Tag Archives: reaching out

CPR4D Is Getting a Makeover!

Hi, Everyone,

Changes are afoot at Rescue Yourself: CPR for Depressives. We’re getting a makeover! Not an extreme one, mind you, but some gentle changes that will make this blog more accessible and interactive, and more of a practical tool that will help accelerate your recovery from depression. In short, I want to make this blog friendlier and more inviting.

My goal is to make this the best depression blog on the Internet, bar none. I see this blog as a safe haven in the tsunami of depression that is sweeping the world. The incidence of depression has increased ten times since the end of World War II. I want this to be a place where people can come and find practical solutions, community, and hope. I want to put the pieces in the puzzle of how to get well together in a holistic, comprehensive way that no one was able to do for me when I was first diagnosed with the dreaded “Double D” nearly ten years ago. Most of all, I want you and other depression sufferers to get your lives back and realize your own amazing potential. The world needs you!

Some of the changes I am contemplating include the following:

  • Shorter, more frequent postings that fit in better with the spirit of blogging;
  • Fewer near-feature-length, near-magazine-quality articles (which, frankly, I’ve worn myself out trying to keep up with);
  • A less “academic” tone;
  • More photos, feedback, and fun;
  • Experiments with multi-media (what would you think about downloadable MP3 guided visualizations?); and
  • More emphasis on building community.

But I can’t do any of this without your help. You have experience, strength, and hope that others can benefit from, unique perspectives and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t that others desperately need to hear. To that end, here is a brief poll so that you can tell me how you’d like CPR4D to look and what you’d like it to contain (I haven’t done a poll before, so let’s hope this works!). Select as many items as you’d like, as long as they don’t contradict each other:

Thanks for taking the time to give your input. Please feel free to add any comments in the “Comments” section as to what you would find helpful to have in this blog as you strive to live your best life in spite of having depression.

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Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 2

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.” — by John Milton

Where there is life, there is hope.

For depression level(s):  Severe.

Before continuing with the last five of my top ten remedies for depression emergencies (for the first five, see Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 1), I want to focus on what you should not do if you are experiencing a depression emergency. The emotional pain of severe depression can be acute, making us want to do anything to make it stop. However, any self-destructive or acting-out behavior might alleviate that pain for all of five minutes, after which you will feel much worse. I have been there, more times than I can count. Trust me, it doesn’t help.

Here’s what doesn‘t work:

  • Overeating;
  • Eating neurotoxic foods, such as wheat, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods;
  • Drinking and drugging;
  • Excessive smoking;
  • Spending sprees;
  • Isolating;
  • Cutting (self-mutilation);
  • Putting in motion plans to commit suicide.

If you are seriously contemplating suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you need to go to the hospital, ask a family member or friend to take you, or call 911 for an ambulance. You are too precious to take your own life. Don’t do it. The world needs your unique gifts and talents, and you deserve to get well and enjoy your life. It can happen, but only if you give yourself a chance.

With that said, here are the last five remedies for depression emergencies:

5.    Increase your dosage of Omega-3’s. If you’re currently taking 1000 mg. of fish oil, take 2000. If you’re currently taking 2000 mg., take 3000. If you aren’t currently taking any at all, get some high-quality, mercury-free fish oil as soon as you can and start with 1000 mg. A “normal” dose (for folks without depression) is 1000 mg.; a therapeutic dose starts at 3000 mg. As with any supplement, you are responsible for determining whether this is the right thing for you.

4.     Call your therapist. Try to get in to see her immediately for an emergency session. She can talk you out of the really scary place you’re in, give you some additional coping strategies, and determine whether you need to be admitted to a hospital on an inpatient basis.

3.     Go to a support group meeting. I recommend you go to a face-to-face 12-Step meeting. If you are not in 12-Step recovery, that’s okay; you can still attend an open meeting of almost any fellowship. The important thing is not that you share the outward manifestation of addiction, whether it be alcoholism, compulsive overeating, drug addiction, codependence, or what-have-you; but that you connect with people who have experienced many of the same struggles you have and who understand what it’s like to be in emotional pain. Their experience, strength, and hope can get you over this rough patch and help you to feel connected and empowered.

