Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

What NOT to Say to Someone With Depression

what not to say to someone with depression

Recent events, like Robin Williams’ death, have helped propel mental health into mainstream media. It is exciting to see society embracing the conversation and helping to remove the stigma associated with mental health.

As I have gone “public” with my own struggle with depression I have experienced many reactions that have made me feel better and some that made me feel worse. Most people have never discussed mental health issues, let alone directly with someone who is suffering from depression. I know that at the heart of every reaction has always been well intentions and concern for my well being, but there is room for improve me in the delivery of those well intentions.

Discussing mental health is a learning process and I wanted to share some reactions that I would not recommend you say to someone who is suffering from depression.

What NOT to say to Someone with Depression: 

You should just go for a run. Have you tried yoga? 

Exercise? Oh my goodness! Why didn’t I think of that! Man, I could have skipped the three medical professionals that I am working with and are tailoring a treatment plan for me and just gone out for a quick jog to cure my depression!

Is exercise great for all aspects of physical and mental well being? Absolutely. Is yoga relaxing and a great way to relieve stress? Yes. But when you are clinically depressed doing yoga 24/7 will not cure you.

What is making you so sad?

When asked this question I answer very simply: the chemicals in my brain.

If someone had cancer would you ask them what made their cancer? Depression is not caused by the things in your life that are making you sad, it’s caused by the chemical make up of your brain. When someone is depressed, they are sick and need to find a treatment that is going to help their sickness.

You just need to try think positive.

We are trying. Every time a negative thought runs through our mind, we try to fight it with a positive one, but when you are depressed you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. The negative thoughts are recycling through your head so quickly that you can’t keep up with a positive rebuttal.

What do you have to be depressed about? There are people out there with worse problems than yours. 

Trust me, we know. I have run an inventory of how my depression stacks up against all the problems in the world and it only makes me feel worse that I can’t suck it up and get over it. The problem is that it isn’t my problems that are causing me to be depression, it is the chemicals in my brain and I can’t change them.

You are so strong, you will be fine. 

Strong is the last thing that you feel when you are depressed. You feel worthless. You feel weak. You feel defeated. You feel exhausted. You do not feel like Chris Hemsworth going into battle as Thor. They may be the strongest person you know, but telling someone how strong they are can only make them feel worse because they are not living up to that expectation.

You just need to get out of the house. 

Getting out of the house when you are depressed can seem insurmountable. Think about it this way, you know when you are on the couch and someone says “hey let’s go out”. You weigh if you have the energy and motivation to get up, dress up and show up. If you decide to get up and go out you get to your destination and are energized seeing your friends and have a great time.

When you are depressed, the getting up, getting dressed and showing up feels impossible, but the worst part is once you arrive, you have to mask how terrible you feel. The amount of energy it takes to fake that you are happy is exhausting and it only reminds you how badly you want to feel better.

Sometimes just the energy of convincing your friends that you don’t want to come out can be taxing. You mean well and think that because your friend is depressed they just need some encouragement, but this often only makes them feel worse and more likely to avoid you because you are pressuring them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.

Come out and drink with me, you’ll feel better.

Let’s look at this logically, alcohol is a depressant. You are suffering from depression. Why would you consume something that will alter your thoughts, feelings and actions in a negative way? Maybe you are lucky and don’t feel depressed when you are drinking, but I can guarantee the next day you will feel the withdrawals from the alcohol and feel worse than ever.

If you are taking medication to treat the depression, there can be terrible interactions with alcohol (I learned this the VERY hard way) and prevent the medications from working because alcohol blocks messages trying to get to the brain.

Do you really need medication? 

We shouldn’t have to justify what treatment works for us. You would never ask someone who is going through chemotherapy if they really needed it. You trust that they are under medical care and making the best decisions for their health, so please give anyone dealing with mental health the same respect.

What you SHOULD say to someone with Depression: 

  • You are not alone. I am here.
  • I will listen, whenever you feel like talking, I will always listen.
  • This is not your fault.
  • You are right, this sucks.
  • You are important to me and I value having you in my life.
  • You will not feel this way forever. We will find a way to help you feel better.
  • How are you feeling? (the key to this question is to stop talking and just listen after you ask)
  • What kind of thoughts are you having? (this can be a subtle way to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts)
  • I would love to spend time with you. Would you like any company today?
  • Is there anything that would help you feel a little better today?
  • Give them a hug. (Sometimes physical affection can be more powerful than talking)

No matter what you say, taking the time to show someone who is suffering from depression makes a world of difference. Your attention reminds them that they have value and gives them hope.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression there is always help available. Call 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) 24/7 or visit Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

How I Changed My Life

I can’t tell anyone how they can put change into motion in their lives, but I can share how I made it happen in mine.

