The Catch-22 of Depression

One of the most challenging pieces of dealing with depression is the Catch-22. Everything one needs to do in order to overcome (or work towards the recovery of) depression is compromised by the very symptoms causing the depression.

Here are several examples. In order to recover from depression, one should…

  1. Eat a healthy diet, yet many people are unable to eat (or overeat) due to the depression.
  2. Exercise regularly, yet depression often takes away one’s energy.
  3. Socialize, yet many of those suffering from depression tend to isolate themselves.
  4. Attempt to get a good night of sleep, yet many with depression struggle with getting enough sleep.
  5. Enjoy their hobbies, yet most people with depression tend to lose interest in their hobbies.
  6. Get outside for fresh air and sunlight, yet many times those with depression are also faced with anxiety that tends to keep them inside their home.
  7. Monitor and stop negative thinking, yet many with depression ruminate and see only the negative side of things, even when there may not realistically be a negative side.

While the purpose of this post is to acknowledge that recovery from depression can be very challenging, it’s essential to maintain hope. Depression is treatable! Reach out for support. Connect with trusted loved ones. Acknowledge small successes! It takes time and effort, but you will recover!

Please see my post titled, “Tips for Dealing with Depression” for more suggestions on how to work towards recovery. If you are attempting to support someone else with depression, I would recommend my post titled, “Supporting One with Depression“, where I offer differentiated tips for supporting a loved one, a close friend, or an acquaintance.

I would like to credit the incredibly informative book, “Coping with Depression: From Catch-22 to Hope” by Dr. Jon G. Allen for many of the ideas in this post.

As always, I welcome and encourage comments to this post. Thank you!

 

A Conference for Online Advocates of Chronic Illnesses

I feel incredibly lucky to have been invited to a conference in Chicago for online advocates of chronic illnesses: HealtheVoices. Approximately three days prior to the deadline to apply, I received a message in LinkedIn. At first, I had wondered if it was an automatically-generated message that went out as a huge message blast for advertising purposes. However, after reading it a second time, it certainly sounded a bit personalized. A Janssen employee, Kristina Chang, had contacted me directly to apply, as this was their third year in a row of the HealtheVoices conference and they hoped to increase the number of advocates representing mental health. She offered to answer any questions I had by phone.

I decided to take Kristina up on her offer and called her directly. I was able to learn a great deal more about the conference through this conversation. I was a bit skeptical, at first, learning that Janssen was a pharmaceutical company. However, she explained that this is Janssen’s way of giving back to the community they serve and that Janssen would not be marketing to the advocates. I decided to apply. I found out a few weeks later that I had been accepted. All expenses paid by Janssen. I was thrilled and really didn’t know what to expect.

The conference was primarily structured by advocates themselves, with great support (not only financially) from Janssen and Tonic Life Communications. The conference was very well organized. The diverse needs of the advocates attending, many of whom were living with the illness for which they were advocating, were well accommodated.

There were 106 advocates from 30 different states and at least four different countries. The amount of energy at the conference was palpable! I was so privileged to be at a conference with such caring, passionate, and inspiring advocates! I quickly realized that these advocates were not only advocating for an illness, but for so much more; racial equity, poverty, gender equity, and social justice, to name just a few.

There were sessions that included a panel of advocates who shared advocacy strategies and answered questions. There were sessions on tips for blogging, working with the media and engaging legislators. Youtube and Facebook representatives presented on how to maximize their tools as a way to further our advocacy. Two well-known Youtube advocates that were highlighted in the presentation (therapist and mental health advocate, Kati Morton and psoriasis advocate, Huy Ngo)  just happened to be attending the conference. At that moment, I felt as though I was surrounded by celebrities. It confirmed my thoughts; that I was privileged to be a part of a group of passionate people who advocate at a very high level.

Upon returning, I have now created a Facebook page.  I have to admit, one advocate was so amused that I had no Facebook page, that she snapped a shot of me and Tweeted it out. If that’s not incentive to create a Facebook page, I’m not sure what is! I have also registered with a couple of organizations that I had learned about to help expand my advocacy work.

I want to thank all of the the amazing advocates who were a part of the conference. Participating in a conference with them was incredibly inspiring and empowering! I want to thank Janssen for creating such an amazing conference that allows the online advocates to meet in person, learn together, and share ideas. I also want to thank TonicLC for being caring supporters and organizers who helped create such a smooth-running conference. Finally, I want to thank those organizations who sponsored the event and made it all possible! I hope to be invited back next year!

As always, I welcome and encourage comments to this post and any other!

