How to Help Someone with Depression

Today, a friend confided in me that her son has been diagnosed with clinical depression. It is a great honor that this friend trusts me with this information. We all come to mental illness with many ideas of what such a diagnosis means, and we all have to recognize that many of our ideas are true and some are not.

This friend is doing so many good things, and it reminded me of so much I’ve been through and how far I have come in my own recovery.

The son is also doing many hard things the right way. First, he sought help from his mother. He returned home where he could be nurtured and where he can heal. Next, he actually called a doctor himself. Then he did a very hard thing by going to his appointment with the doctor. Now, he’s continuing the hard work by taking the medicine prescribed. All these steps point to one vastly important bit to know. Since he’s actively reaching out for help, he wants to recover. With this attitude, he can get better.

I made some recommendations to my friend on how she can help her son.

1. She should use physical touch to maintain contact with him. Depression makes us feel so very lonely, and touch reminds us we are not alone.

2. She should encourage her son to exercise. A walk in the sunshine and fresh air will help him very much.

3. She should use ample positive reinforcement when he does anything to aid his own recovery like keeping doctor’s appointments or taking medicine as prescribed.

4. She should tell him often that he is worthy of recovery. Depression robs us of all our good feelings of self-worth and replaces those with hopelessness.

5. She should remind him often this is a disease, and there is no reason to feel ashamed.

6. She should mention often that his current feelings are not permanent. He can and will feel better with the help of a good doctor, good medicine, and helpful people.

7. She should help her son look for a good psychologist for talk therapy where he can learn many valuable tools to help him feel better.

8. Importantly, she must not neglect herself. The caregiver needs nurturing, too.

These ideas can be used by anyone to help another hurting from the disease of depression.

Advertisements

A Notable Suicide

Robin Williams, the Oscar-winning actor and comedian, died of suicide today. It is a very sad event. In a very brief statement, his grieving wife said he had been battling depression.

I am very sad, because he had a great talent that was wide ranging. He was a brilliant comedian, but his prowess as an actor won him an Oscar in 1998 for a dramatic role in the movie Good Will Hunting. I was a teenager when he made a hit on television in the show Mork and Mindy. He was indeed very funny, and he will be greatly missed.

Whenever I hear about anyone killing themselves, I remember my own story. It’s been a very long time now, but I understand the black pit of depression so deep and dark that no light shines. There is not even the slightest hint that light is shining anywhere. No light. Not an inkling. Not a tiny dot. All oozes blackness.

I was saved from my suicide attempt miraculously by the phone. It rang at just the right moment, and the person on the other end heard my cry for help. I was whisked away to the hospital and received help.

Over the years of living with bipolar disorder, I spent much time contemplating death, wishing for it sometimes and fearing it at others. I no longer think about death. Recovery has taught me many things about living with mental illness. I live with hope today.

I am reminded also of the simple words on the website Metanoia.org. They say

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

Those words are true. People with mental illness like depression think a lot about suicide, and they do not contemplate it from selfish motives. Suicide results from pain that is so great it outweighs a person’s ability to deal with it.

I meditate daily, and in my meditation, I call down light. I believe that light brings hope, and hope brings life.

One Nice Thing

My friend suffering from major depression contacted me after a long quiet spell. Actually, I initiated the communication reaching out to him. We’ve been sending text messages for a number of days now. He doesn’t seem to have the energy to speak on the phone.

I’ve known him for about six or seven years now. I’ve talked to him in times of deep crisis and in happy ones, too. When my internship begins, I am going to strongly urge him to join in the WRAP classes.

A Wellness Recovery Action Plan as taught by certified facilitators has the capacity to alter lives. It changed mine. I cannot stress enough my personal transformation. I walked into the job training a frightened individual who believed he was defined by his illness. I leaped through a stage or two of recovery the first week. My eyes opened. I shed my negative self-talk miraculously.

Recovery works. It really works.

