are struggling now to come to terms with all that has happened to them. And some, with brain illness a real possibility, might take their own lives or the lives of others, seeing that as the only way to deal with the pain.

Care for one another carefully

Care for one another carefully

Resolve this Christmas to do something about the violence in our country, whether that is in how you treat each other during this upcoming holiday season or whether it is to actively get involved in changing the path of violence in this country. And this is the only time I will say, “it’s time to move on” because our country is full of  wounded mentally, emotionally or physically hurting people and it is time to move on to a more violence free society where we care for one another very carefully indeed.

– Bernadette

Echoes of the past

When you’ve lived for a long time with depression in someone you love, moving past the illness can be a real challenge.

Even once recovery and good health becomes a reality, those who walked alongside the depressed person in the worst of times carry scars that can come to the surface pretty easily.

I was reminded of this fact yesterday. Though my husband is currently, in almost every aspect, living a “normal,” healthy life, he’s having a rough week. He’s fighting a low-grade virus (illness has always triggered anxiety and intensified his depression). He’s had some minor, temporary setbacks in his new career area. He’s frustrated with a do-it-yourself auto repair project that’s going nowhere.

And yesterday I saw some echoes of depression in his behavior. I had to remind myself several times throughout the day NOT to overreact. I offered a bit of gentle nudging in the right direction, along the lines of “you might feel better if you get out of the chair and do something to keep busy.” Later in the day, I witnessed him self-correcting his behavior when small depression-related actions/reactions appeared – without any nudging from me.

The fact that he kept himself moving and relatively positive in the face of stress is a definite sign that things are much better for him now. The fact that I’m still on high alert for any depression-type symptoms (though I work very hard not to be an alarmist) is a side effect of caring for a person who’s struggled with depression for a very long time.

It takes a lot of effort and teamwork to navigate these echoes from the past, even when health returns.