Note: Janssen Global Services paid for my travel expenses for the conference. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

My Thoughts on the Word “Stigma”

I have recently heard of the idea of getting away from the word “Stigma” when speaking about mental health. There are various articles that speak directly towards eliminating the word from the conversations altogether. For example, the article titled, “The Word Stigma Should Not Be Used in Mental Health Campaigns”. In this article, the author makes the case that “The focus of our efforts should be upon society and the perpetrators of this discrimination, not the subjects of it. If we accept the concepts of parity of esteem, then we should describe not stigma, but rather bigotry, hatred, unlawful and unjust discrimination.”

I prefer the definition offered by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” in an article titled, “What is Stigma?

In my opinion, the stigma is the negative feelings that some have regarding mental illnesses.  When one mentions that they have depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or another mental illness, the stigma is what causes people to take a step back. The stigma causes people to begin to whisper when they discuss a mental illness. Another example of stigma is when someone tells a person who is suffering from depression to “Just go for a jog” or “Watch a funny movie”. This minimizes the serious and often times debilitating nature of the illness.  Stigma also creates shame and/or fear in people and often times prevents them from seeking the support they need.

The stigma, I believe, is what leads to the discrimination and bigotry and, yes, this certainly needs to be addressed as well. The discrimination and bigotry are the actions one takes towards a person living with a mental illness. For example, an employer not hiring a prospective employee because the employer discovers that the person has a history of depression. Another example would be a landlord choosing not to rent to someone due to the fact that they discover the possible tenant lives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In summary, I do not believe that we need to stop using the word “stigma” in our conversations around mental health. I believe that both the stigma and the discrimination/bigotry need to be addressed. If we are able to minimize or even eliminate the stigma, we would see much less of the discrimination. We need to continue to talk about mental illnesses, share our stories of living with a mental illness, and help educate others. These are a few of the ways that we can help end the stigma…and the discrimination.

As with all of my posts, I welcome and encourage comments. Thank you!

I’m “Depressed!” – A Poem

The weather outside is depressing.
I failed my test…I’m so depressed.
My soccer game got rained out…how depressing!
Really? REALLY?!?

I couldn’t get out of bed.
I lost 60 pounds because I couldn’t eat.
I was only able to sleep four hours for an entire week, yet laid in bed for hours throughout the day.
I couldn’t do the simplest of household chores.
I got lost driving to a neighbor’s house three blocks away.
I couldn’t concentrate.
I couldn’t read.
I couldn’t watch TV.
I lost all interest in my hobbies.
I couldn’t socialize, although I’ve always been outgoing.
I had delusional thoughts.
Finally, I had thoughts of suicide that I couldn’t escape and eventually a detailed plan of taking my own life.

And you’re depressed about the weather? Your failed test? Your soccer game getting rained out?
Really? REALLY?!?

Is It Wrong to Use So-Called “Headclutching” Photos & the Word Suffering?

In order for me to drive traffic to this blog, I have been tweeting for some time with the handle of @allevin18. Recently, a follower with a huge following retweeted one of my tweets. That always gets me quite excited, as it would ideally get me more followers on Twitter and at the same time hopefully bring a larger following to this blog. I asked this follower if he would mind tweeting my “Pinned Tweet”, as well, explaining how I was attempting to get more followers to my blog. I was surprised at his response, which was that he typically does not forward tweets that include the so-called “Head-clutching” photos.

Although I had never heard the term, I knew exactly what he was referring to. I had read in many articles describing techniques to increase followers on Twitter that it was important to include photos. I immediately began to search photos for depression and many of them included photos of men with their head clasped between their hands, showing a sense of agony or pain or frustration.

When I sent a private message to the follower, I told him that I was curious to have a better understanding on why these photos were not wise to use. He directed me to an article titled, “Saying Goodbye to ‘Headclutcher’ Photos” by Rethink Mental Illness. The article describes the main problem with the photos being that they,

“…are stigmatising. They show us a stereotype of a person with mental illness – that they are in perpetual despair, isolated and without hope. And while it is true that sometimes a person with a mental health problem might clutch their head, that’s also true of anyone, mental illness or not.”

While I very much respect the follower who I was communicating with on the topic and I respect and believe strongly in the work of the organizations involved in the campaigns, I have an opinion on “headclutching” photos that may not be completely aligned with their thoughts.

First, I have to admit that for fear of offending anybody, I immediately removed all of the “headclutching” photos from my library of photos and began to use other photos. However, I continued to read more and reflect more on the topic. I would not, for example, use a photo of a disheveled panhandler. I believe this would be stereotyping a type of person. The “headclutching” photos tend to stereoptype a feeling or an emotion.  While I do not want to paint the picture that everybody who has depression is at a point in which they would continually be clutching their head, there certainly are times in which the feeling that the photos convey is quite accurate. So, if one includes a photo of someone smiling, does that mean that people with depression are always smiling (or possibly masking their depression)? If it is picture of a large man, does that mean that we are stereotyping that only large men get depression? If it’s a picture of a black man, are we saying that only black men have depression? While I was working through my major depressive disorder, a “headclutching” photo would have accurately depicted how I was feeling.

