Thursday, September 1, 2011

Part Two - Way Down In The Dumps - Are You Depressed?

I guess most of us have felt down in the dumps or ‘blue’ from time to time. However, anxiety and depression are far more than just feeling down in the dumps.  They are serious diseases, which according to the, present the following statistics:  

1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year
  • Suicide rates show that British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women
  • Self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population

Even in spite of these statistics, anxiety and depression are often underdiagnosed and undertreated.  How would you recognize serious depression in yourself or a loved one? There are signs to watch for, and the following are some of them.

A traumatic life event like a death in the family or divorce, even marriage, having a baby, or moving house, can trigger symptoms.  For some, these symptoms are immediate and drastic.  For others, depression shows slowly, in subtle ways that are harder for friends to notice, and which are sometimes even harder to diagnose. Doctors have a set list of specific symptoms.  Someone meets the clinical requirements of a major depressive episode if they experience five of those symptoms during a period of two weeks. 

If you read through the symptoms and know someone who has shown signs of depression,   the first move is to see a doctor or qualified therapist for an official diagnosis. Most importantly, if you're personally having thoughts about harming yourself or others, please seek immediate help from a medical professional.

Too many people casually use the word “depressed.” Whether used to describe yourself, or someone you know, it’s an easy way to explain someone’s mood, attitude or behavior. But depression is a serious condition with serious consequences, one with clinical standards for diagnosis and real treatment options. To understand depression and how it affects the mind and body, you need to know the warning signs.

  • Appetite - a reduced appetite is a common symptom of depression, but so is an increased one. Wild swings in hunger, and being consistently hungrier or less hungry than normal can all be signals of major depression. A change in appetite may be difficult to notice; instead you may notice that you’ve gained or lost weight. If your weight has changed significantly, talk to your doctor.
  • Lethargy.  This isn’t just a case of “I can’t be bothered”.  It is an overall feeling of low energy levels, including slowed thinking and even slowed down movement. Feeling sluggish is an early warning sign, and prolonged physical and mental slowness are both clues that the body gives when depression is setting in.
  • When our body slows down, the effects of this show in the brain’s processes too.  Mental slowdown includes an inability to focus, especially on problems or topics that used to be easy. As depression sets in, people tend to become indecisive and have trouble concentrating on simple tasks. Tasks that were once quick and easy become difficult and frustrating
  • Loss of interest in activities and topics that you used to enjoy is a classic symptom of depression. From time to time it is normal to wake up tired and without motivation. But dropping things you used to enjoy, skipping exercise, clubs, work or classes on a consistent, regular basis could indicate depression. Loss of interest can apply to people as well as activities. When facing depression, people withdraw and turn friends and family members away. Though it may be the most important time to draw on a support system, a bout with depression usually causes people to isolate themselves and try to deal with the condition alone. That usually makes things even worse.
  • Change in sleeping patterns.  Most people aren’t getting enough sleep as a rule, so working out if you are getting too much or too little sleep may be difficult. True insomnia is more than just a night or two of tossing and turning:  those who are depressed spend weeks battling fatigue and low-quality sleep. A sudden increase in sleep or desire to sleep all the time or sleep instead of participating in fun activities is a major tip-off that depression is setting in, too.
  • Irritability is another warning sign of depression. Especially in typically pleasant people, sudden mood swings aren’t just a result of hormones or “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” — they’re alerts. The tendencies to become agitated with little or minimal provocation, or to become irritable for no reason, are both tied closely to clinical depression.
  • Being sad may sound like an obvious sign of depression, but this level of sadness goes beyond the passing feelings that may come throughout the day. In major depression, sadness is a pervasive feeling. It’s extreme, almost inescapable and comes with little explanation. Unprompted crying spells are a key warning of major depression.
  • Along with extreme sadness can come feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. Depression can cause people to lose hope and even feel that the value of their own life has diminished or disappeared. Things seem unimportant. Those who are depressed sometimes feel as if the whole world has lost meaning and find it impossible to control all of the negativity surrounding them, feeling unjustified guilt over uncontrollable issues, from global issues like war and poverty to personal troubles like family issues or being sick.

