Pushing Back the Shadows – A Supporter’s Thoughts

This is a post written by one of our supporters.  We would be quite interested to hear your views on this so please leave a comment, let us know what you think.  Let’s get a discussion going!

Although the symptoms of depression are relatively universal, each person’s experience is different because each person is unique.  To dismiss a professional’s help because your depression is different is not saying that the symptoms are different, but that their manifestation is different in each individual.  This then makes the task of professionals challenging when faced with each person who, quite understandably, are focussed on their own signs of depression.  What works for one may not work for another, but the challenge is to not let personal depression manifestations to simply dismiss something before due consideration.

As I think about this title, “Pushing Back the Shadows”, I initially understood it as pushing back the stigma, the lack of understanding that depression is an illness – like physical illnesses – except there are no “plasters” or “bandages” evident.  It is therefore dependent on the explanation of the depressed individual to a professional to obtain the treatment that works best for that individual.  It is hard enough to explain depression without having to do so when you are already depressed!  Therefore, “Pushing Back the Shadows” gives opportunity for people to share their personal experiences in the hope that someone reading it may have that moment when they recognise themselves in the descriptions.  However, is there not a danger of focussing on depression so much that you become the slave to depression and no longer able to look for the next step?

This leads to another viewpoint on “Pushing Back the Shadows”.  If depression is the shadow, then “Pushing Back the Shadows” can be understood as the battle against depression – pushing the dark cloud of depression to the point where daily life can function.  This takes effort and energy, which Alex has already identified, is not necessarily available, making it difficult.  Those who are surrounding and supporting the person want to fight that battle for them and will encourage them to fight, but the battle is for the person alone – only they can take each step, like a young baby learning to walk.

As one who is permanently on anti-depressants to deal with a life-long medical condition, I can identify that the daily battle to “push back the shadows” is faced by more than people diagnosed with depression.  When getting out of bed and getting dressed for someone with a life-long medical condition is achieved – it would be a reason for celebration, a sense of achievement, a battle won.  But in the great scheme of life, such an achievement is not seen as that great – people get out of bed and dressed every day so what is so special in that.  “Pushing Back the Shadow” is a personal achievement in the privacy of an individual’s life and not one where congratulations will be ringing in the ears.  In the perspective of normal life, each battle won is normal – not news-worthy.  Unfortunately this is a fact that has to be accepted – one person’s health battles are not the centre of the universe so will not be high on the radars of many people’s hectic lifestyles and priorities.

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

 

Yet, I suppose the key to any health battle – whether it is mental or physical – starts with understanding.  What are you dealing with?  Unfortunately “Google” will give you loads of information from professional and “wacky” sources.  Unfortunately this is the first search we make in seeking to understand.  But, as academia will remind you – check your sources – anyone can write anything and post it on the internet.  As Alex quite rightly states, this blog is not from a professional basis, but from a personal experience and a desire to help others – it is not of great academic worth but simply an insight – “Pushing Back the Shadows” of understanding.

In seeking to understand, the medical profession have access to tried and tested resources and will happily point you in the direction you need to understand what you are dealing with.  The libraries in the UK are also a great untapped resource that can help as well without the cost of purchasing a book.  However, if you find one that helps you could always invest in your own copy.

When you begin to understand what you are dealing with, you have already achieved the first battle to “Pushing Back the Shadow.”  The first battle, yes, but each day will continue to be a challenge which, like learning a new skill, will get easier over time and practice.

As a supporter, it is never easy to “say the right thing” or “give help at the appropriate time”, especially when you do not see the person every day to be able to gauge where they are on their challenge.  It can also be hurtful when your support is denigrated by a comment or reaction that bears no resemblance to the last contact you had with that individual.  However, “Pushing Back the Shadows” I believe takes understanding, where this blog is only one resource – not the ultimate resource; and takes that desire of the individual and their supporters to want to push against the shadow of depression rather than remaining trapped by it.  It is not a smooth path, but one that has many pitfalls and obstacles to be overcome.  BUT you don’t have to achieve release all at once – it is simply just one step (one day) at a time. This is what each professional and supporter will be encouraging you to do – take the next step – it’s not as big as “the shadow” would try to convince you. They are on your side, even when they say what you don’t want to hear.  They are trying to help you win today’s battle and take the next step to “Push Back the Shadows”.  

Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

How to Help Friends and Family

There are times in our lives when we are called upon to do things that we never imagined. It is during these times that we find out just how strong we are.

That time for me came when my son fell into a deep depression and began to self-harm. Parenting can be difficult enough if your child is healthy, but if they have a mental illness it can be life altering.

When my children were young I read parenting books; the ones that explained how to train your child to sleep through the night and offered strategies for dealing with temper tantrums. When my children entered adolescents, I studied parenting books that demonstrated how to talk so they would listen and how to cope with angry outbursts while staying calm and maintaining my sanity. When my son suffered from severe depression and starting self-harming, I couldn’t find parenting books that provided me with skills, practical information, and therapeutic tools to help him. I felt frustrated, alone, and helpless.

It took a lot of time and effort to find the right course to help my son, and along the way I was able to help myself and others.

So, how can you help friends and family who are living with a mental health disorder?