My friend can’t see that as yet, and I do not push. I offer understanding. I have been in the dark pit of despair and made it out with the help of a cadre of supporters. I had family, friends, case workers, a therapist, a psychiatrist, and a psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner all working to find what would work for me. I believe it allowed me to reach a place of acceptance, opening me to the possibilities of recovery.

My mantra encourages those suffering depression to do just one nice thing for themselves each day. Just one. A simple one.

Many years ago when I was at my lowest, my one nice thing was brushing my teeth. I was incapable of more. Gradually, I was able to exert a bit more energy and add activities to my list each day, but I began slowly.

It’s important for people with mental illness to practice loving acts of self-care. We, who often feel the opposite, are worthy. I am worth it.

A Forgotten Prayer

I have a friend who used to live near me but moved in the last few months. We kept in close contact when he lived here, and we still send emails often. He’s quite depressed. I want to share with you a small portion of the last message I sent him:

When I was first diagnosed bipolar, I was furious with god. I was livid. I had to face the fact that what I viewed as my greatest asset (my intelligent brain) had become my darkest enemy. Through that time, I didn’t stop my daily prayers. In fact, they went something like this:

Dear god, please help me to think that it might be possible that I could begin to wonder if it would be imaginable that I might want to have your will done in my life.

It was a very long phrase asking god for help. Today, my prayers are to the one or just to the universe. I share this long phrase with you, because I think you might be able to begin to wish that you could possibly in some way apply it to your own situation.

I share it because it reminded me vividly of that prayer I used. It was a long phrase I used when I first discovered there was a name for my mental illness. That phrase got shorter over a period of about three months, until finally it was simply “may god’s will be done in my life.”

It’s been a long time since I thought of that prayer. It makes me feel so good to know I’ve come so far that I don’t need that kind of rambling phrase lifted up to god. Today, I simply talk to the universe. I’m open. I feel full today.

This Too Shall Pass

Thank goodness emotions are fleeting, because I’m feeling quite useless and sad at the moment. I just got off the phone with a friend whose psychiatrist diagnosed him with clinical major depression many years ago, and he’s been hospitalized for it twice. Through all his tribulations, he focuses on having a job. He gets an enormous boost of self-esteem from being employed. He’s currently without a job but has received an offer pending a physical, which he is sure to pass.

I am unemployable. I last worked at the end of 2008 for two short months, and it left me catatonic. I was literally paralyzed with fear on my sofa one workday. I couldn’t move to go in to the office nor even call in sick. I resigned two days later. Prior to that, my periods of employment were spotty. It’s hard to work and take the heavy sedatives I am prescribed.

I had two long-term periods of employment before I was diagnosed with bipolar 1. I was self-medicating with alcohol at the time, however. Still, I managed to keep two very good jobs. I don’t think about those times often anymore, but I wonder now and then whether I could handle working again. Then I remember lying on the sofa in 2008 scared to death to move or call for help.

Possibly, I will work again, but for the present, I’m best off taking care of myself and letting other people help take care of me, too. I’m learning to reach out and ask for help. I’m learning to confide in trusted friends and those in my circle of support.

Writing this little bit helps relieve the stress and anxiety. My therapist tells me fear hates to be in the open. It hates to be talked about, because it then loses some of its power. She’s right. My little bit of therapy for today is done. Now, I think I’ll fix myself a healthy dinner.

Sweet Pull of Depression

Soft fingers of depression tickle my brain. It happens annually when winter turns to spring and again when summer slips into fall. Countless other people diagnosed with bipolar and doctors, nurses, and therapists confirm the seasonal reality of transformation from mania to depression or vice versa.

I ate nothing the last two days. My head obsessed that I didn’t deserve to eat. I’m a bad person, and I didn’t deserve it. An old tape played, and I let it. A very close friend begged me to eat. I didn’t. I emailed another old friend, and he asked me to eat, to be kind to me. The close friend calmly asked me to eat, and I promised to eat dinner.

