Wednesday, December 01, 2004

REAL Strength

I came across another instance of well-meaning misdirected advice this weekend. Last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, my sister and I met at Chicago O’Hare airport to fly to Tucson for our dad’s 83rd birthday. We hadn’t seen him for over 4 years and we were pleased to find him in excellent health. In fact, he seems happier with his current wife than he ever did with our mom. Our step mom is a lovely person and my sister and I couldn’t be happier for them.

My step mom doesn’t fully understand Depression, although to her credit, she is really trying to. When I wrote my “Dear Dad” letter (see “By Popular Demand” in our Nov archives), I assumed she’d read it, too. She did, and it helped, but it’s still hard for her to imagine what Depression is really like, since she’s never had it. She’s a very strong, positive person for whom brute determination has gotten her through the tough spots in her life. The words “I can’t” simply are not a part of her vocabulary—and I really respect her for that.

We had some good, honest conversations this weekend. She said she believed that I could do anything I wanted to with my life if I “put my mind to it.” At first, knowing she was talking about things like finishing my degree, starting a new career, and basically “beating” this disease, I felt frustrated, defensive, and even a bit angry. I wanted to tell her how hard it was, how my previous attempts to do what she was suggesting had failed miserably and actually made me sicker. It made me feel weak—like a loser.

Then I realized that she was right. The thing we were both missing is that the goals of a person with Depression need to be different than those of a healthy person. For us, it sometimes takes overwhelming strength and determination just to get out of bed each morning. There are days when even that is too much, so we need to change our goal to simply getting through this day into the next. And yes, we can do it if we “put our minds to it.”

Approximately 75% of the 9.9 million Americans who suffer from Depression will have more than one episode in their lives. Stress or illness can trigger a depressive episode, but often the trigger is not that clear. What this means is that, among other things, chronically depressed individuals must resign themselves to a life of rotating medications, endless ups and down, and constantly varying degrees of mental and physical ability. For most of us, it takes an iron will to fight the urge to end it all. In 2002, 790,000 of us attempted suicide; 31,655 attempts were successful. Although suicide was the 11th ranked cause of death for that year, I’d say that statistically, you’re talking about a large group of pretty damn strong individuals.

What I’m trying to say here is that people with any one of the Depressive Illnesses (Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymia, etc.) are stronger than many people give us credit for. We must not forget that any task we complete or even attempt takes an often Herculean effort. Each effort should be considered as admirable an accomplishment as getting a college degree, having a successful career, or climbing Mt. Everest. People who expect more of us just don’t know what we go through every day. We can try to explain it to them, or just ignore them, but either way we ourselves have to remain aware of our strength so that we can survive.

When your self-esteem is failing you and you feel like a loser, try to set your goals more realistically. Concentrate on the "little" short-term things, like putting your socks on, getting a drink of water, taking your meds, surviving the day. Then, at the end of the day, you can pat yourself on the back because today you had the strength to do everything you “put your mind to.”

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson


At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Lu. As I seem to go through each day carrying a bundle of blunders under one arm and assorted absurdities under the other arm, I can completely relate. That was a lovely post!

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Lu said...

Thank YOU, A. When I read through our blogs, I often think I should be writing posts that are as funny as T's (or as near as I can get!). But "lovely" will definitely do. Thanks again.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Hi Lu. That was a really illuminating post for me. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Hey Lu, guess who Anonymous is? T'was me! Chalk up another silly blunder for today. As for my posts, some are not all that funny, but thatnks for saying so. Some of them are serious too. And, there are even those that wish they were funny but are merely 3am ramblingly-twisty-wish-I-had-a-clue things. But, your post makes those okay too.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Lu said...

Hi, Matt. Illuminating is good, very good. Glad you liked. Have you read my previous posts?
And to be sure, there will be more! Thanks!

Theresa: T or A, I love you whoever you are!

At 8:56 AM, Blogger dwduck said...

Is depression related in a sense to over compulsive disorders? I know someone who is dealing with depression and a disorder of having to feel clean all the time and not feeling clean...ever.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger modgurl said...

I've always said it's often quite an awakening if one is able to look through the other side of the mirror once in awhile.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger greenman said...

Lu, that was truly lovely, illuminating and touching. Thanks again for sharing. Depression always seems like something those who do not have can never seem to fully wrap their brains around. I think I'm getting there and I think your posts help a lot. Thanks

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Lu said...

DW: According to the DSM-IV (the bible of psychiatric diagnosis), Major Depressive and Bipolar Disorders are considered to be in the Mood Disorder category, while Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD--what your friend probably has) are all classified under the large category of Anxiety Disorders. The DSM-IV groups various diagnoses in order to assist professionals in their understanding and treatment of these disorders. The different disorders within a group will frequently respond to similar treatments (specific combinations of meds and therapies) and possibly have similar causes. It also helps our docs to communicate with each other (and that's a good thing!).
There are some fantastic resources on the internet for learning about disorders such as OCD. Here are two of my very favorites: National Alliance for the Mentally Ill--just plug OCD into the "Find" box. National Institute of Mental Health--type OCD into the "Search" box and you'll get a list of 101 links within the NIMH site alone!
One more thing I'd like to note here--the prognosis for treating OCD is very good. Most people respond well to medications and behavioral therapy.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Lu said...

Modgurl: Amen.

Greenman: Your comment brought a tear to my eye. I wish everyone could be as open and understanding as you. Think how quickly the social stigma would change if they were. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away to educate people the best I can. I hope that you (and other readers) will let me know what topics you'd like to see me attempt to tackle in my blogs. Thanks.


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