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Learning from Breasts and Depression

This morning as I was dressing I recognized once again the changes in my breasts following treatment for cancer. The breasts are not identical. One is significantly smaller than the other and finding a bra is a pain. As soon as I think I have found the perfect bra, something changes and it doesn’t fit right. As I looked in the mirror, I also remembered a picture I saw about five years ago of a group of women who were nude from the waist up. Each breast was different, some were missing, scars adorned some and others were perky and young. And then the thought came to me of the importance of a picture of depression.

Imagine if you will, a group of people gathered in one room, around their necks they wear an explanation of their condition. One reads “circumstantial depression with several panic attacks”; another reads “lifelong depression with growing anxiety”; still another proclaims, “dark depression with daily thoughts of suicide.” Each sign is different. Some have tattered signs from many years of wear; others carry simply the word “depressed”. Some signs although somewhat new show signs of struggle as if someone was trying to remove the sign and didn’t succeed.

There are very young and very old people in this picture. The three-year-old, the teenager, the smart business man, the new mother, the seventy-five year old, the famous actress, the homeless man. The room is filled with every person with no regard to race or religion.

Everyone should have a picture like this to remind them that depression affects many people and we encounter these people day after day with no way to tell, the visible signs of depression no longer around their necks. And they have to deal with finding the right medication, the right therapy, the right support system and often that changes, just as my bra size does.

Next time you see someone, look at them through new eyes. The person you are seeing is carrying some wound, whether physical or mental. Be kind to them and remember we are all in this together.

– Bernadette

PTSD, Depression and Courage

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, I learned as much as I could about the disease and its treatment.  I thought I was prepared.  However, I was not prepared for the emotional ride that took place.  No one talked about it.  No one acknowledged that it was part of the situation.  Instead, I learned about it after the fact and I got it confirmed on a recent post from PTSD Perspectives, an excellent blog dealing with the subject.  Check it out at http://ptsdperspectives.org/category/ptsd-blog/

I was not prepared for the emotional ride that had me crying when I least expected to.  It had me feeling like I was in another person’s body, observing what was going on.  It caused me to be in a place that I neither knew nor trusted.  I was the proverbial stranger in a strange land.

What was going on was post traumatic stress.

I encountered PTSD again at a meeting Amy and I were giving for caregivers.  One of the participants was the sister of a soldier returned from Iraq.  She had observed the changes in her brother, had seen the mood swings, had noted the strangeness at times of his behavior, dealt with his depression.

What she wanted was not just for him to feel better.  She wanted, as she put it, her brother back.  She went on to talk about how they would have talked about anything and everything, how they could laugh and cry together and have a good time.  That was no more.  Another person had taken over.  She missed her brother, and not only was he dealing with PTSD, she was also.

There are different levels of PTSD that affect individuals but whatever level a person may have, it does not make it any less difficult.  PTSD also affects those who love and care for those with full blown PTSD.  These caregivers need to learn how to deal with a “new” person, one who has been shaken to the core by a very difficult situation, to stay centered despite the surrounding depression.  The caregivers have to deal with a new person, grieve the loss of the old one, and at the same time help their loved ones through the terrors that haunt them.

I am reminded of the words of Solomae, a spiritual teacher, who wrote, “Opening the heart is an act of courage.  Keeping it open is an act of love.”  That’s what people with PTSD and depression and those who love and care for them have to face each and every day.  They are courageous people.

-Bernadette