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Many college women are running on empty. In fact, 35 percent of female college students feel sad and hopeless, and 83 percent of college women are dieting. As a psychologist, I work with the best and brightest young college students, the future movers and shakers. Unfortunately many of them are too pre-occupied with counting calories to truly enjoy their college years.
 
Caroline was on Thanksgiving Break her freshman year when her parents brought her to see me. Deep in denial, she seemed shocked when I told her she was struggling with anorexia. I also knew that deep down she was relieved someone could see her suffering underneath her façade of “everything is fine!” Caroline did not want to leave school to go to a treatment center, so she agreed to attend twice-weekly therapy sessions. She also agreed to work with a dietician to get her mind and body back to a healthy place.
 
Fearing the dreaded “freshman 15,” Caroline started a rigid diet the summer before school. Once on campus, her weight-anxiety went into full-bloom. She avoided meals with her sorority sisters -- and all other social activities that centered around food. Eschewing alcohol’s “empty calories,” she skipped the parties and focused instead on her studies. On paper she was doing great: straight A’s plus no extra weight gain. But her fear of fat had taken her to a very lonely, hungry place. Absent any semblance of a normal social life, college was becoming a danger to her physical and mental health.
 
Despite her intense fear of weight gain, she worked hard to follow the dietician’s food plan even though it seemed like a lot of food. When her anxiety increased, the “voice” of her eating disorder became louder: “Feeling out of control? Control your food and you will feel better!” But calorie deprivation led her to weakness, fatigue and irritability, and eventually more anxiety.
 
As she started to trust me and her dietician (as opposed to “believing” the lies of her eating disorder) she felt better physically and mentally. She was thinking clearer and had more energy and confidence. She was instructed to no longer weigh herself and to put faith in her “treatment team.” We promised if she followed the plan she would not get fat. Therapy focused on challenging her rigid beliefs, encouraging her to take risks, to speak up, to not worry so much about what others thought of her, and to embrace opportunities to “not be perfect.” She started telling her peers about her eating disorder which helped her feel less alone and “crazy.”
 
Lately, we’ve been exploring why she developed this problem in the first place. Much of it stems from her role in her family. Her parents had a contentious divorce when she was 4, which caused her mother anxiety and depression. Caroline was often pulled into the midst of her parents’ conflicts since her parents refused to communicate directly with each other. She was a bright, sensitive child who wanted both parents to be happy. She thought by having no needs (“I don’t even need food! I can live on air!”) she would lift some of the burden from her stressed family. Unconsciously she believed if she was absolutely perfect, she could reduce the conflict to a manageable level.
 
Through therapy she has learned to speak up about her needs and feelings. As she finds her voice, she’s discovering a budding sense of herself separate from her limited role inside the family. She has started to like what she is discovering. At the end of her freshman year, I sense a new confidence blossoming in her.
 
People who develop eating disorders tend to be very compassionate and sensitive people. Providing them with a forum for helping others gives meaning to their struggle and helps to solidify a new identity based around recovery, as opposed to an identity based on being “the girl with the eating disorder.” As Caroline moves away from her eating disorder, we will be exploring ways that she can reach out to her peers who may be struggling.
 
I will share more of Caroline’s story as it develops.
 
The Eating Disorders Information Network (EDIN), hosts the annual Merrick’s Walk & Fun Run in memory of Merrick Ryan, a high achieving college student who died of anorexia in the middle of her sophomore year of college. The tag-line for the event was “I Will Not Run on Empty.” EDIN implements school-based programs focused on preventing the problems that lead to depression and eating disorders, such as isolation, competitiveness, and perfectionism. These programs are creating a new generation of resilient young women who are resisting unhealthy pressures. Visit www.MyEdin.org to find out how to bring these programs to your schools. 
 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


 

© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2009

It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year--but not if negative emotions take hold of your holidays. So let's be honest. The holidays are packed with stress, and therefore provoke tons of depression and anxiety. But there is hope. Whether I'm fretting about something as trite as stocking stuffers or as complicated as managing difficult family relationships, I apply a few rules that I've learned over the years. These 9 rules help me put the joy back into the festivities--or at least keep me from hurling a mistletoe at Santa and landing myself on the "naughty" list.

 

Expect the Worst

Now that's a cheery thought for this jolly season. What I'm trying to say is that you have to predict bad behavior before it happens so that you can catch it in your holiday mitt and toss it back, instead of having it knock you to the floor. It's simple math, really. If every year for the last decade, Uncle Ted has given you a bottle of Merlot, knowing full well that you are a recovering alcoholic and have been sober for more years than his kids have been out of diapers, you can safely assume he will do this again. So what do you do? Catch it in your "slightly-annoyed" mitt. (And maybe reciprocate by giving him a cheese basket for his high cholesterol.)

 

Remember to "SEE"

No, I don't mean for you to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. SEE stands for Sleeping regularly, Eating well, and Exercising. Without these three basics, you can forget about an enjoyable (or even tolerable) holiday. Get your seven to nine hours of sleep and practice good sleep hygiene: go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up in the same nightgown with the same man at the same time in the same house every morning.

Eating well and exercise are codependent, at least in my body, because my biggest motivator for exercising is the reduction in guilt I feel about splurging on dessert. Large quantities of sugar or high fructose corn syrup can poison your brain. If you know your weak spot--the end of the table where Aunt Judy places her homemade hazelnut holiday balls--then swim, walk, or jog ten extra minutes to compensate for your well-deserved treat. Another acronym to remember during the holidays is HALT: don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

 

Beef Up Your Support

If you attend Al-Anon once a week, go twice a week during the holidays. If you attend a yoga class twice a week, try to fit in another. Schedule an extra therapy session as insurance against the potential meltdowns ahead of you. Pad yourself with extra layers of emotional resilience by discussing in advance specific concerns you have about X, Y, and Z with a counselor, minister, or friend (preferrably one who doesn't gossip).

In my life with two young kids, this means getting extra babysitters so that if I have a meltdown in Starbucks like I did two years ago--before I knew the mall was menacing to my inner peace--I will have an extra ten minutes to record in my journal what I learned from that experience.

 

Avoid Toxic People

This one's difficult if the toxic people happen to be hosting Christmas dinner! But in general, just try your best to avoid pernicious humans in December. And if you absolutely must see such folks, then allow only enough time for digestion and gift-giving. Drink no more than one glass of wine in order to preserve your ability to think rationally. You don't want to get confused and decide you really do love these people, only to hear them say something horribly offensive two minutes later, causing you to storm off all aggravated and hurt. (This would also be a good time to remember Rule #1.)

 

Know Thyself

In other words, identify your triggers. As a highly sensitive person (as described in Elaine Aron's book, "The Highly Sensitive Person"), I know that my triggers exist in a petri dish of bacteria known as the Westfield Annapolis Mall. Between Halloween and New Years, I won't go near that place because Santa is there and he scares me with his long beard, which holds in its cute white curls every virus of every local preschool. Before you make too many plans this holiday season, list your triggers: people, places, and things that tend to trigger your fears and bring out your worst traits.

 

Travel With Polyester, Not Linen

By this, I DO NOT mean sporting the polyester skirt with the red sequinned reindeer. I'm saying that you should lower your standards and make traveling as easy as possible, both literally and figuratively. Do you really want to be looking for an iron for that beautiful linen or cotton dress when you arrive at your destination? I didn't think so--life's too short for travel irons.

I used to be adamantly opposed to using a portable DVD player in the car to entertain the kids because I thought it would create two spoiled monsters whose imaginations had rotted courtesy of Disney. One nine-hour car trip home to Ohio for Christmas, I cried uncle after six hours of constant squabbling and screaming coming from the back seat. Now David and Katherine only fight over which movie they get to watch first. If you have a no-food rule policy for the car, I'd amend that one during the holidays as well.

 

Make Your Own Traditions

Of course, you don't need the "polyester" rule if you ban holiday travel altogether. That's what I did this year. As the daughter/sister who abandoned her family in Ohio by moving out east, it has always been my responsibility to travel during the holidays. But my kids are now four and six. I can't continue to haul the family to the Midwest every year. We are our own family. So I said this to my mom a few weeks ago: "It's very important that I spend time with you, but I'd like to do it as a less stressful time, like the summer, when traveling is easier." She wasn't thrilled, but she understood.

Making your own tradition might mean Christmas Eve is reserved for your family and the extended family is invited over for brunch on Christmas Day. Or vice versa. Basically, it's laying down some rules so that you have better control over the situation. As a people-pleaser who hates to cook, I make a better guest than host, but sometimes serenity comes in taking the driver's seat, and telling the passengers to fasten their seatbelts and be quiet.

 

Get Out of Yourself

According to Gandhi, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others. But that doesn't necessarily mean holding a soup ladle. Since my name and the word "kitchen" have filed a restraining order on each other, I like to think there are a variety of ways you can serve others.

Matthew 6:21 says "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." In other words, start with the things you like to do. For me, that is saying a rosary for a depressed Beyond Blue reader, or visiting a priest-friend who needs encouragement and support in order to continue his ministry, or helping talented writer friends get published. I'd like to think this is service, too, because if those people are empowered by my actions, then I've contributed to a better world just as much as if I had dished out mashed potatoes to a homeless person at a shelter.

 

Exercise Your Funny Bone

"Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods," says a Japanese proverb. So, if you're with someone who thinks he's God, the natural response would be to laugh! But seriously folks, research shows that laughing is good for your health. And, unlike exercise, it's always enjoyable! The funniest people in my life are those who have been to hell and back, bought the t-shirt, and then accidentally shrunk it in the wash. Humor kept them alive--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Remember, with a funny bone in place--even if it's in a cast--everything is tolerable.

 

Therese Borchard writes the daily blog, "Beyond Blue," on Beliefnet.com and is author of  "Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes" and "The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit." She also moderates the online depression support group, Beyond Blue, which was just voted as Beliefnet's Top Support Group. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.

Mar 02

When my mom and dad split up, I was 26, newly married, a brand new mother and totally ill equipped to emotionally support either one of them, much less understand the mental turmoil the break up of their 37-year marriage would cause.     

 

From my perspective, they were better off being apart so they didn’t have to despise one another under the same roof.  No more tension, no more fighting.  Ok, folks, let’s move on, start a new life and be happy again!

 

My naïveté back then makes me cringe now.  

 

My dad floundered and seemed to have trouble putting one foot in front of the other; my mom, who had never lived alone—ever—took an emotional nosedive.   My pep talks made no difference.  Nor did all my prodding and cajoling to convince them to engage in life again—learning a new hobby, taking vacations, meeting new friends.

 

To get me off their back, they’d tip toe into new activities slowly, only to retreat back into their grief and sadness as soon as I wasn’t looking. 

 

At that time, I had no idea divorce was the second most stressful event, topped only by the death of a spouse.  I also didn’t have a clue that the stress of divorce can trigger anxiety and depression

 

When Therese Borchard’s father left her mom, it turned her mom’s world upside down.  Therese watched her mom as she coped and ultimately thrived after her divorce was final and put together this very practical, very helpful list of 12 tips to prevent the devastation of depression that often accompanies divorce:

 

 

1. Lose yourself in a book (or an afghan).

I think the one thing that kept my mom sane the years after she and my dad split were the 75 afghans she knitted for me, my sisters, and anyone who got married during between 1982 and 1985. The mundane, repetitive gesture, she told me later, kept her brain on the loop that she was making with her big plastic needles, away from all the sadness in her heart. Swimming is the same type of activity for me. I count each lap, so if I start to ruminate too much, I lose track. For an OCD gal who needs to burn calories, it’s a tragedy when that happens. A friend of mine who divorced last year said that losing herself in a juicy novel was a helpful diversion. Or I guess you could also watch reality TV, although I’d hate for you to sink that low.

2. Change your routine.

The year after my dad left, a counselor recommended to my mom that she go back to work. So she took a part-time job as a hostess at a nice restaurant downtown, working lunch hour. The job forced her to smile, meet new people, and be part of a fresh environment—all of which helped her to get out of her head for several hours of the day and gave her hope that there was new life out there, that her life wasn’t over just because her marriage had ended.

3. Plan, plan, and plan some more.

In her book Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, psychotherapist Roberta Temes suggests a few activities that are therapeutic during bereavement (and divorce is a kind of bereavement). One of them is planning. That is, planning everything. I know this works because I did it during the really low months of my severe depression. I planned when I would eat my bagel, when I would shower, and when I would relieve my bladder. I planned when I’d write my distorted thoughts into a journal, and when I would try to count my blessings. All the planning cut down on my ruminations. You think I’m crazy? Temes writes:

Use a calendar to make your plans. Plan when you will go somewhere new. Plan when you will buy yourself a new outfit. Plan to learn to knit and decide when you’ll go to the yarn store. Plan to go fishing and call a buddy who likes to fish. Or, learn how to frame a favorite photo and plan when you will venture to a craft shop or to an art supply store. Plan to repair something in your house and plan to go to Home Depot or to Lowe’s or to your local hardware store. Planning activities for your future will help you reach that future.

4. Clean out and organize.

A productive way to grieve the end of a relationship is to clean out the drawers, closets, and other corners of your house that may still contain your spouse’s possessions, and replace them with new stuff. Your stuff. You don’t have to do it all at once, of course. As I said in the last point, you can plan each stage of the excavation. By manually picking up each item, recalling certain memories, and ever so tidily boxing them up for either him, Goodwill, or bulk pickup, you are acknowledging and bidding adieu to the marriage, while creating a space in your life for something new.

