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Family Matters. Friday October 4, 2013

Dealing with family who love us dearly when we're depressed can be excruciating. It's a complex and often messy issue with potentially thousands of differing scenario's. I can only go by my own experience and it wasn't an easy one.

About sixteen years ago, a very good and wise friend went to great lengths to help me see that is was time to get help. I was not in a good way. You can trust me on that. I felt tremendous relief but also dread of how my family would react. My fear was not without cause.

My dad particularly felt that I was 'giving in', and said some very hurtful things. It feels painful (not to mention disloyal) recalling those days. It makes my dad sound like an unreasonable or harsh man. He wasn't any of those things, in fact, quite the opposite. I now see that he felt despair and helpless, feeling that he'd lost his vivacious daughter. I wasn't able to put up a facade anymore and he was terrified.

There will be days when we simply don't have the reserves to tutor the ones we love about the complexities of mental health. Yet, bit by bit, they can grow with us. A woodpecker doesn't create his haven, his nest, with one peck. It takes ongoing work.

My parents came to have tremendous understanding and empathy. In a sense, we grew together. As I got stronger and better, so did their understanding and our relationship grew firmer for it. A key factor, I'm sure, was that my parents did want to understand. It was a similar outcome for a friend and her husband, which is perhaps altogether more challenging.

There is no getting round it. It's hard. Finding the balance between educating our family, not rescuing them and yet reassuring them of our love but also knowing when it is futile to express precious feelings - all this, whilst so unwell, is hard to bear. I don't think I'd have got through those times without counseling and the beautiful friend mentioned above.

We could start with small pecks. How about starting with telling them about Moodscope? It may spark a conversation with surprisingly positive results. Whatever the case I believe that ultimately, we become the stronger for not hiding that we can be 'souls accompanied by sadness', which is how the Navajo Indians describe those who suffer from depression.

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Ida Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 8:45am

I can totally relate to your situation. I didn't know that I was suffering from depression until the HR executive at work told me that I need to see the doctor as she felt I had depression. Off course, my reaction was denial but she accompanied to the GP, who referred me to a psychiatrist.

Fortunately for me, the only person that I have to educate about depression is my mother. She is not educated & I have trouble explaining to her what depression is in our mother tongue. However, I found a brochure with information on depression in 4 different languages when I attended a talk about depression a couple of months after I was diagnosed. I read to her the contents & she now has an understanding what depression. She is also more understanding about mental illness & has more empathy towards individuals with mental illness. She is a fast learner.

However, there are still skeptics out there. I have friends who felt that I do not need medication to get better. My take on this is that if they have not experienced this themselves, they would not understand. It takes a lot to explain to them.

After a year of being treated for depression, I have been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Thank god that I am in a much better mental health than I was a year ago that I was not in denial for too long. After doing a litmus test among close trusted friends, half of them are still skeptical, stating that I was being a drama queen. I have another battle with educating people around me about mental illness & psychological matters. Often, those are receptive will be willing to listen & understand & those are the ones who I will take time to go into details. Otherwise, I just keep mum because explaining further will just frustrates you more & they make you feel like such a failure - that is the last thing you want.

Julia Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 9:01am

Suzy. This is one of the best blogs ever on Moodscope. It deals so well with what must surely be the most difficult aspect of depression; trying to get across to family how depression is affecting you and has in the past, the latter being very important because I think the majority of people have tried to hide their low feelings and over compensate for them, thereby making our mental health worse in the long run. As you say, when we are depressed, we cannot articulate how we feel in any meaningful sense and if we leave it until a day when we feel good, we are so eager to enjoy that day, that we don't want to sit down and have a deep conversation about depression, This is how I feel anyway.The other problem is that most of us appear to the outside world to live a normal life, we struggle on, pretending to be happy, to cope etc. Ida, that HR executive in your work must have been a wonderful rare employer. How incredibly perceptive and kind she must have been.
I could write more and may do later. Maybe we will have another opportunity to discuss this issue. But for now, a big big thank you Suzy for bringing this subject up.

Ida Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 9:40am

Hi Julia,
Yes, Joanna is probably the best HR person that I have ever known in my years of working. If not for her, I would not have known that I have a problem. It is not often that you get someone from HR who is actually a human, caring & take action to make sure that your well being is taken care of.. I am always grateful to her. Her observations has made me work through my issues & I am in a much better shape today than I was a year ago.

Suzy, Julia, Is there a way that we can communicate away from this blog's comment section? Sometimes, the best person to talk to about how you feel is with a person who has gone through the same as you. Perhaps you can write me at rhiane99 at hotmail dot com. I look forward to hear from you. :-)

Julia Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 9:59am

Thank you Ida. You have picked up on something I wanted to raise with Caroline in do we continue discussions.

Kirsty Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 10:02am

Hi Julia
This is a great blog and really highlights a big challenge for us all. When very low you just want to shut out the world and this can be really difficult for friends and family to deal with. It's also no help for us!!
My mum is doing all she can to help me, and has actually become amazing. We have an agreement that when I am low, as long as I at least text her in the morning and evening, she will understand and give me some space. She understands that I can't talk but we have agreed the texting as a compromise. She also suggests little things for me to do such as going to a garden centre, or food shopping, or even just a walk round the park...nothing too demanding. Some days she will accept a 'no thanks', but others she insists and heads on over to mine to at least get me out of bed. This blend of support with a bit of tough love thrown in really works for us.

