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.

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.

Life Couldn’t Be Better

My internship at my job is finished, and I am pleased to report it was a success for all involved. I received high marks on my final evaluation from my superiors at the clinic where I worked. One called me a gem. The other praised not only my ability working with a wide range of clients but also with my demeanor, too. She appreciated my work and me as a person. It was quite humbling.

I’ve gone from periods of isolation and severe depression to days of acting out improperly on all my urges. That was me not too long ago. I know mental illness. I live with it, and today, I can happily report it does not rule my life.

What changed? My medication regimen works, and I got into a job training program that gives me fulfillment. And WRAP happened. We worked our own WRAPs in the first 2 days of our job training, and my world turned over. That awful voice present for decades vanished. For me, WRAP is a miracle.

If you have mental illness and are interested in recovery, you can find a WRAP facilitator by clicking here.

In my final days of the internship, I finished working with the WRAP group and was able to hand out some Certificates of Achievement to the participants. It was quite rewarding. The smiles of all around were contagious, and the memory makes me smile now. The group came up with some great thoughts throughout the sessions. We continued with the section called “When Things Are Breaking Down” and its relevant Action Plan, and then we launched into the long Crisis Plan.

That section of WRAP is formidable. It gives the writer a chance to think deeply about how they want their care to be structured should they be in real crisis and need careful treatment by professionals. It includes pages for listing supporters and their roles and a place to write down names of people who should not be consulted for any help during a crisis. There are pages for listing doctors and other healthcare professionals and medications that one takes.

Desired treatment facilities and hospitals get their own pages, and finally there is a page for detailing when the Crisis Plan should be inactivated. After that, there is a whole section called the “Post Crisis Plan.” It is long and involved and many of the questions cannot be answered until one has been through the crisis.

The group was engaged and attentive and eager. They worked hard and earned their final certificates. I am glad to have been a part of their experience. It made me happy.

Once the work was finished and the internship was over, I spoke at length by phone with the head of the training I’d completed. He was complimentary, and then he dropped the bombshell. They are working on hiring me on a limited contractual basis to lead groups using various resources, until they can maneuver the state bureaucracy to hire me in a regular job.

They want me.

They like me.

I can’t begin to relate my joy knowing that I am a success. The voices in my head told me all my life I was worthless. I’m not. I have value. I had it all along. Now, I have found a place to help and to be a part of an organization whose goal is to help. I am the face of mental health recovery.

A Wide-Ranging Session

One client during my internship has grown into a really interesting case. Readers will remember him as the combative one. He has returned several times since that appointment, and his attitude has always been good. He enjoys lively conversation, but he’s never returned to the highly argumentative tone.

Today, he arrived and sat down and informed me he’d almost taken the bus to a town about two hours away. Taking this trip is his way of saying he wants to kill himself. He’s taken the trip many times in the past decade, but he’s thankfully never followed through. His routine there is always the same. He drinks rum on the bus ride and then continues to drink the first day there. He also smokes cigars that first day. He sleeps outdoors and awakens with the intention of killing himself the second day. Instead, he takes the two-hour bus ride back to the care home where he has a bed.

I knew about this habit of his, and I’ve known about his chronic suicidality since I first met him. My response to him this morning was to thank him for telling me about his plans. Then I said that I was glad he hadn’t gone on the trip, because it would have left me without a client and I would have been bored.

He quickly said, “That’s not a good enough reason for me not to go.”

I responded that I completely understood, but that I still didn’t want to be bored. He was really interested in my seemingly nonchalant answer.

My real answer was to then launch into continuing to fill out his WRAP folder. We approached the section entitled Crisis Plan, which requires a lot of writing by the client. They have to think thoroughly about how they want their care to be conducted in case they fall into crisis. My client mentioned simply that he didn’t want to do it. I agreed that we should stop since I’ve been trained that WRAP is self-directed. He did say he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the Plan. He wants a hook. He’s looking for something that will give him a lease on life.

I told him again of my own WRAP and how it changed my life. I went from having chronic negative self-talk to none. I talked about the dark times I’d seen, and I called them that: the dark times. I kept it general. Using “I” statements, I mentioned that since writing my WRAP, I had not relapsed into dark times, and I had not required a stay in the hospital. My WRAP has kept them at bay.

