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My Valentine

When your life partner has multiple mental health diagnoses (in my case, some treated effectively, some not at all) there are times when you can’t help but muse about what might have been.

Yes, I admit it. Occasionally I find myself fantasizing about what it would have been like to be married to someone who’s a fully functioning adult at all times. Someone I could always count on not just to “be there,” but to be a steady rock. Someone I could travel with happily, instead of struggling to survive his panic attacks when faced with unfamiliar situations. Someone who could look at difficulties and face them head on, rather than hiding and hoping they’d go away.

At those times I look back thirty years and wonder…would I have done things differently? I don’t know. There have been plenty of good times mixed in with the copious bad times. We have three absolutely awesome children together, and his influence had a lot to do with that – I sure didn’t raise them alone (though it might have seemed that way during the worst of times).

In the end, he’s still my valentine. But when I found a “make your own conversation heart” website, I couldn’t help but get just a little snarky, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday.

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Gotta keep that sense of humor.

-Amy

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Still shell-shocked.

Recently I wrote about how hard it is for me to answer an unexpected phone call. Throughout my adult life there have been way too many calls that a) brought horrifying news and/or b) had a hysterical, mental/emotional illness-induced rant from a loved one on the other end. Lately, there’s been the addition of c) the drunken, abusive phone calls from a family member who I can’t honestly classify as a loved one. Oh, and don’t forget the recent addition of d) drunken, abusive emails from that same (c) family member, which make the simple act of opening Gmail a cringe-worthy event.

And so I tiptoe through the minefield of life, holding my breath for the next blow-up. Sometimes the bombs really do drop; sometimes I create them in my own, shell-shocked mind.

Case in point:

Last night The Husband was more than half an hour late returning home from work. Usually he lets me know if he’s running late. This time, nothing. It’s a long commute, on rural highways. In the dark, with ice patches in the winter weather. Compounding those everyday-type concerns is, of course, the fact that The Husband is my nearest cause of shell-shock. Twenty-five years of depression and other difficult diagnoses lead to a lot of nail biting for me. And in the last few days he’s had a cold coming on. For most of us, a cold is an inconvenience. For my husband, with his anxiety, panic, depression, and other issues, a cold is a full-on assault on his ability to cope – even though, for the most part, he’s in a fairly good place in terms of living with his diagnoses.

When it finally occurred to me, at about 6:20 yesterday evening, that he was late and hadn’t called, internal panic set in. I called his phone, and it went to voice mail. Immediately I relived the many times (years ago, but these wounds open up in such moments) when his illnesses caused him to regularly check out of life and disappear. Usually he returned within a few hours, puzzled by the depth of my worry. Once, he ended up hospitalized.

Yeah, that’s where my brain goes in those moments. Even more so when I’m also dealing with additional stress from other ill family members, as with the recent phone calls  and emails.

Last night there was a (relatively) happy ending. The Husband came in the door around 6:30. He’d forgotten to call, and had bad cell service on the way home when he did think of calling. It was a difficult evening, though. I was still off-balance from the momentary worry. And that cold I mentioned made him morose, unable to think clearly, and argumentative. Not much fun.

Sooooo….the big question in times like these, as a person trying to survive the mental illnesses of loved ones, is this: What am I doing to take care of myself?

Not enough, apparently. It’s time to take a closer look at that.

-Amy

Keep it to yourself.

I readily admit to being pretty opinionated.

But there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to provoke a visceral reaction in me, which I can’t promise won’t end up in my punching someone in the gut. And so I’ll share a piece of wisdom, to protect you from future harm should you ever venture into this territory in my presence:

Don’t EVER say a single, solitary word about medications others take to help them deal with brain illnesses. 

You have the right to choose NOT to take antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, ADHD medications, etc. And each other individual has the same right to make that decision.

Want to know what you don’t have the right to? An opinion about other people’s medication choices.

There are many, many people out there for whom these medications are literally saving lives. People in my own family are in this category. Yes, it would be a lovely, sunshine-and-rainbows world if they didn’t need meds simply to have a normal, productive life. But that’s not the real world for many of us. And those of us who need brain illness-related meds absolutely do not need to hear anyone else’s opinion about the medications we decide to take.

Here’s an analogy for you. If you heard someone ranting derisively about  a cancer patient’s decision to undergo a course of radiation and chemotherapy, you’d assume the ranter was a fringe freak. Cancer is often a life-threatening illness, and we support those who receive the problematic treatment for that illness. In the same way, mental illnesses are often life-threatening, and the medications that treat them are often problematic. It is simply cruel, thoughtless, and damaging to speak out against undergoing a course of treatment for an illness of the brain.

And yet, many, many people out there do just that.

Seriously – keep your mouth shut.

-Amy

 

 

I’m NOT waiting for the phone to ring.

I’ve long hated talking on the phone. An unexpected phone call coming in can throw my day completely off-track as I try to recover from having to suddenly be “on” enough to have a spontaneous conversation.

My assumption has been that this phone-phobia stems from my extreme introversion. 