The feeling that life isn’t worth living is just a step away from suicidal tendencies, a warning sign that requires immediate action. Even the closest friends or siblings may not notice that someone is having frequent thoughts of suicide. If you’re experiencing these feelings, immediately contact someone you trust, like a friend, relative, doctor, therapist or other mental healthcare clinician, adviser, or a religious or spiritual leader. If you don’t feel comfortable with those resources, or they aren’t responding to your needs, reach out for the help of a hotline, for example Lifeline.  There are many online resources for help with these feelings.  Where someone with depression reaches the point of suicidal tendencies, there are other signs to look for. Those with depression will often turn to risky behavior. Though it may not be a pursuit of death, turning to reckless activities, from dangerous stunts to drunk or impaired driving, recklessness is an important sign to look out for.
  • Substance abuse. When you’re feeling down, do you find yourself reaching for a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or even a shot of vodka for a “pick-me-up?”  A study made by the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, New Zealand, in 2009, suggests that problems with alcohol abuse lead to increased major depression - as opposed to major depression leading to alcohol abuse. However, it is common behavior for those who are battling depression to turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication to numb their pain. Because of its association with depression, alcohol abuse is a definite warning sign that depression might not be far behind.
  • Loss of libido is usually associated with some physical or mental change. It goes along with a loss of interest in general social contact as a very common sign of depression. Clinical depression is so extreme as to virtually eliminate an individual’s pursuit of any kind of joy or pleasure, including physical contact and sex.
Though depression may seem like it all takes place in the head, it can be a full-body condition. Partly because people with depression aren’t getting the right amount of sleep or a balanced, nutritious diet, physical pain can set in. Headaches are the most common pain depression symptom, though back pain and aching joints and muscles are also possible. Even stomach and digestive problems can arise and be related to depression.  Conversely, chronic pain leads to major depression more often than not.
From pain to sleep disorders, people with depression have plenty of justifiable reasons to take strong prescription drugs. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to abuse these drugs. Combine the inclination toward reckless behavior, physical pain and the need to escape, and the temptation to abuse prescription drugs is often just too great. Prescription drug abuse is even more frightening because of the potential risk for increasing the tendency towards suicide. Also, some prescription drugs have a risk of depression as a side effect, even when taken in the proper dose. If you think someone may be abusing prescription drugs or if you think your medication may be affecting your mood, call a doctor.

Not everyone knows that depression is a clinical condition with guidelines for diagnosis, so if you recognize these warning signs in yourself or someone you know, address the issues and seek medical help. Very often the biggest challenge is accepting the problem. In talking with a doctor, you’ll learn the various treatment methods, ranging from prescription pills to counselling, and figure out which treatment, or combination of treatments, works best for you.
While there is no sure way to prevent depression, there are things you can do to help you through tough days and keep your depression from worsening. Working to control your stress and anxiety levels, maintaining strong relationships with supportive friends and family and treatment at the earliest sign of problem can help. Also, maintaining treatment long-term and routine therapy may help in preventing a relapse.

Way Down In The Dumps - Are You Depressed?

I have suffered from "Atypical Depression" since I was in my teens, and way back then there was not much in the way of help for the disease apart from drugs like Valium.  As understanding of the human brain and its processes has progressed, so too have the treatment options for depression, as has recognition that it is a disease like any other.  As such, we have no control over it.  Many depressives feel immense guilt for being ill, which is misplaced to say the least.  As my dear doctor explained to me years ago "If you contracted measles, would you feel guilty?" - depression is out of our control in the same way as catching a cold, or the measles. 

The current findings are that medication together with counselling is usually the  best way of treating this awful illness.  I was told that if you suffer from one major depressive episode you are usually given some form of anti-depressant for a period of approximately three months.  Two major episodes - six months.  Three or more major episodes and you are on medication for life.  My medication is for life.

There has been a fairly recent breakthrough in genetics as well.  Although for years it was known that there is a genetic link to depression, scientists have now isolated the gene responsible.  In my own family we can trace the depression through our family history for many generations.  There are suicides in every generation, up to the present day.  Family members living in USA and New Zealand have also confirmed that depression continued down their branch of the family.  So with us it is a little like facing a loaded gun!
I do remember my mother telling me of a cousin who had, I think, eight children.  After each birth she was committed to a mental institution.  How dreadfully sad, how awful, when it is obvious to us now that she was suffering from Post Natal Depression - so very common.  So very treatable nowadays.
The purpose of this blog is one of reassurance primarily.

