Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mental illness is real. How to help your loved ones, even if they don't ask for it.

Mental illness really is a struggle. I should know. I suffer from a form of depression called Dysthymia and Anxiety disorder. Dysthymia is a form of depression, but I'll get to that in a moment. When people look at me, they probably see this woman who has her shit together. I'm always on time, I rarely cancel anything. I plan everything down to a T. I literally have a color-coded calendar app for my phone. I had everyone in my family download it their phones as well, just we as a family could keep track of all the happenings going on. Ok, let's be realistic, I mostly use it since I'm more of the appointment keeper. So, as you can see, I make sure the full day runs smoothly.

I get asked all the time, "How do I do it? and stay sane?", "You must be pulling your hair out dealing that many kids?", "I'd go insane if I had your life!"... Well, Gee... Thanks for that... You think I don't know what a struggle it is to manage a household this size? You think I don't know what a struggle it is be a college student at my age, while dealing with my family responsibilities? You think I don't know what a struggle it is to want to intimate with my partner and feel sexy, especially when you have no sleep, you have all your family responsibilities and you had classes today plus homework? You think I don't know what a struggle it is to like myself, regardless of people telling me I'm this awesome human being?
Depression doing it's best to knock me on my ass
Believe me, I know all this and more. Add in the fact I suffer from a mental illness, asking me those questions or making those statements, doesn't make me feel like super mom. It makes me feel even more inadequate. It makes me feel like I always have to be perfect. And gosh damn it! I'm not perfect!!!

Take for instance this morning. I didn't want to get up but Eric has been missing out on sleep for the past few days. I let him sleep in. Now the reason I didn't want to get up is because for the past few days, I have also been losing sleep. (this is normal for me. You'll see why in a bit)

rain, rain, go away
It was raining, so my oldest children needed a ride to school, instead of doing their usual walking. Then I still needed to drive the younger 2 children to their school. I knew from the moment I woke up, it wasn't going to be a good day for me. I wanted to cry, but no real reason why. It's just how I felt. I was down and out. I was also exhausted. After I got Eric up for work, I still had to drop him off at his job. Today he had to work in another city. Luckily that is only about a 20-minute drive or so. He hadn't eaten, but neither did I. I just wasn't feeling hungry. I was feeling all the affects that depression has on me. Eric went to a little diner and dragged me with. I didn't want to go. He wanted me to eat something, anything. I played along and just ordered raisin toast to placate him. I'm still logical, I know if I order food, I still won't eat, so I order the smallest thing on the menu. The birds will still enjoy it. After we get our food to go, and Eric is set at work, I leave to go home. I realize, I will never be able to function in my class today, so I call off. As I'm driving and in my own little world, it dawned on me that I should really talk about this. Maybe it will help my current mood.

So, what is Dysthymia?
Dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a mood disorder consisting of the same cognitive and physical problems as in depression, with less severe but longer-lasting symptoms.  Dysthymia is a serious state of chronic depression, which persists for at least two years (one year for children and adolescents). Dysthymia is less acute and severe than major depressive disorder. As Dysthymia is a chronic disorder, sufferers may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members, or friends.

What can cause Dysthymia?
Experts are not sure what causes dysthymia or depression. Genes may play a role, but many affected people will not have a family history of depression, and others with family history will not have depression problems. Abnormal functioning in brain circuits or nerve cell pathways that connect different brain regions regulating mood are also thought to be involved. Major life stressors, chronic illness, medications, and relationship or work problems may also increase the chances of Dysthymia in people biologically predisposed to developing depression.

What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of Dysthymic disorder include a poor appetite or overeating, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, low energy, fatigue and feelings of hopelessness. People who have Dysthymic disorder may have periods of normal mood that last up to 2 months. Family members and friends may not even know that their loved one is depressed. Even though this type of depression is mild, it may make it difficult for a person to function at home, school or work.

Can it be treated?
Yes, the two main treatments for persistent depressive disorder are medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy). The treatment approach your doctor recommends depends on factors such as:
Severity of your symptoms
Your desire to address emotional or situational issues affecting your life
Your personal preferences
Previous treatment methods
Your ability to tolerate medications
Other emotional problems you may have

The types of antidepressants most commonly used to treat persistent depressive disorder include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects.
You may need to try several medications or a combination before you find one that works. This requires patience, as some medications take several weeks or longer for full effect and for side effects to ease as your body adjusts.
Don't stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your doctor — your doctor can help you gradually and safely decrease your dose. Stopping treatment abruptly or missing several doses may cause withdrawal-like symptoms, and quitting suddenly may cause a sudden worsening of depression. When you have persistent depressive disorder, you may need to take antidepressants long term to keep symptoms under control.

What is Anxiety Disorder?
The term "anxiety disorder" includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time as depression.

So, can you define a few types of anxiety disorder?
Panic disorder. People with this condition have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, chest pain, palpitations (unusually strong or irregular heartbeats), and a feeling of choking. It can feel like you’re having a heart attack or "going crazy."

Social anxiety disorder. Also, called social phobia, this involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centers on a fear of being judged by others, or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
Specific phobias. These are intense fears of a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. The level of fear is usually inappropriate to the situation and may cause you to avoid common, everyday situations.

Generalized anxiety disorder. This is excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there's little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.

