Monday, March 09, 2009

Let's talk about depression

On Friday at our co-op one of the moms told us about a friend of hers who recently committed suicide. The woman had three week old twins at the time. Of everything that stands out about that conversation is that the family is LDS. Relief Society was bringing food and stopping by most days to ask if there was anything the family needed help with. My friend was shocked because the new mother never asked for help. She always said thing were fine. Then she begged her husband to stay home one day and while he was caring for the babies she went out to the garage and hung herself.

Their Bishop spoke to the ward the following Sunday and reminded people that if they were in need of help they should ask for help- regardless of sex or age.

Here is where my concern comes in. When I was depressed I didn't realize it. I truly believed that I was just a bad housekeeper, a bad mother, not a very nice person, and generally worthless. It was surprising to me that someone who started adulthood with as much potential as I did should turn out to be such a dud. It never once crossed my mind that I could or should ask anyone for help. When I asked my mom to help by watching the kids for a couple of hours she told me that I was the one who chose to have children. It was my responsibility to care for them. I believed her. I believed it was my burden to carry and it was not right of me to ask anyone for help with housework, childcare, groceries, or meals. Luckily I was not severely depressed. It did cross my mind once while driving alone that it might be better for everyone if I just crashed into a tree and never returned. The insurance money would provide for a house cleaner and meal preparation. It would also pay for childcare- I was not a good mother, the kids would probably do better in daycare.

Depressed women don't always realize they're not functioning correctly. They don't realize that there is no shame in asking for help. When they do ask for help, if they're rebuffed, they may never ask again. It is not as simple as picking up the phone and telling someone, "I need some help doing laundry, organizing the bills, and preparing meals." Symptoms of depression include confusion, inability to concentrate, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. A depressed woman may not be able to organize her thoughts enough to delegate tasks. If you simply tell someone, "Let me know what I can do to help," a depressed person may be desperately in need, but unable to articulate what they need. If you show up and just start working, the depressed mother may feel more guilt- it's a very delicate balance between being polite and baldly stating, "I'm going to help whether you like it or not!"

So... if you are my friend... and I think you need help... please don't feel awkward, angry, embarrassed, or irritable if I come over and start doing your dishes, call you on the phone a couple times a day, send other friends over to visit, or tell you about my experience with depression and then ask if you are feeling at the same way. You are important. You are important to me. You are important to your parents and siblings. You are important to your community. You are important to your husband. No one is more important to your babies than you are.

No one wants to be in the group of people saying, "I offered to help, maybe I could have done more." In that spirit I encourage everyone who may read my blog to do more than offer to help. Come up with a concrete task you can accomplish and then just go do it. Don't take no for an answer- and find a humorous way to complete your work. Sometimes it's something as simple as calling on a regular basis. Sometimes something more concrete like babysitting or folding the laundry is most helpful. Rarely, calling a mental health professional or the paramedics may be required.

You may not be depressed and I may annoy the heck out of you when you perceive that I am being nosy. I don't care- because if you are depressed I don't want to hear one day that you are no longer with us. I don't even care if I lose your friendship- because it's most important that we don't lose YOU.


Mrs. B. Roth said...

If I could add a couple things, when I am feeling ... weary of this world, my husband is about the only person I can let go on: I beg him to (vaguely) help me and he tries to teach me better time management skills. I think husbands need to be taken aside and have it clearly explained, especially if a woman doesn't have any close women friends (like ones they talk to like weekly), HE is the only one. And it might just seem like she's lazy, grumpy, frumpy, or bored ... but a little time up front, maintenance, makes a huge difference.

And guys get depressed, too. Husbands and wives both have to watch out for each other.

Second, stay at home moms NEED to throw themselves out there, make a couple good friends, and maintain those relationships. Even if it's just emails or phone calls. It takes me about 3 years, I've determined, to let someone be a real, grown-up friend. But my life has been so much better, just having people to vent to on a regular basis, one who just says "yeah, I know, life is hard." Doesn't try (much) to tell me how I'm doing everything wrong (even if I am) just listens and pours out her heart, too.

Last week, I should have emailed you ... next time I will.

Amy said...

That was a wonderfully written post. And as much as we all wish that we could go back and change the past, maybe your experience with depression was all so that you could be this voice of experience and help others.

I wish I could have been closer, to help you more at that time. And I'm so glad you were able to come through this, and that we didn't lose you. I don't know what I'd do without you just being a phone call away.

