Advice from the President

abraham-lincoln-1432905_1920.jpgThe election this year reminded all of us how vulnerable we are to depression, how much outside and inside events can influence how we think and feel.  Without being attentive we can find ourselves on the slippery slope to the blackness of depression. 

 

The election also reminded us of leaders of the past who let with integrity and purpose despite dealing with depression.  Lincoln battled depression – his law partner often said that “his melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” – but he also gave us wisdom, faith and hope, and forgiveness.

 

Depression today seems to engulf us.  Much of that is due to the instant information we can get via news or Facebook or Twitter and other media outlets.  Mayo Clinic defines depression as a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.  For some of us it is temporary and for others it is a constant companion.

Depression  can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion that bears down on us, saps our energy and destroys our dreams.
One of the greatest steps to fight depression came from Lincoln who learned this discipline and suggested others follow it.  “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again,” he said.  And to a friend he wrote, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better.  Is not this so?  And yet it is a mistake.  You are sure to be happy again.  To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now.  I have had experience enough to know what I say.”

 

You may be under a doctor’s care for your depression.  That is well and good as often the depression fight involves medication for the ill brain.  However, there are things to do in addition to that.  Get up and get out to exercise in some way, shape, or form.  And get around people while you are doing it.  We all know how depression plays on loneliness.

 

And depression plays on our allowing the thoughts depression offers to grow and take over.  One of the most powerful things we can do when we are able is to strike down those negative thoughts with positive ones, no matter how small and no matter how often we do it.  Any positive things we can think of is one thing that dims the depression.  It might not be a cure it but it does help.

 

And if you haven’t sought help for your depression and you feel you need help, remember that in the words of Lincoln, “Melancholy is a misfortune.  It is not a fault.”  Seeking help gives you even more ways to attack the demon of depression with a positive train of thought and activities.

-Bernadette

 

Echoes from the past.

I had a painful flashback this morning. A reminder of an extremely difficult moment from the many years during which my husband was in the depths of depression, unemployed and unemployable, when we had three small children in the house, and I felt as if I were on my own and was, quite frankly, terrified.

I won’t describe the trigger or the memory. I just don’t want to go there.

Here I am, twenty years later, a full-fledged grown-up with a good life, a solid career, and new opportunities on the horizon. But that moment this morning served as a reminder that I’m still haunted by that extremely dark time.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder how I survived those years. How our marriage survived those years. How we managed to raise three truly amazing and well-adjusted children.

I suppose that survival depended a whole lot upon my dedication to taking care of myself. I learned to ask for and accept help. I learned to protect my time and my emotional boundaries. I learned to say “no” to extended-family commitments that were simply too stressful. I learned that I can only deal with a limited amount of baggage, and it’s okay to be selective about which piece of that baggage I deal with at any one time.

Today’s flashback gave me another reminder. I can’t stop taking care of myself just because today the worst of that depression in my husband is at bay. There are still plenty of issues we have to struggle through. Day-to-day life with someone who has underlying depression (and multiple other diagnoses) will never be a walk in the park.

At times I feel like the lengths I go to in order to protect myself and my emotional state are overkill or selfishness.

But today, I recognize that I have to be good to myself.

I hope you’re being good to yourself, too.

-Amy

Left Out

Hillary Clinton released today a detailed agenda for addressing mental health issues in the country.  Top on the agenda, and rightly so, was improving veteran care, protecting mentally ill from police violence, treating drug addiction and strengthening access to housing and jobs.

There is a lot of goodness in this agenda.  Training of law enforcement to better handle encounters with the mentally ill, dealing with drug addiction both in and outside prisons, seeking to erase the stigma of mental illness, and improving suicide prevention  are all good things she proposes.

However, one thing continues to be left out whenever we talk about depression and brain illness.  We leave out mention of the people who care for these individuals, who have a mother or father or child who suffers from brain illness, or who are totally strung out from the craziness of living with a depressed individual. We leave out the importance of having family and friends part of the recovery process, the ones who should also be speaking to the psychiatrist and psychologist helping the depressed one.   And we don’t address programs that might help those who have to deal with the long arm depression and mental illness has in reaching the family, the friends, the community, and the nation.

Cheers to Ms. Clinton for addressing the issue.  However, let’s also remind her and ourselves that depression and mental illness is not a one person disease; rather, it is an illness that spreads far and wide and weakens those without support.  Let’s urge her to remember those people who day in and day out seek to stay healthy despite the tentacles of depression or bipolar or schizophrenia or the myriad other mental illnesses that seek to destroy not only the one they have but also the ones helping.

  • Bernadette

 

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

Depression: We need to talk about it.

Yesterday on my other blog I wrote about an encounter I’d had while getting my hair cut (one of my least favorite things to do), which included talking about depression (not exactly my most favorite thing to do, but it’s important).

It may seem odd that five minutes after meeting someone at the corner Great Clips you’d find out about their husband’s suicide and their own subsequent depression. But after living with, writing about, and presenting about depression for so many years I don’t find it odd any more. Depression is out there. All the time. Everywhere. You don’t have to look far to find it.

What’s harder to find, though, is people who are willing to talk about it. That’s why Bern and I make a point of bringing the subject up casually in everyday conversation. We figure the more people talk, the less stigmatized people will feel, and the more chance people have to get better. 

The hair stylist yesterday shared about her husband’s suicide. She told me about her feelings afterward, and how her family tries to cope now. What she didn’t say was that her husband had been depressed. So I said it for her:

“Depression is a terrible, cruel illness,” I said. 

She stopped working and looked at me for a moment in the mirror. I could see the relief on her face.

“Yes,” she said. “Depression is terrible.” 

We’d named it. And then she kept sharing. 

We need to talk about it.

-Amy

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