The following fellowships are the most likely to have open meetings in your area:

Your town may also have a depression support group. Chances are, however, that they don’t meet very often and may not meet soon enough to help you through your current depressive crisis. To find a depression support group near you, contact your local hospital; they frequently sponsor these groups. You can also go to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s (DBSA’s) website.

2.     Get a massage or other bodywork and/or energy work. Getting some type of body work done, such as massage, craniosacral, or reflexology and/or some energy work, such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, will not only be healing for you but will also help you to feel connected and nurtured. To find a practitioner in any of these modalities (and many others) visit massagetherapy.com’s referral page.

You have the option to activate your very own spiritual "SWAT team."

1.     Call in the spiritual SWAT team. That’s right. It’s time to bring in the big guns. Connecting to your Higher Power accomplishes three things: a) It allows you to surrender and let go of your fear and anxiety and turn them over to something bigger than yourself, b) it helps you to feel supported and connected, and c) it activates spiritual healing forces on your behalf.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to activate your own spiritual “SWAT team”:

  • Ask a friend, loved one, or your spiritual community to activate a prayer chain on your behalf. Family members and friends of people with cancer and other serious illnesses do this all the time. You are just as sick and just as in need of the loving care of other people and of your Higher Power. This has the added benefit of allowing people to actively care for you instead of just wondering how they can help you.
  • Work the first three Steps of 12-Step recovery around your depression; discuss them with another person. You don’t even have to be in a 12-Step program to do this. The Steps go like this:
    Step 1: I admit I am powerless over depression; it is making my life unmanageable.
    Step 2: I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.
    Step 3: I turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God.
  • Call upon the Archangel Raphael and his team of healing angels. Ask them to surround you and send the healing white light of God’s presence and love into your brain to heal it. This technique can be especially powerful and effective if you ask some friends to join you in “seeing” the angels doing their healing work.

You do not have to suffer. Do what it takes to stabilize yourself at this time, and then start taking proactive steps to rescue yourself and live well in spite of having depression. Whoever you are, wherever you are, my prayers are with you.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Do you know anyone who is in a depressive crisis? If so, please share this with them! It may help.

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Filed under Making Tracks, Survival Toolkit, Top Ten Lists

Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 1

“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.” — by Rita Mae Brown

We might not be as peaceful as this butterfly, but we have to at least try.

For depression level(s): Severe.

Unlike the ironically funny Top Ten list I wrote a few weeks ago, “Top Ten Things NOT to Do When You’re Depressed,” this article is as serious as, well — depression.

I wasn’t planning to write on this topic today. In fact, I was going to supply you with my original recipe for gluten-free pot roast, as a follow-on to last week’s “Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression.” (Check this blog over the next week or two; I’ll share the recipe soon.)

But the fact is, it’s hot here in central Texas. I don’t mean just fan-your-face warm. I mean searing. We’re in a drought here, folks: Ten inches of rain below the average for this year already, and a ten-inch deficit left over from last year. And we’re already in triple-digit temperatures. What does this have to do with depression, you ask?

Heat + Glaring sun + Drought + Being cooped inside + Isolation = Depression

People tend to think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as applying only to cold, rainy, cloudy climes in the wintertime, places like Seattle, Milwaukee, Helsinki, or London. But the fact is, SAD can occur in the summertime, too, due to too much of a good thing: Sun. The primary reason I moved away from southern Arizona was because I became increasingly suicidal with each summer that passed. The summers there are absolutely brutal. I moved here because I have family here; it never occurred to me that it could get as miserably hot and dry and glaring as it does in Arizona. BIG miscalculation.

So, yes, my depression has kicked up in a big way, and I am in a bad way. Fortunately, I have friends and family who love me and who are willing and able to be there for me when I need them. (God bless them, because for sure I’m not pleasant to be around when I get like this.) My mother suggested I write up the most important things a depressive can do to help herself when the depression gets really, really bad.