Janet said...

Brandy, anytime I can lend an ear I will. You may have to listen to children screaming and taunting each other in the background, but... I'm always here. You are absolutely right about husbands needing to know more, and also needing more mental support themselves. I wish everyone would just talk about depression more so that people understood it better before it becomes an issue in their own lives. I was so ashamed (there is no other word for it) that it took me a couple years to be willing to talk about my experiences- and my depression wasn't all that bad, relatively speaking.

Amy, ask me how I know how valuable that phone contact every day can be. You were a tremendous help after I had Sam, even living so far away! It's hard to get too wrapped up in your own misery when you are accountable to another interested adult for stories about what you've done with your day. It's amazing how knowing the phone will ring or a blog post should be written can affect what you choose to do with your time :-)

Janet said...

Brandy's comment about time management has been bothering me all day and I think it may be worth another blog post about what depression isn't. In the meantime I'd like to add here (just in case I have more than two readers) that offering to teach better housekeeping, time management, childcare techniques to a depressed woman is very much like telling someone suffering from stomach flu or food poisoning about good nutrition and food safety. Yes, there will come a time in their life that knowledge of nutrition and food handling will benefit them... but they are still sick today and need care and healing... not advice about how if they were just better at the tasks they're supposed to be doing life would be easier. The stomach flu does not resolve because you understand the food pyramid. Depression does not improve because you have a new computer program to track spending and help with bill paying.

Mrs. B. Roth said...

Amen. But guys like to solve problems. They do the best they can with the crazy women they love. Why are girls so freaking crazy, anyway?

Barbara Frank said...

How kind of you to share your experience in order to help others. Everything you said rings true. My mil has suffered from depression for years and it's a rough road, that's for sure.

jugglingpaynes said...

Depression is a lonely road. I suffered from it during adolescence and after my oldest was born. From my personal experiences with my depression and others, I've found that it is important to be there to listen, but it is also important to notice the signs that someone is growing depressed. They may withdraw, not be as talkative as they were, more emotional, etc.

I never felt comfortable talking about my depression because I felt like a burden to family and friends. I did go to counseling a couple of times, but I think what has helped me the most is to find opportunities each day to laugh. As corny as it may sound, watching a funny movie or having some of my friends just be around getting my laughing is the best cure I have for depression. I also recognize this dark side of my personality and have tried to learn what triggers it--my period, lack of sun, clutter--and either address the issues through action, diet or yoga. And sometimes I ride the wave by telling myself that this too shall pass.

Peace and Laughter
And Hugs!

Eryn at said...

Janet, I want to thank you for telling us about your thoughts of it maybe being better if you just weren't here. I know those dark thoughts, and something teaches us to be ashamed of them and hide them away.

By just one woman talking about them, it makes countless other women know that they are not alone. It might be uncomfortable to say and hard to find the right words, but it needs to be said.

I know that there is a lot of pressure in the LDS community (every community, but I've felt it deeply in LDS groups) to live up to perceived expectations. We need to talk about the struggles we had as young moms, because so many women feel like duds and think every other mother is a Molly! Not the case, we ALL have to learn on the job! Thankfully, Relief Society is so nice, because it provides a good excuse to drop in on other women. And you can say "Hey! We're here to do the dishes!" or " a movie with you!" and since it's a calling, who can argue with that? ;)

I will hold this family in my heart, and also hold your words in my heart. It is not enough simply to offer or ask, sometimes we HAVE to take action. I am wishing really good things for those dear little twins.

Mambinki said...

That is such a sad story about the young mother.

Depression is a disease and it is not always easy to tell that it is taking over a person's life. It is a real health issue, just like cancer or anything else. My family has mourned the suicide of my uncle for years, and everyone has wondered if they could have done more to help. It is horribly sad.

I think this is especially importnat to bring to light with young mothers. Although I am not a mother, I've met a lot of young mothers who are struggling. There simply aren't community supports all around and mothers are alone so often, and when they ask for help are told things like they chose to have kids, they aren't even working, and so on. I don't think it is a coincidence that blogging is so popular with stay at home moms- so that you have a regular community to reach out to. It seems very important.

Thank you for your post! And everybody can get depressed, or overly anxious, or anything else. No one is immune to these things and there is too much of a stigma around mental health issues!

Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room