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    By Amy and Bernadette

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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

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When there’s nothing you can say.

Depression and anxiety can manifest themselves in so many ways it can be hard to keep track. But I was hit with one of those manifestations over the weekend, and knew it for what it was immediately.

What did it look like?

Let’s see if I can come up with enough negative adjectives to paint a picture of what I experienced in my husband in this situation: Cranky, cruel, critical, hateful, mean, selfish, unfeeling. How’s that?

Nothing earth-shattering was happening. My mom had come to visit overnight. The Husband had been working on his mother’s tax return all day (never a good omen). Our daughter and I prepared an excellent meal. The Husband came downstairs (late) for dinner.

Every word out of his mouth was unpleasant. A scowl was permanently attached to his face. He criticized just about every aspect of the meal. It was impossible to ignore, and made for a very uncomfortable dinner hour.

And there was absolutely nothing I could do.

I know from past experience that any mention of his negativity would have created an even uglier scene. I might have just gotten up from the table and made myself scarce, but couldn’t bring myself to abandon my mother and daughter.

I was hurt. And I don’t like feeling silenced and helpless.

So far I haven’t even been able to bring it up to him in retrospect. He’s still wrestling with the taxes and the resulting depression and anxiety. And while his demeanor has improved (having taken a break from the annual task yesterday), any mention of his behavior during that dinner will send him in to a tailspin. I know. From LONG experience.

I ask myself why I put up with this crap. A large part of the answer is that the ugliness my husband sometimes displays is not who he really is. When he’s not under attack from his diagnoses, he’s generous, kind, thoughtful, and loving.

But it’s extremely difficult to remember who he really is when depression and anxiety take over.

-Amy

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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Gotta keep that sense of humor.

-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

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?

Finding Silver Linings

On the trek over torn up street, yards, and sidewalks to find my car this morning, I had occasion and time to reflect on silver linings – unexpected good that comes from bad.

My musings started as I passed and visited with two different neighbors I’d never met before. One had pushed his granddaughter in her stroller to the edge of the construction area to view the interesting trucks. The other was finding a new route for walking her very happy and friendly dog, as their old route is now impassable. Both encounters made me smile and be thankful for the short-ish, though extremely hot and humid, hike I have to take every morning. A silver lining.

It made me recall a much harder-to-discern silver lining I discovered some time ago that was created by the long-term depression and anxiety of my husband. When our children were very young, their father was too ill to hold a job. It was a terrible time in too many ways to count, but there was a very positive result: He was home with our children for all their preschool years and into their early elementary grades. Though he has sad memories of not being able to truly enjoy that time, what the children saw was a Papa who was right in there with them for every diaper, every play time, every meal, every silly game. I saw and appreciated these things, too, though I also saw the tears and despair he worked so hard to hide from the little ones.

When his health improved just enough and the kids became just old enough that it was “safe” for me to go back to work (a long and painful story for another day), another silver lining appeared: our children never attended day care or after school care. Their father continued to be a stay-at-home dad, and it didn’t hurt that as a teacher my schedule was fairly accommodating to their needs. I know this is a touchy subject and a topic of acrimonious debate, but it was absolutely a non-negotiable for us to have our kids at home until they went to school, and for them to have a parent at home with them after school. I’ve seen the benefits of this cornerstone decision over and over again as they’ve grown and matured, and for me it is perhaps the most important aspect of my husband’s illness, as hard as it was to achieve in terms of my husband’s and my emotional health and our financial stability.

So here’s the deal: The nasty street construction makes me pretty grumpy at times, but it’s led to some lovely encounters. My husband’s brain illness made our lives suck in many ways, but it led to three really awesome kids and priceless family memories.

Silver linings…if only they weren’t so hard to come by.

-Amy

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Help for soldiers dealing with depression and other issues

The Center for Veterans Issues is an organization that is to be commended.  Not only do they help returning veterans with finding housing, dealing with post traumatic stress, financial situations, or drug abuse, they are all about treating the entire person and for returning veterans, that often means their families as they struggle to re-connect.  The center has a host of programs operating. Continue reading