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    By Amy and Bernadette
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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.

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

Nurses on the Verge

I recently had a knee replacement that had me in the hospital for three days. I was  helped by countless nurses and therapists and when I headed home it was knowing that what brought me to the point of going home was the helpful staff.

That got me thinking about nurses and how very rarely they are recognized for the work that they do. Nursing is a high pressure job, ruthless and stressful.  Plus nurses see people at their lowest, at the point where most people wouldn’t want to be around them.

Is it any wonder that nurses suffer depression at twice the rate of the general population? Unfortunately, nurses often don’t seek help or recognize the fact that they are suffering from depression.  To make it even more complicated, signs and symptoms of depression in nurses is often overlooked and accepted as part of the stress of working in the healthcare profession.

Too often the rule of thumb is to hide your emotions and “act professionally.” This often ends up causing the problems associated with depression and anxiety to multiply.  And this growing monster can often compromise patient safety and cause good nurses to seek other avenues for their career.

This is just another area where we have to keep depression from having the upper hand. Nurses are valuable people and to let them flounder with little or no support is dangerous to everyone’s health.  Let’s all band together to not be afraid to confront depression in all areas of our lives.

  • Bernadette

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

 

 

Truth or Fiction?

once-upon-a-time-719174_1280Do you believe that depression is not a real illness?  Or that if the person only engaged in hard work, he or she would beat depression?  Or worse, that depression is just self-pity?  And if you are familiar with depression, do you believe that getting help for it means drugs for life?  Or that talking makes things worse?

Those are just a few of the myths about depression that keep appearing in different places.  I have encountered so many in the past two weeks that it is time to set the story straight.

First of all depression is a real illness.  It took my spouse over forty years to realize and accept that.  It is an illness like cancer or heart disease and deserves to be treated as one.  People don’t plan on getting cancer or heart disease.  People with depression don’t plan on the illness coming into their lives.

Next, engaging in hard work is a variation of the “pull yourself by the bootstraps” theory.  Hard work might work for a mild case of the blues but not for depression and sometimes in men who overwork, it is often a sign of clinical depression.

People with depression are not caught up in self pity.  They are not lazy or feeling sorry for themselves.  Depression is a real health problem with real changes to the brain.   And being treated for depression does not mean that the person will be on drugs for life.  Some will, some won’t just as in other illnesses some people need to have radiation, some need chemo, and some need both.  Some stay on it for life.  Some only a few months or weeks.  When it comes to depression, medication can be a help and some people do maintain a regimen for life, others for only the time that they need, and still others opt for talk therapy or other methods to deal with the illness.

Other myths include the wild idea that depression is part of aging.  It can appear during the golden years but many navigate those years without depression.  People think depressed people cry a lot.  It’s true that some individuals do, but many simply feel worthless and think there is not emotion in them.  Some people believe talking makes the depression worse when in reality many depressed individuals find their salvation in talk therapy.

There are other myths, but maybe listing these few will make you think twice before you believe so called “facts” about depression.  Find out about the illness so that together we can make life better for so many individuals suffering from depression.

-Bernadette

Looking for a Scapegoat

semi automaticAnother day and more gun violence and more people ready to blame those with mental illness. Talk about a sure fire way for people who are already reluctant because of stigma to seek help with mental illness, this will keep many from even thinking about going for help. And never do we pause to consider that maybe, just maybe, people shouldn’t be allowed to have automatic and semi-automatic guns to “protect” themselves.  If you want to deter a crime, such power is not necessary.  In many cases only muscles will do as witnessed when unarmed men disarmed a threatened shooter on a European train.

Mental illness has enough stigma keeping people from seeking help. Let’s not add people around them thinking, “They are mentally ill! They’re dangerous. Do they have guns?” Soon people will rail against mentally ill people having jobs of importance or taking care of our children. Families will be separated “to keep them safe.” We will in effect begin a movement of serious prejudice against the mentally ill. And who’s to define who and what is safe and who and what is not? Will knives and ropes and cars be out of the realm of use by the mentally ill because they might go on a rampage and kill someone?

And all the while we will sit in our homes, protected by our guns, our semi-automatics, thinking how very well we are, how we are not like “them” and how we are now safe because we have taken care of “those people.” And we will choose not to remember that we looked the other way when children were murdered at Sand Hook Elementary or when we thought the story of the movie house shootings was more exciting than the movie. We will be safe with our guns, because our right to bear arms will be all that matters.   The mentally ill be damned.

And Jesus will weep once again.

– Bernadette

For another interesting take on things:

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/08/31/436264866/is-gun-violence-due-to-dangerous-people-or-dangerousguns?