5. Preserve your energy.

In her book, Ready to Heal, Kelly McDaniel urges people who have just ended a relationship to preserve their energy, to avoid cluttering their days with too much activity. She writes, “The energy it takes to endure withdrawal [of a relationship] is equivalent to working a full-time job. Truthfully, this may be the hardest work you’ve ever done. In addition to support from people who understand your undertaking, you must keep the rest of your life simple. You need rest and solution.” You feel tired? You’re working two jobs … that’s why!

6. Defy the stereotype.

Mary Jo Eustace will make any reader, but especially those who have lived through divorce, laugh out loud with her memoir, Divorce Sucks. I loved the part where she challenges the divorcee to debunk the hurtful stereotypes of divorced people. Writes Eustace: “Our marriages didn’t work, so people assume we don’t quite work. And this is why it’s very important for those of us who have survived the hell of divorce to start redefining what the landscape of the divorced woman [or man] can look like. People can have us over for dinner, even a couple’s dinner party, and we promise we won’t seduce anyone’s husband or dance on the table, expressing ourselves through modern movement and our ability to do the splits.”

7. Take the high road.

My friend and mentor Mike constantly reminds me that it’s better to be happy or at peace than it is to be right. So, as I’m loaded and ready to fire off a nasty email to some jerk who could potentially make my life hell, I will stop and consider Mike’s pearl of advice. Then I drag the email over to the cute trashcan on my monitor.

I have no doubt your ex-spouse is responsible for a mother load of terrible things, legal pad after legal pad of inexcusable grievances you could report to your attorney. And you would be absolutely entitled to seek revenge (or even justice) for his all of his misjudgments. But is it worth it? That’s the question you might need to stick to your bathroom mirror on a sticky note. A friendly divorce isn’t necessarily a fair divorce. Which one do you want?

 

Want to learn more?
 Check out these five additional ways to beat depression after a divorce.

For more blogs about this topic, click on the tags below.

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Therese J. Borchard writes the daily Beliefnet.com blog Beyond Blue (voted by Psych Central as one of the Top 10 Depression Blogs) and moderates Group Beyond Blue, the Beliefnet Community online support group for depression. Her latest memoir “Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes” was published January 2010. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.

 



Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.

 

For more Diana Keough articles, click here.



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©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010


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Mar 18

I've had issues sleeping since my senior year of high school. I was always an achiever, a straight-A student and hard worker. But, on top of that, I was also a people pleaser, and one of those types that always feels the need to be "on." That combination gives you plenty to worry about at night when you'd rather be getting some proverbial Zs.


When the occasional sleepless night turned into more than that, I began worrying maybe there was something medically wrong with me. This fueled more worry, more anxiety and more stress. But, my sleep issues always eventually seemed to right themselves temporarily, so I convinced myself I was fine--just an "amped up" person.


What I learned is that insomnia, anxiety and depression are closely linked. They all stem from off-kilter brain chemistry that is often treated by serious prescription drugs that tend to numb, rather than cure.


A decade after my first sleep struggles, a friend introduced me to a naturopathic doctor. (Which I thought mean "witch doctor.") Intrigued, I figured it couldn't hurt to see what she had to say. I liked that better than the alternative of taking prescription sleep aids (which have a tendency to be addictive.) 


As I mentioned in Part I, her first order of business was to assess my morning routine. She scoffed at my breakfast log for the week, consisting of pop tarts, sugared cereal and white toast. Assigning me to eat protein in the mornings was huge for me, and got me started on the right track.


I needed more help than that. My naturopath did a hormone and brain chemistry test and unlike myself, she wasn't surprised at the outcome at all. Turns out, my adrenals (the fight or flight mechanisms inside of our brains) were haywire. At nighttime, when things like cortisol are supposed to be fading out, my brain was in panic mode. "With cortisol levels this high, there's no way anyone could sleep!"  she told me. The fact I was sleeping at all was a bit of a miracle.


Her treatment plan for me was pretty simple. Some supplements for the morning and the evening. Both high in B vitamins, and including amino acids to encourage calming serotonin production in the evening and energy-providing cortisol during the mornings. While I'm still a night owl, mornings have become at least tolerable for me. 


After about two weeks, I began to experience more consistent, more restful sleep. I would wake up feeling refreshed, and I found myself way more productive in the morning. By bedtime I would become drowsy, and had little trouble falling asleep. My sleep schedule naturally became more regular, and waking up early wasn't nearly as hard. And my overall mood, attitude, etc. were vastly improved.


My research on the topic taught me that B vitamins are a critical component to sleep and adrenal health. Those vitamins (as well as the amino acids I was taking) are precursors to our bodies naturally creating the chemicals they need to sleep at night and be alert in the morning. 


Because insomnia, anxiety and depression are so closely linked, many of these principals apply to all three. The brain, with a little help from vitamins and supplements, can heal itself, rather than depend on prescription drugs to ease the symptoms.


My conclusion? While I'm glad to be sleeping better, I'm also amazed at our bodies' ability to heal themselves. And I'm grateful for doctors who approach medicine holistically, instead of just treating the symptoms!


Mar 18

Sleep should be easy. You just lay there, and you should fall asleep. But for me, and probably a lot of people like me, sleep has been one of the hardest things for me to do well.


I guess when you realize that instinctually, sleep makes you 100% vulnerable to prey, it makes it easier to understand why stress would prevent us from getting a few Zs.


As I mentioned in Part I, addressing my diet and adding protein for breakfast was a great first start. In Part II, seeking a naturopathic doctor to allow nature to help me sleep better helped me make huge strides.


But, the underlying issue for me was rooted in my personality. An overachieving people-pleaser, I feel the need to constantly prove myself and my worth. To constantly succeed and never fail. That's what keeps me up at night.


Getting my brain chemistry back on target was essential. This is often done medically with prescriptions. But, I liked the natural approach of supplements, vitamins and diet. 


Despite getting my brain chemistry back on track, I would have an occasional relapse in my poor sleep. And I started to realize that no matter how high my serotonin levels were, or how much cortisol was curbed at night, there would never be a shortage of things to stress me out, worry me, or fight me for sleep.


As a business owner, stressors are never in short supply. Bidding on projects. Sending invoices. Hiring subcontractors. Paying exorbitant taxes. CLIENTS. Any given night, there could be as many as 27 huge potential stressors just for my business. That's not counting family, friend and personal stressors. 


Every stressor in my life seemed to have one thing in common. The question "What if?" 


"What if taxes are double what they were last year?" "What if my 401K balance isn't high enough?" "What if I can't meet that deadline?" "What if not sleeping makes me get dark circles under my eyes?"


Then it dawned on me. These "what if" stressors become much more stressful if I allow my mind to fantasize about them. And, they're almost always out of my control, and unpredictable.


I decided it's time to take control of these "what ifs." To force myself not to worry about them so as to diminish their apparent size. Even if it means consciously forcing my brain away from the topic when it pops into my head, it's a start. 


Another big thing for me is consciously telling myself that my achievements, successes and failures, accolades and accomplishments are not ME. At least not the central part of me. Each of us should experience the freedom that even an abysmal failure means we're still a worthwhile person. We're loved. We're talented. And we've got lots to offer. That's hard for me to remember.


Two conclusions. First, don't allow things out of your control to stress you, and don't fantasize about them. Second, remember your value is separate from your accomplishments. There's way more to you than that. 


Now go get some sleep.

I was asked by Diana Keough of ShareWIK.com to write about the topic of living with bipolar without letting my mood disorder define me. 


"A label is a mask life wears," writes Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., one of the first pioneers in the mind, body, health field. "Labeling sets up an expectation of life that is often so compelling we can no longer see things as they really are. . . . In my experience, a diagnosis is an opinion and not a prediction. What would it be like if more people allowed for the presence of the unknown, and accepted the words of their medical experts in the same way? The diagnosis is cancer. What that will mean remains to be seen."


I used to think that meant that I shouldn't call myself bipolar, that I should stay away from hospital psychiatric programs, therapists, and head doctors; that I shouldn't take antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or any kind of sedative; and that I should rely on nothing but my inner strength to carry me forward through the hard days.


Having tried that, and failed (really, really failed), I have come to a new understanding of that quote. For those of us with chronic illnesses that we can't imagine away, I believe Dr. Remen simply encourages us to make decisions as individuals, not necessarily as bipolars, or diabetics, or cancer victims. We will always have to be mindful of our diagnoses, of course, in our relationships and work ventures. Because we need to surround ourselves with supportive people who will undergird our recovery, and we must maneuver our careers in ways that will aid our health.


But first and foremost we are individuals, not bipolars or sick people.


This is probably one of the hardest task for me as a person who struggles with a few kinds of mood disorders ... to know when I can temporarily forget that I have a power failure in my prefrontal cortex (part of the frontal lobes of the brain), and that my amygdala (fear center) has a propensity to bounce up and down like Tigger in Whinnie the Pooh ... when to do something really risky--like have a baby or sign a contract promising to deliver two to four blogs a day for a year--and when to rein in all opportunities and play it safe.


I never really know until after the decision is made.


I suppose it's an exercise in saying the Serenity Prayer: trying to identify the things I can't change, the things I can, and asking God for a little assistance in telling them apart. In her book, "The Wisdom to Know the Difference," Eileen Flanagan writes about how we can better live the Serenity Prayer ... or navigate more gracefully through the thorny territory between our diagnoses and our opportunities. Much of it, she says, comes from accepting ourselves: with our cotton mouths and extra pounds, with our hypersensitivity to noise and stimulation, with our low threshold for stress. She writes:


Accepting life's flat tires seems to be easier for people who have accepted themselves. If you know who you are, what you are capable of, and what you are called to do, you are much less likely to waste your time and energy sweating the small stuff or even the big stuff you cannot change. You are less likely to project your uncomfortable feelings onto other people, instead of facing your feelings and learning what they have to teach you. You are less likely to waste time trying to change other people and more likely to influence them with a positive example.


I'd like to think she's right ... that the more we accept ourselves with our limitations, the more freedom we feel in living as individuals, not merely as bipolars, diabetics, or cancer victims, and the better we can distinguish the things that we can't change from the things that we can.


Here's to trying anyway.


Therese Borchard writes the daily blog, "Beyond Blue," on Beliefnet.com and is author of  "Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes" and "The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit." She also moderates the online depression support group, Beyond Blue, which was just voted as Beliefnet's Top Support Group. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

When I was a brand-new teacher decades ago, I rarely noticed a child experiencing depression and/or anxiety.   

           

That’s changed. Now, I have many students who are clearly struggling; some, who are under a doctor’s care.             

 

One of my students has been suffering from depression for a couple of years.  Every so often, she looks sad, disengages from her friends, and the quality of her schoolwork goes down.   Sometimes, she develops facial and neck ticks.   I also have a male student who is four years younger.  He is a talented artist but suffers from bouts of anger and sadness stemming from his depression.  He struggles to convey his emotions and gets really frustrated if he feels rushed or made to conform.  In my art class, he rarely follows the intent of the lesson.  Instead, he uses my instruction as a jumping off point or the place from which to go completely the opposite direction.   When I let myself, I can get really frustrated with him.   


But then I remember my own history.   One of the reasons I think God placed me in the role of teacher is that I can so easily identify with my students.  Anxiety and I go way back.  


I had my first anxiety attack at age 12 and then suffered with them for several months during my junior year of high school.  I had enormous trouble sleeping, eating (I could easily lose five pounds in a couple of days), sitting still, focusing on school work, and a host of other symptoms that went unaddressed by any of my teachers.  Not that they didn’t care; they probably didn’t notice and if they did, certainly didn’t know what to say to me. 

 

After spending time in therapy during several key points in my life, I learned to deal with my triggers and symptoms, and learned to embrace the roller coaster that comes from this condition. 

So I know how anxiety feels and can sympathize with depression

 

Whenever I notice one of my students struggling, I simply go out of my way to give them extra special attention.  I want my students to know that I am an adult who gets it, who knows how they feel and is willing to help. 

 

I can’t fix them, but I can help them to understand they are normal, not crazy; it’s more than likely that I “get” whatever is bothering them.  I am also very open about my experience.  Suffering from depression or anxiety shouldn’t be a black mark on you and the shame one may feel only heightens the problem. 

 

Recently one of my students told me she was feeling funny, like her throat felt dry.  She had just come in from recess so I thought she was thirsty and out of breath.  Later she said she was still feeling weird.  I took a good look at her and after asking a couple of questions, thought that she was having a mild anxiety attack.  She told me she was worried about her brother who was out of school that day having a medical procedure done.  I spent a few minutes helping her get her breathing under control and acknowledging her concerns.  Once she was breathing more evenly, we called her mom to find out how her brother was doing. 

Turns out, this was not the first time she experienced this sensation.  We talked about what was going on chemically in her body and that controlling her breathing would really help.  The following week she came to tell me of a personal success she experienced over the weekend when she got too nervous but was able to get herself through the problem.

