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Strange Bedfellows

double-bed-1215004_1280Depression and relationships make for very strange and difficult bed fellows. Many of us are in intimate relationships with someone who is depressed. Many of us have sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who are depressed. And in many instances we don’t want depression to destroy the relationship we had before this wicked illness came into our lives. How do we live with depression and still help our relationships to grow?

First and foremost on the list is to be sure that communication is the highest priority for you. It might be that the depressed person instead of reacting and screaming or whatever, simply says, “I’m depressed.” Those few words can make whoever you are with realize that what is happening is a result of the depression, not anything else. Talking about depression and the feelings it brings helps both individuals understand what is happening and it makes it a bit easier to deal with.

Sometimes it is difficult for someone to simply state that they are depressed. Perhaps in those times you might inquire after someone’s well being in a creative way. Is depression in the next county for you or is it just outside the room, or did you sleep with it last night? All these are ways to communicate where and how depression is affecting the one you love.

Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. Don’t let your partner get away with “I don’t feel good.” Ask questions like “physically or emotionally?” or “because of what just happened or because of the darkness?” Conversation increases and that is always helpful. And above all, don’t spend time trying to change your loved one. That’s his or her job and the therapist or the psychiatrist.. You are there to love the person and not change or cure him or her. Just being there with them is enough, listening, holding hands or talking through feelings together. All of these have the capacity to empower the depressed person and that’s what is most important.

Don’t forget too those little niceties that make us all feel better – a back rub, a good meal, good music. This will help your loved one feel better if only for a short time. Do whatever you can to let your loved one know that you still love him or her. You just hate the illness of depression. .

Relationships are never easy even in the healthiest of people. Depression in one of you makes it more difficult but remember that you are both still able to be a support to one another and you have the added gift of helping each other understand depression and come out from its tight grip.

– 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

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

 

Depression and Mildew

photosOur thanks to a mother who has and is weathering depression in her son and graciously let us post this.  Those who support those with depression have to grapple with many things others don’t see.  

It all started with cleaning out the room that had become the junk room in the basement.  Just as we began we discovered mildew, ugh!  At first it was only on a few old coats so those went in the trash.  Then suddenly it was on the covers of scrapbooks, yearbooks…precious memories.  Memories I had not thought about that much since depression entered our lives.

As the clean-up continued, I began to realize that depression has become the mildew in my life.  Silently creeping along and filling me with its grey haze.  Since then I just feel lost.   I look at those old photos and I don’t remember who I was before depression.  And I know that I cannot go back there anyway because depression has changed me.   While we were able to wipe away most of the mildew, the impact of depression cannot be wiped away.

Now the room is empty and the contents chaotically cover other rooms.  But I cannot bring myself to continue sifting through items.  What to keep, what to discard, what to donate?  It should be an easy process but it is agonizing, like I’m discarding parts of myself.  Yet, are those parts still real?  And I cannot bring myself to put anything back into that room.  As if the  mildew may be gone from that room, but depression still fills our house.

All this is happening as my son seems to be improving and learning to live with and within his depression.  Am I afraid that if he gets better then I might not have a purpose and that I might actually have to figure out who I am now.  And as I wipe away the mildew of depression and look at what is left of myself, what if I don’t like what I find?

The Elusive Illness of Depression

thermometer-833085_1280Depression is an illness that continues to amaze me. My husband has been struggling with it for almost forty years and still we can’t identify a pattern or a cause or what works best. There was a time early on where it seemed like overcoming depression was a piece of cake – he took the one pill and soon he was doing so well, feeling so good, that he thought he didn’t need the medicine any longer.

Surprise! That only opened the door for a deeper, more difficult depression. So the different medications began their parade and then the mixing of the medications to arrive at that elusive cocktail. And there were the therapist sessions and the tries at different possibilities – yoga, meditation, exercise. Even the magic light used primarily by those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder was used in the hopes that it would make a difference.

And always, when I thought we finally had it conquered, something changed, something went wrong, something happened whether that was the medicine suddenly stopped working or a fall that resulted in a concussion that caused all hell to break loose as far as the depression went.

Right now, we are still in search of that elusive cocktail and there are more moves to delve into understanding himself and the trying of new ways of dealing with the depression. And there continue to be surprises. My husband the other day announced that he had never really comprehended that depression was an illness. He had always felt guilty, that he felt he could have more control over it. Somehow, realizing that depression was an illness enabled him to say, “Today is a good day. I think I can do this and this and this…” and he would proceed to be engaged in life. The next day might mean hours spent in bed and he accepted that as a not-so-good-day of the illness. None of this behavior was new but what was new was the realization on his part and mine that depression was indeed an illness (before we only gave homage to the words) and as such, operated as most illnesses we know.

Someone with cancer has their good days and bad days. They go for chemo and they try to exercise and eat right but sometimes they just have to sit back and be, sometimes even feeling sorry for themselves. Someone with arthritis has good days and bad days. Sometimes the pain is so bad, the most they can do is sit and read; other days are so good, they play for hours with their grandkids. So too with depression which can give us energy and happiness on one day only to strip it away from us on the next.

Depression indeed is the illness that keeps surprising us day in and day out.

– Bernadette

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