Looking for Answers

detective-156961_150 When does it all stop? Depression gives rise to obsessing which gives rise to self medication through alcohol or pills or worse which gives rise to even worse depression to no self worth to total absorption in self to more depression as people draw away.

Depression is a downward spiral and those around us have the ability at any time to stop the spiraling by asking the right questions, by responding in the right way, by learning more about mental illness. Too often though we either don’t know the right questions or we do ask the right questions to a person not ready to hear them.

That raises for me as I muse as to whether or not a type of intervention might work for people who refuse to deal with or recognize their brain illness. Is intervention something that will help or does it merely serve to complicate the illness, making the person draw further and further away from the life support so necessary to dealing with depression?

My mind is reeling with questions and thoughts, all of which are a result of having to deal for so many years with a depressed spouse who now seems to be spiraling out of control into his worse depression ever. Having talked also many years about depression and dealing with someone you love who is depressed, I should know some of the answers but I don’t. Do you have any answers? All of us who deal with depression in someone we love are looking for some answers that might work.

– Bernadette

Losing It

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Yesterday I lost it.

Yep, I said and did all the wrong things a caregiver can ever say and do.

And we survived.

I’m not advocating this course of action for anyone who loves and cares for a depressed loved one. I’m just saying this for the sake of people everywhere who feel guilty when this happens.

When this happens it is okay. You can begin again. You can go from that point to better points. You can learn from what happened.

I learned that depression is too much with me.

I learned that I needed nurturing especially once I felt the tension in my body that usually isn’t present.

I learned that others can pick up the slack.

I learned that sometimes losing it is a good thing, not only for letting off some stress, but also for your loved one who sometimes needs a jolt back into the reality and a reminder that we are all people, we are all hurting and we all want to be loved.

And I also learned that those guilty pleasures people are always talking about? They are not pleasures that carry guilt but simply pleasures that help to keep you nurtured when there is no other place to go.

So here’s to losing it, to gaining it back and to the just plain pleasures that help you cope.

– Bernadette

Depression: Always lurking around the corner.

I know a lot about the illness of depression. I’ve lived with it in my household for 23 years, I’ve experienced it myself in the form of post-concussion depression and SAD, and I’ve done plenty of research.

And yet, I continue to be blindsided by its painful effects.

My dear friend is in the thick of it with her husband, in a terribly frustrating and long-term bout of the illness. It hurts me to know what she’s dealing with.

My own SAD is in a low point right now, as we’re trapped indoors for weeks at a time and as situations beyond my control get me down.

My husband’s recent amazing depression recovery is at risk. Forced inactivity for six weeks of recovery after a broken rib, compounded by uncertainty about the future of his new career due to that injury has produced anxiety and his most commonly-used depression defense – sleeping at every opportunity.

I know the right things to do: keep up consistently with medications, use the light therapy box daily, exercise, keep as busy as possible, talk about it and reach out for support. But even when we think we’re doing the right things to combat it, depression is always hanging around in the shadows, waiting to jump out at us.

I could really use a huge dose of warm weather, sunshine, and good news about now.

Letting Down PTSD Veterans

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Today I read a story in Time magazine about a Marine Sergeant David Linley. As the author of the piece Mark Thompson said, “When his nation called, he answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down.” Mr. Linley during an attack of PTSD engaged in a shootout with police, not wounding any of them, but obviously self medicated with alcohol and re-living a wartime episode. He is presently in prison in Illinois.

Reading about Mr. Linley brought to mind the many stories I have read and heard first hand of returning soldiers not finding the help they need to deal with PTSD or other mental ills. In Mr. Linley’s case, he sees a psychiatrist about every six months for 30 minutes and that is supposedly because he’s not behaving poorly.

John Maki who heads the Chicago based John Howard Association of Illinois dedicated to improving the state’s prisons, says in the article, “There’s a real lack of capacity to deliver any meaningful mental health care, especially specialized care like PTSD treatment for veterans.”

And this is not just in the Illinois prison system but throughout our country. Veterans are returning wounded mentally and they are not receiving the treatment they need. For those incarcerated, mental health treatment is spotty at best. Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general says, “These cases are much too common. We are throwing these guys away.”

Our veterans are returning to families they do not know. The families are dealing with a person who is not the same. Episodes happen that cannot be explained. Care is difficult to come by and the stigma of owning up to PTSD is strong.

What has been your experience with PTSD and a loved one? Has the government been there for you? Have you endured frustration beyond belief? What have you learned? What do we need to teach others about PTSD? What can people do to help? I’m at a loss for what to do, what to say.

– Bernadette

The Stigma of Hearing Aids and Other Such Stigmas

I have been spending time in the hospital these past days – not as a patient but rather the advocate for my husband as he grapples with might be a reaction to medication. Lots of different people have come to visit – a good thing as it was a visual for my husband to affirm the fact that he has friends.

Also what has come to my attention is the number of unconscious stigmas different areas of our society have. For instance, the hearing aid. It is okay for a young child to have a hearing aid to assist them in hearing but it is not okay (especially if you are the person who is asked to wear one) for an older person to wear one. Apparently it is a sign of old age and is not to be tolerated.

It is okay for a person with muscle problems or a disease that affects their gait to use a cane but it is not okay for an older person to use a cane to navigate icy and dangerous walkways.

Many of these stigmas spring from ignorance and pride and a misunderstanding of old age.

The list could go on and on and tacked onto every item is the stigma of getting old.
And this dangerous stigma impacts heavily on whether an older person seeks treatment for depression or whether they hide the fact, claiming that everything is okay.

Depression at any age is an illness. It doesn’t mean something is lacking in the person. It doesn’t mean that you should be able to handle it yourself. Much like the hearing aid, the cane and other things that people use to make their quality of life better, dealing with depression at any age means that the illness will be treated and hopefully cured or brought under control.

Someone who visited reflected this weekend that young people who get cancer or another illness see it as something to be dealt with and to be gotten out of the way so they can get on with their lives. On the other hand, they said, old people who get sick just see it as something to be endured and, all too often, die from.

We need to erase the stigma of old age. We need to erase the stigma of depression. Awareness to the fact that we create these unconscious stigmas should help, but aging people themselves have to become aware of the fact of the valuable and needed contributions they can make to the world, making the necessary adjustments so that is possible.

And even more importantly, the rest of society has to recognize the wisdom and wealth of those older people regardless of the canes and the hearing aids….and the depression.

– Bernadette

Overheard

Late last week I was at a large performance event with a family who I know has struggled long-term with the father’s depression. I knew, behind the scenes, that they’re under constant stress from every direction due to this illness. The importance of the event only served to bring that stress to a head.

Neither of the two parents handle stress well in the best of times, but what I observed spoke to me of a relationship at the breaking point. Hurtful tone of voice. Sarcastic, irritable comments. Confusion and miscommunication.

I wonder if I would have picked up on the undercurrents of pain and distress had I not known their circumstances, and if I hadn’t been through the same myself. Husband only barely functioning, and taking his depression out on the wife. Wife exhausted with over-functioning and caregiver burnout. Daughter snapped at for no reason, trying to take it in stride because it happens so often.

It’s a story that replays itself in many, many families in which depression has taken hold. And, of course, it can just as easily be the other way around – depressed wife, caregiver husband at wits’ end.

I don’t have an answer. Bern and I have written two books on the topic of dealing with a family member’s depression, yet I have no answers. I have empathy. I try to reach out to the caregiver with support and concern. But bottom line, all I can do is watch and recognize the pain.

I really hate depression.

-Amy