 

Last week, this same student’s father was having minor surgery.  Mom emailed me the day before to let me know so that I could have a heads-up if my girl had any problems.  This time she made it through the day without any issues.  She did talk about her dad and expressed her concern but she held things in prospective and felt confident with her ability to cope. 

 

As teachers train to become professional educators, none of the required courses fully prepare us for dealing with mental health issues with the students.  So it is vitally important that parents and educators work together to make sure children get the help they need.

 

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010    

            


A core belief of depression is not only that “Life sucks,” but “It Will Always Be This Way.”  This hopelessness can lead to suicide.


That’s why I’m so grateful to the folks who are reaching out to gay youth with the “It Gets Better” message. Started by Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who spoke openly about his struggles growing up gay, the message to “hang in there” past the pain is simple but profound.  The “It Gets Better” message is at the core of psychological resilience.


I recall my mom giving me that message when I was a kid by repeatedly counseling me, “Tomorrow this will be behind you and you will be looking back on it!”  I have used this belief to calm myself through anxieties throughout my lifetime.  

Many of my therapy clients were not so lucky.  


Their parents did not give them life survival skills because they were too caught up in their own pain.  My clients-as-kids dared not imagine a brighter future; life was about minute-to-minute survival.  Fantasizing about a happier time was a luxury they could not afford.  Keeping expectations low protected them from being blind-sided by more disappointment.  Why set yourself up, when the other shoe always drops?  


This adaptive survival strategy becomes a problem when they’ve grown up, escaped their dysfunctional families and built loving homes.  They cannot allow themselves to see and appreciate how far they’ve come, to experience joy in the present, nor to dream.  Expecting to suffer, they make sure that they do, even if it is of their own making.  Plagued by chronic anxiety, they still anticipate the worst.  They may call themselves “cautious” or “realistic,” but this life-stance can morph into chronic negativity and even paranoia. 


I use a powerful imagery exercise with these clients. Here’s how it goes:


Close your eyes and connect to a recent moment when you actually DID feel good, even if it was fleeting.  Now turn up the volume on that moment and really EXPERIENCE it.  Then, while holding onto that feeling, imagine yourself walking back into the past, down a long hallway with many doors.  Pick a door and walk through.  You’ll see a vision of a child in the distance, sitting in front of your childhood home.  As you get closer, you notice that the child is a younger version of you.  Sit down beside that child and let them know, “I’m from your future, and It Gets Better.”  This child has been waiting for your arrival, waiting to hear from you.  The child has been wanting to share the pain they’ve been experiencing, so you just listen as the child shares their pain and sadness and anger.  After a while, pick her up and carry her with you away from the house, through the door and back into the Here and Now.   


Often a person who has experienced a painful childhood is reluctant to go back and greet this child-part of herself.  She may say, “That’s ancient history. It doesn’t affect me now. Why go back and feel all that pain again?”  


Far from “not being affected” by our histories, in fact, that CHILD may be running the show (like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz).  The kid-part can lead us into poor relationships and bad career choices. She may push love away, or fuel deep sadness, uncontrolled rages, gripping addictions or paralyzing anxieties. 


Sometimes the reluctance to travel back in time is really because deep down she believes she was essentially a bad kid and deserved the poor treatment she received.  Or she fears that if she connects to that kid, she’ll feel burdened and drained by her incessant needs and demands. 


In fact, by re-connecting to and embracing your child-part, and letting yourself know that this time you will be heard and cared for properly, you may start to feel more whole… and more hopeful.  When the kid-you hears “It Gets Better,” the adult-you may be able to actually relax and experience some childlike joy again. 


Re-connection and hope will get you through…

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

 

 

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While sweating profusely on the elliptical and reading The New York Times, I stumbled upon an article that only added further credibility to my belief in the concept of exercise and sweat equity.  People are STILL searching for the Magic Pill for losing weight and loving themselves and their bodies, I thought.  Really??!!!

 

Enter “Bridalplasty,” the latest installment of Reality TV on “E” in which the contestants are a group of engaged women who ‘duke it out’ for the grand prize of reconstructive surgery and their dream, “Life of the Rich and Famous” wedding. Gone are the days of bridal showers, one of the episodes features an “injectibles” party!

 

The article explains that little is mentioned during the series about going to the gym and the sweat investment in preparing oneself for one of the biggest days in a woman’s life.  This is more about ways of slicing and dicing your body Heidi Montag style. As I always say to my clients, “And in 6 months later, where do you suppose these women will be?!”

 

I’m not the only professional speaking up about the misguided and unethical quality of this show.  The article quoted Dr. Gayle Gordillo, associate professor of surgery at Ohio State University, in an interview by ABC News that according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ code of ethics, they were “prohibited from giving procedures away as a prize for a contest. It totally undermines the doctor-patient relationship.”  Even the professionals who supposedly cater to this target population have a problem with it.

 

Here’s my best advice in order to avoid sabotaging your success in losing weight:

 

Rule #1: Never use an event or a person other than yourself as your motivator for losing weight.

This is a set up because once the occasion is over, so goes your resolve.

The motivation has to come from within and it has to be done for YOU alone!

 

The real reality is that there’s no magic, no shortcuts, just your own process which requires energy, hard work, plus continuous and sustained effort. Furthermore, there’s the learning curve factor—that is, making mistakes and learning from them so you can make lifelong behavioral changes and different choices the next time you’re faced with the same or a similar situation.  For example, let’s say you went to a party not having eaten much all day and begin drinking and eating and by the end of the evening, you feel stuffed, have no idea how much your ate or drank and the icing on the “proverbial cake” is that you go home and berate yourself and your body for all you ingested.  Add a large dose of self loathing and you have a recipe for unhappiness.

 

First of all, one main rule of thumb: Never go anyplace overly hungry!


That is no way to take care of yourself, that’s a set up for overeating & overdrinking.  Have a high protein snack like a turkey & cheese roll up or a protein bar before going to the party and know what your alcohol limit is before you enter into the Unconscious Buzzed Zone.  This is where the learning curve comes in.  Then the next time you go to a party, family dinner, or an event you will have learned that you need to check in with and listen to your body’s internal signals. You’ll save yourself from a hangover, extra pounds and a heavy dose of negative self talk! No need for a Magic Pill-the real magic is in learning to trust your body and learn its language. And remember to exercise.

 

Like diets, trips to the spa, eating only fat-free, gluten free or carb free foods, Bridalplasty is just another way of giving women the false hope in another quick fix and the message that if you have a perfect body, you’ll live happily ever after.

 

I can hear Billy Joel faintly crooning, “I love you just the way you are.”...

 

 

Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction.  She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.  To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.comShe is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other Allyn St. Lifer articles, here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

The holidays are over. You survived. But a lingering feeling of sadness remains. Is it your grief?  Have you become clinically depressed?  Or is it a let-down after the holidays?


The holiday season certainly had plenty of stress - conflicted relationships, financial concerns, musings on previous holidays, and the noted absence of your loved one.  For some, the distress lifted when the holidays ended. Others may continue to feel unhappy or stressed even when they have enjoyed the holiday season.


While depression can include grief, grief can also mimic depression. It is important to recognize the characteristics of each. Grief encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors and feelings that are common after a loss, which makes differentiating between grief and depression challenging. Clinical depression refers to an illness of persistent sadness, and is not a normal reaction to the post-holiday blues.


Here are a few differences between grief and depression:


In normal grief, the griever responds to comfort and support. In clinical depression, the person may be unable to accept support.


When grieving, the bereaved exhibit feelings of sadness and emptiness. In clinical depression, there is often a pervasive sense of doom.


Those who are grieving can relate the depressed feelings to the loss of a loved. The person with clinical depression is unable to relate the feelings and experiences to a particular life event.


The bereaved may express guilt over a specific aspect of the loss. I should have or if only.  With clinical depression there is a generalized feeling of guilt.


If you are struggling during these shorter, gloomier days of winter, here are some suggestions to help promote healing:


·      Compile memories – if you took photos during the holiday, create a scrapbook, post them on Facebook, create a slideshow, frame and display them.

·      Make realistic resolutions or don’t make any resolutions.  They are not mandatory. But if you choose to make them, make sure the goals are reasonable and achievable.


·     Get some exercise – even a peaceful, quiet walk. Physical activity helps to relax you and releases your body’s feel-good hormones, endorphins.


·     Check frequently that you have balance in your life: rest, recreation, prayer/meditation and work.


If you are unable to shake these blues, or they become more intense, seek a professional counselor. 


You don’t have to grieve alone.  


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.  

 

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 



So you’re driving along in your life and the Check Engine light comes on.  You ignore it, maybe even put some tape over it.  You hear a clunking sound; you turn up the radio.  All of a sudden, the engine seizes up.  You can’t move forward.  It’s lonely and foggy out here. You look around and the reality hits you: “I am Depressed.”


The most insidious quality of Depression is that it steals the energy that allows you to do the things that will help you feel better. If you either cannot sleep or can’t get out of the bed, you are drained of the energy to be with people, feed yourself well and exercise.  Your self-worth drops; those things that brought you joy only cause numbness.


It’s time to get thee to a mechanic.


The recipe for recovery typically involves two parts (although not always!): Part 1: Medication, and Part 2: Psychotherapy. 


Some folks try to omit one ingredient.  One way to think of it is that sometimes Part 1 gives you the strength to do the things that you learn about in Part 2. 


As someone in charge of Part 2, I view Depression as a gift (if used properly!).  The gift is that it can be the impetus to reach out for help.  Seeking therapy is both a gift to yourself (how awesome to be able to talk about yourself for an hour) and a courageous act (you may make discoveries that push you out of your comfort zone.)  Sometimes the places where you get stuck are unconscious remnants from your childhood: exploring your patterns with an outside observer may help you move your life in a new direction.  

 

I have noticed a number of themes amongst my clients battling Depression.


Lack of connection.

An older single man found himself eating boxes of cookies every night to soothe his Depression. His alcoholic mother had not filled his emotional tank when he was a kid; as an adult he had trouble comforting himself when he was alone. A former alcoholic himself with 20 years of sobriety, he was encouraged through therapy to re-started attending AA meetings each morning.  He made breakfast dates and dinner dates. He plugged his friends’ numbers into his cell phone and scrolled through his address book when he felt lonely (instead of hitting the cookies). Over time his Depression lifted as he internalized the awareness that he was loved and an important part of the web of human existence.


Lack of meaning.

A middle aged woman had spent 20 years raising her kids. When they left home, she cared for her sick mother. When her mother decided to move in with my clients’ brother, my client became severely depressed. In therapy she realized that her life had lost its purpose: to care for others. She realized that volunteering at the local children’s hospital could meet that need.  It helped her realize that she mattered, and lit up her heart when the hospitalized children smiled at her. 

    

A stalled grief process.

A single woman who had struggled to find a healthy romantic relationship lost her father to cancer. He had been her sole source of unconditional love, as her mother was critical and judgmental.  Left without her father’s love, her grief morphed into Depression.  She felt paralyzed month after month; she withdrew from her friends and comforted herself with her dogs, TV and food.  As she spoke in therapy about her father, she realized that the way to honor his legacy of unconditional love was to give that love away.  Rather than waiting for a man to love her, she started exploring the possibility of adopting a child. This re-energized her and gave her father’s loss meaning.    

    

Anger turned inwards.

One woman became suicidally depressed after 40 years of tolerating her emotionally abusive husband.  She feared speaking up because he could get “so mean.” In our sessions, she realized that painful experiences in her childhood had taught her to please others and caused her to believe that she was helpless to change bad situations (hence, her decision to end her life rather than speak up!).  She learned in therapy that she had a right to express her dissatisfaction in her marriage.  Her husband attended some sessions, and her new assertiveness changed the dynamics in their marriage. He learned to listen and not interrupt; she learned to tolerate his insensitivity and discovered she had a thicker skin than she realized. As she found her voice, her Depression abated and their marriage improved.  

          

Not measuring up.

A teenage boy wanted to die.  He’d just seen the roster for the school’s football team and he had not made the cut.  His family lived for football, and his parents had spent the past year talking about his try-outs for the upcoming season.  When he didn’t make the team, he was devastated at having disappointed his parents. But when his parents responded with support instead of disdain, he felt relieved. When the coaches encouraged him to switch to a new sport, the cloud of Depression lifted.  His life wasn’t over, it was just turning in an unexpected direction.  

      

Unexpressed creativity.

A 40-something wife had put her creative energy on hold for over 12 years; her husband’s job kept him away from home and caused her to act as a single mother. For years, she had neither the time nor energy to devote to her significant artistic talents. When she came to see me, she was binge eating and purging to medicate her Depression. When she demanded changes in her marriage, her husband was willing to make changes to his work situation.  This freed up time for her to pursue her creative pursuits.  Her brain chemistry changed when she was engaged in her art; she realized that she ignored this aspect of her psyche at her own peril!     

 

The well is dry.

A depressed nurse came for help.  While she loved caring for her patients, she was on-call 24/7. She gave and gave, but had no chance to fill her own cup: friends, yoga, exercise, sewing had all fallen by the wayside. She took a medical leave. She realized that she had difficulty setting boundaries in a number of areas in her life, especially with her mother. As she started to say “No,” she freed up energy for herself.  As she decided to shift her nursing career to one that accommodated a saner schedule, she felt more like herself again.  


So if your Check Engine light is on, ask yourself:


Ø Am I feeling disconnected?

