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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?

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.


Shock waves from “Call the Midwife.”

Today’s definition of irony: When a character on a television show you love suffers a bout of PTSD and it triggers your own PTSD experience.

I don’t think I”m exaggerating. In last night’s episode of “Call the Midwife,” the doctor character dealt with an experience that triggered a return of depression. The actor portrayed such a breakdown beautifully. So well, in fact, that I could barely stand to watch.

As his wife supported him, tucked him into bed, and cried out her fears on a friend’s shoulder, I relived the long, desolate years of my own husband’s deep depression. Almost literally, the wind was knocked out of me as I watched. All that emotion was suddenly right there again, front and center.

Of course that’s a resounding endorsement of the power of this particular program and of the actor. But it also says a lot about how very deeply depression affects not only the depressed person, but also those who are closest to him or her, even years after recovery.

I still feel just a bit shaky today, but I’ll get over it. Things are much, much better now.

But I doubt I’ll ever fully forget that pain.


If you’re not familiar with “Call the Midwife,” which is in its fourth season, I hope you’ll seek it out. It’s currently running on PBS on Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Central, with earlier season four episodes on http://www.pbs.org. Seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix.

The Wisdom of Dr. Seuss

image credit to Dr. Seuss

image credit to Dr. Seuss

On Wednesday nights during the school year, my daughter and I lead a class for kids in kindergarten through 6th grade.  This week, as part of our discussion of caring for others who have trouble taking care of themselves, we read the Dr. Seuss classic, “Horton Hears a Who.”

In case you’re not familiar with the story (gasp!), Horton the elephant is the only creature that can hear the cries of an infinitesimal being who is part of an entire civilization living on a nearby dust speck. Horton takes on the task of caring for and protecting these tiny people in spite of the derision of his neighbors, who neither hear nor believe in the dust civilization. As Horton repeats throughout the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

I’ve read “Horton” aloud many times, and have had it read to me plenty of times, as well.  Every time, I get a little choked up as I consider the beauty of Horton’s belief.  A person’s a person, no matter how small.

On this occasion, my daughter read the story aloud. As she shared the illustrations with the kids, she insightfully pointed out that the people on the dust speck had flowers, families, and homes – just like us.  They were tiny, they couldn’t help themselves, but they were actually just like us.

Marginalized humans the world over – the poor, the outcasts, the disabled, and yes, the mentally ill – are made to feel they’re so small they’re not worth listening to and helping.  We ignore them.  We stigmatize their problems so they’re afraid to admit to them.  We callously tell them to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” to “be accountable” to “not expect handouts” (or in the sickening modern terminology, “entitlements”).  We don’t have the imagination and empathy Horton had, which allowed him to hear someone tiny, picture what his life might be like, and reach out to help.

There are other important messages in “Horton;” standing up for your beliefs, believing in yourself, joining with others to make a difference and be heard. As I have found over and over again in my work with children and families, books that are nominally meant for children often contain great wisdom.  It’s my hope that one day we’ll all recognize those tiny marginalized people who hover on the fringes of our world, and we’ll all take the responsibility to stand up for them.  A person’s a person, no matter how small. Thank you, Theodore Geisel.


Love, Forgiveness, and Other Wildly Cosmic Subjects

At the risk of being WAY too theological, here goes…

Our nuclear family has created a lot of traditions through the years.  One that we’ve enjoyed since the kids hit their teen years is watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” together sometime during the three days at the end of Holy Week.

It took a lot of convincing for them to get me to even consider giving this musical a try, though I’m generally a big fan of the musical theater genre.  I’d seen bits of the 1973 version, and the freaky hippies with really fairly rotten voices turned my stomach.  But a new incarnation came out in 2000, and suddenly I got it.  The excellent acting and brilliant voices bring Jesus’ story to life in a way you might only get if you’re a theater geek…but it’s really meaningful to me (even with its often-questionable interpretation of the story).  A lot more so than the somber, solemn, liturgically correct Holy Week worship services I’d been going to for years.

Every year something new hits me when I experience the music and emotions of the characters in this film.  This year what struck me most was the theme of giving and accepting of love, probably because I’ve been forced to do a lot of thinking recently about life, the universe, depression, and everything (apologies to Douglas Adams).

In this 2000 production, it’s clear that Jesus wants desperately to show his continued love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Judas after the betrayal.  He himself feels pain as he sees Judas’ suffering. It’s equally clear that Judas believes himself utterly out of the reach of Jesus’ love and compassion.  He’s unable to believe in it so he doesn’t recognize it, and his despair over this fact and over his actions, which he believes are unforgivable, leads him to kill himself.

I can’t help but wonder if similar feelings aren’t sometimes behind depression and suicide in our world.  Living in close quarters with a depressed person, I’ve seen how completely depression robs people of their ability to see themselves as lovable and worthy.  The illness can make a depressed person believe that every single mistake they’ve made or hurt they’ve caused is of monstrous, unforgivable proportions. Certainly  we very fallible humans can have a hard time loving and forgiving when someone is unpleasant and difficult to live with, even if these negative traits are caused by mental illness.

My heart aches when I consider how very many people believe that even God can’t love them when they feel unlovable. Too many people have been taught that we have to live a certain kind of life, do certain things, hate our natural selves, in order to earn God’s love.

So this year, what I’m taking away from our annual JCS viewing – and I’m sure this sounds ridiculously corny – is the look of love in Jesus’ eyes and the tenderness with which he reaches out and tries to touch and comfort his friend Judas.  I’m convinced that’s the truth of God – unconditional love, compassion, and mercy for all.

May we all, through whatever pain and suffering we may experience in our lives, learn to accept and feel that love and comfort.

Happy Easter!