Friday, July 30, 2010

Building Your Support System

The road to recovery from depression can be rough. For most people, it's more complicated than taking a pill and magically feeling better. There are highs and lows along the way. Until you find your personal solution, you will need the support of those around you.

Take the time to come up with a list of people to call when you hit low points in your treatment. That list of people is your support system. At he top of the list are people you turn to first, when you have minor problems coping. The bottom of the list consists of people/entities you contact if the situation is dire. Everyone's support system is different, but hopefully you can find a reliable combination of friends, family, and medical professionals to help you in your times of need.

Your support system should look something like this:
  1. Friends
  2. Spouse/Significant Other/Parent/Family Member
  3. Counselor/Therapist/Doctor/Medical Professional
  4. Hospital Emergency Room
Write down the list. Put it in your wallet. Keep it by the phone. If you going through a particularly dark time, physically seeing the list will help you focus on your treatment. And no matter how silly it may seem to write down "ER," do it anyway. You need to know that there is always that option. You may "know" that the option is there, but it is more likely you will actually use it when you need it if you see it on the list.

And this is the most important thing. Say it to your family and friends. It needs to be known, and we need to speak about it...

If you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call 911 immediately.

Follow the instructions the dispatcher gives you. Once you are at the hospital, tell them you need to see the psychiatrist on call.

Don't worry about what anyone will think of you. If you are ever thinking about ending your life, that is an emergency, and you need to seek help immediately. It is literally a decision between life and death.

Do not be afraid to go to the hospital to seek treatment. Know that every person in your support system cares about you (even the people at the hospital), and genuinely wants you to get better.

Getting Past the Stigma

As a society, we need to start changing the way we think of mental illness. Think of all the things we seek medical attention for: high blood pressure; diabetes; injuries; allergies. When we have problems with our bodies, we go to the doctor. But, when we have concerns about our mood and our mind, why do we shy away from medical treatment? Because we are unsure of how others will perceive us.

In my journey, I've heard many things that were hurtful and uncaring. I doubt that the people who said those things had any idea that what they were saying was more harmful than helpful.

"Are you going to do anything today?"

"You're just depressed. Kick yourself in the butt and get out of it."

"Somebody's crabby today."

Comments like that- although meant to be lighthearted and motivating- can be detrimental to someone who is already wondering why they feel bad. The decision to get help for depression can be a difficult one. We worry what the effects may be on our jobs; our insurance; our friendships. We may think that depression is something that we can get past on our own. But, true, clinical depression is far beyond that.

We need to get better at recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression. Take a look at the list below. (From
  • Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

We take medicine for our allergies; for hypertension; for our cholesterol. We do it to make ourselves healthier. We don't hide it from our families. Why should depression be any different?

And that's how we need to approach it. Depression is a treatable illness. To be healthy, we have to take care of our bodies, as well as our minds. No one should be ashamed of that.

We need to encourage our family, friends, and co-workers who are experiencing depression to seek help. And we need to be supportive of their journey. Don't criticize and nit-pick. Don't offer your two cents. Let them discover their own path to wellness. Ask them how you can help. If you see that they are struggling with everyday tasks, do something. Cook a meal for them. Run errands. If children are involved, offer to babysit while they seek counseling. It may seem small, but it will make a big difference in the life of someone who is affected by depression.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The 800lb. Gorilla

There is an 800lb. gorilla in the room.

The thing no one wants to talk about, yet everyone knows is there, and no one wants to do anything about it. I want to take the time to get to the heart of what this blog is about: getting rid of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

In early 2004, I was diagnosed with severe depression. It was an all-consuming dark place. I stopped showering. If I got up during the day, it was to move from the bed to the couch. I couldn't work. And I couldn't figure out how to get out of it.

I had been going to my doctor, and a therapist, and a psychiatrist. Nothing really seemed to be working. Every doctor visit was a prescription for another damn pill. A damn pill that didn't do anything.

I hit bottom. I was emotionally numb. I couldn't feel anything. I didn't care. So, one day, I gathered up all the antidepressants I had been prescribed. I lined up their bottles on the counter. I thought, If I take ALL of these, SOMETHING has to happen, right? They have to do SOMETHING. And something was better than the nothing that I felt.

That was a real turning point for me.

I did have a series of bad things happen to me before my 2004 diagnosis. Those events alone would have been enough to send anyone into a clinical depression. But, as I started making progress in my therapy, I realized that I had been depressed long before that.

I don't know when it started exactly, but I remember being in a major depression when I was about 10 years old. No one would have called it that back then. But, I was always anxious. And I was extremely bored at school- not uninterested- I had near perfect scores in all my classes. I didn't really fit in with my classmates. I missed 60 days of school that year because of anxiety. Any other student would have been reprimanded or reported as truant. But, I still did all my work, and did it very well.

And, looking back, I see many other times in my life when I was affected by depression. If it is obvious to me now, it must have been obvious to someone else back then. I wish someone would have asked how I felt, or guided me toward getting help.

Now, I am well-versed the signs and symptoms of depression. I know that I am prone to cyclical depression. Especially since I have a child now, I need to be proactive about it. I need to be here, in the now, and be a good mommy to him.

So, that is what this blog it about. Talking about depression and mental illness. Reaching out. Encouraging those affected by depression to seek help.

This is why I walk for AFSP. By raising awareness about depression, we can help reduce the stigma associated with it. No one should have to go through depression alone.