Since in helping others I tend to help myself, I’ve taken an imperfect stab at the top ten things in our survival toolkit. The first five (nos. 10-6) are listed below; the second five (nos. 5-1) can be found in a separate posting: Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 2.

10.    Call someone. Immediately. Don’t wait. Better yet, call several someones and ask one of them to come over. Right now. This is not a good time for you to be alone. So what if you haven’t showered in two days and dirty dishes litter your kitchen counters. The folks who really love you won’t care. (Yes, there are people who love you, even if your depression brain says otherwise.)

You are not alone.

9.     Don’t listen to anything your depression brain says. It is lying. Anything your mind comes up with at this point is suspect; don’t give it any credence whatsoever. Just this morning, my mind told me that I am a complete loser, a waste of space on the planet, that I’m unloved and unwanted, and that I should never have been born. Instead, replace all that ugliness with a positive affirmation and keep saying it over and over again, like a mantra. One of my favorite ones is, “I’m lovable, worthy, wanted, and good enough just as I am.”

8.     Take a walk. Seriously. Put on your raggedy old t-shirt and shorts and ask a friend or family member to drag you outside. You have to get moving. Getting the oxygen and the endorphins flowing is imperative.

7.     Give your brain something else to do. Distract it by going to the movies, sitting at a cafe and reading, talking with a friend over lunch — anything so you don’t have to think. Ruinous rumination is to be avoided at all costs. See “When the Going Gets Tough…” for more distraction techniques.

6.     Do some EFT. Emotional Freedom Techniques, that is. This can bring your mind and body out of a state of emergency and give you the ability to make better choices. If you already know EFT, great; you’re in business. If not, at some point in the future when you’re feeling better, you can teach yourself how to do it by downloading the free manual from EFT Universe or by watching videos on YouTube. Right now, this is probably beyond you, so here’s something very simple you can do:

  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “suicidal” and 1 being “barely noticeable,” note the intensity level of your depression.
  • With the middle and ring fingers of your right hand, tap on the “karate chop point” of your left hand (the bottom edge of your hand when your thumb is pointing up toward the ceiling).
  • As you tap, say to yourself, “Even though my depression is bad today, I deeply and completely love and accept myself anyway.” Do this several times.
  • Switch hands, so that now you are tapping on your right hand’s karate chop point with the middle and ring fingers of your left hand. Continue saying the affirmation.
  • Take note of your intensity level now. It should have gone down by several points.

Take good care of yourself. You’re worth it (as am I). Remember: This, too, shall pass.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Do you know anyone who is in a depressive crisis? If so, please share this with them! It may help.

Keep striving towards peace, one baby step at a time. You're worth it!

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Filed under Making Tracks, Survival Toolkit, Top Ten Lists

Derailed—And What to Do About It

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” – Gilda Radner

For Depression Level(s): Severe depression that has somewhat resolved.

There you are, chugging more-or-less merrily—or at least functionally—along, doing your job, shopping for groceries, spending time with your friends, when—WHAM! The train of your life jumps the tracks and you find yourself laid out on the couch, severely depressed and unable to function.

Forget work. Forget doing the dishes. Forget paying your bills on time. Forget being a support to your partner or friends. Forget feeling even halfway good.

Recurring depressive episodes can stop us in our tracks.

You’ve been derailed.

Depression is once again your constant companion, for days or even weeks. Who knows why it happened? Could be you ate one too many snack-sized Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars over the last couple of weeks. Could be you misplaced the yoga schedule. Could be you forgot to take your medication or supplements. Could be Mercury is in retrograde, a butterfly sneezed in Spain, or there was a hiccup in the time-space continuum.

Could be anything. Really, the reason why depression has revisited you, like an ex-lover you thought you’d dumped but who keeps turning up on your doorstep, is not that important.

The question is: What do you do about it?

I had to ask myself that question last week when I found myself smack dab in the middle of another depressive episode. I felt exhausted, achy, and lethargic. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t do chores, and certainly couldn’t write. All I wanted to do was sleep. You know the drill.

