Mar 1, 2012

Where Are The Depression Ribbons?

When I posted about our family struggles with depression and it's evil twin, anxiety, I did not know what to expect. I do know that what I did not expect were the comments from those who had suffered alongside their depressed family members. I appreciate the posts, they make me feel as if somehow I am not the only person who knows what it is to live in the shadows like I have for the past 26+ years. The main feeling I am left with, though, is overwhelming sadness that others have to know this life--and anger.

When Tim and I married, over 26 years ago, I doubt either of us had any clue what "depression" was. I am not sure that I had ever even heard the term used as a medical diagnosis. Back then I knew that sometimes people were crazy (after all, I had to read "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" in honors English in high school) and that sometimes people got down in the dumps, but other than the really, really in-your-face conditions, I had no understanding of mental illness as, well as an illness.

All I knew experientially was that after a whirlwind relationship of a few months, I married this wonderful guy who made me laugh, made me feel safe and with whom I spun the most enticing dreams for the future. And that within weeks he was struggling to get out of bed. Is it any wonder that my conclusion was that he was unhappy in our two month old marriage and that he regretted it? We now know that even positive life changes can sometimes precipitate episodes of depression.

As the years went on there were times of respite and relapse. There were days when getting out of bed was a struggle and many many times when he went places only to placate his aggravated wife. For Tim the commonplace yet exquisite joys of life such as new parenthood, jobs and accomplishments were often shrouded in a numbing fog. As for me, I struggled to understand why what seemed like the simplest tasks were a struggle and why I often felt like I was celebrating alone. Yet he still made me laugh. He provided the focus to my scatter when my ADHD whirled me away into spreading circles of thought. He grounded me, calling me back to center when I would wander off in belief or action.

He assured me that I was not the cause but it was oh-so-hard to believe or understand. If he was happy in our marriage, why wasn't he happy? I had never seen him struggle like this before we were married, only after. Of course knowing him less than a year, being in a romantic relationship less than four months might have been part of the reason that I had not seen this side of him--one reason that I encourage my daughters and sons to take time to know as much as is possible, who they are marrying. Would it have changed my decision? I doubt it, but I might have been more prepared and less likely to believe that *I* was the cause of his struggles.

I have to say that the confusion and uncertainty has been the worst part of being married to someone with depression. This is uncharted territory, after all when we marry it is because we believe that the person that we marry will make us happy and that we will likewise make them happy. No one gets married, thinking “hey, we may just trudge through in misery but what do we have to lose?”

It was in the early 90's that we realized that we might actually be dealing with a "condition". With a medical "condition" comes hope for relief. He tried first one, then another, then yet another antidepressant, with the hope fading.

He sought out therapy from secular and religious based counselors. Some were good, some were horrid, most were neither here nor there.

There were some among friends and family who understood and supported, but most did not, so he struggled largely alone--and his family suffered alongside.

Why? I now know that depression is not uncommon, antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed medications in our society. Yes, they may be prescribed "off-label" for ailments other than depression, but the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people take them for the conditions for which they were developed. This is a huge segment of the pharmaceutical industry with millions of dollars spent on research and development. Supposedly mental illness has made great gains in "coming out of the closet" and being seen as a genuine illness, so why are so many still suffering? I have gotten messages and emails and private comments from family readers who have suffered alongside their depressed/anxious/bi-polar family members for years, largely alone. Why the continued struggles, despite the plethora of medication options? Why are they and their families still ashamed to share their challenges? Why are they so confused? There are reminders to have one's cholesterol checked, lists of common cancer warning signs posted in doctor's offices. Men drive cars with bumper stickers admonishing us to "check the ta-tas" and anything that possibly can be adorned with a pink ribbon seems to be. We all march in for our mammograms, should there be questionable results we know the specialists to see and the path to take is clearly mapped out. Yet time and time again I hear of families who were caught off guard by mental illness, were unable to get answers from their doctors, felt cut adrift with no clue where to turn for help and with little family support even when they could find help. Why are families still being ripped apart at the seams because they lack direction and guidance that might enable them to know how to seek help and how to better support their loved ones? Why are children still growing up confused and unsure what exactly is wrong with mom or dad? I have nothing against resources being directed to fight cancer, but having participated in that fight several times with different family members I have come to see firsthand the difference in how society handles the two illnesses. It isn't just the patient suffering, or the wives or husbands who feel helpless and hopeless, or their kids, many of whom are robbed of their parents. Data shows that as a society mental illness costs us billions of dollars. That is BILLIONS, with a B. We all pay a huge price and the ripples spread far--the figures look at disability payments, direct medical costs and loss of earnings. What if we extrapolate it out and look at the impact mental illness has in areas such as the so-called "war on drugs", with many mentally ill turning to street drugs in an attempt to self-medicate? One promising treatment option is currently available only as part of a research study--unless one wanted to turn to the party drug scene where the same medication that is showing such promise in clinical trials is readily available.

In the end, I am just angry. Angry and sad. I see families destroyed, individuals crushed and often as much from a lack of support and guidance as from the actual illness. Where are the road maps and the treatments that we can take to get from crazy and alone to functional, healthy and productive?

On a personal level--Tim is doing much better. We are trying (yet another) medication. It has been concluded that we are dealing with Treatment Resistant Depression and it was suggested that we consider other treatment options such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation ($$$) or even Electroconvulsive Therapy (ouch). It is hard to feel urgency about researching new options when he is on the upside, but as much as I would like hope and dream that we will stay on the upside, unlike when we first married, I know that it is only a matter of time until we are facing the downside again.


Anonymous said...

I had a dear friend get the Electro treatment .It has changed his life . He was around 66 when he had it after being hospitalized by his family.Now his depression never if rarely surfaces and he married his nurse from the hospital and is living a great healthy life.

Larswife said...

Being new to your blog, I'll ask what is probably an obvious question: have y'all tried alternative treatments using herbs, vitamins, and minerals? We have seen some good results ourselves with family members who suffer depression.

LeeAnne said...

Larswife--Yes, we have. (and since I only recently began discussing this on the blog I probably have not mentioned it at all) Yes, we have tried varied herbs. We have tried supplements such as added magnesium and niacin. We have gone the homeopathic route. He has exercised almost to the point of obsession. We were excited when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, hopeful that this was at the root of everything. Nope, though we did discover that at least one medication that he was taking made the sleep situation worse. And, of course, we have done what I mentioned in previous posts, fasting, prayer, and going to every and any sort of evangelical/pentacostal preacher who promised help. HOWEVER, we are always open to suggestions and if you care to share what y'all have found success with we would be very willing to give it a look.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Saul has a regimen for depression....he "says" people have experienced great results. It involves high dosing with Niacin and can be found on his website fire your doctor dot com. Might be worth a look. You are all in my prayers.