Know the signs and symptoms

Knowing the warning signs for mental illness can help you to be a better parent and friend. There are multiple signs such as: excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, extreme mood changes, prolonged irritability or anger, changes in sleep and eating habits, extreme difficulty concentrating, reckless behavior, and trying to harm or kill oneself. [i]  This is not a comprehensive list and some of these might be subtle, but knowing this information could be the difference between life and death. 

Set clear boundaries

Setting clear guidelines, rules or limits with friends and family can keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Make sure that you take time out for yourself. Be aware of enabling or repeatedly “rescuing” him or her, this can lead to a codependent relationship.  When my son was experiencing depression, I did everything for him because I wanted him to feel better and this over-protective parenting led to an unhealthy relationship. During that time, I often felt helpless and without a choice. After speaking with a counselor, I realized that my bond with my son was no longer safe or healthy for me. I slowly let him handle decisions for himself, allowing him to feel pride in what he did, and then I could validate and praise him. Over several months our relationship changed from an enabling one to a nurturing one.

Know how to make symptoms better

There are many ways to help with the symptoms of mental illness. These range from traditional (cognitive behavioral, group, and medication) to non-traditional (art, pet, meditation, music, and movement) therapies and everything in between. The most important thing to remember is to choose a positive method.  My son chose self-harm to help with his suicidal thoughts and depression. The self-harm worked in the moment, but it did not make symptoms better, in fact, in the long run, it made things worse.  The earlier someone living with a mental health condition seeks treatment the better the chance of recovery.  Include your friend or family member in your plans, help them stay positive, and encourage them to follow their treatment plan.

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Talk about it

Not only is it important for treatment that someone who lives with a mental illness talks to others about it, it is equally important that friends and caregivers talk too.  Parents, caretakers, siblings, and friends want to discuss the mental illness in their lives. They want to know that others are going through similar difficulties; they want to know that they are not alone. If those who are directly living through the mental illness of a loved one would be willing to talk about it, then maybe those who are physically experiencing it would be inspired to seek the help they need. If we take away the shame that goes with discussing mental illness and understand that it is an illness like any other, we open a door to real progress and improvement for mental health care.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. It’s scary, I know I kept the secret of my son’s mental illness hidden from just about everyone in my life. Why? Fear, shame, and embarrassment, all words surrounding stigma. Looking back now, I wonder why I was so afraid. Since I have “come out” about my son’s mental illness everyone I know has been supportive and encouraging, but such is not the case for many. I remain in the lucky few. It wasn’t easy for me to discuss my son’s illness. There were many awkward conversations, but the more I talked about mental health, the more comfortable I became and the more people I found who understood, empathized or were going through a similar situation. And these individuals wanted to talk about it openly and honestly. They wanted information, guidance, or just someone to listen.

Remember to validate

Validation is one of the most important elements to learn before helping anyone.

As humans, we want to “fix” problems. Often the best thing to do in a situation is to validate feelings, not diminish them. Validation does not mean you agree with someone else’s choice or even their feelings, instead it’s telling them that it is okay to have these feelings and that you still care about them. This will help your friend or family member feel seen, heard, and accepted and to know that what they say matters and is understood. Everyone deserves to be accepted without judgment.

Help to reduce stigma and take action

Each and every one of us has the power to help eliminate the misunderstanding, lack of acceptance, and the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. [ii]

Share links to resources on social media. Don’t stereotype or label others. Use people first language. Wear a mental health awareness bracelet-this can be a great conversation starter. Become a volunteer and a mental health advocate.

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

This is nobody’s fault

There is a propensity in society to blame people for their mental illness, as if they had a choice in the matter. We also tend to blame the parents for the “faults” of their children.

 You wouldn’t want this for yourself, your child or another family member. Do not blame yourself or anyone else. Mental illness is just an illness of the brain. It is just like any other physical illness. Mental illness is no one’s fault.

 

The daily energy spent on helping someone who lives with a mental illness is enormous. Don’t give up hope, savor the good times. If you are struggling and drained of energy and life-force you can’t help anyone else. It is impossible to do it all yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help in your community.

It takes a village…. The time-honored African proverb speaks of the importance of community. Some say it originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb Ora na azu nwa, which means, it takes the community/village to raise a child. [iii]

So, use your village or community and get the help you need and deserve.

[i] https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs

[ii] https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Ending-the-Silence

[iii] http://www.coseealaska.net/files/alaska/Ittakesavillage.pdf

 

Theresa Larsen graduated from Florida State University with a degree in elementary education and a minor in psychology. She taught school in England, Wales, and the United States for over twelve years. She is a trained presenter and coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Ending the Silence”-a mental health awareness program for youth. She is also a writer and her writing credits include a Welsh children’s book, an educational article published in the Cardiff Advisory Service for Education, parenting and mental health articles published on Yahoo,  PsychCentral, The Mighty, The Stigma Fighters Anthology Volume 2, and her award-winning memoir, Cutting the Soul: A journey into the mental illness of a teenager through the eyes of his mother.  

Learn more about Theresa at http://www.theresalarsen.com/

Cutting the Soul at Amazon  https://www.amazon.com/Cutting-Soul-journey-illness-teenager/dp/1502933101/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496436594&sr=8-1&keywords=cutting+the+soul

Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.