What are the causes of Anxiety Disorder?
Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders run in families, and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

What are some symptoms of Anxiety Disorder?
These are basic signs. With several types of anxiety disorder, you will find more varying degrees of symptoms.
Sudden overwhelming fear
Shortness of breath
Sense of choking
Chest pain
A feeling of being detached from the world (de-realization)
Fear of dying
Numbness or tingling in the limbs or entire body
Chills or hot flushes

Can it be treated?
Although each anxiety disorder has unique characteristics, most respond well to two types of treatment: psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” and medications. These treatments can be given alone or in combination. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, can help a person learn a different way of thinking, reacting and behaving to help feel less anxious. Medications will not cure anxiety disorders, but can give significant relief from symptoms. The most commonly used medications are anti-anxiety medications (generally prescribed only for a short period of time) and antidepressants. Beta-blockers, used for heart conditions, are sometimes used to control physical symptoms of anxiety.

How can you help someone dealing with mental illness?
You can offer support by:
Finding out if the person is getting the care that he or she needs and wants—if not, connect him     or her to help
Expressing your concern and support
Reminding your friend or family member that help is available and that mental health problems       can be treated
Asking questions, listening to ideas, and being responsive when the topic of mental health                 problems come up
Reassuring your friend or family member that you care about him or her
Offering to help your friend or family member with everyday tasks
Including your friend or family member in your plans—continue to invite him or her without           being overbearing, even if your friend or family member resists your invitations
Educating other people so they understand the facts about mental health problems and do not           discriminate
Treating people with mental health problems with respect, compassion, and empathy

How to Talk About Mental Health:
Ask questions and really listen to what the person has to say.
I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you     comfortable talking to?
What can I do to help you to talk about issues with your parents or someone else who is                   responsible and cares about you?
What else can I help you with?
I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are       feeling?
Who or what has helped you deal with similar issues in the past?
Sometimes talking to someone who has dealt with a similar experience helps. Do you know of     others who have experienced these types of problems who you can talk with?
It seems like you are going through a difficult time. How can I help you to find help?
How can I help you find more information about mental health problems?
I’m concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?

Are there things you shouldn’t say or do?
YES, someone with mental illness can’t help what they are feeling or going through. Here are some things not to say or do:

There’s always someone worse off than you are.
No one ever said that life was fair.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?
Try not to be so depressed.
It’s your own fault.
Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.
I think your depression is a way of punishing us.
Haven’t you grown tired of all this “me, me, me” stuff yet?
Have you tried chamomile tea?
It's all in your head.
Stop stressing and calm down
It’s really not a big deal
Everything will be fine
What do you have to be so anxious about?

Whatever you do, Please Do Not Shame People for Being Negative

By writing this, I’m letting everyone out there know that you are not alone. I know it’s hard having to see a love one suffering from a mental illness or dealing with it yourself. Sometimes you may think about giving up. Please don’t. Stay strong, because this should not define you. Show mental illness who’s boss and fight back.

Disclosure: I'm currently on Anti- depressant #3. My doctor as of recently put me on Beta- Blockers, too. I also have a sedative that helps me in extreme cases, when I don't sleep.


Best wishes, Michelle


  1. Thanks for sharing about your struggle so openly! It's inspiring. I appreciate the list of things to say and not say, very helpful. People so often do act as if people choose to have mental illness, which is very unrealistic and unhelpful.

    1. Thank you! You are very correct. People don't chose to have a mental illness. For some it shows up early in life, for others it shows up later in life.

  2. Wow! Great article! It's really something to know that people really don't realize how mental illness affects the individual and their love ones. Thanks for getting the message out.

    1. Thank you very much! Mental illness truly does affect everyone, in some way, shape or form. I'm glad to get my message out, as I want everyone who suffers from (or has someone who suffers from) know that they aren't alone.

  3. Thanks for all the information about your struggle! It truly is a help to others who may need it, so thank you for being so open!.

    1. It's definitely hard to be so open, especially to the whole world.Someone has to start somewhere to get the message out, and I figure I can play a part, in helping everyone understand mental illness and its effects on not only the individual suffering but their loved ones as well.

  4. Mental illness is definitely a real thing. I know some people battling depression and it is so hard for them. Thanks for being transparent and sharing your struggle.

    1. Depressions sucks! What is particularly hard is when people don't really understand it or are supportive of the individual suffering from it. Some one with mental illness needs to know someone is one their side, helping them defeat their demons, especially in times, when the individual can't do it themselves.

  5. "Try not to be so depressed", WOW I can see how that is completely un-helpful advice! Thanks for sharing your experience and the more helpful ways people can be supportive.

    1. Believe it or not, people do say that. I've even heard people say "Well you were in bed all day. So, you can't be tired." When someone doesn't understand mental illness, they tend to make assumptions or worse yet, think a person is faking to get attention. That's not ok. A person with mental illness needs support and guidance. They definitely don't need to hear any sort of negativity, especially if they are told their illness isn't real and/ or they are lying.

  6. It's hard to give help to someone that doesn't ask for it. These are some great tips on this because I've had to use a few of these for my own family and friends

    1. It definitely is very hard. It's a struggle. I'm not one to ask for help either. It's very hard for me to open up and ask for help in any way, shape, or form. I may not ask for help but I know I have people who will lend an ear to me, to help me work out any issues I have. Just knowing that, helps me greatly.

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