His reaction was to announce that dark times are the natural state of mankind, and they shouldn’t be fought. I thank him for telling me his ideas, and then I surprised him. I agreed with him. Dark times may be the natural state for many, but I don’t have to stay stuck there. I was careful to mention that I was speaking for me.

This client has a set of interesting ideas that he regularly says for all to hear. “Man is a primate.” “Man is alienated from life.” “Life is meaningless.” “God is dead.”

I surprised him again today. I agreed with him once more. I told him I thought it was indeed difficult for people to find an ultimate meaning in life. He smiled and said he had nothing to say in response. I continued with my story and how important WRAP was to helping me out of the dark times and into a state of serenity. That piqued his interest. I explained how the Daily Maintenance List kept me on an even keel so I wouldn’t fall back into a crisis.

“The whole meaning of WRAP is to keep us out of crisis,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically and muttered something about the meaninglessness of life.

I answered him by describing the meaning I find in a string of small things. I love my job. I love my family. I enjoy reading and writing for myself and others to read. Finally, I have a passion for theater. While I reserved my speech to “I” statements, I tried to steer the conversation to his enjoyments. He loves classical music and speaks about it with fervor.

Then I mentioned the word “pleasure,” and we started a tangential discussion of how a meaningless life could or couldn’t possibly have any. The talk was fascinating. We spoke about hedonism, and yes, we used that word. He’s a smart man and has read a good deal of philosophy. I threw Epicurus into the mix, and he was impressed when I mentioned that Epicurus was a champion of the middle path rather than what Epicurean philosophy has come to represent, namely hedonism. My client said he preferred a more stoical way.

We ended our time together with a talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets and specifically, the unknown lady mentioned therein. My client called Mozart and Beethoven eternal, and I said the lady of the sonnets was, too. Shakespeare even tells the lady she will be eternal in his words. My client appreciates the beauty of those words. He was surprised at me again that I seemed so enthusiastic about the Bard. For our session next week, I’m going to take a few of the sonnets for us to study, I think.

It was indeed a great session. I am blessed to know this man. He touches me with his candor. He honestly appears to be searching for something that he can’t or is afraid to grasp. I’m not so presumptuous to imagine I will help him find it, but I truly hope I can demonstrate that reaching out doesn’t have to be painful. A desire can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises.

How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

My most popular posts are ones relating to dating and bipolar disorder. I’m glad there are so many people interested in this topic. I’m also a bit puzzled by it.

Are there rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder? Yes, and they are the same ones for dating a person without any diagnosis of mental illness.

Here’s my list of rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Think of the needs of the person you’re dating before your own in so much as you can without harming yourself.
  3. Laugh when the other person is happy, and comfort them when they are sad.
  4. Communicate clearly your needs and listen carefully to what the other person needs, too.
  5. Get to know a little about bipolar disorder by researching it on the Internet, through books, or by asking healthcare professionals.

Again, I don’t think this list is exclusive to dating a person who has bipolar disorder. In my opinion, it pertains to any relationship. A person with bipolar disorder wants what any other person does from a romantic relationship. We want intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, love.

Having stated what I consider obvious, I’ll give some thought to what many see as the difficulties of dating a person with bipolar disorder.

I have read several online forums in which some people complain that the person they are dating who has bipolar disorder is moody. I read recently one description of a bipolar person running hot and cold. In other words, the person with the disorder seemed quite close and caring and affectionate one day. The next, they were distant and curt and even mean. My thoughts on this situation are few. Please, don’t ever ask the person with bipolar disorder whether or not they are taking their medicine as prescribed nor if their symptoms are flaring up. What you might try doing instead is explaining to the bipolar sufferer how you feel when they behave this way. Talk about your feelings and not about their disease. Try to keep any discussion centered on your feelings about observed behavior.

In fact, I would suggest that you not talk about their disease at all, unless they want to. I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t define me. I am many things, and having bipolar is only one piece. When you are together with the person you are dating, find other things to talk about, like art or music or movies or really anything other than the disease. Don’t talk about their medication regimen or other aspects of their treatment, unless they want to.

