From Those Who Have Been There

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May, the writer of what follows, has been an acquaintance for some time.  Often she would come into our café and read and just chill out. Later she was serving my husband his daily dose of coffee at the local Starbucks.

Because I knew her only casually, I never realized what she was dealing with until I read a Facebook Post of hers.  She deals with depression and with its stigma every day.  I thought her words were spot on for what many individuals have to face each and every day.  And her advice, woven so skillfully into the piece, is good for those suffering from mental illness as well as for their caregivers.  Thanks, May, for knocking down more of the stigma.  

As many of you know, I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for quite awhile. I’ve been through doctors, a stay in the hospital, therapists, psychiatrists.  There is no “cure”, only learning to live with it.  Some days are better than others.  Some are worse.

Mental health still has a huge stigma all around the world. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I’m not broken.  I’m not defective.  I deserve love and happiness as much as anyone else.  And so do you.  You’re not broken.  You’re not defective.  And you’re important.  So important.  Please never be afraid to ask for help.  There are many resources out there for you.  Reach out to family.  To friends.  To a help line.  To a therapist.  To a doctor.

Depression is an illness. It’s an invisible illness and it can affect you in many different ways.  Not all treatments work for everyone.  It takes time to find what works for you.  But don’t give up.  You can make it.

Build a support group. Surround yourself with people who will remind you how important and special you are. Find someone who will tell you that you matter when you’re at your weakest.  I’ve been in that dark place.  It’s scary.  It feels hopeless.  But it’s not the end.  I was lucky.  My attempt on my life didn’t pan out.  I woke back up.  I was given a second chance.  It took a lot of work but I’m okay with myself now.  Most days.  I had to fight.  I HAVE to fight.

And I will fight every goddamn day.

I have never used them but I still keep these numbers in my phone. Just in case.

Depression hotline: 630-482-9696

Suicide hotline – 1-800-273-8255

There are many more out there. You’re never truly alone.  There’s always help.

What the Books Don’t Tell You….

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For all  of you out there who either have a loved one who is being taken off their medication in order to start a new one, or those of you who have someone who just decided on their own to stop their medication, here are a few possibilities of things that might happen. This is not researched and I do not know if science has looked at this phenomenon but I’ve just spent the last two weeks living through it so you might say I’m  an on-the-scene reporter.

My husband has been on medication of some sort for depression for over twenty years. Pills have been added or subtracted, dosages increased or decreased, all in an effort to find the right combination that would deal with his anxiety and depression.

Last week he had had enough and told his psychiatrist that he was willing to try something drastically different, something that would stop the deep pain he was suffering on a daily basis. The psychiatrist agreed it was more than time to try something different.  He wrote out a schedule for going off the meds – five in all – and then starting the new medication – only one pill that would be increased if it showed indications that he was improving.

And so the journey began. The first couple of days were full of sleeping and depression and not talking hardly at all.  He was out of it and went to bed at an early hour.  The second day was about the same with a little less sleep.  The four days that followed were repeats with variations.

This is probably one of the biggest things I observed. The amount of sleep increased and the feeling of being totally and utterly exhausted was a frequent complaint.

Then the new medication began. He awoke the first day very angry and depressed.  No one on the earth could do anything to please him.  He got worse as the day went only complicating it with the conversation that he wanted to die – not necessarily commit suicide but he stated he would be content if he just went to sleep and never woke up.  Picture a talk like that fill with the “f” word and you have an inkling of how that day went.

By this time you can imagine that I was about ready to either sock him silly or bang my own head against the wall. I didn’t.  Instead I channeled Mary Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life.  I put out an e-mail to family and friends and said simply, “Okay, I need some help.  A phone call or visit or email to him would really help and it would take a bit of pressure off me. Whatever you can do, will do and don’t talk about depression except to inquire how he is doing.”    

It helped more than I could have imagined. It was good for both him and me.

The next day he awoke feeling depressed but not as bad. But some of the stuff that was surfacing was interesting. He didn’t have filters over what he said to people and suddenly after so many years of not dreaming, he was dreaming and wanted to talk about the  dreams.

And the day after that he felt even less depressed.  He even started to compliment me.  He joined in conversations.  He did some work around the house.  We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a good stretch for both us.

I think when medication is removed or added, it affects the brain in ways we have only begun to understand. So I share this for those of you who care for a hurting other to help in the understanding of this difficult time, an understanding that books or doctors don’t usually tell us about.  Everyone’s experience will be different but threads will be the same.