Getting yanked back into severe depression is kind of like having a bad cold. You used to get bad colds a lot, but not so much anymore. You’ve gotten to where you enjoy life without colds—the contrast with the way things used to be evokes deep appreciation. It makes you angry that yet again you have a bad cold, with all that goes along with it. “None of this should be happening,” you think. “I’ve worked so hard to get to the point where bad colds are not such an issue anymore.” Yet, here you are. You have one. All you can do is wait it out.

But wait—that’s not quite true. Even though a bad cold cannot be “cured,” there are things you can do to speed up the healing process. We all know what they are: Drink plenty of fluids, take Vitamin C, eat chicken noodle soup, rest.

It’s the same with a depressive episode. Although you and I have both worked hard to overcome severe depression through medication and/or supplements, lifestyle changes, therapy, and the complete restructuring of our lives, brain chemistry being what it is, it’s inevitable that we will from time to time find ourselves falling back down that dark well of despair.

There are things we can do, however, to ease the severity of the episode and shorten its duration. Since I used to work for NASA, I like acronyms. They serve as useful mnemonic devices. Here is a five-step process using the acronym TRACK. The steps can be taken in any order and are ongoing; in fact, the more you do them, the more they reinforce each other.

T = Take radical care of yourself. This means eating high-quality nutrition, exercising daily, taking the meds or supplements that are part of your regimen, and getting plenty of rest.

R = Refuse to eat sugar and wheat. Both of these substances have been shown to play havoc with brain chemistry. Do yourself a favor and leave them out of your diet.

Using the TRACK process can bring back contentment and functionality.

A = Accept the situation. Although it’s natural to be angry that you are once again at the mercy of severe depression, staying angry will ensure that you stay depressed. Accept what’s happening and let go of the anger. Here is where it can be helpful to ask the assistance of your Higher Power. Say a simple prayer such as, “God, here I am again, depressed. I don’t know how I got here, and I’m powerless over it. I’m so mad. Please help me to accept this situation and let go of my anger. With your help I know it’s possible. Thank you.”

C = Connect with family and friends. It is important not to isolate during the episode. Talk to at least one friend or family member per day, either by phone or in person.

K = Keep a low profile. Reduce your current commitment level and don’t accept any new ones. Now is not the time to launch a major project at work, give a speech at Toastmasters, or have friends over for dinner. Really, if none of these things takes place this week, what’s the worst that could happen? Learning to say “no” is one of the most important skills you can develop.

With the TRACK process and a little time, you will soon be chugging merrily along in your life.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Did you find the TRACK process useful? If so, please leave a comment below and share your experience with others.

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The Dailies

A made bed just feels better!

“Action is the antidote to despair.” – by Joan Baez

As you can see by the 12-day gap in blog entries, staying in action consistently can be difficult for a depressive. (If you have depression and have figured out some effective strategies for keeping yourself moving, I’d love to hear them! No doubt, many others would, as well. Feel free to enter them in the Comments section.) Having my mother visit for two weeks may have been a factor, but I want to be effective in my life and achieve my goals regardless of who’s visiting or what’s going on, barring the occasional hurricane or insect infestation. As you may have gleaned by now, my recovery from depression is a work in progress.

So, what to do? Ahh, fodder for many blog posts to come. The place to start, I think, is with some gentle structure—what I call “The Dailies.” These are three simple actions that, no matter how inconsistently you perform them, will give you an emotional and physical boost. The more consistent you are with completing these tasks daily, the better you’ll feel and the more their completion provides a foundation for further accomplishments. As your health improves, you’ll be able to take on greater levels of sustained action.