I courageously reported my situation to my caseworker. He suggested I make a piece of toast with butter and smell it. I didn’t have to eat it. I simply had to breathe in its odor.

I did.

I popped in a piece of good bread. I smelled it toasting. When it finished, I slathered butter on it letting it drip down the sides, and then I held it to my nose. All I could sense was creamy, toasty goodness. It filled me.

It filled my head.

For a few seconds, I wasn’t lost in hateful thoughts learned so very long ago. For a bit, I was full of scent. Delicious scent.

I cut the toast into four strips like an old neighbor lady did for me when I was very little. Billie. Yes, she had that name, and she was a marvel. She washed her long, gray hair only in rainwater caught in a tub under the eaves of her house, and she braided it and wound it into circular buns on each side of her head. In her refrigerator, she kept a green glass jar of water carried from a nearby town. It appeared there mysteriously for me. She made chocolate cookies like no other, and the recipe died with her.

I don’t want to die today, so I nibbled a strip of buttery, wholesome toast. The taste moistened my mouth, and I bit a larger piece off the strip. Soon, it was done, and my stomach cramped slightly. I put the plate down and leaned on the kitchen counter.

Those sneaky, sleepy tentacles of depression tried to ruin the lingering taste of toast.

I resisted. I picked up another strip and bit into the solid, buttery bread. My mouth again signaled my brain that this was right. This was good.

I deserve to eat.

Is the depression going to abate or increase? I don’t know, but I will keep watch. I will eat despite what I was taught.

I will care for me.

I Suffer from Bipolar Disorder Type 1

This is what the Mayo Clinic has to say about bipolar 1:

Bipolar 1 disorder. Mood swings with bipolar 1 cause significant difficulty in your job, school or relationships. Manic episodes can be severe and dangerous.

On their website, the Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms for a manic phase of bipolar disorder:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Poor performance at work or school

For depressive episodes, they list the following:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school

Another sign of the disorder is

  • Psychosis. Severe episodes of either mania or depression may result in psychosis, a detachment from reality. Symptoms of psychosis may include false but strongly held beliefs (delusions) and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).

I have all these symptoms at one time or another. Thankfully, they don’t come all at once, but they do come. My doctors tell me at times I am psychotic. In other words, I have a break with reality.

In other places on this blog, I have gone into great detail about my personal struggle with this disease. Please, explore and read. The disease is real and devastating. I live on disability payments from the government. The process to receive that distinction is long and arduous often requiring two or three attempts. I won on the first try. Even the government noted the severity of my case.

This blog is my safe place. I will not defend myself here. All comments in which my status or my experience are belittled will continue to be deleted. If you think mental illness is not real, go somewhere else. Leave this blog.

This blog is also meant to be a resource of others with mental illness. I want them to know they are not alone. Others experience the horrors of delusions. I once thought I could cure AIDS with eight apples and a plastic water bottle. I only had to breathe on the apples and write magic words on the bottle, and a person with terminal AIDS would be cured. It took six months of concerted effort to convince myself that delusion was false.

I have hallucinations. I hear voices that are not there, telling me secrets or just speaking gibberish. I have seen people who were not present.

The euphoria of mania is luscious. I am invincible at those times. I have a cracked tooth from trying to walk through a wall; another delusion.

The rapid speech baffles those around me.

The racing thoughts are scary. My mind careens out of control and often the only thought I can cling to is death.

My risky behavior has put me in places where I could lose my physical health, my freedom, and my home.

The depression is akin to being a the bottom of a black pit so deep that not even a pinprick of light shines through. I have sat on the side of the tub with a utility knife ready to commit suicide and was saved only by the chance ringing of the phone. I have been hospitalized twice for suicide attempts.

I have experienced everything in the list for depression.

It is demeaning that I am having to defend myself on this blog. Walk in my shoes. Spend a minute inside my head. If you can stand the horror, then I will count myself less a person.

I feel alone.