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Being There for Each Other

I have a confession to make.  I have always played little games with myself that go something like this:

If there are only five crackers left I will have them.  If there are more, no. 

Or

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 I will play only four games of solitaire if I get two emails.  

Poor examples of what games I play, but you get the picture.

Today I am feeling a bit defeatist.  My husband is again beginning the downward spiral with depression and I find myself irritable and wanting my well husband back.  And right on the heels of that thought, I realized that it was more than about time to write something for this blog.  But with everything going on, I didn’t want to.  I was tired of looking at depression.  I was frustrated that professionals are not seeing the importance of the role friends and family play in a person’s recovery from depression.  I was seeing the problem escalate more and more out of control.  And I didn’t want to write about it anymore.

So, a game with myself.  I would not write anything.  I would close the blog after talking with Amy and I would say goodbye to being a voice in the wilderness.  I would do all these things IF there was no increase in the people who were coming to the site.  I felt confident there would not be as it had been at least three weeks since a posting.  I opened up the site and low and behold the number of followers had increased.  And then it dawned on me…..

If I was feeling the way I was at this point in time, there were others who were feeling the same frustration as to where to go for support and information and ideas.  I realized that this site was doing that in some small way.  Someone out there was getting something they needed to keep going another day.  They were feeling support and understanding and they realized they were not alone.

So I’ll keep writing and I’ll urge Amy to do the same and hopefully, together with all of you, we will help professionals and others not familiar with depression to realize the far reaching scope of the damage this illness can do.  And we will be a very strong support to one another.

– Bernadette

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Live in the now!

imageAs so often happens, my good friend and awesome co-author, Bernadette, summed up exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately. In her post yesterday, “Hope in the present moment” she described what each of us has been living with – a treacherous roller coaster of ups and downs with our depressed husbands.

Lately I don’t know from one day to the next (sometimes even from one hour to the next) whether my husband will be optimistic, energetic, and capable or morose and defeated. At times the good spells last long enough that when a low point comes out of left field I’m stymied, and react badly. Other times, when things are looking up, I walk on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop…knowing that a heavy thud could fall at any moment.

And so Bernadette’s reminder to appreciate each of the good moments and celebrate the hope of the here and now, comes at a good time. Today, in this moment, I’ll savor the top point of the roller coaster and let tomorrow (or a few hours from now) take care of itself.

-Amy

Happy List

image credit to catholicdadsonline.org

image credit to catholicdadsonline.org

There are a lot of people who espouse a mistaken and hurtful belief that positive thinking and intentionality can overcome depression. If you’ve ever experienced depression yourself, or if you’ve ever lived in close quarters with a depressed person, you know how ridiculous this notion is.

On the other hand, those of us who are not struggling with the brain illness called depression (which attacks thoughts, moods, and bodies just as thoroughly as cancer, diabetes, or other “approved” illnesses) can take steps to live more joyful and positive lives. If we are living with someone who is depressed, these steps can help us fight off what can be a very contagious illness.

Zefrank1, who creates hilarious and thoughtful videos on his Youtube channel, has one that really resonates with me, titled “What’s on your HappyList?” Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syR_NinJ2B0 He’s referring to small moments, small actions, that bring great joy. His list includes digging his fingernail into the skin of a navel orange and getting the last little bit out of a bag of chips.

A few items included on my list would be:
-crunching acorns under my feet while taking walks in my neighborhood
-the smell created by the first moments of rain, which has the amazing name of petrichor. I love it all the more because it has a name.
-when the load of towels I’m folding contains the exactly correct matching washcloths (hmmm…is this an indication of a small life?)
-getting into a bed just made with fresh, clean sheets

I think there’s power in recognizing that even the most mundane of happenings can bring deep satisfaction. Here’s to all of us finding and appreciating those moments in the coming week.
-Amy

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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It’s the little things.

It’s been a good week. A major annual project at work is now finished and was a great success. I have a Saturday ahead of me with no unpleasant items on my to-do list. We’re nearing a family trip we’ve been looking forward to for months. Though there are long-term, serious stressors lurking, as always, in the background, I’m taking joy in life for now. When you spend a significant amount of your time and energy caring for an ill person, enjoying the small moments of joy can be a life-saver.