The Three Daily Actions…

The three actions that you can strive to perform daily are as follows:

  1. Make your bed every day. This takes about five (5) minutes. Do it immediately after getting out of bed. Yeah, I know, it took you an hour to wake up and another hour to put your feet on the floor; that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be Better Homes & Gardens; just toss the pillows aside, brush off the bottom sheet and pull the top sheet, blanket, and spread up. Put the pillows back. The physical exertion required to do even this much will get your blood moving and your brain working just a little bit better. And you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the beginning of your day (even it if is 1:00 in the afternoon).
  2. Do some kind of physical movement for 10 minutes every day. This could be doing easy arm and leg exercises while you’re lying in bed. It could include taking a couple of turns around your apartment complex. Or it could look like putting on an upbeat CD and dancing. Anything to get your body moving. Enlist one or two of your support team members to be exercise buddies. A neighbor would be ideal in this role. You’ll likely feel a greater sense of optimism after you’re done.

    If your depression is moderate: Increase your physical activity to a 20-30 minute walk. Walking is truly one of the best exercises for people with depression. It doesn’t require any special equipment, can be done at any time of day, and it’s free. If you have access to a pool, take advantage of that. For days when the weather is too hot or too cold to be outside, check out exercise videos from the library that contain several brief workouts.

    If your depression is mild: Increase your physical activity to a 30-40 minute walk or workout. This will catapult you into a feeling of well-being and greater functionality.

  3. Call a member of your support team. Even if it’s just to check in and say, “Hi, I’m still alive,” you should be in touch with another human being by voice or in person every day. I encourage you to call rather than text, as the sound of another person’s voice provides a greater sense of connection. Make your phone call as early in the day as you can to power you up for the rest of your day. If you need help with something, ask.

Make your bed. Move physically. Call someone supportive. That’s it. Just three simple daily actions that will improve your life in ways that may seem insignificant but will be, in reality, both uplifting and healing. If you can’t do all three actions, then do what you can.

…And How to Get Them Done

Here are some suggestions on how to actually accomplish these actions:

  • Set a timer or stopwatch.
  • Bookend with a member of your support team—this could be a resident family member or roommate. “Hon, I really need to go for a 10-minute walk, but I won’t do it if it’s just me. Would you mind coming with me?” (“Hon” could probably use the walk, too. And if “Hon” says no, ask someone else.)
  • Give a member of your support team permission to remind you to complete at least one of these actions every day.
  • Set a virtual reminder in your online calendar or PDA. Don’t turn off the beeping until you’ve started the action.
  • Go low-tech: post stickies with reminders in key places (bathroom, fridge, etc.).
  • Write on a piece of paper, “Love and support come to me through my phone,” and tape it to the back of your phone. Read it every time you pass by the phone or pick it up.
  • Project yourself into the future to the time after you’ve completed the action(s) and imagine how much better you’ll feel.
  • Ask your Higher Power for the motivation you need to complete these actions. You’ll be amazed at how your mood and energy shift after saying this simple prayer.

I recognize that these actions are simple but that completing them may not be easy, depending upon the severity of your depression. Do not allow yourself to feel bad if you don’t do them, or only do one or two of the actions; this is not an exercise in inducing guilt or adding to your stress load. It is an opportunity to practice nurturing yourself, boosting your brain chemistry, and reminding yourself that you’re not alone.

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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Friends on Call—Part 2

Aren't friends grand?

“Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.” – by Maya Angelou

As people with depression, it can be hard to reach out and ask for help. All that negative self-talk and low self-esteem stand in our way like the new wall down on the Texas-Mexico border and make it nearly impossible to ask for help, not to mention the complete absence of energy and inability to focus. It feels so vulnerable to reveal to others that we are struggling with a mood disorder. Won’t people think less of us if we tell them what’s going on?

The Stigma of Depression

There is no doubt that there is still a stigma associated with having a mood disorder, even something as commonplace as depression. Approximately 9.5% of American adults, or nearly 21 million people, have some form of depression http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#MajorDepressive. Think about it: this rate is roughly equal to the current national unemployment rate. Major depression alone is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. among people aged 15-44. Can we say, “Billions of dollars in lost productivity, missed taxes, and disability benefits paid”? And yet, Congress is passing all kinds of laws to address the issue of unemployment, all the while completely ignoring the pandemic of depression in this country. (In contrast, as of the end of last year, there were fewer than 116,000 cases of swine flu http://www.flucount.org/, and you know all the resources and P.R. that were mobilized on behalf of that disease. Hmmm, 21 million vs. 116,000 …. Not to minimize the severity and trauma of influenza for the folks who had it and their families, especially those who lost their lives, but isn’t it time our nation mobilized on behalf of depression?)