Stan Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 11:33am

Hi Suzy

A very thought provoking blog, thank you. For me an important take-away was that - through your own efforts, trials, and tribulations, you were able to create a shift in the dynamics and relationships with your family. Well done!!!

A relationship consists of two people, and changes in its nature when one or both people change. You have changed your "side" and, ultimately this has changed the dynamic and caused your parents to change on their "side". Brilliant!.... And yet I think it's also important to remember, that some people may not want or be able to change.

In my own life, the most beneficial thing I have done for my mental health it to cease all interaction with my father. Despite my "pecking" using your analogy (and I don't discount the probability that my pecking could have been better), he had no interest in changing his opinions, ways of relating - anything. He made this very clear, despite me explaining the negative impact he has on me.

I have been successful in changing various relationships in my life via changes to myself and my own way of being and relating, and yet in the case of my father ultimately the best change was to cut-off. Perhaps this will change one day, perhaps not.

So, my addition to your comments is also to learn which relationships are ultimately beneficial to us, and which may never be. And we only learn this by finding out - as you have done. Hopefully these "bad" relationships are in a small minority, but not every "negative" relationship can be re-oriented or "saved".

BTW - for anyone interested, if my father was ever to see a psychiatrist (very unlikely) he would probably be labelled strongly as having narcissistic personality disorder. People with NPD (forgive the label) may find any change threatening to the point that they simply can not do it - even for the benefits of their own children, spouses etc. And the very fact that my father (and mother less so) strongly correlate to NPD is for me no co-incidence - with my own mental health challenges.

Thank you for inspiring me to share Suzy.

Anonymous Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 12:05pm

Stan, a very thought-provoking blog. I quit my job yesterday. It wasn't for me. This morning was my first "have I done the right thing?" thought. I know I have. The teleselling part of the job made me feel worthless. When depressed, of course, this is disastrous. My manager's pep talks just began to grate. I can't "just get onto the next call". There seem to be similarities to yours and my parents personalities. My Dad is currently on anti-depressants. I'm awaiting a letter from my G.P. to see if psychiatric counselling plus light medication will help. They might. However, in the words of Richard Ashcroft " The drugs don't work". Put a set of drumsticks in my hand, I'm usually fine. Music therapy? Damn right. Peace and Love.

Caroline Ashcroft Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 12:14pm

Hi Julia and Ida, the only way you can continue to correspond on Moodscope is to become buddies. We will be introducing ways to communicate with each other in the future, but for now if you'd like to send your email addresses to me at I'll exchange them for you - I think it's better than posting your email address on this blog for all to see.

Julia Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 12:29pm

Peace and Love

Anonymous Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 12:37pm

I am the parent of a struggling, previously vivacious daughter - Does anyone have any thoughts on where the best help come from for a parent? It is such slow pecking and I don't know if the hole is even in the right place to use the woodpecker analogy...

Anonymous Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 12:43pm

It is not just a challenge for the majority of Moodscopers - I read them to gain more insight into my daughter. How did your mother learn, Kirsty? Are the days she accepts a 'no thanks' just random and how does she choose which days she insists? And when she comes round and gets you out of bed - are you cross? Lucy

Mary Blackhurst Hill Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 2:55pm

This is a lovely blog, Suzy. In my case it was a GP who said "you have depression" - to which I said "But I can't have: I have nothing to be depressed about!". Bless her and bless your HR colleague. And bless all the health professionals out there who are working to make Mental Health an acceptable subject and understandable to all. Great one, Suzy; loved it.

Anonymous Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 6:33pm

Gwyneth Lewis's book Sunbathing in the Rain devotes a whole chapter to helping family members. It is excellent for both the depressed individual and for the family. It was letter writing that saved the day for me.

Elizabeth Fri, Oct 4th 2013 @ 11:13pm

Hello. I believe since you are here, you will be probably a great parent, dont worry. From my view as a daughter I appreciate my mother showing me love and acceptance and being here to hear me. You must accept that there is no quick way. You can offer possibilities, you can remind her of things she likes (since her view may be very narrow just now) and you can make her home safe until she gets better. Give her hope, if you can - eventually she will get through and she will be a stronger person.
Please dont take it personally, if she rejects any of the offered activities or advice. The illness changes and what is impossible today may be great next year - or never, because everyone is so different. If she chooses a way in which she believes (meds, counselling, yoga, moving to a different school ... whatever), please accept.

Anonymous Sat, Oct 5th 2013 @ 12:07pm

Thank you so much for replying - It is so helpful - and I will also find Gwyneth Lewis's book Sunbathing in the Rain from the post below.

Anonymous Sun, Oct 6th 2013 @ 3:19pm

Great entry and great comments.
Many thanks.

Anonymous Mon, Oct 7th 2013 @ 9:23am

First time I have ever had the urge to blog.
'souls accompanied by sadness'
Such a comforting and kind description of my condition.
Having endured years of my family's not so kind descriptions of me.
A very interesting reminder today,

Anonymous Tue, Oct 8th 2013 @ 9:35pm

First time in my life I have ever blogged! This struck such a chord with me as I have struggled to get across to my siblings what I have been through in the last 3 years since suffering "burn out" in a highly stressful job. More often than not I have opted to keep a dignified silence rather than talk about feelings which were raw - and, to some extent, still are. To use a physical analogy, I feel I am now in the "physiotherapy" stage of my recovery and there will be setbacks and difficult days, or even weeks ( using Moodscope helps me understand and get through these). I agree with Stan that ceasing interaction with a family member - in my case, one of my brothers- would probably be one of the most beneficial things I could do to help my mental health but it is a step I have yet to take.

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