Where is the light?

Depression often is described as a dark period, or time of sadness.  Episodes of sadness have a distinctive onset, like a bad cold, and there are sometimes identifiable stimulus-response reactions.  Without an entire scientific double blind research project, for the sake of this blog let’s say that your life with depression falls into a continuum of darkness and light, or sadness and joy.

How do you bring about the light?  What is the joy in your life?  When you’re feeling depressed, as in situational depression, is it because there is an absence of the enjoyment of life, those things that normally cause you joy?  If depression is truly the dark, where then can you find the light? Do you know what those sources of light are?  What has happened to those points of light, those sources of joy when you’re feeling down?

In my own experience, I’ve felt the onset of depression when I’ve lost my perspective.  Something has not gone my way, and it has stuck in my consciousness somehow. I re-live the loss of perspective and what event or stimulus has brought it on.  I focus blame, usually on myself, and muse “I wish I’d thought to say …….. or do something else.”  There have been times when an event is important, and the feeling of lost perspective takes control quickly.  It is like being caught in a Groundhog’s Day loop that you can’t pause and walk away from.  What about my DNA, or my affect makes me this way?

I have read that depression is genetically inherited, and if that’s true I can pinpoint the source of mine because I saw it manifested in my mother’s behavior.  Mom raised four children, each as independent, motivated, and successful as she was. Yet in each child was evidence of varying degrees of depression. In her later years, and after Mom and I had only serious adult discussions about her health, and options to live out her most senior years, I found her focus and perspective were about loss of ability, degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis, arthritis, the ailments that many seniors endure as early as their fifties.  Mom, well into her nineties, had many gifts like independent living, the love of family, a companion who was faithful and generous with his time.  During one of Mom’s depressive episodes I learned that she was mourning the loss of driving privileges.  It meant to her that she’d lost her independence, though for the city of Tampa it meant one less driving menace on the road during rush hour traffic.  Mom’s thoughts cycled through other losses, inclusive of hearing, the ability to go out to dances, the loss of confidence in managing her medicine taking.  She had to depend on others, and she’d always been fiercely independent and confident in her abilities.

As her only son and the youngest child, I had a peer to peer relationship.  I talked to her directly about her last will and testament, advanced directives, and how she wanted to live out her final years given that she was deemed a “fall hazard,” and needed physical therapy in order to strengthen her muscles to permit her greater stability. The conversations usually meant working up to the subject by acknowledging that she’d once never had a care in the world about these terrible assaults of advancing age.  As someone who cared about her happiness I appreciated her strength and sacrifices. I often shared with her my perspective that many people her age didn’t enjoy the same freedoms that she had.  To illustrate the importance of maximizing joy in her life, I asked her what things she enjoyed doing.  This woman had traveled extensively in her 20s and 30s, but less and less as she grew older.  Her loving companion would plan and pay for an annual cruise to the western Caribbean, and Mom seemed to enjoy the time on the boat, the meals, and spending his money at the onboard casino.  “What about taking a trip Mom?”  “Wouldn’t you enjoy going on a cruise?” She thought briefly before waving me away, “Nah, I hate those.” “All those old people, and all that food!”

“Mom, you used to enjoy the cruise ships, what happened?”  “Oh, I guess I just lost interest in going.”  With some probing I got Mom to admit that her lost interest in travel hadn’t resulted in replacing that joy with something else, like going to the local casino, or going out to dinner.  After years of this cyclic pleading with my mother to try to identify something else that brought her some form of joy.   I sternly reminded her that no one could decide for her what things brought her an element of joy.  “If you had the writing tablet of the Almighty, would you identify one earthly thing that would bring you joy?” I asked in frustration.  Unfortunately I knew the answer.  My mother was no longer capable of helping herself up from the dark seriousness of age related depression.  She could no longer appreciate her many gifts and abilities, far greater than those of other people her same age. The average person ten years younger had fewer freedoms than did Mom. It occurred to me I wasn’t helping.  Imagine someone telling you “you should feel happy that you have a companion, independent living…” when the fact of the matter was, she didn’t feel happy at all, and my harping at her wasn’t helpful.  It made matters worse.

What should I do? Why does she grab onto the loss, and swat away the advantages?  My question of the day is “If you suffer a loss of joy, could you identify something reasonable that could bring it back?”  “If you feel like you’re surrounded by darkness, do you know where the points of light are in your life?”

I learned that prescription antidepressant Zoloft helped my mother’s mood exponentially.  When her geriatric physician gave her samples to try, her family noticed the improvement in her mood and her outlook.  Mom cooked for us, and she had cleaned up her house on her own.  She seemed brighter in mood than we had seen her in years.  Then after a few months, return of the old Mom canceled out her improvements.  She was glum.  She stayed up very late into the night, and we’d have to call her around noon to ensure she’d woken up to take her medicines.  I noticed no Zoloft in the box of pills and asked her why she was no longer taking it.

“That [expletive deleted] costs $50 per month,  I don’t need it!”

Do you allow time for joy in your life?

Please take a moment and make an inventory of those things that bring you joy.  If people are involved, please ensure they know they’re joy givers.  If your joy comes from beloved activities, please make certain that you get a fair dose of opportunity to do the things that bring you joy or happiness.  Please do not count the cost in dollars of the medications that facilitate improved moods, or decreased darkness.   Looking back, Mom has been gone for 2 years now.  In retrospect I would have gladly paid the $50 cost of Zoloft, filled the scrip, and brought the pills to her bedside if she’d only believed in what we knew Zoloft did for her.  If you’re taking a prescription antidepressant, but still feel like you’re struggling, please consider asking to try another medicine.  You are the one who can best help bring joy into your life.  Are you doing a good job?

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