Sorry. Got off on my soapbox. We’ll talk more about the costs associated with depression another time. Meanwhile, kudos to CBS for their positive efforts to raise awareness about depression as a treatable illness through their CBS Cares public service announcements http://www.cbs.com/cbs_cares/topics/?sec=5.

I have had many experiences with the stigma of depression, all of which served to ignite a great deal of shame and worsen the depression. The most dramatic instance concerned the boss I had at the time I was diagnosed with major depression and dysthymia. When the depression got so bad that I had to go on medical leave, he did a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde number where he went from being a hey-aren’t-we-good-buddies kind of boss to not even looking me in the eye, refusing to shake my hand, etc. I might as well have had leprosy. It was all I could do not to wish my own fate on him. (Voodoo doll, anyone?)

Be Vulnerable to Be Strong

It took a great deal for me to admit to the world through this blog that I have depression and to share my struggles and triumphs surrounding it. What I came to recognize, however, is that doing so makes me stronger and keeps me well. In my vulnerability, paradoxically, lies my strength. As the Enigma song “Return to Innocence” croons, “Don’t be afraid to be weak / Don’t be too proud to be strong / … That will be the return to yourself.” Refusing to feel ashamed about an illness that is as physiological as diabetes and heart disease—and that is much less preventable—helps me to recover faster.

I believe this paradox to be true for all people with depression. It is only when we accept our illness and reach out for the help we need that we can begin to get well. This is why your support team is so important. Because the stigma of depression is real, however, I want to share some suggestions on how to build and work with your team. You want to be discerning at the same time you are reaching out.

Building Your Support Team

  • Go slowly as you begin to build your team. Relationships can’t be rushed.
  • Start with the Level 4 and Level 3 folks, the ones you’ve known the longest and with whom you are the most comfortable. (See the previous blog post on the different levels of support.) When you’ve got those people in place, go on to Levels 2 and 1.
  • If they don’t already know, explain to them that you have depression. You might invite them to go out for coffee or lunch, take a walk, or sit on a bench at the mall and talk to them.
  • Educate them. Share with them any information you may have about depression, the diagnos(es) you have received, and the treatment you are currently receiving. Share with them CPR4D’s “Unofficial But Really Real Diagnostic Quiz” https://cprfordepressives.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/cpr4d%E2%80%99s-unofficial-but-really-real-diagnostic-quiz/ and ask them to help you take it, or show them your results.
  • Explain that although depression has been debilitating for you, you are determined not to let it run your life and will do everything you possibly can to get well. Add that your primary goal is connecting with others and living your life as productively as possible.
  • Direct them to this blog. They can follow it along with you.
  • Explain clearly what you need from them. Tell them the kinds of support you need: Listening? Feedback and advice? Help getting up on time to go to work? Help with the kids? The house? Errands? Paying bills and managing finances? Exercise buddy? Shared activities? (Even going to the movies together can be supportive.) Give them options and let them pick the tasks and roles they’d be most comfortable assisting you with.
  • Explain that you have several supporters and that they will not be the only ones helping you.
  • Explain that you see the relationships as reciprocal, and that you, in turn, wish to provide support to them in whatever ways they need that are mutually agreeable.
  • Say that you recognize that they may not always be available, and that you would appreciate them letting you know that clearly, without prevarication. That way, you can contact someone else on your team instead.
  • Arrange frequency of contact. I suggest a minimum of 3-4 times a week for the Level 4 folks, 2-3 times a week for the Level 3 folks, and less often for the Levels 2 and 1 people.
  • Exchange contact info and the best times to call. Add this info to your chart as soon as you get home and post the chart on your fridge or bathroom mirror, with a copy in your purse or wallet. Posting your support team chart where you can see it frequently every day will remind you that you are not alone and that you do have the support you need to get well and live a better, healthier life.
  • Add all your support team members’ phone numbers to your cell phone’s phonebook, with your Level 4’s on speed dial.
  • Stay in touch! Ask your team members to contact you if they have not heard from you in specified period of time, say, a week.
  • Thank them periodically for supporting you. Show appreciation as best you can. If you can host a potluck, have them over. If that’s too stressful, then take them out for coffee and a chat. A simple “I appreciate you” email can do wonders to uplift their spirits, too.

