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Echoes from the past.

I had a painful flashback this morning. A reminder of an extremely difficult moment from the many years during which my husband was in the depths of depression, unemployed and unemployable, when we had three small children in the house, and I felt as if I were on my own and was, quite frankly, terrified.

I won’t describe the trigger or the memory. I just don’t want to go there.

Here I am, twenty years later, a full-fledged grown-up with a good life, a solid career, and new opportunities on the horizon. But that moment this morning served as a reminder that I’m still haunted by that extremely dark time.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder how I survived those years. How our marriage survived those years. How we managed to raise three truly amazing and well-adjusted children.

I suppose that survival depended a whole lot upon my dedication to taking care of myself. I learned to ask for and accept help. I learned to protect my time and my emotional boundaries. I learned to say “no” to extended-family commitments that were simply too stressful. I learned that I can only deal with a limited amount of baggage, and it’s okay to be selective about which piece of that baggage I deal with at any one time.

Today’s flashback gave me another reminder. I can’t stop taking care of myself just because today the worst of that depression in my husband is at bay. There are still plenty of issues we have to struggle through. Day-to-day life with someone who has underlying depression (and multiple other diagnoses) will never be a walk in the park.

At times I feel like the lengths I go to in order to protect myself and my emotional state are overkill or selfishness.

But today, I recognize that I have to be good to myself.

I hope you’re being good to yourself, too.

-Amy

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

The Bogey Man Waiting to Pounce

Yesterday I realized that I had to get out of the house. Usually I have no problem being in and around the house.  There is plenty to do – a yard that needs regular care, projects galore in my office and the rest of the house, and good places to relax and reinvent.

But yesterday I realized that the depression that has overtaken my husband was threatening to overtake me. Gloomy days with the threat of rain usually give me a feeling of coziness, of wanting to nest and just be, reading when I want, working when I want.  But this gloomy day was affecting my mood from the time I opened my eyes.  I couldn’t do my regular gym workout.  Something was holding me back.  I ate more than I usually do at breakfast, and I was unable to get into any of my projects, opting instead to play solitaire and binge watch a program on Netflix.

Dishes sat in the sink, the bed was unmade, and I announced that dinner would be whatever anyone could find – a practice I don’t usually engage in. And just before lunch I found, horror of horrors, that I was sitting in the living room chair, just as my husband does each day with his eyes closed, contemplating his worries or swimming in the darkness.

I jumped up and announced that I was going out. I grabbed the car keys and went, no destination in mind.  I drove for a bit, stopped, messaged a good friend asking to get together sometime soon,  and then went to a park, got out and walked, taking in the smells and watching the birds in their spring frenzy.  I don’t know how long I was gone but I do know that when I returned, the house was my haven again.  I didn’t see the darkness hovering.  I could see my husband in a calm, caring light.  And I felt myself buoyed up by my interactions with people and nature.

Whenever we feel depression threatening to overtake us, we have to act with haste. We need to do something for ourselves, do something that will renew us, will give us strength, will make us laugh.  Whether it is talking to a good friend, running, treating ourselves to lunch.  Whatever it is, we, as caregivers, need to help ourselves and sometimes that comes in a flash when we realize that those things that gave us life are slipping from us.

When you recognize this happening to you, don’t hesitate. Your life and the lives of those you take care of depend on it.

– Bernadette

Is it a mystery worth solving?

One of the many, many difficult aspects of depression is the fact that it’s not an illness with a definite cure.

Rather, it’s an illness that must be managed constantly, one that can come roaring back without warning, just when you least expect it. And when it does come roaring back, it’s hard not to ask “WHY???”

For about the last week, my husband’s depression was with us in full force. He was unable to think coherently. Unable to answer questions. Literally moaning whenever he had to complete any simple task. Sleeping much more than usual. For someone who generally operates in depression-recovery mode, it was a huge change.

I spent a lot of time over the last week asking myself that big “WHY???” Trying to come up with some explanation in my own mind for what had triggered this particular episode. Gently discussing with him whether he ought to go see our GP, as it’s been quite a while since he’s had a routine checkup. (His answer, with a moan: “That would mean making an appointment.” Clearly not a task he was able to even contemplate).

And, all the time, going as easy on him as possible. Asking little, even to the point of deliberately not even engaging him in conversation – because every exchange seemed to create unbearable stress.

Then, today, suddenly a switch was flipped. When I got home from work around noon, he was digging into our tax paperwork so he could start the process of filing. He spoke normally, even showed concern for me when I declared I felt like I was coming down with something. Later in the afternoon he spent a couple of hours on vehicle maintenance, unprompted by any requests. He was, apparently, back to his usual self.

So I started asking that “WHY???” again. And I couldn’t help but piece together a trigger that I’m not sure makes sense, but that I’m pretty sure I’m seeing. His depressive episode clearly began when our son come home for spring break, and concluded the day he left. Thinking it over a little more, I recalled that the same had happened over winter break, as well.

I can imagine a theory or two as to why this might be. But I ask myself a new question – Is it even worth it? Would knowing make any difference? I could discuss it with him, but might that make him feel even worse?

I’m still not sure what the right answer is. But one thing I do know is that I’m storing that little piece of information in my memory bank. Because in a couple of months our son will be home for the summer, and if there’s anything I can do to keep  us from having three full months of depression ruling our household, I’ll do it.

And in the meantime I’ll be thinking hard about whether the answer to “WHY???” is important or not.

-Amy

I Remember….

One of the most difficult things I find in depression is coping with the memory loss that occurs. My husband who has dealt with depression in various degrees off and on for the 45 years of our marriage cannot now remember various happenings.  I will bring something up, sure that he would remember it and he doesn’t.  He can remember in large stretches – we got married, our kids were born, he worked – but he cannot remember individual incidents.

I know that some of this is due first of all to the trauma of depression. When a brain has to deal with illness, some changes have to take place.  Perhaps memory is one of them.  Also, there is the problem of all the medication he takes.  I’m sure all of them individually are good and safe but in combination?  I’m not so sure if the cure often offers more challenges.

This is yet another loss that people who love those with depression have to deal with. I want to share the silly time when we had such a full house for dinner that someone actually sat at table with their chair in our side hall.  I want to share about how our kids would get excited about the Great Pumpkin coming to visit in the guise of our neighborhood real estate woman. There are so many memories to share, ones that pop up at odd moments through the day but I can’t share these small moments with him because it heightens his depression to know that he doesn’t remember.  And this memory loss only adds to depression when he can’t remember the good things he’s done with people, with his children.  He sadly thinks he was therefore not a good friend or father.

So many facets of depression and so few of those facets are discussed.

– Bernadette

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

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

 

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

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