The important parts:

  1. I tried to stay calm during all of this. It wasn’t easy at some times, but in the long run it helped immensely. I also tried not to react even when he talked about wanting die.  Both of us just talked about it as something that had surfaced and needed to be brought into the light.
  2. I made sure to take time each day only for myself. If I needed to get out, I did. If I needed to just read a book, I did.  I made sure that I was okay during this time.
  3. I willingly asked for help when I realized I could not do what everyone together could. And I wasn’t ashamed to ask. And it was absolutely wonderful that  everyone responded.  I think that people need a concrete way in which they can help.  Visiting, emailing, calling.  All of those are good.  But what’s even better is for the caregiver to tell them exactly what is needed.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. The report is in and the past days have been very positive and hope is strong.

– Bernadette

Let the Sun Shine In

Yesterday I went into the bathroom to find a spot on the wall. It was white and looked like it was perhaps some toothpaste or a spray of soapy water.  I took a cloth and started rubbing it and it wouldn’t come out.  And to my horror, more spots showed up.  I paused, looked again, and then realized that I was trying to erase spots of sunlight that were filtering through the blinds.

This incident – which caused a great deal of laughter on my part – carried a huge lesson for me.   Recently we have been struggling with the effects of depression in our household.  And when depression strikes, I take my trusty cloth and try to rub it away.  But in taking that trusty cloth, I find that too often I overlook what is good about what is happening or I overlook the good in the person with depression.   I try to rub away any sign of hope, of sunshine in the situation.

What that little bit of sunlight taught me is that in every situation there is a shred of light, a tiny bit of goodness if we only look. Whether it was a good word spoken by the depressed one to you or whether it was the fact that medications had been taken on time for a week or that there was the sound of laughter if only for a couple of minutes.  Whatever the nip of sunlight, it is to be recognized and celebrated and cherished.  They may be few and far between but by recognizing them, we don’t lose sight of the person who is there, the one suffering from this terrible illness, the person who deserves hope and happiness, the one that we love.

Don’t be like me and try to rub away the sunlight. Jump all the way in and relish those droplets of sunshine wherever they occur.  It’s one of the best actions a caregiver can do to stay well.

-Bernadette

A Poster Person for Depression

the-sun-470317_1280I watched mesmerized as my husband answered the doctor about what the depression he described as the worst he ever had felt like.

“It’s like a cloud of darkness is coming down on me and it is going to suffocate me. It is so thick that I think I can just reach out and touch it.  But I can’t push it away no matter what I do. And slowly it is suffocating me, draining me of everything.”

We were in the psychiatrist’s office, meeting with him because the depression my husband has been dealing with for many, many years had come with a force which he found unbearable.

We talked in the doctor’s office – he describing his symptoms and his concerns, me answering questions asked by the doctor. I was there because my husband asked me to be.

And that is the number one reason I see him as a model for others:

He is not afraid to talk about his depression and HE IS NOT AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP.

He is not afraid to have the family members and friends he trusts know what is going on. He treats his depression as the illness it is – something he didn’t ask for, something he is getting treatment for, and something he needs support for.

He’s not less of a man for doing this. He is more of a man because he is willing to meet this terrible foe head on.

More than 6 million men are suffering from depression and more than half of them do not seek treatment because:

a) they don’t recognize the symptoms;

b) they see depression as a sign of weakness;

c) they try to self medicate rather than seek professional help; and

d) they fear for the stigma that might arise in work and family situations.

All these barriers can be dealt with and I am not dismissing the fact that lots of times it will be difficult but it can be done.  We can trust others who describe our symptoms to us.  We can seek professional help instead of reaching for that drink.  We can continue to show that depression is an illness, not a weakness and we can continue to fight the stigma in every situation we encounter.  It’s not easy but nothing changes if nothing changes.

My hope is that more men will “man” up and take a cue from my husband and be open and honest with the people you trust and not be afraid to seek treatment for this very crippling illness.

My hat’s off to my husband and all the brave men out there who are not afraid to seek help for depression.

– Bernadette

Is it a mystery worth solving?

One of the many, many difficult aspects of depression is the fact that it’s not an illness with a definite cure.

Rather, it’s an illness that must be managed constantly, one that can come roaring back without warning, just when you least expect it. And when it does come roaring back, it’s hard not to ask “WHY???”

For about the last week, my husband’s depression was with us in full force. He was unable to think coherently. Unable to answer questions. Literally moaning whenever he had to complete any simple task. Sleeping much more than usual. For someone who generally operates in depression-recovery mode, it was a huge change.

I spent a lot of time over the last week asking myself that big “WHY???” Trying to come up with some explanation in my own mind for what had triggered this particular episode. Gently discussing with him whether he ought to go see our GP, as it’s been quite a while since he’s had a routine checkup. (His answer, with a moan: “That would mean making an appointment.” Clearly not a task he was able to even contemplate).

