I am sometimes asked how it is to be in the middle of a depression. The reply is not uplifting. Because both the depressed person and the family find themselves in the middle of a crisis. And when you feel like how I am about to describe, there is nothing to do but try to firefight.

Twisted reality

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Distortion, André Kertész 1894-1985

The depressed person is in a twisted reality, where you move in absolutes. Everything is black/white and without grey areas.
I am stupid, ugly, and fat!
I am disgusting!
I am hopeless!
I am no good at anything!
I am to blame for everything bad in the world.
I ruin everything I touch: My family, my work, projects, the dishwasher, clothes etc.

You feel despondent. Everything is overwhelming, unmanageable, and is experienced to be a lost cause before you have even begun: shopping, dropping and collecting children, housework, bedtime, getting up and getting dressed. Everything is overwhelming because you don’t have the energy, the perspective or the desire to do these tasks.

All emotions at all times

All emotions are lying near the surface at all times. You go from lying apathetically on the floor to loudly sobbing and the next moment you’re being aggressive and giving your partner a verbal overhaul.
You then get a guilty conscience, blame yourself, and this amplifies the guilt and shame you already feel for merely existing. You have suicidal thoughts that are so appealing and convincing because they feel like a complete solution to existence for one’s self and one’s family – regardless of whether or not you have children.

Do you know it?

It was me back in 2003-2011…in that period, I went through 2 depressions still being able to work and being sick in my spare time. And then finally ending up having a work-stress-related depression in 2010, getting laid off and away from the working force in 3 years.

Anyway when you read above, do you know it?

This is my husband’s account of being with a depressed and anxious person. The following really gave me an insight to the impact depression and anxiety have on the partner – the challenges they face every day. I was lucky that my husband wanted to battle with me, and not as I too often have experienced with others, against me.

Søren’s Story

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I was nervous about how you would be feeling when I got home from work. How was your mood today? I wonder if you are angry, sad, or just tired?
It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to be around you. It was more a concern about whether I was doing the right thing?

For example, if you were tired and I suggested that you go to bed, how would you react? I lived with the feeling that no matter what I did it would never be good enough. The uncertainty was the worst. Were you going to call me and say something had happened? Could something happen? Would something happen? The questions lay like constant worry at the back of my mind.

Constant worrying

It was hard to walk out the door, because you are leaving someone that you love, who’s not feeling well. If I tried to call you up and you didn’t answer, I’d get scared. Either there has been an accident, or you have tried to take your life. Then there was the helplessness: I couldn’t always cheer you up and help you feel better. It helped to go to the psychiatrist. She helped me get through, and be heard. For example, at one point, you were scared that I was going to leave you. Here she could help me to get you to understand that I was not on my way out the door.

Stupid thoughts

Your stupid thoughts first sounded like something you would not believe: something made up, imaginary. Like a child’s make-believe.

As a relative, I could tell that your thoughts weren’t true, but you would not listen to me or believe me. To me it was completely unbelievable that you would believe the things you were thinking and saying. And frustrating when you wouldn’t believe me when I was telling you “the truth.”‘I can’t go out. I can’t go shopping,’ you would say. And I couldn’t help but think, “Pull yourself together. Of course you can!”

Nevertheless, at the same time I understood that it was your illness speaking. It is a hard balance, to be both understanding and listening, but at the same time help to push you into looking your anxiety straight in the eye. Because will it be a good experience that you have in that situation? Or yet another set back?

On high alert

You are on constant alert. It’s not fun dropping your girlfriend off at the psychiatric emergency unit and not knowing what is going to happen. Will she come home again? Why does she want to die? Why would you want to die when you could want to feel good? I can’t relate to suicidal thoughts at all.

Energy is in short supply during this time. You feel like you are running behind with everything, and just surviving. It has gone the way it has because I have been able to understand you on some points.

Speak up!

Are you husband, wife, partner to a depressed person – do speak up! Your voice counts and is vital for the whole family to heal!

The path to increased awareness started for me in 2004. I had been on the edge for so long that I tried to take my own life. You have to understand that when you find yourself in such a chaotic state of mind, when you decide to commit suicide it suddenly gets very quiet, and calm. I can still from time to time remember the peace that I found when I made that decision.

no-man’s land

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Your choice!