Ø Is my life lacking meaning or purpose?

Ø Are there tears I need to shed over a loss?

Ø Is there anger I need to express? 

Ø Am I not measuring up to some fantasy ideal?

Ø Is my creativity stifled?

Ø Has my well run dry?


And if you need help finding the answers to these questions, your mechanic has an open bay.    


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here


©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

Mar 21

It would be simpler to face crises one at a time, but often life presents challenges in a bundle.  An earthquake in Japan was bad enough.  A tsunami on top of that was unheard of.  And a nuclear disaster at the same time is too much for anyone to handle.  “Enough,” we say, as we throw up our hands.  “Dayenu!”


While these are major disasters on a global scale, many of us will face personal disasters that will change our lives forever.  Multiple disasters on a personal level, sometimes referred to as a perfect storm, may feel too difficult to bear, challenge our core beliefs and send us reeling.

Consider this chain of events:


First…you fell off your bike and hit your head on the pavement.

Typical symptoms of a concussion may include confusion, lack of concentration, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears and headaches.


Second…you began to lose interest in your usual activities.

If you are unable to find pleasure in activities you previously enjoyed, is this a result of your concussion or a symptom of depression?


Third…you feel restless, unfilled and unhappy.

It is often difficult to identify the source of a mood or anxiety disorder and medication does not always provide immediate relief from the painful symptoms.  “Am I confused because of the concussion,” you might ask, “or experiencing a personality change due to depression?”


Fourth…you have an extramarital affair.

You have the feeling that something is lacking in your life.  You are bored.  You have a need to change your life.  You want to escape.  Do you credit this to your concussion, depression, your anxiety, or to a mid-life crisis? 


Your spouse senses that something is not right.  You are touchy and easy to anger.  Your spouse is concerned about your mood change.  You are feeling out of sync in your marriage.


You want to get out of pain.  You are not able to identify your problem or the perfect solution.  You find solace in an affair.  “What am I doing?” you ask, “and why am I doing this?”


When a lack of intimacy in the marriage comes face to face with physical or emotional instability, the result can be devastating and the marriage may suffer.  The challenge here is to determine what is really happening to you.  The key is in identifying the source of your life’s malfunction. 


Your perfect storm may be made up of a multiple of disastrous events.  The outcome can send your life into a very different direction.


The perfect storm passes.  We take stock of our lives and our new situation.  As we survey the destruction we face the task, as will the citizens of Japan, of healing and rebuilding.  This will come with painful feelings of loss.  Those who will live with anger, blame and denial will continue to feel the pain.  Those who will face the new day with hope, compassion and acceptance will find a way to rebuild, embrace the future and enjoy their new lives.

 

Susanne Katz is the author of “A Woman’s Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce,” and an arts and living columnist for Atlanta Jewish News.com.  She is also a regular on ShareWIK.com.

 

 

More Susanne Katz here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

The older I get, the better I understand that gratitude is the root of a peaceful life. When I keep gratitude in the front of mind, things tend to flow more smoothly. I shoulder the inevitable bumps in the road with a kind of ease and grace that feels calm. Acceptance reigns. Life is good.

 

When my gratitude loses its foothold, it is often replaced by a kind of negative, defeated helplessness. I suspect I’m in good company, here, as our culture seems to have many idioms representing that perspective. “There is no rest for the weary. “ Or, “no good deed goes unpunished.” We wear the mantle of victim and woe all that is done “to” us. What an energy drain!

 

Now on any given day we are likely to fluctuate wildly from positive to negative and – if we are lucky – back again. That is typical. It’s the ratio between the two that warrants our attention.

 

When it comes to self-esteem, people need a ratio of five positives to outweigh a single negative or correction.  That shows how powerful our negativity can be. Give it an inch, and it’ll take a mile.  Seriously, a 5:1 ratio is a big stretch, even on a ‘gratitude’ day.

 

This spring I’ve fallen into that negative energy place all too frequently. It’s not that life has been tragic, it’s just been hard. We’ve been going through a difficult stretch – and I’ve become aware of a corresponding decrease in my positivity. In fact, I realize now that negativity has been creeping into my psyche, seemingly innocent enough until it has slowly taken over like kudzu squeezing the life out of all that lies in its path. Exhausted and overwhelmed, no amount of self-talk has been enough to counter what has felt like a constant barrage of negative external forces.

 

Tearing up at the slightest provocation for days, I finally wept on my husband’s shoulder, confessing, “I’m just not handling things well at all.” To his credit, he chose to play the strong, silent type – he neither confirmed nor denied my assertion.  He just held me while I released weeks (months?) of built-up tension and negativity.

 

Now, just three days later, I feel much better – lighter, more optimistic.  Nothing much has changed externally. Internally, I’ve reconnected to the one thing that has always enabled me to turn the tide: gratitude. No single issue has better helped me change my life for the good – and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

 

As an adult, I can’t wait for five accolades to fall from on high, balancing bad news from a doctor, or deadlines too numerous to meet. And I don’t WANT to sit around complaining when life gets hard. I have to take charge of the 5:1 ratio and create the positive messages myself. The best way I know to counter a negative vortex is to buoy myself with appreciation.

 

When it comes to dramatically shifting perspective and using gratitude to pull myself out of a really negative space, here’s What I Know™ (now):

 

1.     Awareness that I’ve gotten mired in the negative is key. I have to get enough perspective to see that things have spiraled downward. Once I’m aware, I can only wallow in it for so long before I get annoyed with myself and start to turn things around.

2.     I must start thinking – quite actively – about what makes me grateful or what brings me joy. It can be really little things, like the purple fabric on my favorite chair, or big things like my kids clearing the dinner dishes without being asked. I look for it everywhere I can, as often as possible.

3.     I focus on my health. Maybe I need exercise or sleep or just to pay attention to eating a little healthier. When I remember to be grateful for the health I do have, it’s easier to take better care of myself.

4.     Find tiny bits of time for things I know I love. For me, it might be taking the time to do just five minutes of yoga, or walk outside the front door for a moment of fresh air, or stop for a moment and smile at a loved one doing something really mundane. It’s not the length of time that matters, initially. It’s the act of stopping and doing something for myself.

5.     It may sound corny, but I play the “it could be worse” game – it doesn’t need to last for 18 holes, but a few short rounds can be really encouraging.

6.     Fall in love with my kids and/or spouse and/or loved one all over again. When I think about what it is about them that makes me smile – then I smile. It’s hard to stay negative with an authentic smile.

7.     Take a day off (I know, it sounds crazy to do this with deadlines pending, but usually a break makes for much more effective work). If not a day, find an evening, or an hour – little respites can feel decadent, and quite effective when I feel like I’m doing something for myself, no matter what!

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.

 

 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

Remember the Limbo?  That ever-present party dance that seems like a good idea when you have had too much to drink?  Being a child of the 60’s I suppose I speak from years of experience.  Like so many regrettable trends since then that silly dance just keep coming back.


Although we associate the Limbo with a time of unfettered celebration and well being, that age-old ritual bears a strange resemblance to the also relentless and recurring mood disorder – depression.  Perhaps I am the only one who sees it this way, but bear with me…having both professional and personal experience with the “doldrums,” I want to make my case.


First there is the obvious comparison that in both situations we are invested in going through motions that make no rational sense to us or to anyone around us.  We suspend all sense of reality. We adopt positions that are unnatural – not to mention, impossible. We ignore the natural order of things. We ignore the risks involved in continuing our pursuit of “being low” and expect others around us to adjust to our behavior.


One symptom of depression is that you do not care what others think of how you look.  Really, would we bend ourselves into such a position and try to move, less than gracefully, under that stick, if we cared what the onlookers thought or how we looked?  I think not!


Also, in both situations, we rely on others to set the bar for us. Both in the dance and in the emotion, someone else is telling us what we have to do and to what degree.  That damn stick has no standard set for how quickly it descends or if it is even. 


Along the same lines, when we are depressed, our loved ones and associates set demands that may not be easily attained or may be impossible. The expectations set for us seem to have no apparent justification for how demanding they may be or what time frame they allow.  “Just give me a little smile”…“Just eat a little”…Just get out of bed”… “just listen to me”…. “just pull out of it”….and we continue our “dance” regardless of what we hear from the sidelines.


In addition, the feeling of depression creates an all over aching feeling that seems to permeate every cell of our body. It hurts to move, to speak, or even breath sometimes. Remember how you felt when you were bent over backwards with all the weight on your feet, trying to keep your arms and shoulders from touching the ground?  That, too, creates an all-encompassing discomfort that can last for hours.


Depression often entails a rewinding tape...many times it is an irrational message that seems to be never ending.  Listen to that Limbo song again…see what I mean?


Now let’s look at the goal of Limbo. Do I really need to go into detail? When I am depressed I want to stay as close to the bottom as possible (and I think it’s true of what I see and hear when I am talking with someone who is depressed).  The lower I feel the less I have to deal with.


And the regrets after we return to a state of normalcy?  Well, let’s just say both situations have their share. What did we say that was hurtful?  Whom did we let down? How much damage have I done to my reputation?  Will I ever be able to face my family, friends, co-workers again? 


At least with our emotional depression we don’t have the embarrassing pictures to remind us of our condition.

 

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

The link to Jacque's Blog is http://cottageschool.org/jacquesblog/

To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cottage-School-Roswell-GA/163398465552?sk=app_106878476015645

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

So you’re driving along in your life and the Check Engine light comes on.  You ignore it, maybe even put some tape over it.  You hear a clunking sound; you turn up the radio.  All of a sudden, the engine seizes up.  You can’t move forward.  It’s lonely and foggy out here. You look around and the reality hits you: “I am Depressed.”


The most insidious quality of Depression is that it steals the energy that allows you to do the things that will help you feel better. If you either cannot sleep or can’t get out of the bed, you are drained of the energy to be with people, feed yourself well and exercise.  Your self-worth drops; those things that brought you joy only cause numbness.


It’s time to get thee to a mechanic.


The recipe for recovery typically involves two parts (although not always!): Part 1: Medication, and Part 2: Psychotherapy. 


Some folks try to omit one ingredient.  One way to think of it is that sometimes Part 1 gives you the strength to do the things that you learn about in Part 2. 


As someone in charge of Part 2, I view Depression as a gift (if used properly!).  The gift is that it can be the impetus to reach out for help.  Seeking therapy is both a gift to yourself (how awesome to be able to talk about yourself for an hour) and a courageous act (you may make discoveries that push you out of your comfort zone.)  Sometimes the places where you get stuck are unconscious remnants from your childhood: exploring your patterns with an outside observer may help you move your life in a new direction.  

 

I have noticed a number of themes amongst my clients battling Depression.


Lack of connection.

An older single man found himself eating boxes of cookies every night to soothe his Depression. His alcoholic mother had not filled his emotional tank when he was a kid; as an adult he had trouble comforting himself when he was alone. A former alcoholic himself with 20 years of sobriety, he was encouraged through therapy to re-started attending AA meetings each morning.  He made breakfast dates and dinner dates. He plugged his friends’ numbers into his cell phone and scrolled through his address book when he felt lonely (instead of hitting the cookies). Over time his Depression lifted as he internalized the awareness that he was loved and an important part of the web of human existence.


Lack of meaning.

A middle aged woman had spent 20 years raising her kids. When they left home, she cared for her sick mother. When her mother decided to move in with my clients’ brother, my client became severely depressed. In therapy she realized that her life had lost its purpose: to care for others. She realized that volunteering at the local children’s hospital could meet that need.  It helped her realize that she mattered, and lit up her heart when the hospitalized children smiled at her. 

    

A stalled grief process.

A single woman who had struggled to find a healthy romantic relationship lost her father to cancer. He had been her sole source of unconditional love, as her mother was critical and judgmental.  Left without her father’s love, her grief morphed into Depression.  She felt paralyzed month after month; she withdrew from her friends and comforted herself with her dogs, TV and food.  As she spoke in therapy about her father, she realized that the way to honor his legacy of unconditional love was to give that love away.  Rather than waiting for a man to love her, she started exploring the possibility of adopting a child. This re-energized her and gave her father’s loss meaning.    

    

Anger turned inwards.

One woman became suicidally depressed after 40 years of tolerating her emotionally abusive husband.  She feared speaking up because he could get “so mean.” In our sessions, she realized that painful experiences in her childhood had taught her to please others and caused her to believe that she was helpless to change bad situations (hence, her decision to end her life rather than speak up!).  She learned in therapy that she had a right to express her dissatisfaction in her marriage.  Her husband attended some sessions, and her new assertiveness changed the dynamics in their marriage. He learned to listen and not interrupt; she learned to tolerate his insensitivity and discovered she had a thicker skin than she realized. As she found her voice, her Depression abated and their marriage improved.  

          

Not measuring up.

A teenage boy wanted to die.  He’d just seen the roster for the school’s football team and he had not made the cut.  His family lived for football, and his parents had spent the past year talking about his try-outs for the upcoming season.  When he didn’t make the team, he was devastated at having disappointed his parents. But when his parents responded with support instead of disdain, he felt relieved. When the coaches encouraged him to switch to a new sport, the cloud of Depression lifted.  His life wasn’t over, it was just turning in an unexpected direction.  

      

Unexpressed creativity.

