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When there’s nothing you can say.

Depression and anxiety can manifest themselves in so many ways it can be hard to keep track. But I was hit with one of those manifestations over the weekend, and knew it for what it was immediately.

What did it look like?

Let’s see if I can come up with enough negative adjectives to paint a picture of what I experienced in my husband in this situation: Cranky, cruel, critical, hateful, mean, selfish, unfeeling. How’s that?

Nothing earth-shattering was happening. My mom had come to visit overnight. The Husband had been working on his mother’s tax return all day (never a good omen). Our daughter and I prepared an excellent meal. The Husband came downstairs (late) for dinner.

Every word out of his mouth was unpleasant. A scowl was permanently attached to his face. He criticized just about every aspect of the meal. It was impossible to ignore, and made for a very uncomfortable dinner hour.

And there was absolutely nothing I could do.

I know from past experience that any mention of his negativity would have created an even uglier scene. I might have just gotten up from the table and made myself scarce, but couldn’t bring myself to abandon my mother and daughter.

I was hurt. And I don’t like feeling silenced and helpless.

So far I haven’t even been able to bring it up to him in retrospect. He’s still wrestling with the taxes and the resulting depression and anxiety. And while his demeanor has improved (having taken a break from the annual task yesterday), any mention of his behavior during that dinner will send him in to a tailspin. I know. From LONG experience.

I ask myself why I put up with this crap. A large part of the answer is that the ugliness my husband sometimes displays is not who he really is. When he’s not under attack from his diagnoses, he’s generous, kind, thoughtful, and loving.

But it’s extremely difficult to remember who he really is when depression and anxiety take over.

-Amy

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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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heart (2)

Gotta keep that sense of humor.

-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

Four down, one to go.

That’s a rather fatalistic view of my family and the likelihood of the presence of depression/anxiety-related illness. But it seems accurate.

I’ve just sent the second of our three out the door for a visit with a therapist. After months of creeping depression symptoms and distinct anxiety symptoms, it’s a necessary step.

I know depression and anxiety too well. They’ve been constant, intrusive partners in my marriage for over twenty years. They’ve both hit me at times. Our oldest was diagnosed with both this past winter. Now I feel fairly certain our middle child is struggling with them. How long will it be before our youngest goes down the same path?

To be quite honest, I’m sick to death of brain illnesses – or at least I’m sick of dealing with them in close family members. Tired of the constant vigilance, the watching for symptoms, the dealing with mood swings and dark clouds that sometimes hang over the household. As it becomes more and more apparent that this is what we’re seeing in daughter number two, I find myself thinking, “Not again. I don’t have it in me.”

But of course, I do have it in me. I have to. Thankfully, it’s an open subject in our home. The obvious family tendency has forced us to talk about symptoms to watch for and what to do when we see them.

And I refuse to hide it. As Bern and I have said over and over again, the best way to overcome the stigma associated with brain illnesses is to talk about them just as we would any other illnesses. No hiding, no embarrassment.

But that doesn’t mean I like it.

-Amy

Musings on Being a Caregiver

We finally made it to the night of my husband’s sleep study at a nearby hospital. I’ve been looking forward to this night for several reasons; I would actually get a good night’s sleep for once, maybe something would turn up due to the study that will lead to improvement in his (and my) daily life, after the test is over he can go back onto his much-needed antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication.

As is so often the case, though, anticipation is not matching up with reality. I’ve had a fitful night of sleep, as evidenced by the fact that I’m wide awake and writing a post at 4:45 am. I’m feeling cynical about whether anything productive will actually turn up in my husband’s testing – after all, we’ve done these studies several times over the years with no concrete results. And I’m feeling (probably irrationally) fearful that this time when he returns to his medication it will be even less effective than before.

So I take a step back and try to get a more objective look at what’s going on in my head on all this stuff. Life has been a ridiculously up-and-down roller coaster ride the last couple of weeks. Some of my husband’s most troubling symptoms have returned as he’s gone off his meds AND begun a second job to try and keep us in our home and the bills paid. Our oldest, in school 10 hours away, is dealing with both exciting times as she interviews for grad school and times of despair as she struggles with a mentally unhealthy roommate. Our youngest has had four weekends in a row of major events that required my support and participation (no complaints, though – I love this stuff) as he works to audition for and choose an undergrad school. Thankfully our middle child remains on an even keel, loving her college experience, and is a bright spot in life every day.

As I take that step back and look at what’s going on with me, I recognize a common denominator. All of these concerns, most of what takes up my time and my mental energy, involve the needs of those I care for. On the one hand, that’s just the regular territory of a mom. It’s what I do (though I also have a full-time paying job) and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. On the other hand I have, over the years, taken on a caregiving role for my depressed husband. It’s a role that has lessened somewhat in the time his health has improved, and I’m keenly aware that compared to others I know who care for a mentally or physically ill person I have it pretty easy. But still, that caregiver role comes with a lot of heavy baggage.

I probably take on more than I need to carry. I sometimes hover where stepping back might be the better course. I ignore my own emotional and physical health in focusing on others. I am, in short, a typical caregiver. And I need to take to heart the words Bernadette and I share with others in our situation: Take time to care for yourself. Self-care is the tool that will allow you to survive and even thrive in difficult times.

Easier said than done. But I know it can be done. And I’ll give it a try…

Starting over… part 2

We’re about a week into my husband’s slow ramping down of antidepressant – recommended by his sleep study doc in preparation for a new overnight study, with the approval of his psychiatrist.  Easy for them to say – perhaps not so easy for us to live through.

So here’s the convergence of points: In the last couple of weeks B. has 1)ditched the mouth appliance he wore at night (controls snoring and mild sleep apnea, but totally throws his jaw out of allignment), 2)started weaning himself from the antidepressant he’s been on for 8 years – the one that finally worked after 12 years of trial and error, and 3)started applying for and interviewing for a second job (we’d like to stay in our home and eat occasionally even though we have two in college and one heading that way next fall). For a guy with chronic depression AND panic and anxiety disorders, this last one was enough to throw him into a dark pit all by itself.

It certainly seems like a recipe for disaster for both of us.

But here’s the weird thing – so far it’s not as bad as I expected.   Okay, I’m not sleeping well because there’s a snoring hulk in bed with me every night.  And he’s not sleeping much at all due to the racing thoughts and obsessive thinking that go along with panic and anxiety.  Which made him call in three hours late to his day job yesterday… But on the whole, I’m not seeing the intense irritability, the hangdog affect on his face, the negativity – his most difficult-to-live-with depression symptoms.

Of course, that’s probably partly due to the fact that we’re so busy with kid concerns right now that we hardly have a spare moment to spend together . Then, too, we’re only a week into that ramping-down thing.  And who knows how difficult life might get when he actually gets into the routine of working 12-15 hour days (he got that second job) at the same time that he’s completely off antidepressants.  It could get a whole lot worse.

But currently we’re in a holding pattern I can live with. Probably best to just appreciate that fact for now.

-Amy