When I finally realised that that was not the way to deal with depression, I found myself in a sort of no-man’s land, a void where I could not see any way forward. In the first instance, I threw myself into work because it was the only place I had success and control. In exchange, I was depressed in my free time while I was waiting to see a psychiatrist. It was during this time that my brother mentioned taking up running as a possible solution. Something rang a bell inside me when I heard this suggestion because suicide is an attempt to escape. You feel like running screaming away from your life, and from yourself. With running, I suddenly saw the opportunity to do just that. However, I would naturally choose a route that would bring me back home again.

antidepressants

I was given antidepressants to help me sleep. And after ½ a year I finally got to see a psychiatrist, who also was a cognitive therapist. The first thing that she taught me was to take a bird’s eye view of my inner chaos. I learnt to analyse the situation and to separate things out into thoughts, feelings, body and behaviour. And I learnt to question the absolutes. Like, is it really true that I am a terrible mother? Am I sure that it wasn’t just today that I couldn’t find the right resources and energy reserves? And that I can try again tomorrow? That strategy is one that my partner and I still use a lot when the stupid thoughts start building up.

I made the decision to stop taking the pills when I started in therapy. I had a guilty conscience over taking them. I felt out of sorts and I didn’t want to refrain from beer or sex. However, during my recent difficult depression I decided to take the pills again. Because during this that time I could run 18 km during one run and still not feel better. And I could see that I had neither the time, nor the physique to be able to run until I felt better. The psychiatrist has been great at allowing me to accept the pills, and she gave me some advice: Don’t read the side effects. She just told me about them, and I have since happily forgotten what they were.

talk talk talk

Søren: “We have been good at talking to one another and at giving each other time and space. The family has to be a part of the process, the way out of the depression. As a partner, you have to be prepared to invest and believe in the relationship. However, you need commitment from both parties for it to work. Being in a relationship with a depressed person feels like having another child. You have to be the adult for the other adult, and also for the children. It’s hard to get everything done as the only adult in a family.
I think support is missing for the next of kin. Like the type of support that is available to family members of alcoholics. Many couples and families could be helped, if you as the husband or wife of the depressed person could call the psychiatrist and say, “I don’t understand her right now” or “What do I do now?” To help your children you need help to talk about the problems, to see the situation from a child’s perspective. It’s never easy but it’s especially hard if you have a child that finds it hard to use words to describe how they’re feeling.”

What works for you and your family?

 

I had to change my life in order to live with depression and anxiety. So my personal life is filled with runs of about 20km and 30km a week, and mindfulness: meditation and yoga giving me an awareness about my illness, my body and my feelings. I have also been given tools to see myself from the outside, and to accept and acknowledge the feelings and stupid thoughts that I may have, and can withstand them.

Most importantly of all, is that I have finally learnt to communicate clearly with my children, so they know what is going on.

children see and notice everything

slugt-af-slangenAugusta, who at that time was just three years old, can’t remember anything but panic attacks and one particular incident, which was a very intense experience for her: I had heard a podcast about children and incest that suddenly broke an emotional floodgate for me, which I couldn’t contain. I completely fell apart. My psychiatrist was on holiday so I called my doctor and my husband who had to drive me to the doctor because I was scared and not in a fit state to drive.

Unfortunately, Augusta saw me in a state of breakdown at the doctor’s, and she was anxious while we hurried to the psychiatric emergency unit. Fortunately, I was consciously aware enough of what was happening to me that I could communicate clearly to my girls. Before I went in, I said to them; “Something has broken inside my head. Like when you break your leg and you need to go to the emergency room. That’s where I am going now, and then I’ll come home again.” Every time we drive past the hospital today, my 3-year-old says, “Mum, that’s where you went to have your head fixed.”

from the child’s perspective

All of our experiences as a family have become this picture book where the depression has been given a shape – here as a snake. It is completely coincidental that it is that animal.

For my husband, my children, and myself this book has meant we have a way to speak about it, a common language for the depression.

At our house, it’s just called ‘the Snake’.

‘Is the Snake with you mum?’, Isabella might ask if she finds me on the floor. Or she might say, ‘the Snake has been in its basket for a while now, huh mum?’ just to say that I’ve been in a ‘normal’ mood for a long time. Little Augusta might also ask ‘Where is the Snake mum?’

The book has also meant that I have finally been able to tell them properly about what it is like to be depressed. They have been given a frame of reference that gives them knowledge, and knowledge leads to a sense of security. My strange behaviour has been demystified. From a child’s perspective.

The book is free to download and share!

Any feedback is very welcome – and questions as well! Thank you!

This book is for children with parents suffering of depression and anxiety, created to give children a voice on their feelings, experience and challenges when living with depressed parent/s.
The thoughts, feelings, and experience of the girl in the book is based on my own elderst daughter and her thoughts, feelings and worries during the period of depression and anxiety I suffered.
Having overcome a severe work stress related depression, I had learned so much about my disease and understood the impact it had on my children, that I was able to explain to them through drawings what was going on with mum.
These drawings gave such relief and insight to both my daughters, that I realized that the drawings could help other children in the same situation as well.
Enjoy!
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feedback, yes please

I would love to hear from you!