The same goes for the word “suffer” that many advocates feel we should not use when discussing the topic of depression or describing someone with depression. While I understand very well that we would not want to leave the inaccurate impression that people with depression are in a continual state of suffering, I also believe that there are times in which people with depression are suffering and to not use the word could very well diminish the amount of anguish and struggles that the person may be going through. If anybody told me that I did not suffer when I was battling a bout of major depression, they are completely mistaken. I would agree that we should state that a person “is living with depression”, as many advocates now propose. However, if the person is currently out of work due to a major episode, I believe it is fine to describe the person as, “currently suffering from depression”. So, in general, people “live with depression”. However, at times, they clearly may be “suffering” from depression.

As far as “headclutching” photos, my belief is that we need to include a variety of photos; photos of people of different ethnicities, different genders (although, in my case, I typically use pictures of men, as that is a large focus of the advocating I do), different expressions, different sizes, dressed differently, etc.

People who live with depression certainly do not suffer or struggle (or clutch their head between their hands) all throughout their lives. I would not want to mistakenly give that impression to others. If we use the word “suffer” we should be sure that it is specifically referring to a moment in time. While I believe there are much more critical conversations to be having around mental illness, I do believe how we portray mental illness and the language we use is very important.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. As always, I encourage people to comment on this post and/or any other posts of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Depression: Don’t Fall Prey to Catastrophizing

Today I got the coffee pot all set to go and forgot to turn it on. The other day, speaking on my cell phone while driving (hands-free), I realized I had missed a turn several minutes (and quite a few miles) after passing it. Another time recently, I struggled for a bit trying to find my car in a parking ramp I had never before used. Do any of these sound familiar to you? All of things happen for various reasons. Sometimes we may have a lot on our mind or we may be in the midst of a conversation. However, they are quite common and we typically do not fret about them. In fact, we often chuckle about these types of mishaps or moments of absentmindedness.

However, in my case, when these things occurred during my major depression, they were unjustified evidence that I was spiraling down, falling deeper into depression, in dire straits. I would perseverate on these mental lapses and turn them into something much larger than they were. This is one type of catastrophizing that can occur during depression. Catastrophizing is clearly not a healthy thought pattern and can be harmful to one’s mental health (even if not in the midst of depression).

Here are a few methods that may be useful in order to minimize, and hopefully end, the catastrophizing:

  1.  The first step is to recognize when it is happening. This is not always easy, but very helpful. Once you recognize it, you can question it and, you will most likely realize that the incident you are catastrophizing is not a sign of spiraling down into a deep, dark depression.
  2. Question it. Having thoughts that you may be on the verge of getting fired? Ask yourself for the evidence of this. How was your last review? What evidence is there that your work performance is going down?
  3. Communicate with others. Share your thoughts with someone you trust to get the opinions from someone whose thought process is not compromised by an illness (depression).
  4. Analyze it. I’m not referring to scouring a great deal of data. Simply ask yourself if there are reasons, other than your illness, for your thoughts. If you’re concerned because you couldn’t find your parked car in a large parking lot, could it be that you’ve lost concentration because you are thinking about the upcoming meeting or presentation at work? Could it be that you were thinking of your to-do list for the day.

It is incredibly important to go easy on yourself. Remember that depression is truly an illness. It compromises your cognition, thoughts, and memory (just to mention a few of its many possible manifestations). Recovering from depression takes time and effort. The effort you put into eliminating catastrophizing will go a long way in your efforts towards recovery!

As always, I welcome and encourage comments to all of my posts.

The Importance of Sharing Our Stories of Mental Illness

There are many well-known people who had lived with a mental illness.  John Nash, Nobel Prize recipient for economic sciences, lived for many years with paranoid schizophrenia. Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and poet Edgar Allan Poe were known to have battled depression. Charles Darwin, known for his contributions to the science of evolution, lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are just a few of the many, many people throughout history who had lived with depression.

Others have not only dealt with living with a mental illness, but have publicly shared their experiences and struggles. George Stephanopoulos, Chief Anchor and the Chief Political Correspondent for ABC News describes his deep, dark depression in his 2000 autobiography, “All Too Human: A Political Education”. Dick Cavette, a well-known TV personality, described his bouts of depression as “Dismal, worthless, black despair” to a room full of reporters at Johns Hopkins in April of 1992. Olympic gold medalist and model Amanda Beard speaks of her own battles with self-mutilation, bulimia and depression in her 2013 book, “In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir”. Buzz Aldrin, the second person to have walked on the moon, suffers from depression and shared openly in an interview with The Telegraph in July of 2009.