When I was depressed my relationships with friends and family, my financial obligations, and my health had completely fallen to the wayside. Depression steals any energy that you have, so there is no energy left to take care of yourself and your life. I put what little energy I could into doing my best at work, so everything else outside of that fell to pieces.

I would come home from work and would be so exhausted and anxious to do anything. It would take hours to relax and release the tension from acting like I was fine all day, while trying to ignore the constant soundtrack in my head repeating how worthless I was. Once I was able to relax, all I wanted to do was sleep, then I would toss and turn all night and once the alarm went off in the morning, it would take an act of God to pull myself out of bed. I was lucky if I made it to work on time. I was even more lucky if I had time to get a shower and even more lucky if I had the time to walk my dog. I would then go through the motions at work, doing my best to cover up my depression and still trying to perform so I can advance in my career. The only way I could survive was to just keep repeating this same cycle, until the morning when I finally broke.

I realized that I was never going to be able to fix what was wrong until I stopped the cycle and took care of myself.  I drove home (after crying in my office’s parking lot) and was desperate to figure out what to do next. There is no how to guide on putting your life back together when you are depressed.The first step is to call a professional, but while you are waiting for that appointment, what are you supposed to do?

I was so overwhelmed that the only thing I could think of was to write it all down. I just started writing and every worry that had been plaguing me, everything that I was currently failing at and wanted to improve spilled out and filled the pages.

Here is what I wrote down that day…

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(Yes, I happened to have massive sticky poster board on hand.)

I am a little nervous showing this list to the world, but it feels good to be completely authentic about my experience. At the time it was every one of my deepest and darkest concerns that were plaguing me and I was embarrassed of them. Showing that I had goals like “Shower Daily” and “Become Financially Literate” aren’t easy skeletons to let out of the closet.

But the one that made me feel the most insecure was “Find someone to share experiences with – Stop being lonely”. Fact is that I am single and feel lonely sometimes, but I knew there was no way I was going to meet someone while I was depressed. If I didn’t like myself, how could I expect anyone to like me?

As I reviewed the list, I realized that I wasn’t desperate to just treat my depression, but I that I needed to change my life.

The first step I took was to get back to basics and to give myself something that I could accomplish. For the first couple days my goals were to do three things and three things only.

  1. Sleep
  2. Eat Well
  3. Exercise

These might sound so simple to you, but it was the first step to reset my life and stop the cycle that I was in. I knew there was no way that I could tackle everything on my list at once, but knowing that I had written them down allowed me to let them go and take them step by step, starting with step one.

There was one more thing that I had to take care during those first few days, I needed to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Sounds simple, but my old psychiatrist had a 10 week waiting list and I didn’t have 10 weeks to give up of my life. So I took to the phone book and started dialing and finally found a doctor that would see me in 2 weeks. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

While I waited to see my psychiatrist, I took baby steps and gave myself one new goal that I could achieve per day. Once I started achieving one goal, it empowered me to tackle another and by the time my appointment with my psychiatrist arrived, I was starting to feel like I was in control of my life again. The depression was still there, but without the pressures of work and keeping up the appearance that everything was just dandy, I was able to keep going.

My psychiatrist started me on new medication immediately and I started to see a change within 5-7 days. The better I felt, the more I wanted to tackle and I am happy to say that here is what my list looks like today…

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I was able to make some major changes in my life, including finding a new job and finding a medicine to treat the depression. I don’t know if it was timing or if it was my life re-boot that put the changes into motion or some combination of the two, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

Just because there is a check by the task doesn’t mean I am done with it. Many of the tasks on my list are ones that I will work at every single day, like “Be a good daughter” and “be nice to myself”. These aren’t one time tasks, but habits that you have to work at every day.

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I still have the list posted in my family room. It stays front and center (right next to the TV so I really can’t ignore it) and I am constantly reminded of where I have been, where I want to be and how I am going to get there.

If you want to make a change in your life, maybe you should try starting with a list. You never know what can happen until you give yourself a place to start.

This is Thirty.

 

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I recently hit that milestone that every twenty-something dreads, I turned THIRTY. I will admit, I was not looking forward to this birthday. Thirty felt like a looming deadline that you just keep trying to avoid, a clock ticking that the more you focus on it, the louder it gets and the faster the time passes.