Did the book provide any relief for your children/family?

Please share your experience – and do share the link to the book as well.

Thanks.

The way that my family and I have experienced depression and anxiety, that it all happens all at once. The depressed person is one big chaos that the partner, workplace, children, parents and siblings all get drawn into. The chaos takes up a lot of space, and there isn’t room for anything else. The partner and children are constantly walking a fine line between hell breaking loose, or nothing happening whatsoever. They live with constant emotional stress, and don’t understand what is going on. Children especially are taken as emotional hostages.

The elder children’s experience

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For Isabella – who at that time was 10 years old – the unknowingness has been frightening. I sense that she knew something was wrong with me. That I am ill. I have often wished for spots to appear so that she could see the disease, so it was apparent. Because children only know what we tell them. Seen through their eyes, you’re completely normal, but at the same time, they sense clearly that you’re acting strange and out of sorts.

You’ve probably heard children say that the worst an adult can do is shout at them; it feels like being hit. For Isabella, my aggressive behaviour has been the most frightening aspect of the depression. Because she experienced my shouting and unfair, aggressive behaviour as something that would come out of the blue. It made her incredibly sad. She lived in constant fear of setting even one foot wrong, because then maybe mum would get really mad.

The consequence for the child

For Isabella my disease has meant, among other things, that she has become toilet-trained late, and that she has lived in a fantasy world. She has had a hard time concentrating in school and hasn’t been able to share her problems with us. The disease has also meant that Isabella is incredibly good at reading others, such as the unsaid things that pass between people. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the experience or age to handle what she observes.

In Isabella’s own words

“My mum’s illness is frightening in a strange way. It was scary when she shouted at me. I would get scared because it was like mum turning into a bear. It was strange that she would get angry so quickly. I was sad. I was always thinking about mum and about why she might be getting cross with me. I was scared that she would get angry. I would be more careful, because I was always worried that I’d do something wrong. I also felt bad that mum was feeling bad. I really liked the drawings in the book. Because they showed in a good way how I myself felt, how mum felt and how it was between mum, the Snake and me. Only then did I really understand wat was going on. Before then I didn’t understand anything.”

What have you experienced?

Do you recognize your child/children in above? Please share…

I interessen for at sætte mig ind i debatten om diagnosekulturen (iflg. Svend Brinkmann og Anders Petersen) og det Etiske Råds tematisering af emnet, gør jeg mig nogle tanker om min egen diagnose og mørket indeni mig.

hvad er en diagnose?

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Det kan ikke ses, et sted indeni er det præcist sådan. Hver dag.

Alle ved hvad en diagnose er, alligevel gjorde det et indtryk på mig at læse definitionen på det (Baggrundstekst: “Diagnosen som begreb og praksis”, Det Etiske Råd Januar 25, 2016)Diagnosesystemerne skal med andre ord understøtte ønsket om at skelne den syge fra den, der ikke er syg. Men jeg er da ikke syg! Er jeg? Nu har jeg været velfungerende de sidste 3 år. Nu hvor jeg skriver det, lyder det også lidt mærkeligt at omtale sig selv som velfungerende. Det jeg mener, er, at jeg udefra er lige så normal og rask, som du og andre (!).

mørke tanker

Naturligvis dukker mørket op hver gang, jeg har været syg med forkølelse eller influenza. Og der er også en grund til at mit liv, og vores samliv og familieliv er indrettet, som den er. Så jeg er da helt som alle andre…eller? Jeg burde da ikke have diagnosen mere?! Eller…jeg tør ikke spørge min mand (af frygt for at han bekymrer sig unødigt) om det er helt normalt eller om det er det, der adskiller en som mig med 3 depressioner bag mig fra jer andre? At jeg i baghovedet har en lyst til bare at græde eller lægge mig ned og give op!

er mørket forskellen?

Jeg genkender godt, at depressive udtryk er blevet en del af sproget i dag. At når vi har en trist dag, så “er vi lidt depressive i dag” og at nedtrykthed forveksles med depressive tanker. Det er det, der forvirrer mig nu, for hvad er forskellen på mit mørke og andre raske og normale mennesker, der ikke har en diagnose eller 3 depressioner bag sig? Min hverdag er god uden at være alt for skemabelagt. Jeg har en superdejlig mand, et godt sexliv, børn der trives og som jeg synes jeg har et åbent og ærligt forhold til. Jeg har arbejde, som jeg er helt almindelig glad for og en økonomi, som kører rundt. Jeg har alt. Alligevel er jeg på nippet til at lægge mig og ikke rejse mig igen, uden nogen særlig grund. Har alle det mørke i sig eller er det, det, der adskiller mig fra andre?