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    By Amy and Bernadette
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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

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Nurses on the Verge

I recently had a knee replacement that had me in the hospital for three days. I was  helped by countless nurses and therapists and when I headed home it was knowing that what brought me to the point of going home was the helpful staff.

That got me thinking about nurses and how very rarely they are recognized for the work that they do. Nursing is a high pressure job, ruthless and stressful.  Plus nurses see people at their lowest, at the point where most people wouldn’t want to be around them.

Is it any wonder that nurses suffer depression at twice the rate of the general population? Unfortunately, nurses often don’t seek help or recognize the fact that they are suffering from depression.  To make it even more complicated, signs and symptoms of depression in nurses is often overlooked and accepted as part of the stress of working in the healthcare profession.

Too often the rule of thumb is to hide your emotions and “act professionally.” This often ends up causing the problems associated with depression and anxiety to multiply.  And this growing monster can often compromise patient safety and cause good nurses to seek other avenues for their career.

This is just another area where we have to keep depression from having the upper hand. Nurses are valuable people and to let them flounder with little or no support is dangerous to everyone’s health.  Let’s all band together to not be afraid to confront depression in all areas of our lives.

  • 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.

heart (1)

heart.jpg

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

Blue Christmas

We’re almost a week past the Longest Night (winter solstice, Dec. 21), the night on which we acknowledge the fact that for many, Christmas is not a season full of brightness and joy.

For several years I’ve observed this practice from afar, glad (in a rather detached way) to know that those who struggle with grief, depression, loneliness, and other sorrows were being recognized and supported. This year, though, my perspective shifted. Longest night began to hit home.

There’s my severely, long-term mentally ill sister, who this year wanted to “reconcile” with me (I had to cut her out of my life several years ago to preserve my own mental health). Couldn’t go there; had to say no. Consequently felt cruel and guilty.

Even worse, a 40-year-long situation with my step mother grew exponentially worse this fall, so that I didn’t feel able to spend any time with my father this year for Christmas. That situation was compounded last night, as I started receiving abusive phone calls and emails, and one of our children was even dragged into the ugliness with a voice mail left on her phone. Where before I was stressed and upset, now I’m angry.

On the whole, I’ve been able to focus on the joy of my own nuclear family being together, and the fun of being with other members of the extended family who are safe, comfortable, and supportive. But ugly, hurtful feelings tied up with other family members are always lurking in the background, ready at any moment to jump out and bite me in the ass.


This saying may be a little trite, but it’s true. Let’s all try to remember it, beyond the Longest Night.

-Amy

Keep it to yourself.

I readily admit to being pretty opinionated.

But there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to provoke a visceral reaction in me, which I can’t promise won’t end up in my punching someone in the gut. And so I’ll share a piece of wisdom, to protect you from future harm should you ever venture into this territory in my presence:

Don’t EVER say a single, solitary word about medications others take to help them deal with brain illnesses. 

You have the right to choose NOT to take antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, ADHD medications, etc. And each other individual has the same right to make that decision.

Want to know what you don’t have the right to? An opinion about other people’s medication choices.

There are many, many people out there for whom these medications are literally saving lives. People in my own family are in this category. Yes, it would be a lovely, sunshine-and-rainbows world if they didn’t need meds simply to have a normal, productive life. But that’s not the real world for many of us. And those of us who need brain illness-related meds absolutely do not need to hear anyone else’s opinion about the medications we decide to take.

Here’s an analogy for you. If you heard someone ranting derisively about  a cancer patient’s decision to undergo a course of radiation and chemotherapy, you’d assume the ranter was a fringe freak. Cancer is often a life-threatening illness, and we support those who receive the problematic treatment for that illness. In the same way, mental illnesses are often life-threatening, and the medications that treat them are often problematic. It is simply cruel, thoughtless, and damaging to speak out against undergoing a course of treatment for an illness of the brain.

And yet, many, many people out there do just that.

Seriously – keep your mouth shut.

-Amy