A 40-something wife had put her creative energy on hold for over 12 years; her husband’s job kept him away from home and caused her to act as a single mother. For years, she had neither the time nor energy to devote to her significant artistic talents. When she came to see me, she was binge eating and purging to medicate her Depression. When she demanded changes in her marriage, her husband was willing to make changes to his work situation.  This freed up time for her to pursue her creative pursuits.  Her brain chemistry changed when she was engaged in her art; she realized that she ignored this aspect of her psyche at her own peril!     

 

The well is dry.

A depressed nurse came for help.  While she loved caring for her patients, she was on-call 24/7. She gave and gave, but had no chance to fill her own cup: friends, yoga, exercise, sewing had all fallen by the wayside. She took a medical leave. She realized that she had difficulty setting boundaries in a number of areas in her life, especially with her mother. As she started to say “No,” she freed up energy for herself.  As she decided to shift her nursing career to one that accommodated a saner schedule, she felt more like herself again.  


So if your Check Engine light is on, ask yourself:


Ø Am I feeling disconnected?

Ø Is my life lacking meaning or purpose?

Ø Are there tears I need to shed over a loss?

Ø Is there anger I need to express? 

Ø Am I not measuring up to some fantasy ideal?

Ø Is my creativity stifled?

Ø Has my well run dry?


And if you need help finding the answers to these questions, your mechanic has an open bay.    


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

If a man (of the cloth) can write, "Women are sadder because deep down men are shallower"  about his gender, what truth, if any, is there in those words? And do I, as a woman, have any business repeating his observations?


Apparently not, according to one male reader of that column, who ranted on about how sexist and childish the title was. Never mind that the content of the blog was about those expressed convictions on gender issues and the need for healing. 


“Would you write an essay that said women are sadder because they are neurotic and self-absorbed?” he challenged me. I could practically see spittle coming from his lips.


Yep. I would.


Truth is, women have long been labeled worse, and often blamed for that matter, for their own dissatisfaction and the psychological wounds of their children, spouses, extended family, etc. Son is gay? Mom was too controlling. Daughter has a drug problem? Mom must have withheld love. Husband strays? Well, who could blame him for philandering in someone’s else’s bed after she let her waist grow thick?


We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders (and just to be clear, I don’t mean that men aren’t carrying their share, or suffer any less. It’s just that I can only muse on my particular biosuit). After the feminist movement pushed those damned shackles off our backs, giving us access to previously restricted professional successes, the hope was that greater freedom and opportunities would translate to greater inner satisfaction, for men and women.


Except, that hasn’t happened if the research is to be believed. If success is measured by happiness, many signs point to the epidemic failure of painting men as the enemy. There are many warriors-in-transition reframing the gender-happiness-relationship dialogue from the masculine perspective. As two women readers responded, this issue isn’t about men versus women per se. All these wise mentors of mine (long list of names!) teach me daily about the inner work that must be done to bridge the masculine and feminine.


It’s an inside job first.  When we can own the feminine strengths such as nurturing as much as the masculine traits of protectiveness, for example, then this ‘battle’ of the sexes will finally be a quaint artifact of our past. As long as we blame one side or the other, we are the snake eating its own tail. The truth of happiness, or the lack thereof, has much less to do with how we look, our emerging opportunities, the changing roles of men and women, and the like.


I believe the answer lies in something far more fundamental than the trappings of modern life. When you strip away the to do lists, the meetings, the expectations, the technology and the masks, humankind’s needs are fundamentally the same. They are the same as they were two decades ago, when these studies on happiness were initiated: Human connection.


We are sadder because we have discovered that the emptiness within cannot be filled with professional success, Botox, or a purchased pair of perky breasts and biceps.


We are sadder because the burden of raising a family doesn’t guarantee a connection to those we love the most, and a fabulous career with a stellar title doesn’t keep your demons away at night.


We are sadder because we have an unfulfilled need to be known, to be seen, to be heard and to be loved in a way that is incompatible with life as we now live it. And we are not certain what our intimacy essentials are or how we can go about fulfilling them.


We are sadder because we are further away from understanding our yearnings and desires in a world that places greater value on the material over spiritual, on riches over wealth, and on popularity over substance.

And finally, I suspect we are sadder because we crave a real and abiding intimacy. But the problem is that we are afraid to admit to a need that may appear as if we are weak, needy or dependent on another in a world increasingly critical of admissions of vulnerability.


Does all this make any of us who are tuned in to the human condition, male and female, neurotic and self-obsessed? Sure does. And I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way, because the alternative is to go numb. And that hasn’t served us all that well either.



Tinamarie is an occasional poet, blogs at www.tinamariebernard.com, and writes for several websites. You can find her at twitter @ModernLoveMuse and Facebook, or send her a private message at modernlovemuse @ yahoo dot com.

Read more Tinamarie columns here.  

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Oct 17

To say I am an optimistic person is like saying Lady Gaga has some interesting outfits. I am the real-life incarnation of Pollyanna. I am so upbeat it can be annoying to some people (most notably, my teenage son). I can’t help it. It’s scientific. A group of behavioral researchers did a study years ago that showed that every person has his or her own predetermined level of happiness. No matter what happens, the person eventually returns to this happiness level.  You win the lottery? Sure, your level goes up … for a while. Then it bounces back to whatever normal is for you. Your partner dies suddenly? The level drops – dramatically and perhaps even continuously. But eventually your level of happiness returns to its original state, or at least pretty darn close.


Of course, I’ve had my ups and downs; days when I’m blue or a little out of sorts. There was a three-month period during my senior year in college when I could barely drag myself to class. I also know what it’s like to have hormones playing havoc – making me cry for no reason during adolescence (and again, these days, during the joy of perimenopause.) 


But still, I was particularly unprepared for a life married to a man with clinical depression.


To tell you the truth, even my husband didn’t know how bad he felt until he started feeling good.


Our marriage was one of the most difficult and most enlightening experiences either one of us has ever had.  Over the first six months, we learned about my husband’s perfect storm of disorders: depression, anxiety and drug use.  Who’s to say which came first? They are often diagnosed together, and often – as in Jon’s case – many years after they have taken up permanent residence in our thoughts, personalities and actions.  


For much of my early marriage, I was overwhelmed by the reality of the man I had married – a man who, when not exhibiting emotional upheaval, was brilliant, funny, good-hearted, creative and a talented musician. But those days were halved by the shadows of depression, despair and sometimes nearly paralyzing anxiety.


I got a glimpse of these feelings myself; living day-in and day-out with Jon made me anxious, too. And sad. And lonely.



I kept a journal during that decade; through the changes in the appearance of my handwriting you can easily see me go from happy and hopeful to furious and fearful; my large, loopy cursive transforms into two-inch-high four-letter-word rants that leave deep indentations on the pages. 


I once asked Jon to explain to me what his depression felt like. I remember his answer exactly:


“You know how normal people look at a skyscraper and wonder how tall it is? People like me look at that skyscraper and wonder how long it would take from the time you jump off the top until you hit the ground.”


Perhaps Jon was born without his level of happiness. Or maybe it was permanently retracted when his father died when Jon was only 13 years old. Maybe it was the words he heard – or didn’t hear – from his mother as she struggled with her own demons. But no matter what we did, or how happy Jon sometimes felt, he said he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Living with someone with this kind of depression means worrying about him every time he got in his car. Would he get in a road fight? Would he be under the influence?  Our home was often filled with tip-toeing – literally and figuratively. It was not only because my husband slept a lot – one of the avoidance mechanisms of depression and anxiety -- but also because I tip-toed around feelings, conversations and requests that would have been completely appropriate in a healthy marriage. Making no conversation and making no demands made for a quiet, cautious and ultimately unsustainable equilibrium.


The best thing we did for our relationship was to end our marriage. Within months, on his own initiative, Jon did something he never attempted during our 13 years of marriage and couples’ counseling: he got help at a rehab facility just outside of Atlanta.  There, he learned that he could participate in a dual track of healing: one for substance abuse, one for depression.


We all participated – me, our son, Jon’s family, and to some extent, our close friends. We listened. We learned. We supported. We went to meetings. We cried. I prayed.


I believe that Jon’s immersion in rehab, and the program’s excellent dual track, healed my ex-husband, saved my son’s father, and taught me how to love Jon as a friend – without codependency or a desire to control the future. Jon broke the cycle of boys in his family growing up without fathers; of people in his family growing up without abusing drugs. This healthier Jon is one of the most thoughtful, involved and present fathers I know.


It might sound extraordinary – that my ex is one of my best friends. Let me assure you that it never would have happened if we had not done all the work we did during our marriage … during rehab … and the support we continue to give post-divorce.  But most of all, it never would have happened if God did not ironically match this die-hard optimist with a man who needed unconditional love and hope more than anyone I’ve ever known.


Ginger is a 20-year veteran corporate writer in Atlanta, and most recently, the former national web editor at skirt!, www.skirt.com. She is a blogger for Huffington Post’s divorce vertical (www.huffingtonpost.com/divorce) and skirt.com, the mother of a 16-year-old son, and the author of the hilarious and helpful book, “Back On Top: Fearless Dating After Divorce.” She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist, and has been featured in More.com, Glamour.com, LovingYou.com and several other women-centric media. 


For more Ginger Emas columns, click here 


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Oct 16

When I’m in the midst of a Crohn’s flare-up, doubled-over in pain and fatigued to the point of exhaustion, I often attend to the physical symptoms of my disease without acknowledging the contemporaneous emotional toil.  


After years of battling Crohn’s and watching my mother and grandmother do the same, I have realized the error of my ways.  Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or stress, I have personally experienced a strong connection between the physiological manifestations of my disease and my emotional wherewithal.  While one may not exactly “cause” the other, my flare-ups seem to arise with more regularity when I am depressed or anxious.  With that in mind, I have created a list of five things that I wish I would have known about the emotional challenges of living with a chronic illness.


1. Emotions Follow Actions


According to researchers, doing activities that bring you pleasure and meaning are fundamental components of emotional well-being.  A mental health problem arises when you’re having a flare-up and getting up from the couch is a major endeavor: how do you do things that bring you pleasure and meaning when you’re physically incapable of doing almost anything? 

 

Personally, my physical limitations have made me feel simultaneously claustrophobic and hopeless.  It took me a long time to realize that there were still a number of meaningful activities available even when I was sick.  As a fun exercise, make a list of all of the things that bring you pleasure or meaning that you can do from home.  Don’t edit yourself.  For me, I wrote down options like connecting with friends on the telephone or reading the latest People magazine.  Then do them, whether you feel like it or not.  That’s the most important step.  Do not wait until you feel happy or have positive thoughts to do the activities.  You have to engage in the actions first, and then your emotions will follow suit.  In short, it’s much easier to change your actions than your feelings.


2. Steroids will make you crazy


If you are on prednisone or any other type of anti-inflammatory corticosteroid, give yourself a mental hug.  While the adverse psychological effects of steroids have been well documented, do not count on your physician to inform you that they may cause mania, depression, and insomnia.  


At one point, I was taking 80 milligrams of prednisone orally each day.  My physician instructed me to take a 20-milligram tablet in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and in the evening.  I dusted the fan blades at 2 a.m.  Don’t be shy about discussing the side effects of steroids with your doctor or getting a prescription for a sleeping medication if you’re on a really high dose.  I know that I feel much stronger emotionally when I’m not sleep deprived.


3. Acknowledge the pain


When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I tried to block out the pain – both physically and emotionally – that I experienced.  Maybe I hoped that if I ignored it long enough, it might go away.  An ample dose of denial was all that I gained.  Paradoxically, when I was aware of how I felt, it hurt less.  Mindfulness of my body helped me to overcome the fear that I had associated with pain.  If you are interested in meditation or the relationship between mindfulness and pain, I highly recommend the books of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.


4. Understand the difference between depression and situational sadness


Don’t be hard on yourself when you’re having a flare-up or considering new treatment options.  It’s completely normal to feel sad, anxious, hopeless or angry when you’re facing a difficult medical situation.  Often, I’m unkind to myself when I feel down in the face of adversity, as if I should constantly radiate some kind of magical and resilient Energizer bunny attitude. 

 

Be gentle to yourself and understand that you may be experiencing an appropriate psychological reaction, rather than a clinical depression.  If your feelings last longer than two weeks, then don’t be timid about seeking professional help.  Speaking from my own experience, a good counselor really helped me cope with the emotional toil of Crohn’s disease, and she taught me how to see the silver lining in an otherwise challenging time.


5. The Serenity Prayer


When all else fails, say the “Serenity Prayer” out loud to yourself and repeat as necessary.  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  


While we may not be in control of what’s happening to our bodies, we can choose how to respond to the situation.

 

 

 

A former Duke-educated attorney, Jena Reger shares her roller coaster ride with Crohn's disease.  She hangs on with irreverence, compassion, and a lot of hope. She is a regular columnist for  ShareWiK.com.  You can visit her on the Web at www.jenareger.com.

 

 Read other Jen Reger columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

Oct 23

“When I was young no one committed suicide-- we were too unhappy.”

Woody Allen, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”

 

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with depression-- and not just any depression.  I am a special case.  I have three different psychological maladies:  major depressive disorder, dissociative amnesia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  It seems that I have been depressed for my entire adult life, and if the experts are correct, I am terminal.  I have received a life sentence.  I can work toward becoming healthier, but I will be depressed for the rest of my life.