If you believe you have depression - get help!  There is no stigma attached to depression, unlike in the past.   It is treatable, the medication prescribed is not addictive - as was Valium and the like.  And the doctor understands what is happening with you.  You may have to try several different medications before you and the doctor find one that is suitable for you - but there are many options and many anti-depressants can be used in combination with each other.  
For the signs and symptoms, please read my next blog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What We Learn From Our Children

Have you ever thought about how much we learn from our children? Some lessons we learn are profound and change us and our lives forever. Others are much simpler, but equally life-changing. And if you sit and think about it, it might surprise you just how few of these lessons are negative ones.

We all know the negative side of newborns - sleepless nights, anxiety about baby's health and feeding and toilet habits, and of course, their routine. Or lack of one! Perhaps these little negatives can actually be re-classified as positive lessons. We are getting to know our baby, and vice-versa. We are learning to sleep with part of our subconscious alert to the slightest sound of distress from our tiny ones. We are learning how their bodies respond to their food, whether they are feeling sick or are contented. Our 'getting to know you' period.

Past the newborn stage, our infant teaches us to smile and to laugh, to truly appreciate the smallest things - leaves floating on the wind, an ant crawling across the path, a ladybird! We are learning to see the world around us as a fascinating place, by seeing it through our children's eyes. 

These tiny people teach us the most all-encompassing love we will ever know. Total, unconditional love, which they return to us simply and naturally, asking little in return.

We learn to hold in our fears, in case we frighten our children. We learn to laugh inside, so that we don't appear to be making fun of them, when they are just innocently funny. We learn to mend most of their scrapes and bruises, usually with a kiss and a bandaid. Sometimes with some real first aid. We learn to share unstintingly. We learn to feel joy, and to cry where they can't see us because it upsets them. 

We learn in all ways and at every stage of their life, the hardest lesson of all - to let go. (We all had to learn to pedal a bicycle on our own!)

We learn about ourselves, and who we really are.

Hopefully we learn to feel more self-confident, and to hold ourselves in the highest regard. Because we are doing an outstanding job, often in a difficult environment, with the minimum of perks and the lowest paid wages ever! 

Our children, if we let them, can teach us to respect ourselves for who we are, as we respect them in turn.

Hold your heads up proudly mums, for you are doing a magnificent job.

This article previously appeared elsewhere as a  "guest blog".      

Down With The Warm and Fuzzies

I can hear you saying "what in hell is she on about?" as you read the title of this blog.  So I will say hello, welcome to the world of angry ants, grumpy granny and other assorted misfits!   I won't introduce myself, instead you will have to continue reading blogs if you wish to know more about me.  Sneaky eh?  I always considered I was techno-savvy, but during the past few months have had my eyes opened rather wide.  I joined the online world of so-called social media.   Namely, that Facepoop thing.

What an education it has turned out to be.  I discovered creatures out of nightmares, and fairytales.  And other disgusting things that  crawl from beneath rotting logs to prey on the innocent and sometimes merely bewildered of the world of netting.   I have heard tales of trolls (yes, you truly have to laugh, there is nothing new under the sun, is there?) and paedos (more on this sub-species at length, later),  and have witnessed some of the vilest acts I can ever recall.   Imagine someone 'stealing' photos of miscarried babies, and putting them on a misnamed 'Group'  with foul and sickening comments about them.   

I have seen acts of the most repellent sort, people trying to destroy other's relationships, happiness and even sanity.  I have been preyed upon by someone trying to gouge me for money.  Over and over again.   Being of a certain age the conscience screeches that maybe this poor unfortunate really does need a hand - but not from me thanks, I don't have the wherewithal and certainly not the inclination. Especially when said person was then seen to spend more than the figure begged for on chat!   Perhaps it is too easy to forget what private doings actually show up on your news?   

Still looking under bridges for the trolls that so many are going on about.  If I find one perhaps it will be like the Grumpy Old Troll in Dora the Explorer, and ask me a riddle!   Maybe I should update you if and when I find one.  I will consider it further.   This whole subject has me fascinated beyond belief, you better believe it.   There still seems to be no consistent explantion of a troll.   I love typing that word, every time I do I have to stop and snigger.