Recently, many more celebrities have come out to share their stories of depression and other mental illnesses. Just two weeks ago, British fashion magazine Marie Claire published an article titled, “22 Celebrities Speak Honestly About Their Mental Health Battles”. The article includes many celebrities who are very well known; Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Brad Pitt, and Jim Carrey to name just a few.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, board-certified internist and self-described “addictions-oologist” (and co-host of the nostalgic Loveline radio show–a fond memory of mine), believes that “…when a celebrity goes public with his or her own mental health issue, ‘…it’s an opportunity to learn about it. It’s an opportunity to reduce stigma, reduce fear, reduce shame of an ordinary person—not a celebrity—managing the same problem.'” (E!News)

I believe that it is important for “ordinary” people to share their stories, as well. It may be easy for some people to believe that it is only the celebrities who become mentally ill. While celebrities sharing their struggles with mental illness does a great deal to chip away at the stigma, ordinary people need to see that other ordinary people also have struggles with mental illnesses.  I believe that there are several benefits when people share their stories:

  1. When people share their stories, they help to educate those who have been lucky enough to never have to deal with a mental illness. It helps to give others a better understanding of some of the challenges of living with a mental illness. Until reading about someone’s story, many people may not know, for example, that depression can keep people from getting out of bed for days on end or cause others to lose/gain a massive amount of body weight. Hearing a real story may give a glimmer into the sense of what it feels like to lose all hope, become numb to all feelings, and believe that you have become a burden to others.  When someone like  describes the mania of bipolar disorder as, “Mania is incredible. Yet, it is destructive. Mania is the highest high of your life. Yet, it’s also a cliff, and you just jumped off into the abyss.”, people who have never been through it may just get a sense of what mania feels like. Elissa Farmer believes that some people are under the misconception that mania is fun and exciting, yet she describes it as, “…full blown chaos and catastrophe” in her article “What People Get Wrong About Mania”.
  2. When people share their stories, they support others who may be going through similar struggles. It allows others to see that they are not alone. They are not the only one who is going through the struggles and challenges of a mental illness. Those who are currently struggling can learn about tips and suggestions that helped others get through the difficult times or manage their mental illness. In one of my own posts, titled “9 Tips That Helped Me Manage My Depression”, I share just such suggestions. Lynn Ulrich shares suggestions for those living with Bipolar Disorder in her post titled, “5 Tips That Got My Mental Health Recovery Back on Track After a Crisis”.
  3. Sharing our stories is therapeutic for ourselves. There is a “right” time for everybody to share. The “right” time will look different for many people. People who are living with a mental illness need to decide when the time is right and with whom they want to begin to share. However, I believe the more people one shares with, the more the person with the mental illness will realize that many people have a connection, one way or another, with someone else who has had struggles due to a mental illness. Another thing that happens when we share is that we support others, and supporting others is absolutely therapeutic.
  4. Sharing our stories chips away at the stigma.  By sharing our stories, not only do we educate and support others, but we help to engage more people in the conversations around mental health and therefore help to minimize the stigma. It’s very important for us to do what we can to eliminate the stigma. By eliminating the stigma, people will be able to speak openly about their mental illness and more easily (and more willingly) receive the support they need in order to work towards recovery.

There are more and more websites and blogs on the internet that allow people to share their own stories. Here are a list of just a few:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
    • NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Their website includes a page in which people can share their stories. Click here to read the stories or to share your own.
  • The Mighty
    • Publishes real stories by real people facing real challenges. The Mighty is building a brand and a community around them. Having a disability or disease doesn’t have to be isolating. That’s why The Mighty exists. The Mighty is creating a safe platform for our community to tell their stories, connect with others and raise support for the causes they believe in. We are stronger when we face adversity together, and we know it.
  • Stigma Fighters
    • A mental health non-profit organization dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness. Stigma Fighters has been featured on Good Day New York, Psychology Today, Women’s Health Magazine, and The Washington Post. It is Stigma Fighters’ mission to raise awareness for people who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive. Since its launch in March 2014, hundreds of people have written pieces for the blog.
  • Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M)
    • In 2010, Glenn Close & Family co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M), a nonprofit organization built to start the conversation about mental health, and to raise awareness, understanding, and empathy. BC2M has created a social movement around change by providing people with platforms to share, connect, and learn. To read real stories or to share your own, click here.
  • Stamp Out Stigma
    • Stamp Out Stigma is an initiative spearheaded by the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness (ABHW) to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders. This campaign challenges each of us to transform the dialogue on mental health and addiction from a whisper to a conversation. Share your story with Stamp Out Stigma by clicking here.

There are many more websites where people can go in order to read real stories about real people living with mental illness. Remember, sharing our stories help to educate, support, and minimize the stigma!

As with all of my posts, comments are welcomed and encouraged.