Walker Percy wondered whether or not depression was a sane response to life.  


I’ve often wondered if Descartes ought to have said, “I hurt, therefore I am.”


My wife openly speculates that I have developed a friendship with my depression such that I don’t want to let it go.

Given the excruciatingly slow nature of my progress, I can see why she would see it that way.  But I don’t want to stay as I am.


I got depressed for good reasons. Self-protection is one of our strongest instincts, and it saved my life.  We are wondrously made. The mind and body don’t allow us to cope with more pain than we can deal with at once.  When we come up against trauma that threatens to undo us, our body and mind find ways to protect us.


When we are confronted with pain we can’t handle, it gets deflected to an unconscious part of ourselves where it is repressed until we are ready to deal with it.


Depression is the signal our emotions give us to alert us that it is time to take a journey to look for and process our repressed pain.  Since this pain impacts us at every moment of our lives, whether we feel it or not, depression is not to be ignored.  It is a signal for help that we ignore at our peril.


My mother used to tell me there is never a good time to have a child, it’s just that some times are worse than others.

That seems even truer of depression.


I don’t get to choose when I am depressed.  Something within me decides, and it is up to me whether to suffer or deal with it.


For my part, I have spent most of my life suffering, because I didn’t know there was an alternative.


If I had been listening I would have known I have been depressed for the last 32 years.  But I lived in a culture where it was not only politically incorrect to be depressed, it was a theologically impossibility.  Minnesotans don’t get depressed; we just have moments of indigestion. Christians don’t get depressed; we merely have moments where our joy doesn’t feel as good as it should.  Pastors don’t get depressed; they just have to deal with annoying people.


Me, depressed?  Impossible.


I’ve got two Ph.D's and one’s in denial.


Until a few years ago I thought I was normal.


Ha!


Thankfully, it seems God designed depression into the creation in order to help all of us find a way to work through the trauma of living in a fallen world.  God made us in such a manner that the voice within that is trying to tell us to pay attention to our repressed pain gets louder and louder until even one as deaf as I can’t help but pay attention or stifle the volume by abusing alcohol or drugs.


But when God made us stubborn, I got a triple dose.


When I wouldn’t listen to my soul, my body decided to cease functioning. 


It was the best thing that ever happened to me, though I must confess it didn’t seem so at the time.


Over the last four decades I’ve developed a very elaborate, and if I might brag, awesome coping mechanism.  Despite the amount of pain within me, I developed a way to function as a “normal” human being.  That coping mechanism served me well.  It enabled me to function until I came to a point in my life when I was incapable of dealing with the pain. 


And when I came to that point, depression possessed me and wouldn’t let go until I paid attention.

Thankfully.


As I am still depressed, there is much that I don’t know about depression.  What I do know is that you can’t handle it alone.  You can try, but I can tell you not to bother.  It won’t work. 


The trauma I endured and the pain stored within is more than I can bear.  I can’t face it alone.  But I’ve learned I can face it with those who love me. 


The most difficult thing I have ever done is to bring myself to share my pain with another. I’ve also discovered it is painful for the other to bear it with me. That’s why I need a team of others.  I’ve got more than enough pain for one.


Nevertheless, I can testify to the fact that depression has been a gift to me. It forces me to confront what is killing me from within.


And as I do so with the loving help of others, the most fascinating thing occurs.  Their love helps me work through the pain and I begin to experience healing.   Pain I never imagined could be healed, is.  Slowly, but truly.


Every bit of healing feels like a miracle.  Maybe, because it is.


Depression is not a bad thing.  Bearing it alone is.


I am glad scientists have developed medication to help those of us who are depressed. The medicine does not heal us, but it can help us function while the love of others who come alongside me helps me to process the pain and allow healing to take its place.


Does depression still hold me a prisoner?


Yes, and love gives me hope.


I am a prisoner of hope. 

 

Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking relationship beyond the age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.  He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here. 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

When I grew up, it was a time of denial, not acceptance. “Retarded” was commonly used as a derogatory slur, and terms like “mental illness” and “depressed” were indistinguishable from crazy or bug-nuts.  People suffered silently, desperate to appear “normal,” whatever that meant to them.


Over the last several decades, developments in psychology, neurology and related fields have challenged prevailing prejudices around depression. Millions of people who live with depression now have many more options for treatment. Unfortunately, the progress in public acceptance doesn’t seem to have kept pace with the research. 


As I started to write this blog, I intended to tell my story, as I always do, about how my life has been impacted by this particular disease. I expected to speak out, the voice of one impacted by the illness of loved ones. Ironically, I am caught in an internal battle over what to share, and what to withhold, in this blog about the absurdity that we (feel the) need to withhold anything. I have stories to tell. And they are not mine to tell. And the battle wages on. 


When you’ve lived with depression – I mean really lived with the perniciousness of that invisible disease – it leaves an indelible mark. But like the battered wife who covers bruises with make-up and dark glasses, the vast majority of people living with depression continue to suffer in relative silence. 


You see, depression still hasn’t really hit the realm of an “acceptable” illness. 


Cancer, for example, is a deeply respectable illness. Instead of whispers, we have marches and walks, wear wristbands, and call for more research without apology. We have launched a war on cancer, as well we should. Similarly, with up to one in 90 boys now diagnosed with autism, we accept the disease and its impact on families who live with it as legitimate, difficult, worthy of our attention, and most of all, (mostly) shameless. There is a different kind of war on autism – after all, it’s a disease that you live with, rather than try to defeat – but its vogue is no less tangible.


With a difficult “disease du jour” you can speak publicly, telling your story, without fear of recrimination, and without shame. In turn, you get support, sympathy, encouragement, and messages of hope from the outside world. 


But what if you suffer from depression? What if you are living with some combination of depression, anxiety, bi-polar or ADHD?  More than likely, you are still (at least partially) in hiding. 


Hiding. It hearkens back to secret panels in walls across Europe during the war. It brings up images of gay men and women in the pretense of living heterosexual lives. Hiding – without acknowledgement, suffering pain and shame for a situation beyond one’s control. When it comes to mental illness, it doesn’t feel like we’ve come very far. Still, we speak of it in hushed whispers in the dark. 


Fear around the admission of mental illness is all too real. There are genuine risks –of being deemed “unfit,” of recrimination in employment, of losing custody of a child, or becoming uninsurable.  It is just too dangerous, the risk of adding insult to injury too great. And so, as I dance with my internal struggle, I’ll tell you a story that I know all too well, but is not really mine. 


At a time when photographs were still in sepia tones and airplanes were a rare adventure, my cousin Ruthie is said to have taken her own life. I know very little about the girl in the photograph, except that she wore a jaunty hat and showed a lot of personality. I can’t tell you Ruthie’s story. But I bet I know a lot about the story her mother, or sister, or daughter, or spouse, or friend might have told before depression, and the secrecy and ignorance surrounding it, took Ruthie’s life. 


With some degree of certainty I can tell you that Ruthie’s mother suffered greatly, knowing that there was something her child needed that she couldn’t provide. I know her sister felt the weight of her parents’ inattention, exacerbated by the unspoken suspicion that she might ultimately become her sister’s keeper. Ruthie’s daughter, had she lived long enough to have one, most certainly would have felt responsible for her mother’s illness, eager to please and hungry for her attention. 


Ruthie’s spouse, I assure you, would have lived a dreaded daily existence, unsure as Ruthie left the house in the morning whether she would, in fact, return in the evening. Her friends would have found her charming, and difficult, fascinating, but unreliable. Some had long since given up on her, others stuck close because they saw a glimmer of hope – a glimmer that Ruthie never saw herself. 


All of these people – the mother-sister-daughter-spouse-friends – lived in the wake of Ruthie’s Depression.  And so it goes with mental illness – it is silently devastating, either because we don’t know it’s there, or because its secrecy makes liars and deniers of us all. 


At this point, the whisper of depression may keep us quiet about our personal circumstances, sketchy about the details, for our own personal safety. But there is no denying that this silent disease looms larger than life, and the least we can do is speak clearly about its existence. At the end of the day, it’s the only way to get us all out of hiding. 


Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 


Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.


 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Every holiday season you will be tricked into thinking the perfect holiday exists.  Here’s what you can do to avoid the Holiday Perfection Syndrome (HPS):

 

1.        Do not believe you must decorate every square inch. That amazing décor on HGTV you will try to emulate? Costs too much. The fab hot handyman on TV who can wear a tool belt well? He’s not coming over to help. Uncle Fred, aka Clark Griswold, will. Try not to let him on the roof.


2.        That holiday party where you get to wear a sexy dress, have adult conversation and dance with your husband? Well, while you are enjoying your one dance a decade, thieves broke into your minivan.  You did not foil the seasoned criminals by hiding your purse under a baby blanket.  They snagged your wallet, your daughter’s car seat, the CDs in the visor and stripped the ignition.  (However, the joke’s on the thugs – can they truly “jam” on a joyride to your Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys soundtracks?)


3.        Toys come put together only on TV. That intricate castle with rotating life-size dragons, which your boys can shoot laser guns at? It comes in 7,500 pieces and triple Z batteries, which haven’t been invented yet. Directions are not in English. Your spouse will use words reserved for prison gang tattoos.


4.        All holiday movies are not created equal.  Please do not get sucked into the fallacy “It’s a Christmas movie so it must be good.” Certain films—“It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Christmas Story”, “Elf” -- are staples. You do not need to watch 3,000 nights of the Woman’s Holiday Channel because though it’s technically a “script” they call a “tearjerker,” you will find yourself laughing at some dialogue. Also, things end well. You can guess this; so don’t bother staying up till 1 a.m. to make sure, because you have to get up in four hours to buy the 5 a.m. door buster special.


5.        If you are going for joy on your child’s face on Christmas morning, it is best to not get him socks and underwear. Save that for the big shopping trip to the mall and food court during the after-Christmas letdown.  Also, it’s best to not get him anything like a subscription to “Catholic Digest” or anything that preaches the meaning of the holidays. “Modern Warfare 3” seems to be in, however.  Nothing says Christmas like massive violence.


6.        You do not have to bake cookies for your entire neighborhood in the shape of a menorah on top of a manger in front of a Kwanzaa candleholder over a solstice snowflake, iced in red for the upcoming Chinese New Year. This is too hard to bend the dough. A $10 gift card to the grocery store is acceptable.


7.        After you put up the tree by yourself because the husband is busy, and the kids don’t care about revisiting every ornament purchased on every vacation, be sure to stand back and admire your work. Take a picture. It is the last time you will see everything intact, because the dog will visit, whacking the tree with his tail breaking several ornaments.


8.        When co-workers suggest an ornament exchange, do not agree to it. Our landfills are being overtaken with candy cane ornaments. Do we really need another one? Should we perhaps suggest an exchange of cash?


9.        Realize there is no perfect holiday dinner.  Twenty minutes into your family eating your turkey, the timer will pop up, alerting everyone they may now have salmonella.


10.      Acknowledge you may find yourself at a hospital on the supposed most glorious days of the year. You will curse and cry, but then you will hug your family and tell them “It’s a wonderful life.”  You might even be able to get the IV to beep along to “Jingle Bells.”


  

 Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance writer, published in best-selling anthologies, newspapers, magazines, and online.  Visit her at www.KristineMeldrumDenholm.com, or join in the talk on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KristineMeldrumDenholm or Twitter @writerandmom.

 

 For more Kristine Meldrum Denholm columns, click here 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Dec 17

While winter holidays are filled with seasonal yummies, lights, tinsel, gifts and family time, for many folks with a mental illness, the holidays suck. And it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian, Jew, Catholic or any of the other religions that make up our society. The holidays may suck.


Many depressives find the holidays to be a little too nostalgic and rather melancholy, or lonely and isolating.

For a few holiday seasons I found myself in depressive episodes. The nostalgia and the memories of being in a family with a Southern Baptist stepmother and a Jewish father (we three kids were Jewish) – who later split –hurt. The memories of my mom’s Christmas tree with all its twinkly lights, a Star of David on top, and eight nights of Hanukkah presents beneath the boughs of the tree remind me of a happy period in my life. I would lie under the tree and squint my eyes at the lights in the tree and when everything blurred, combined with the seasonal smell of cinnamon, took me to my own fun fantasy land.


In a sad holiday season, my depression gets worse if I lie beneath the limbs and squint my eyes …I want to go back to that special place under that tree that I knew as a kid – when my family was all together and seemed happy. The older I got and when depression hit at holiday times, I didn’t want to participate in the festivities. I spent a lot of time at the holidays crying.


The year 1999 was a manic holiday time. It was then during my divorce that I hit my real first manic episode. I’d totaled my car; I had just left my husband, moved out on my own (my first place ALL by myself) and filed for divorce.


Such events, frankly, would trip nearly anyone into a spiral of some sort.  My spiral was the fast-talking, overly self-assured, spending-too-much-money and drinking too much, manic Marcy. I lost over 20 pounds that holiday season. I thought I looked great. I weighed in at a whopping 98 pounds. My family tried to intervene but it was a long mania that nearly destroyed my life and my family relationships.


