Last week, PsychCentral.com posted a helpful article on depression (7 Myths of Depression). I shared the link to the article on Twitter and immediately received responses. No surprise—depression and caregiving can go hand-in-hand.
I asked one of the family caregivers who responded, Heather Short, to write about her experiences with depression. What follows are my questions and her answers. Heather is 33-years-old and lives with her fiance and her mom, for whom she cares.
Caregiving.com: What was your first experience with depression?
Heather: My mom has had a stroke. She also has several other physical ailments. The one thing we share is depression. In what some might find strange, I believe I began to suffer the symptoms of depression and seek treatment first. My first episodes with depression originated around the time I was 15. I was an only child and never very sociable. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I didn’t spend hours on the phone or at my friends houses on weekends. I was pretty much a loner. I liked to read and do crafty things. From the outside, it seemed only right for people to say I was “depressed.” “She’s always alone.” “She never goes anywhere or does anything. All she does is stay in the house and keep to herself.” Oddly enough, I was quite content and happy. It just goes to show how deceiving looks can be.
Caregiving.com: How has depression affected you personally? How does your caregiving role play into your depression?
Heather: A lot of things have changed since my first being diagnosed with depression. I’ve grown up quite a bit in the last 18 years. While I’m not exactly the life of the party, I no longer hide myself away either. Even when medicated, I still suffer some of the symptoms I did before being medicated. Being a caregiver, like any other responsible role (husband, wife, mother, father, human being) is tough. You feel the pressure to always be “on.” You have responsibilities to others and you feel guilty when you can’t hold to them. There are some days when I tell mom she can only expect the basics from me. I’ll do the things she needs me to do and all the wants and extras wait for another day. It’s learning to recognize the difference between just being down and what is a depressive episode. That’s the only way for me to know when to push through or when to let it be.
Caregiving.com: What’s the worse part about depression? How does it feel?
Heather: The worst part about depression is the word having become a colloquialism. Now any time someone has a day that gets them down, they’re “depressed.” While not wanting to diminish the needs of others, it is sometimes hard to hear the word bandied about so lightly when you’ve been crippled by it’s effects. I don’t think anyone with the flu would be so bold as to say they felt like they had cancer. The word has becomes so over and misused that it makes it harder for people to feel good about seeking treatment. As for what depression feels like, I can only answer for myself. Far beyond want, most of the time I can’t do anything. There is a complete lack of energy. Most activity has to be forced from me. I don’t want to go to the bathroom, I don’t want to want. Even the thought of most of those acts becomes taxing to me. I turn off all the ringers on the phones and lock out all of the world that I can. My body aches, similar to having the flu. If I start to recognize it coming soon enough, there are some things I can do to lesson the severity. There are, however, certain times when there is nothing I can do and I just have to ride it out.
Caregiving.com: Have you sought medical treatment for depression? What was that like? Have you found a treatment that works for you?
Heather: I have sought treatment for depression. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was 15. I love therapy. If I could afford or had insurance to cover mental health I would be in therapy at least once a week. Seeking treatment was scary at first. Because of my age when I first sought treatment and what I was seeking treatment for, a lot of people in my life had opinions that weren’t so kind. People are scared. Scared of what seeking treatment might mean for me and for them.
Knowledge is power. There is nothing as important as educating the ones you love that depression, or any other mental health issue, isn’t contagious nor is it shameful. Suffering from depression doesn’t make you “crazy” or “insane” or scary. It makes you human. Don’t be afraid. If you need help, ask for help. Ask for help even if you aren’t sure you need it. Get help. There is no need to suffer what can be an easily treated and very manageable disease.
Treatment for depression can come in so many ways. People who are scared of medication don’t need to be afraid that that is the only solution. There are many things other than medication that can help tremendously. I am medicated, but I also use other alternative therapies to supplement the medication. The medication I take works to help with depression and anxiety as well as some light OCD issues. I also try to get as much sunshine as possible. My future sister-in-law uses a light box that simulates the nature rays and energy of the sun. I have also recently taken up yoga. It’s amazing how much the simple act of moving your body around can change how you feel. With all that, I still feel the effects of depression. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It just means that sometimes, no matter how much aspirin you take, your head is still going to hurt. This is true with depression, too.
Caregiving.com: What advice/suggestions would you offer to someone who suffers from depression?
Heather: SEEK TREATMENT. Do whatever you have to do to get yourself well. Don’t be afraid of the slings and arrows of others. If you need to, go to lunch with members of your family or friends and tell them what’s going on. Tell them you’ve noticed changes in your well being and you’re going to seek treatment. It might also be helpful to have a pamphlet to give them. It’s amazing how much it can help a friend to know you’re not avoiding them when you don’t answer the phone. Seek out mental health care facilities that provide outpatient single and group therapy. Many facilities offer a sliding fee scale so even if you don’t have insurance you can afford to seek treatment. Seek alternative therapies. Explore yoga or Tai Chi. Join a gym or get together a group of friends who will walk with you every day. Spend time in the sunshine. Be open to medication. Rarely is someone excited to taking a pill for anything. But if it can make you feel better, if it can make your life livable again, isn’t it at least worth considering? If someone you know and love had any other signs and symptoms of a serious illness, you would urge them to seek all available treatments. Depression is no different and you should do everything you can to treat yourself.
(Heather designs our products for sale in our Caregiving Creations store. Her most-recent design celebrates Kiss a Caregiver Day, which takes place on Tuesday, November 24. Heather also designs products for her own store, The Laboratory 1975. You can follow Heather on Twitter.)