So if you thought that this granny was going to be full of the warm and fuzzies, you better go think again, because this old bird is game, and anti- loadsofthings.   No homebaked cookies or warm milk from me thanks.  If you fall over you get told you aren't hurt, get up!  (Unless you truly are hurt, then you get a cyber hug or two.)   Your new best friend, everyone's gran, is usually on the warpath about something or other, some red tape, some injustice - whatever you can think of I am sure to be fired up about it.

I won't waste your time with details of my latest hair rinse or nail extensions or whatever.  This is serious stuff.   I kid you not, we are going to have a bumpy ride my friends, so buckle up, cause Gran's driving!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How I Almost Murdered My Father

For many years I thought I had dreamed this scene, until I was talking with my mother about 10 years ago. She confirmed that it had actually happened, and added a couple of things that I had wiped from my memory. When I think about this it still makes me feel ill - and I believe that it is a perfect example of one person driving another person insane. Even if only temporarily.

My parents lived about an hour and a half away from me, as I was living and working in Sydney. They had asked if I wanted to go with them to North Queensland to visit my father's side of the family, and meet up again with cousins I hadn't seen since I was a small child. I was 20 at the time. It seemed like a marvellous opportunity to me, as I was rarely able to have a holiday, so I happily agreed. Foolishly agreed.

Mt Warning and Canefields

The morning arrived when they picked me up from my place, and we set off on the long drive to Innisfail. The roads in those days were very poor, even the main highway was full of huge ruts and holes, and was only two lanes wide in total. I want to explain here that my father was an abusive man, not physically, but the verbal abuse was often non-stop. He had an obsessive attachment to his "family" (we were never considered his family!) - at times he bordered on being fanatical about them. He could not wait to get to see them, and was like someone demented at times.

The first morning was unpleasant to say the least, as I had an upset stomach and we kept having to stop at every place with a toilet, for hours! Most of the morning my mother was driving, and my father was loudly cursing her, ordering her about, and generally speaking to her as though she was something stuck on the bottom of his shoe. I kept changing the subject when he started to rant and rave. He wasn't best pleased by this, and would soon start again, calling mum every name under the sun, criticising her driving, and in general being his usual pleasant self. Our afternoon went much the same way, with him raving and raving on. He wouldn't let us stop and set up the pop top van until it was well after dark. We then had to cook a meal. By the time this was over and we had showered it was nearly midnight. We were all exhausted.

Next morning - more of the same dish - We were up at dawn and on the road. There were no stops allowed unless it was for fuel. No side trips. No stops for photos, just endless miles of driving. I had never actually been trapped in the car with him, on a long journey, before this. It was easier when we were at home, as you could walk out and escape his tirade of abuse.

He started on me when I defended mum, and when I politely asked him if he could please please leave her alone, as it was upsetting us. I didn't really mind if he directed it at me, at least it gave mum a break. The afternoon was a repeat, and by this time my nerves were very frayed. He said something particularly disgusting about mum, and I was so angry I told him he was being foul. He turned around from the front seat and slapped me across the face. I had actually forgotten this until mum reminded me.

Now he had hurt me physically as well as shredding mum's and my nerves into strips. Once again we were not allowed to stop until well after dark. Mum walked across the camping ground to the toilet block and I started to help with erecting the pop top. We had a canvas annexe which was tied down with guy ropes, the way a tent is. Dad was STILL ranting and raving and swearing. I was handing him tent pegs etc., when he bellowed at me " Where's the %&%& hatchet?". Something inside me snapped.

To this day I cannot remember what happened for the next minute or two. Suddenly I 'woke' to hear mum quietly calling my name - and to my horror I realised that I had been about to smash the hatchet down into dad's head. I was standing behind him with the hatchet raised ready to slam it down into his brain. Mum quietly said for me to go and wash and take a break, that she would take over for me. I shook from head to toe, and all I could feel was sheer horror. If she hadn't come back at that precise moment - I would have murdered my father.

Since that night I have felt the utmost sympathy for people who murder "in the heat of the moment" and who truly cannot remember what happened. I believe them! I have been in their shoes, and if not for my mum the outcome would have been unthinkable. The one person who managed to stop my father was actually my cousin. When dad was saying revolting things about mum, my cousin only stood it for a very short while, and he then said quietly "uncle, if you don't stop I am going to lay you out". And do you know what? My father stopped. 

This article previously appeared elsewhere as a 'guest blog'.