As Jews, my siblings and I still choose to spend Christmas with my stepmom even after she divorced my father. She was the mom who raised us, and she’s always family.  It was a time of togetherness I still love to this day. But each year was hard – family members no longer in the picture, family changes, and new additions – and for me, a husband subtraction.


Mania around holiday time for me became a pattern. My sister is the one who noticed my cycle seasons. From October until February was what she dubbed “Marcy hurricane season.” It was when I was a whirlwind of mania. Then things settled down from March through September – sometimes a midsummer depression would pop up.


Those with bipolar disorder should really keep a log of cycle seasons, cycle triggers and the length of time between cycles (there are rapid cyclers, etc.) and be aware of hard days that may approach.

For me it’s been easy to track triggers and keep an eye on myself during certain seasons of the year so I can manage myself instead of just giving in to a negative expected outcome.


Holidays have their ups and downs but regardless of environmental factors such as people, situations, and negative influences (drugs and alcohol), awareness can be a major player in keeping at equilibrium during the holidays.

 

Marcy is happily married to Craig, and she owns and publishes a newspaper in the Atlanta area.  She and her husband live just north of Atlanta with their newborn baby girl and their American Staffordshire terrier named Seven. Marcy has been a professional journalist in print, television and radio since 1999.

 

To read more blogs by Marcy, go here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

Dec 19

It wasn’t your usual family gathering.  My mom had summoned all six of her children home at Christmas so she could go from room to room, assigning each of us her possessions. 

 

She was dying of a terminal illness, already a year into her death march.  One down, three to go, it turned out. 

 

“I think this will look nice in your front hall,” she said to one of my older brothers, her hand resting on a chest of drawers.  And so it went, on and on.  A macabre ritual demanded by our well-organized matriarch, able to square off against Death in the realm of the mundane, but unable to face the broken and stressed out relationships looking right back at her.

 

“And I don’t want any fighting about any of this after I’m gone,” she said. 

 

This was my mom at her finest: in control of both her possessions and our fragile feelings.  We were her obedient children once more, as well as contestants in her game show of random kindness. 

 

I didn’t want her stuff, but then again, I did.  For that was the yardstick of her love: she gave to her favorites, her favorite things. I was a little girl, again, and I hated her for making me feel that way.  All I wanted was to hear her tell me how much she loved me.  But a family heirloom covered in dust, broken and tucked into the back of her closet would have to suffice.  It was the only love she knew how to give me. 

 

When all of her earthly possessions were dispensed, she told us there was one more thing.

 

“I want you all to know,” she began slowly. “That when I feel the end of my life is near, and while I’m still able, I’m going to take my own life.”

 

She sat looking at us, with her hands folded tightly and placed demurely off to the side of her lap.  Her spine was rigid and straight against the back of the chair; her chin was raised high, her legs crossed at the ankles.  She had orchestrated this moment and I could tell it was playing out exactly as planned.  She had declared her intentions, trying to extend a hand of control upon a disease already so out of control.  And now, she sat there, quietly, triumphantly, almost daring us to stop her or even object.  And then she went on, saying something about how much our family’s been through and wanting to spare herself from a death without dignity.  She said something else about it being her right.  I tried to protest, but you didn’t change my mom’s mind once it was made up.  No, she just bulldozed her way through yours.

 

After I returned to my own home in another state, I tried to go back to my daily routine but found myself startled every time the phone rang, anticipating the news that my mom was dead.  But as the weeks tumbled into months, it was my mom calling, telling me only that she was taking another trip, going back to school, planting her vegetable garden, repotting her geraniums, lunching with friends or simply calling to say “hi.”

 

“Just checking in,” she’d say whenever I’d answer, launching into all the happenings of her day, including another doctor’s visit, where she learned a new pain was caused by her advancing disease.  During many of these phone calls, she’d be somber and reflective, as she talked about her burgeoning personal faith, her hopefulness in seeing my children again, or how good the sun felt on her skin, that she said, “felt so cold all the time now.”

 

She seemed to be experiencing life with a new richness—thrilled with the simple and content in her acceptance of the inevitable.  As her horizons narrowed to only the view outside her bedroom window, there was no complaining for the opportunities lost, only thankfulness for the gift of another sunrise, and the sound of my voice.  The physical pain she had feared so much, was controlled with medication and never came close to the emotional agony she twisted in prior to her terminal diagnosis.

 

“Life is such a precious gift from God,” she told me.  “Don’t waste your life or any of the time that God gives to you.  Promise me that, okay?” 

 

We battled for so long, both of us feeling completely justified, and so full of pride and self-righteousness.  The deadline of her death launched her on a soul trip and in taking me along, we were able to call a truce, leaving me to mourn what could have been, not the torment of what was.

 

In the hospice, as she lay gasping for breath, holding my hand, looking right into my eyes, she said, “This is the sickest I’ve been isn’t it?” 

 

I held her hand and thanked her for being the best mom she knew how to be.  I thanked her for so many long talks and hugs and for not killing herself. 

 

She smiled and squeezed my hand back with all her might as she struggled to say, “I would’ve missed out on so much.”

 

Diana Keough is a Pulitzer- Prize nominated journalist, the mother of four sons and CEO, co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com
   


 

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 
 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

Mar 12

Lately, I feel as though I've been surrounded by bad news:  the sputtering economy; people I love continue to struggle with mental illness and addiction; a number of close friends’ children in dire situations, as well as other friends wrestling with personal and financial crises.  Add to that my own business deadlines, too much work and too little time, plus all the low points that come with being an entrepreneur, and well, let’s just say that some days it feels as if the weight of the world is sitting on my chest making it hard to breathe. 

 

But instead of feeling paralyzed or letting myself go into a funk, I sit here watching a very cute YouTube video a friend posted on Facebook that features a 6-year-old girl opening up a backpack to find she’s been given a trip to Disney World.  

 

I don't feel a single pang of guilt.  Instead, I am appreciating every smile and laugh the video elicits in me.  


Distraction?  Perhaps.  But right at this moment it’s either find something to laugh about or let myself sink into an abyss of sadness. 

 

I suppose this is my way of putting on a pair of rose-colored glasses. 


There was a time when I felt enjoying something as frivolous as a funny video when surrounded by so much suffering was a crime and that the only moral thing for me to do was to dutifully jump with both feet into the funk of those around me.   

 

No longer.   That was a pretty high price to pray for "friendship."

  

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home, I heard the word “repentance” a lot.  But in that setting, it was always linked to “sin” and of course, in my mind, always had a negative connotation.  What repentance means, though, is “a change of thinking.”  In other words, change your thinking and change your behavior. The same could be said of attitude: Change your thinking and change your attitude.   

 

It takes enormous energy and great discipline to crawl out of a funk.  And sometimes I think that it would be much easier to let myself give in and unravel instead of putting one foot in front of the other, especially when I really don’t feel like it.  But I also know that once I start climbing out from under the blanket of darkness, each day, each moment gets a little easier.  

 

My friend, Tony, is incredibly upbeat nearly all the time.  When I asked him how he maintains such a positive disposition, he said that every day he deliberately does three things:  First, he finds something that makes him belly laugh; second, something that makes him cry—not just sad, but touching; and thirdly, he seeks to learn one thing he didn’t know previously. 

 

While eating dinner with his family, he makes a point of sharing all three things.   And then he asks his family to tell him about the worst part of their day.  After he listens to their answers, he asks, “What was the best part of your day?” 

 

He puts the questions in that order, “Because you always want to end the conversation on a good note,” he said.     

 

That kind of attitude tends to sustain someone through good times and bad.  My oldest sister’s 94-year-old father-in-law is an example.  He has always been an optimist and an absolute pleasure to be around.  But now, his health is failing rapidly and his mind has disappeared into dementia.  Still, whenever my sister asks him how he’s doing, he replies, “I’m doing great.  Is there any other way?” 

 

My friend Sara is allergic to just about everything—a number of foods and almost all preservatives and additives in foods.  She has to carry an Epi Pen at all times and struggles with migraines.  But in spite of how hard it is for her to eat out without getting sick, whenever I ask her how everything’s going, she responds, “It’s all good.” 

 

Her allergies, she says, have taught her a lot--how to cook wholesome food and to listen to her body.  She focuses on things she can eat and enjoy rather than what she can’t eat. She lives a very full, rich life. 

 

Her enthusiasm is infectious.    

 

Multiple studies have found that life tends to be easier for those whose outlook on life is sunny.  Are optimists just kidding themselves?  I don’t think so, especially because I believe that all of life is a classroom and everything that happens to you or someone you love is intended to be a lesson for your soul or theirs.  And if that’s the case, our circumstances tend to thrust us either into a position of learning or teaching.  If we’re not doing one or the other, then we’re just banging our heads against the wall until we “get” the lesson we’re supposed to learn.    

 

In the Bible, God instructs: “In everything give thanks.”  Certainly not an easy thing to do.  

 

So, yes, I work at giving thanks for the economy.  Thanks for the hardships of my siblings.  Thanks for the pain so many of my friends continue to walk through.  Thanks for my own low points and even the times I do unravel. Thanks because of my belief that it is all about the learning and the teaching for our souls.

 

If this is what life is all about, then nothing we experience is a mistake — not the sadness, the disappointments, the loss or even the funks.  

 

Instead, it’s all good. 

 

 

Diana Keough is a Pulitzer-prize nominated journalist and the mother of four sons.  She is also the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.

For more Diana Keough articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

A core belief of depression is not only that “Life sucks,” but “It Will Always Be This Way.”

This hopelessness can lead to suicide.


That’s why I’m so grateful to the folks who are reaching out to gay youth with the “It Gets Better” message. Started by Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who spoke openly about his struggles growing up gay, the message to “hang in there” past the pain is simple but profound.  The “It Gets Better” message is at the core of psychological resilience.


I recall my mom giving me that message when I was a kid by repeatedly counseling me, “Tomorrow this will be behind you and you will be looking back on it!”  I have used this belief to calm myself through anxieties throughout my lifetime.  

Many of my therapy clients were not so lucky.  


Their parents did not give them life survival skills because they were too caught up in their own pain.  My clients-as-kids dared not imagine a brighter future; life was about minute-to-minute survival.  Fantasizing about a happier time was a luxury they could not afford.  Keeping expectations low protected them from being blind-sided by more disappointment.  Why set yourself up, when the other shoe always drops?  


This adaptive survival strategy becomes a problem when they’ve grown up, escaped their dysfunctional families and built loving homes.  They cannot allow themselves to see and appreciate how far they’ve come, to experience joy in the present, nor to dream.  Expecting to suffer, they make sure that they do, even if it is of their own making.  Plagued by chronic anxiety, they still anticipate the worst.  They may call themselves “cautious” or “realistic,” but this life-stance can morph into chronic negativity and even paranoia. 


I use a powerful imagery exercise with these clients. Here’s how it goes:


Close your eyes and connect to a recent moment when you actually DID feel good, even if it was fleeting.  Now turn up the volume on that moment and really EXPERIENCE it.  Then, while holding onto that feeling, imagine yourself walking back into the past, down a long hallway with many doors.  Pick a door and walk through.  You’ll see a vision of a child in the distance, sitting in front of your childhood home.  As you get closer, you notice that the child is a younger version of you.  Sit down beside that child and let them know, “I’m from your future, and It Gets Better.”  This child has been waiting for your arrival, waiting to hear from you.  The child has been wanting to share the pain they’ve been experiencing, so you just listen as the child shares their pain and sadness and anger.  After a while, pick her up and carry her with you away from the house, through the door and back into the Here and Now.   


Often a person who has experienced a painful childhood is reluctant to go back and greet this child-part of herself.  She may say, “That’s ancient history. It doesn’t affect me now. Why go back and feel all that pain again?”  


Far from “not being affected” by our histories, in fact, that CHILD may be running the show (like the little man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz).  The kid-part can lead us into poor relationships and bad career choices. She may push love away, or fuel deep sadness, uncontrolled rages, gripping addictions or paralyzing anxieties. 


Sometimes the reluctance to travel back in time is really because deep down she believes she was essentially a bad kid and deserved the poor treatment she received.  Or she fears that if she connects to that kid, she’ll feel burdened and drained by her incessant needs and demands. 


In fact, by re-connecting to and embracing your child-part, and letting yourself know that this time you will be heard and cared for properly, you may start to feel more whole… and more hopeful.  When the kid-you hears “It Gets Better,” the adult-you may be able to actually relax and experience some childlike joy again. 


Re-connection and hope will get you through…

 

Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

Recently, there’s been a growing awareness of the problem of eating disorders among women who are middle-aged and older. Guidebooks have been developed for the adult offspring of these moms to help them support their ill parent.   


But what if the child of the eating disordered mom is just a kid?  And what about the young siblings of teenage eating disorder sufferers?


Children between the ages of eight and 13 often end up as collateral damage in these families.


At a highly tumultuous stage of emotional, cognitive and physical development, tweens who live in a family wrestling with an eating disorder may be anxious, confused and overwhelmed by conflicting messages about food and their growing bodies. Often the needs of these kids are subsumed by the family’s total immersion in the illness and recovery of the “sick” family member.  