Building your support network is an ongoing exercise in discernment, trust, communication, and reciprocity—in short, relationships. I don’t know about you, but I know that I need lots of practice in this area! Making the decision to intentionally build a support team, commit to maintaining it and using it, and provide reciprocal support to the members of your team is an exercise in conscious relationships that few people undertake, even those who do not have depression. It takes courage and can be extremely rewarding in ways you may not be able to see right now.

Next time: “The Dailies.” Finally!

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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Friends On Call—Part 1

Friends lift us up

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” – by George Eliot

In spite of having a most enjoyable trip to the Texas Hill Country early last week, I ended up wading in the familiar waters of depression toward the end of the week, which is why I posted only one blog entry during that time. Depression is like that; it strikes when we least expect it, seemingly without provocation. I have often joked that my depressive dips are due to Mercury being aspected with Pluto and rising in Capricorn, or some other incomprehensible astrological event—they are that random.

Yet, as I looked back over the week, I realized that I had not participated in several things involving other people that are a part of my usual schedule, and which serve as important sources of support and connection for me. I didn’t attend my action meeting on Monday with my action partner, due to being out of town. I didn’t go to Toastmasters. I missed my Master Mind group. I didn’t attend any support group meetings. And I missed a couple of my thrice-weekly Aquacise classes.

In addition, I had to look at my diet. I ate some wheat on at least three occasions last week. It wasn’t a lot, but I appear to be very sensitive to wheat. (As soon as I can, I plan to get tested for wheat and gluten sensitivity.) More than one book I’ve read about the correlation between diet and mood disorders has said that wheat is bad news for people with depression.

So, even though the At Random Factor (ARF—like a dog, you never know when it’s going to bark) was definitely present, there were things I could have done and things I could have avoided doing that would have helped me stay out of depression. I could have resumed my usual routine as soon as I returned from my trip. I could have taken a couple of walks to make up for the exercise classes I missed. I could have stayed away from the multi-grain chips and brownie (just a bite! Really!) and ice cream (sugar = bad news, too) that I munched on while out of town. I could have phoned in to a support group meeting. I could even have temporarily increased the amount of fish oil I take. Doing these things would have helped me to feel connected to other people and to life itself, and would have helped my brain chemistry stay on an even keel. And if these things were too hard for me to do on my own (which they obviously were, or I would have done them), I could have made some outreach calls to get support.

As so often happens, however, I wasn’t even aware that the depression was beginning to wash over me, just that I felt “off” and wasn’t functioning too well, until the episode had passed. What there is for me to do is learn from what happened. Clearly, when there is a major interruption to my routine, even a fun, adventurous one, I need to take some preventive measures.

Key among these is to make sure I stay connected to other people, wherever I am, and to ask for help when I need it. That is where having a support team comes in.

EXERCISE: In the previous blog posting (“What Dogs and People Have In Common” https://cprfordepressives.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/what-dogs-and-people-have-in-common/), I asked you to make a list of six friends who would be supportive if you were to call them and ask for help. It may be that coming up with six was a bit of a challenge. That’s fine; you can always add to your team as you go along. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help when you ask. Pull out your list and some additional paper and a pen, or your computer if you prefer.