Morning has always been my favorite time of day. The angle of sunlight, the conversation of morning birds, the feeling of excitement and opportunity stretching out throughout the course of the day – I love it all. This time of year I like to take my coffee and breakfast onto the back porch and see what’s happening in the yard. It’s not exactly a botanical garden, consisting mainly of squirrels, rabbits, a robin’s nest in early spring, the occasional goldfinch, and a few flower baskets I bought over a month ago and haven’t yet managed to kill. But it’s all lovely just the same (my apologies to friends and neighbors who are at war with the rabbits who eat their gardens and the squirrels who eat their way into attics).mama robin

This morning I was treated to what appeared to be a rabbit and squirrel play date. Two squirrels were doing ridiculous acrobatics between the fence and low-hanging branches. All the while, two rabbits played leap frog and took turns flopping down and stretching out in a patch of dirt. Probably there was no cross-species friendship taking place, but the four of them were tolerating each others’ presence and putting on quite a show.

It’s so often the little things that make life enjoyable. It’s my hope that, even if you’re struggling with caregiving, you will find some little thing in which to take joy today.

-Amy

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Today the glass is almost all the way full.

One of the suggestions Bern and I share with caregivers sounds simplistic…but it really can make a difference. It’s the good old act of “counting your blessings.” When life seems to be throwing rocks at you at every turn, an intentional effort to remember the good stuff you have going on can truly help you keep going.

So here’s my top five for this week:
1. I have a great job. I work with people for whom I have the utmost respect, and we have a lot of fun together. I have flexibility and autonomy, and I get positive strokes from people who appreciate the work I do. Wow.
Here’s a shot of 70 super kids I got to hang out with at work this week:
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2. I have three fantastically awesome kids. Of course I love them, but I also really like each of them for exactly who they are, and I have no doubt they are all better people than I am.
3. My street looks like a war zone from all the construction (see yesterday’s post) but I really don’t mind too much. Actually, it’s kind of nice to know there’s no point dusting in the foreseeable future because the clouds of dirt raised every few minutes when a semi trailer-sized dump truck goes by are about the size of Moses’ pillar of cloud.
4. I get to hang out with my amazing co-author and friend Bernadette tomorrow.
5. Next week we get several days of family time as the four of us still left at home travel to see the oldest sibling graduate with honors from Northwestern University. Yes, just slightly proud.

Counting your blessings – give it a try! 🙂

-Amy

Hope Rocks

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Hope rocks. Noun/verb or adjective/noun? While playing around with a new look for our blog last night, the phrase stuck in my mind and gave me something to muse on.

When Bern and I attend conferences to do presentations and an information table, we lug along a big box of shiny, smooth river rocks on which we’ve written the word hope. A lot of people glance at our display and hurry on without making eye contact – depression isn’t exactly an alluring topic. We have a secret weapon, though in our “hope rocks.” People who are obviously uncomfortable with the subject of depression and brain illness can’t resist when we invite them to paw through our bowl of hope rocks and choose the one that feels best in their hand. The coolness and texture is a tactile sensation that makes even the most stoic smile and say, “How fun! I love rocks!” While they’re enjoying the experience, we throw in a few words about carrying their rock with them as a reminder that we can always have hope, even in the darkest of times. We encourage them to take an extra rock or two for a friend or a child, and they walk away from our table with a smile.

To put it simply, our hope rocks are a reminder that hope rocks (see what I did there?). I’ve had a lot of days lately when I needed to be reminded. Today, on an absolutely glorious and sunny late spring morning, I’m going to go out of my way to collect figurative hope rocks to add to my smooth, shiny, touchable specimens. That sunshine and the cardinal singing its almost-decipherable song in the back yard will be the first two of the day. An intentionally positive attitude about an extended family event taking place this evening (which has the potential to be anywhere from uncomfortable to miserable) will be an important virtual hope rock for me today.

What hope rocks will you collect today?

-Amy