Imagine these scenarios from the child’s perspective: 

  • A 10-year-old girl attempts to eat dinner but feels guilty when her mom serves a substantial meal to the family while only allowing herself dry lettuce and black coffee.   
  • A 12-year-old girl notices her body changing. Dealing with this normal pre-pubertal weight gain is challenging enough around her skinny friends, but she’s mortified to discover that her exercise-addicted older sister wears smaller jeans than she does.  
  • An 8-year-old boy feels an ineffable sense of dread when he hears his mom vomiting in the bathroom after dinner every night.  Afraid something is terribly wrong, he takes his cues from his Dad, holding his fear inside since he’s learned that “Mommy’s problem” cannot be discussed openly.       

Fast forward 20, 30, 40 years.  These are the adults suffering from depression, low self-esteem, addictions and eating problems.  Being raised in these families profoundly shapes their self-concept, their relationship with food, their interpretations about their emotional needs and their body image. They may struggle with feeling “too needy” in their intimate relationships. They may be driven by a chronic need to please and take care of others.  They may wrestle with drug addiction or develop their own eating disorders, having never learned to relate to food in a healthy way.  


Thankfully, even kids in these trying family situations can be remarkably resilient if certain needs are met. Here are ten fundamental needs of these kids:        

  1. Additional sources of emotional support outside of the immediate family
  2. An intellectual understanding that eating disorders are an illness so they don’t blame their family member or themselves
  3. An awareness of the ups and downs of the recovery process
  4. The knowledge that their feelings about the situation are normal, along with appropriate ways to manage sadness, anger, fear and envy
  5. Healthy ways to deal with boredom, anxiety and perfectionism
  6. A vision of Normal Eating
  7. An understanding of the complex connection between food and feelings   
  8. A dose of media literacy to inoculate them to “eating disorder messages” in the culture
  9. A knowledge of why restricting food (i.e. dieting) could be potentially dangerous for them
  10. A positive body image based on their body’s functions and abilities, not based on weight, shape or size   

It’s important to help these kids understand what is happening to their loved one and normalize their response to the crisis in the family. They need permission to have their own needs and feelings about the situation, while learning healthy coping skills and how to support their loved one. 


Focusing on the needs of these kids is vital prevention work. The combination of Nature plus Nurture puts them at high risk for developing eating disorders or other addictions. With the proper help, they need not become collateral damage in a family’s war against an eating disorder.   By engaging with them and addressing their needs directly, these tweens can grow into resilient teenagers and mentally healthy adults.  


Dina Zeckhausen, PhD, is the author of “The Ultimate Tween Survival Guide to Eating Disorders: Understanding Them, Preventing Them and Helping a Loved One.” (Zeckhausen, 2012).  Dr. Cynthia Bulik writes: "The Ultimate Tween Survival Guide" addresses the unique needs of young tweens who are struggling to make sense of their loved one’s eating disorder.  Grounded in the most current research on these complicated illnesses, Dr. Zeckhausen has created an accessible, hopeful and empathic resource to help support your loved one’s recovery."  


Learn more at www.tweensurvivalguide.com.


For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Mar 05

This may sound strange, but I actually have a couple of really good memories from when I broke my wrist in December 2005. I had been walking one of my dogs when she decided to take off after a squirrel. We were right in front of our house, in the middle of the street. She was so strong and quick, and so surprised me, that I spun around and fell on my left side.


I had never broken a bone before and I could not believe the pain. I just laid there for a few moments until my husband suggested that I get out of the street. I got up somehow and was so dizzy I had to lean against the mailbox for a minute before coming into the house. My wrist was swelling up, but my husband had to convince me to go to the hospital emergency room. Like I said, I had never broken a bone before and it took me a few minutes to realize the gravity of the situation.


At the hospital, I begged for some strong painkiller – and I have a high tolerance for pain. Fortunately, a hand surgeon we were familiar with was on call and that night he operated on me. I remember waking up from the surgery feeling great. No pain. I had been sleeping so well.


So what, you may be asking, are the good memories? The doctor gave me a prescription for oxycontin, a strong narcotic painkiller, and I truly appreciated it. It didn’t take me long to understand why it has become the “street drug of choice.” Before I finished the pills I was prescribed, I was already cutting them in half to ensure that I would have them as long as possible. I don’t remember whether I was able to get any refills, but I knew that my doctor wouldn’t keep prescribing them for me.


Since then, of course, we have heard on the news several stories about well-known people actually getting addicted to oxycontin. I am not at all surprised. I’m also not surprised that no doctor has prescribed this drug for me again. After my last few operations, doctors have prescribed oxycodone, which is a milder pain reliever. I don’t achieve the same dreamy effect of the oxycontin, but I know that these can be addicting as well.


How do I describe it? The pills sort of take the edge off of things. Yes, they relieve pain, but they also lift my mood. 


At some point after my diagnosis of cancer, and after I finished all my required rounds of chemotherapy, I started seeing a therapist. I knew I had to work through the emotional repercussions of this diagnosis. I was diagnosed with incurable, but treatable, cancer. I was slowly beginning to understand that I would be living with this chronic disease the rest of my life. 


I don’t remember exactly when, but I remember telling the therapist about the uplifting effects of taking a painkiller I was taking after some surgery. I wasn’t taking the pill so much for pain, as for the mood it helped me achieve. And she pointed that out to me very quickly. That was when I realized that I needed a mild anti-depressant. I had never taken one before; I’ve always been a very positive person. But my reliance on a pain reliever to help my mood convinced me that it was time.


This last week I was reminded of all of this because I ran out of the oxycodone that my doctor prescribed for me after my recent surgery. I immediately tried to get a refill, not knowing whether the doctor would even agree to another prescription but in any case, it was the weekend, and I wasn’t able to get more pills immediately.


I realized that yes, I was experiencing some pain and the drug certainly relieved it, but the real reason I wanted more pills was to lift my mood in the evenings. I had to question myself: perhaps I need a higher dose of my anti-depressants? I don’t know, but so far I don’t have to answer that; I found a few supposedly expired pills from a previous prescription. And that has helped me get through the weekend.


I watch the news about celebrities dying of drug overdoses and the fact that Americans take way too many pills. I am not ignoring these facts, but I do understand why it happens.


Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

 

In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. 



©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Feb 20




Now that I’m approaching my mid-50’s, more and more conversations among friends involve our health.  I know this kind of dinner table conversation doesn’t thrill my kids, but with each passing day it is good to still be alive and be reasonably fit.  When it comes to health, I have a lot to expound upon. I’ve had cancer; I’ve had the flu; I’ve had the measles; I’ve have chicken pox, I’ve had tuberculosis, and I also a suffer from mental illnesses.  Specifically depression.


I can speak about all manner of illness with friends and family and I will receive sympathy and support.  


With one exception.


Mental illness: Depression.


When I mention the  two words "mental illness," the conversation stops.  Abruptly.  Uncomfortably so.  It is as if I’ve just announced I have leprosy and everyone in the room regards themselves to be exposed, testing positive, and beyond hope of a cure.   


On those few occasions when people decide they want to hear what I mean when I say I’ve suffered from mental illness, when I speak of it, they almost always tell me with visible relief that what I describe doesn’t actually connote mental illness.  


Usually I smile and let the conversation die an unnatural death, rather than challenge depression denial.


Apparently, the only kind of mental illness that counts is the kind for which you end up in an asylum.  That is like saying the only kind of physical illness that counts is something akin to a stroke that leaves one in a assisted living facility for life.


News flash: Mental illness, like physical illness, has many varieties, which are debilitating to differing degrees and for differing lengths of time.  One need not be in an asylum for it to count.


I’ve gone through mental illness, and like my tuberculosis, I will almost certainly test positive for mental illness the rest of my life.  


More than that, I’m OK with it.


Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not happy about it, but I’m okay with it.


I will be without thyroid function the rest of my life, but medical science is helping me manage quite well.


I suffer with depression and through the help of skilled professionals, family, and friends, I am doing better now than I have in decades.


I am doing better now than before I was diagnosed.


As with many health issues, they often go undetected until some physical crisis presents.


The same is true with mental illness.  


In my case, the mental crisis was hard to miss.


It was a warm day in early May. I was sitting at my desk and all of a sudden I froze.  Literally.  


I was coming to the end of an unusually hectic school year, but had virtually every significant task behind me save organizing an annual board meeting.  I had finished the rigors of an academic year, completed my second book manuscript, and hundreds of New Hampshire Primary campaign events.


I was about ready to enter into a relaxed summer schedule and with so much accomplished I had every reason to look forward toward a relaxed season.


Instead I was staring at the wall and unable to move.  


Unable, that is, to work.  Unable to send another email.  Unable to make another phone call.  Unable to do anything that would constitute anything remotely related to productivity.


After dozens of minutes, I realized something bad was happening.  It seemed to be the mental health equivalent of a stroke.  Entire parts of my body were not responding to my mental commands.  


Finally, it was all I could do to call my therapists and explain the symptoms.  


He immediately cleared his schedule for me.  


Within an hour I was in his office, and I learned I was on the brink of an emotional melt-down, otherwise known as a burn-out.  In my case it is better called a flame out.  


There was a lot more going on than just a burn-out; unattended psychological issues had all of the sudden presented themselves as an emotional malignancy that needed to be addressed immediately.


As much as I wished to deny what was happening, I couldn’t.  


I was no more able to work after my appointment than before.  And as I started to read up on the diagnosis I received, the more it became clear that I wasn’t “unusual.”  This happens to people who have similar mental conditions and similar circumstances.  


In short, just like a physical illness, mental illness can be diagnosed and treated because other people have endured the same things.


That didn’t make it any easier to tell my supervisor that I needed to go on an indefinite medical leave.  


Or my family.


My wife was scared.  She had a lot of questions, similar to those we faced when I was diagnosed with cancer.  


Will I recover?


When?


The answer was the same: Definitely maybe.


Step one in my recovery plan was to go spend a month in complete relaxation.  Spending a month under the care of the Monks at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, NM was precisely what the doctor ordered, and what I needed.


Step two was to come home and gradually re-enter life with a new set of ground rules.


Step three was to begin a journey of therapy that has allowed me to explore the behaviors and life-factors that led me to live in such an unhealthy manner which led to my melt-down.


Step four is to continue the journey.


Step five is to continue the journey.


And so on and so forth.


I am in remission.


Physically and mentally.


My maladies are nothing to be ashamed of.


Why deny it?



Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking Relationship Beyond the Age of Individualism.”  He is a Professor of Politics at Saint Anselm College and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Dale serves the Evangelical Covenant Church of America as an ordained minister, and is presently the Interim Pastor at the Monadnock Covenant Church in Keene, NH.  He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.  



Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here


 

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Mar 12

My brother avoided the draft by gaining weight. This was in the 1960s. He was, and is, a pacifist. Not officially a conscientious objector, but he certainly did not want to go and fight in Vietnam. Somehow, he learned what the weight limit was for his height and gained the necessary pounds so that the Army would reject him.


This could not have been very difficult. Those were the days when he would make himself a dozen scrambled eggs to eat at one sitting. A time when he and his buddies would go to Dunkin’ Donuts and ask for one of each.


My favorite story was when he went to have dinner with a friend’s family. His friend’s mother passed to him the pot roast and he ate it all, not realizing that it was supposed to feed the whole family. Not surprisingly, in those days my mother put a lock on the refrigerator out in the garage. She did not want him to eat in the afternoon what she had prepared for the family’s dinner.


Unfortunately, Bruce never lost his love for food as he matured. Nor did he lose his excess weight. When he married a beautiful Russian woman who loved to cook like he did, it only made matters worse. Together they watch the Food Channel lying down in bed.


I am not sure what he weighs now, probably more than 300 pounds. But I do know that the excess weight is endangering his life.


The Centers for Disease Control define overweight as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher; obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Okay, my brother is obese. This puts him at risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, cancer, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea, among other scary-sounding diseases.


My brother knows he has sleep apnea, for which he uses a breathing machine at night, and hypertension, for which he takes blood pressure medication. He also knows that his body aches all the time. Muscular issues have kept him from exercising for many years, which, of course, only worsens his obesity.


Because of all his aches and pains, which he knows can mostly be attributed to his weight, he doesn’t go to a doctor very often. What’s the point? he asks. The doctor will tell him he should lose weight. And he has tried. He subscribed, at least for awhile, to one of the diets that are hawked on television. He bought a treadmill, which sits unused in his living room.


But there are other hidden dangers that the doctors and websites don’t talk about. Because he just suffers his aches and pains without getting diagnoses and treatment, problems can escalate. Recently he was taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night because the pain became too much to bear.


It turned out that he had a large kidney stone, which the doctors couldn’t, at first, remove because an infection had developed all around it. So, for about five days, he was in intensive care, on a ventilator and heavy antibiotics and extra liquids. His body puffed up even more. His wife took a photo, which she plans to show him after he is better, to scare him into taking care of himself.


Perhaps the whole experience – he’s still in the hospital as I write this – will frighten him to finally start a real diet and some light exercise.


I can’t say I’m very optimistic. According to physicians, obesity can also cause psychological effects including depression and self-esteem issues. Bruce has both, which means he doesn’t feel very motivated to change his behaviors. Turning 65 recently doesn’t help him.


What he doesn’t understand is that today’s 65 is the last generation’s 45. He’s not that old. He has time to change his eating habits and exercise more, and finally lose all that excess weight. But will he? I don’t know.



Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

 

In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. 


Read more columns by Jan Jaben Eilon here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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