But last week I got a smack of reality upside the head when my iPhone buzzed in my pocket just as I was leaving work. Because this particular call was of a type I’ve received over and over and over again in my adult life. The kind of phone call that makes your heart leap into your throat, sends the “fight or flight” juice coursing through your veins. 

It was a panicky, tearful, nearly incomprehensable call from a loved one. A call that sent me dashing home as quickly as possible, my mind frantically trying to come up with words of wisdom, comfort, and advice. 

I truly cannot count how many times I’ve gotten that kind of call over the last 30 years. Having both a nuclear and an extended family with multiple brain illness diagnoses, I’ve gotten hit from all sides. 

I’m the solid one. Everybody’s sounding board, everyone’s rock. The one who’s turned to for clear thinking, action, and support. 

And so, last week, it finally hit me why I hate phone calls so much. 

Can you blame me? 

-Amy

Caregiver fatigue, anyone?

This is hard for me to admit, but…maybe it will hit a chord with someone else out there. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m going to toss it out there and see what happens.

I discovered recently that I’ve pretty much hit the wall with my capacity for caring much about the depression and other issues my husband struggles with. Been there, done that. For the last 25 + years. And have the PTSD symptoms to prove it.

A few weeks ago, I found out that anxiety and adult ADHD issues had gotten the best of my husband yet again. So much so that he lost his job as a result. And – here’s the difficult bit – I couldn’t have cared less what he was going through. I was so absolutely worn out with a lifetime dealing with his problems that all I had the energy to care about was the near-breakdown the situation created for me.

Selfish? Probably. Understandable? I hope so.

I think he understood where I was coming from at the moment when the crisis hit. In the aftermath, though, he seems truly puzzled by the fact that I’m a whole lot more concerned with myself this time around than I am about his feelings. I’ve had to say to him a couple of times, in various ways, “Your health issues just about drove me into a place I couldn’t get out of this time. Just now I don’t want to hear your side of the story.”

It’s what they call caregiver fatigue, folks. It’s not a pretty place to be in.

But I’d be willing to bet some of you have been in that place, at least to some extent.

I’ve got an arsenal I can use to help myself survive caring for a depressed (and otherwise diagnosed) person. Not sure what strategies I’m going to need if I ever want to get back to a place where I care about the feelings of the person I’m meant to be caring for. For now I’m managing by being busier at work than I’ve ever been before.

Distraction is a good tool in the short term.

-Amy

What Can I Do For You?

Amy and I have five pages of type of things people should not say to someone who is experiencing depression. All of us have said some of them and all of us have caught others saying them to someone. We sorely need to erase those phrases from our speech.

The flip side is often we don’t know how to respond. What does one say in such a situation? Do you ask how is the depression today or do you suggest activities for involvement or do you just keep quiet?

Perhaps one of the best things to say, and to say it with sincerity is “What can I do for you?” For people who mean what they say, that opens the door for some real possibilities of help. And that means that the depressed individual or the caregiver must be ready to respond.

So I asked some people with depression and I asked their loved ones what could be done to help. Here’s some of the replies:

I could just use some space at time. I need to be alone. I want to be alone. I’m not going to hurt myself but being alone is a way I try to get myself together.  

and

I need people around me. I could go to the local coffee shop but sometimes it is just nice if someone drops over or calls and asks to come over. Not only does it give me people, it gives me the feeling that there are people who care enough about me that they want to spend some time with me.  

and

Bringing over dinner at times. I know that my overstressed and overtired family and I would appreciate that very much. Seems like people do that all the time for funerals or for people who are sick in the hospital. But depression isn’t a “seeable” illness so people don’t think we need the love and care that others in the hospital or at home with a physically-visible illness does.

and from a family member whose brother has depression:

Sometimes I just want someone to hug me. They don’t have to even say anything. I just need to know that I am still noticed, that my struggle in noticed, and that someone out there is willing to be there for me.hugging-571076_1280

As a depressed individual or as someone who loves a person who is depressed, what are you looking for from others?   The more all of us know, the more all of us can help stop the devastation being done by this illness.

– Bernadette .

Abandon Hope, All You Who Enter!

Today’s depression feed pushed me over the edge..  “Depression May be Linked to a 5-Fold Death Increase.” This was on the heels of the past weeks entries which included, “Sleep Apnea Linked to Depression” and “Depression Ups Risks of Parkinson’s Disease” and “Depression Tied to Stroke Even if Symptoms Ease.”  The list could go on.  The  articles make you think there is no hope to escape depression or its effects on the body.

When I see things like this, I think about the time and money spent on these studies.   I am sure there must be a place for them but right now, when we need more time and money put into curing depression, we are spending time and money on things that could increase the risk of people despairing that they can ever hope to be a healthy human just because they have depression, something I must remind you, that is out of the control of the individuals who face this illness.  Articles and studies like these have the potential of heaping more guilt onto individuals who already have more than their share because of how society looks on depression.

So let’s get serious and start spending this time and money on studying the brain. because understanding it is our only hope of climbing out of the depression chasm.

– Bernadette