Plan activities they like, too. Ordinary things can become extraordinary. Baking cookies together can be quite flirtatious. Romance in the kitchen is a lot of fun really. A person with bipolar disorder needs to eat and so do you. Cook a meal together.

If you want to be extravagant, cook the meal for your date. Don’t let them assist you. Make him feel like a king or her like a queen. Tell him/her to sit and relax. I really enjoy having friends over and cooking something with love to give them.

If you talk by phone often or send text messages regularly and that suddenly stops, don’t assume the worst. Your date may simply be having a low period. Your date may not be good at expressing what is happening, and they may not desire to. Don’t take it personally. As with other things I’ve written here, ask what you can do to help them feel better. Offer hugs, asking nothing in return. Don’t assume it’s the disease. There are myriad reasons for a person with bipolar disorder to feel low. We are just as prone to sadness as anyone in the general population. A low point does not automatically lead to serious depression, which calls for a doctor’s intervention.

I can’t help but reiterate a person with bipolar disorder that is under treatment wants what every person does. We aren’t different.

What does one do when the disease really appears to be altering your date’s behavior? There may be times in which you find them behaving unreasonably or even in a bizarre fashion. All I can do is relate my experience and personal knowledge. I am not a doctor. However, I am a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, and I have been trained in how to relate to other people with mental illness.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a person who is acting out of the ordinary:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Make sure you and your date are safe.
  3. Communicate using “I” statements. Don’t pummel your date with “you” statements and accusations.
  4. Speak about concrete examples of behavior that you are observing.
  5. Be respectful of your date and yourself.

I think it’s important to point out, however sad it may be, that the disease can affect a person negatively, and your feelings may get hurt. Only you can decide whether to continue dating an individual with the disorder. Only you can tell if that person is actively seeking help or not. Each situation is unique, and every person is special.

Mental illness carries a tremendous stigma. It is not fully understood by doctors and is less so by the general population. Having one does not mean that a person is not worth the effort required in forming a romantic relationship. All relationships need work.

If you are dating a person who tells you they have bipolar disorder, you should feel honored they shared that information. Thank the person for opening up. I dated a man for eight or nine months and told him my diagnosis only to have him abandon me, leaving my life without a trace even though I was completely stable during our time together. It scarred me.

Dating is all about enjoying yourself. Ask your date if they are enjoying their time with you. Talk often; listen more. Explore your own feelings and your date’s. Don’t assume any particular behavior is a symptom.

Finally, be genuine.

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.

Funerals, Memorials, Death, on and on

Clouds

I’m thinking about my dead friend and past lover. His memorial service was yesterday. It was lovely, being held in a small theater space where he had performed and helped out backstage.

Another friend provided pictures. They were very large and easily seen from every seat. There were lit candles, and flowers strewn about the tables and floor.

My heart is quite heavy writing these words.

A friend spoke eloquently about the kind man who chose to leave us so soon. Colleagues from his work shared their grief, and a regular of the theater spoke graciously of his last role. The director of that show brought a prop used by the departed man. He told us how he and my former lover drove the streets of our town singing with each other, and then he sang a hymn.

The father of the deceased spoke about the boy he had been and read a letter from a life-long friend.

I sat.

We all sang a group song, which I joined.

I returned home and distracted myself with mindless browsing on the Internet. I wrote an entry on this blog. I read other blogs. I chatted online with a distant friend.

This morning, I have been harassed by a fly. No amount of hand waving chases it away, and my mind – my easily amused mind – assumes it is the ghost come back.

Yet, I need no ghosts. I have text messages we sent one another to pour over. There’s even a picture of him. Our flirtations are right there in little bubbles. They are short bursts of yearning with a mixture of silly faces made from punctuation marks.

And there’s a long message from me telling him our sexual relationship was over, imploring him to seek care for his bipolar disorder. Quickly following that one were his questions, followed by my silence.

Today, I hear birdsong outside my cottage. Music plays over my computer. Cars rumble by on the street. A dog barks. There is no silence.

I sit.

I play no what-if games. I am simply sad. My heart aches.

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” My friend hid great pain. His questioning eyes and smile masked a soul full of angst.

Now, I’m left with pain, but it will pass. Time heals.

My friend is dead. I am here.

Water