And, all the time, going as easy on him as possible. Asking little, even to the point of deliberately not even engaging him in conversation – because every exchange seemed to create unbearable stress.

Then, today, suddenly a switch was flipped. When I got home from work around noon, he was digging into our tax paperwork so he could start the process of filing. He spoke normally, even showed concern for me when I declared I felt like I was coming down with something. Later in the afternoon he spent a couple of hours on vehicle maintenance, unprompted by any requests. He was, apparently, back to his usual self.

So I started asking that “WHY???” again. And I couldn’t help but piece together a trigger that I’m not sure makes sense, but that I’m pretty sure I’m seeing. His depressive episode clearly began when our son come home for spring break, and concluded the day he left. Thinking it over a little more, I recalled that the same had happened over winter break, as well.

I can imagine a theory or two as to why this might be. But I ask myself a new question – Is it even worth it? Would knowing make any difference? I could discuss it with him, but might that make him feel even worse?

I’m still not sure what the right answer is. But one thing I do know is that I’m storing that little piece of information in my memory bank. Because in a couple of months our son will be home for the summer, and if there’s anything I can do to keep  us from having three full months of depression ruling our household, I’ll do it.

And in the meantime I’ll be thinking hard about whether the answer to “WHY???” is important or not.

-Amy

What to Say

Lots of times we have written in our blog about some of the things you should NOT say to people with depression.  In this entry I would like to highlight some of the things you SHOULD say.   Let’s start with a simple question.

Have you taken your medicine? Of course don’t say this in the heat of an argument but say it at a time that you know it will be looked upon as a reminder and only that.  Haven’t you appreciated when someone asked if you had done something?  Same is true about the medicine because we can all just forget because we are human.

And since we are on questions….

Do you want me to go to the doctor with you? Statistics show that it often takes ten years before someone goes for help with their depression.  Maybe an offer to go along or to set up the appointment is just the push that the depressed person needs.

Another good question is:

Do you want to go for a walk? Remember how that is worded.  It is not saying, “you need to go for a walk to deal with this depression.”  Rather, it is an invite to join you….and besides the walk with or without the depressed person will be good.

On those days when plainly the depressed person doesn’t want to do anything, ask if you can help with anything. Maybe the person needs to just sit with someone and feel their presence or maybe they just want to take about how they are feeling.  Be there for him or her.  Sometimes the greatest help is just being with another.

Another big thing we can say to a depressed person is to tell them that they deserve help. Oftentimes, the depressed one will feel that people don’t want to take up their time with a depressed person.  Tell them again  and again that they deserve help.

And tied into that is telling the depressed individual that they are great, appreciated and loved ….but just not in general terms…..tell them particular reasons why you like them, why you appreciate them, why you love them. Be concrete.

And lastly,  Physical contact is one of the greatest things we can give a depressed person.  It reminds them that they are not alone, that someone cares.

Why not practice saying some of these things to the depressed person you love.

– Bernadette

 

What If?

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What if when you have been used to dealing with depression in someone you love and suddenly the depression is gone? What if you anticipate all kinds of things happening on a trip, things you don’t need or like, and they don’t come to pass? In short, what if suddenly depression is missing and you need to start the trip all over from a different point of view?

Right now my husband and I are in Vienna, Austria, visiting our daughter and her husband. We had flown in from two weeks with our son and his wife in Washington D.C.  And everything that I feared would happen on this trip has not come to pass.

My husband played with his grandchildren in D.C. He had good times with his son and he entered into games and family meals with a gusto I had not seen in quite awhile.  Here in Vienna, he is eager to go sightseeing, take in the Christmas markets, and is even talking about doing more traveling. And the man who didn’t like Christmas carols for each Christmas that I’ve known him, is actually listening to carols and enjoying them.  In short, I am dealing with a totally different person than who I left Kansas with.

And I don’t know how to deal with it.

It has been so long since I dealt with him as a person without depression, I keep finding myself falling back into old behavior that is not needed or appreciated on this trip. I’m finding that I need to curb what I am about to say and think it over before I open my mouth.  I’m finding that I am jealous that people around us are enjoying him. And I’m finding that I have to re-discover who I am with a partner who doesn’t have depression.

This miracle of Christmas might not last, but I have to get in gear and respond appropriately and enjoy it while I can. Perhaps it will last and perhaps not but I do have NOW and that is most important.

Whether you are dealing with depression in a loved one or having to cope with the absence of it, be sure to take time for yourself and those you love. You only have NOW.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

– Bernadette