For most of my twenty-ninth year I was dreading each month as they passed and inched me closer to thirty, but my attitude changed in July. It wasn’t the depression that was making me dread thirty (although I am sure that it wasn’t any help), it was the irrational view that society puts on this turning point. There seems to be a bucket list of accomplishments that you are supposed to have checked off during your twenties and if you haven’t, you feel like a failure and that your opportunity to achieve them has passed you by. As my new treatment for my depression started working, the dread of thirty started to seem more and more irrational and my excitement started to grow instead.

Instead of looking at turning thirty as an end, I started to recognize it as beginning to a whole new adventure. Instead of allowing myself to feel the pressure of society to meet their idea of what I should do before thirty, I decided to tune them out completely.  The only timeline in place to complete any bucket list is the one that you put on yourself and you get to determine what defines you as a success or failure.

I am so proud of all that I accomplished in my twenties! I moved to a city where I didn’t know a soul and today call this place home with many relationships, personally and professionally, that will carry me into my thirties. I spent much of my time in my twenties being introspective about myself and my relationships with others. What I learned about who I am and what I believe in is invaluable and I know that I will only continue to learn and grow in my thirties.

My viewpoint that turning thirty was the end was so immature and short sighted. It was so much more fulfilling to embrace thirty with open arms and excitement for all that it will bring. If there is one thing that I know for sure, it is that life is only getting better.

I am mentally healthier than I have ever been and I am ready to take the world by storm as a thirty year old woman. Watch out career, I am here to kick some ass. Family and friends, these relationships are only getting stronger.

I am ready for any adventure that thirty brings, but I won’t be sitting around waiting for them to knock on my door, I am going to make them happen.

Breaking the Gag Order on Mental Health

I have decided to break the gag order, the one that I believe keeps society from discussing mental illness. I am no longer going to lower my voice to a whisper when it comes to discussing mental illness, instead I am going to say it out loud and proud. Since I am saying this out loud for all to hear, let me be specific, I have major depressive disorder, reoccurring, also known as clinical depression, along with generalized anxiety disorder (these two are often companions).

A Little Bit of Background…

I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2009 and after about 6 months of trial and error, I found a medication that treated my symptoms.  This medication worked well until this past fall and over the past couple months, my symptoms had become so crippling that I found that I could not be effective at my job. Finally, the only thing I could do was take a step back to focus on taking care of myself.

When I called in sick to work, there were many opportunities presented to answer the seemingly simple question, “what is wrong?” from the people around me.  As I responded with the explanation that I have depression, I watched (or heard) their confusion and discomfort.  I don’t fit their expectation for what depression looks and acts like.

Do I look like someone who is depressed? 

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Most people who suffer from depression develop coping mechanisms so they can continue to function despite their symptoms. This is our way of fighting back. We fight with all we have so the depression doesn’t steal every moment of our lives.  We fake it until we make it. While there is a smile across my face in this photo, I felt completely worthless inside and I was barely hanging on to keep my head above water, when this was taken.

I can understand why people are confused when I tell them that I am depressed, how is anyone supposed to know what depression looks like when no one will discuss it. While I have grown more and more comfortable discussing my depression with my close family and friends, but very few of those closest to me understand what it really means.  It doesn’t mean I am just “feeling sad” or that it is a result of a situation that I am going through. My depression is clinical, it is a result of a chemical imbalance in my brain and when the chemicals are off balance, my life is thrown out of balance. When someone with asthma can’t breathe, they need to use their inhaler and when I am depressed, I need help balancing the chemicals in my brain to treat the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression vary for everyone. It is common to think that depression just means that someone is sad, withdrawn, and going through a rough time, but they can snap out of it if they tried.  I can’t speak for what others experience, but the cocktail of symptoms that I experience with depression are:

  • Irritability
  • Uncontrollable Negative Thoughts
  • Exhaustion
  • General Feelings of Worthlessness
  • Lack of Interest to Engage in Social Activities
  • Increased Anxiety
  • Feelings that there is no solution or resolution to these feelings
  • Desire to Give Up

Many of these symptoms can be invisible, which can make suffering from them even harder.

Something to Talk About 

Statistics show that 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression, so why aren’t we running 5Ks for depression? Our health is a private and personal matter, but without bringing attention and (and more importantly private funding) to an issue, how can we expect a change?

So let’s start talking.  I am making a vow to break the gag order and discuss mental health openly and honestly. I will raise awareness with my voice in person and here, on this blog. I ask that you consider taking the same vow. You may be surprised about what you learn once you start.