Just as you cannot be all things to other people, other people cannot be all things to you. Different people will be able to provide different levels of support, depending upon how long you’ve known them and how close you are. No doubt, people will move from level to level as you get to know them better. I suggest the following levels of support:

Support Levels 1-4:

LEVEL TYPE OF SUPPORT PROVIDED

Level 1:      Provide companionship at an exercise or dance class, share a hobby or other common interest, join you for coffee, lunch, or other social activity. People at this level may not know you have depression, but they help to bring you out of isolation and to feel connected. Meetups, clubs, and classes are good for this kind of support.

Level 2:      Previous level, plus they are willing to help out with practical tasks and errands, such as preparing food, grocery shopping, doing dishes, etc. They will need to know you have depression, or at least a chronic illness. Support team members at this level can also help with bookending. Bookending is simply calling a member of your support team to let her know that you are about to do something that is challenging for you; this provides built-in accountability. You hang up, go do whatever it is you planned to do, and then call your friend back to let her know you actually accomplished it. Or not. Either way, you aren’t alone. Neighbors, people you’ve met through church or other spiritual community and through volunteer organizations are good for this kind of support.

Level 3:     All previous levels, plus they listen supportively, provide feedback when requested, accompany you to doctor or other health care appointments, keep you company when you are especially down, assist with bill-paying and checkbook balancing, help you fill out forms and organize paperwork, etc. Close friends, support-group buddies, and peer counselors are good for this kind of support.

Level 4:     All previous levels, plus you can call any time, day or night, even at 3:00 in the morning. One of these support team members is the person to call when you are suicidal, but only AFTER you have called 911 and/or the suicide help line. Best friends or closest buddies are good for this kind of support. Close relatives could also provide Level 4 support if no friend fits the bill.

My Support Team Friends

Now, draw up a chart on a piece of paper or create it on your computer, using the following example with made-up data as a guide:

Name How I Know This Person Level of Support Local?
(Y/N)
Phone Number(s) Best Times to Call Email Address
FRIENDS
1.  Sharon Best friend

4

N

(500) 555-1000 Any time friend1@gmail.com
2.  Denyse Good friend & action partner

3

N

(500) 555-1001 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. MT friend2@gmail.com
3.  Sally Close friend

4

Y

123-4321 Any time friend3@gmail.com
4.  Dagmar Good friend

3

Y

123-4322 8 a.m. – midnight friend4@gmail.com
5.  Allison Sponsor

4

N

(500) 555-1002 Any time friend5@gmail.com
6.  Julie Church

2

N

(500) 555-1003 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. friend6@gmail.com
7.  David Support group buddy

3

Y

123-4323 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. friend7@gmail.com
8.  Will Friend

2

N

(500) 555-1004 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. AZ time friend8@gmail.com
9.  Vicki Toastmasters

1

Y

123-4324 Call cell; lv. msg. friend9@gmail.com

Transfer the names from your initial list to your chart and fill it in, to the best of your knowledge. You can always add more info as you receive it. If you put “church” or “temple” on your initial list, call your pastor, rabbi, or other spiritual leader and find out what kind of help is available to people with chronic illnesses. Many churches have nurturing or outreach committees that visit sick or disabled individuals, providing companionship, meals, and practical support. (And yeah, I know you don’t want to see yourself as sick or disabled, but at this point you need to take advantage of whatever help is available.)

I know this is a challenging exercise, not only because it may be hard to focus but also because it’s difficult to come out of that isolating shell of depression, admit you need help, and begin to ask for it. You are worth it, however. I know you want (are willing?) to recover. Utilizing a support team will expedite your recovery. If you need help to complete any part of this exercise, this is a good time to practice bookending. And yes, I do have a support team of my own. I am realizing as I write this article that I don’t call on it nearly enough; it’s time to fine-tune it and pick up that 1000-pound phone more often!

P.S. In case you’re wondering if building a support team is somewhat antithetical to this blog’s title of “Rescue Yourself,” it’s not. The idea behind “rescue yourself” is that you and I and every one of us who has depression is responsible for taking our recovery into our own hands and doing whatever it takes to get well. It doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.

Next time: “Friends on Call—Part 2.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen

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