Video: The Black Dog of Depression

“Humans, especially men, are notorious at forging ahead until the wheels well and truly fly off the trolley. Why is it that we only start looking after our heart after we’ve had a heart attack? The same can be said for our mental health. Look after it now, for a better future.” ~Matthew Johnstone

Describing what it’s like to be severely depressed to someone who’s never been there can be like describing the color blue to someone who was born without sight. Produced by the World Health Organization, written, illustrated and narrated by Matthew Johnstone, this video uses the metaphore of a Black Dog to help understand and validate what depression can feel like and what it takes to find hope again.

Thanks to my friend Mac MacDonald for sharing this with us! You’re the best, Mac!

4 Ways to Deal with Grief During the Holidays

cold heartEditor’s Note: Here is a great post from EWN Associate and psychotherapist Nicole Newcomb.

The holidays can be particularly hard when we are in the midst of grief and loss. We feel like a part of our holiday, as well as our soul is missing. Whether we’re going through the holiday season without a loved one for the first time, or this is the second or third,  everything seems to remind us of the person we’ve lost and how much we loved them. If this is true for you, here are a few tips to help make the most of your holiday this year:

1. Set aside some time to cope. When we “stuff” our emotions and try to pretend they are not there, beware! They will resurface later at a less appropriate time, like in the middle of family dinner after a glass of wine or two! Pay special attention to how you are feeling throughout the day. Try setting aside a half hour in the morning of the holiday to give yourself permission to feel your emotions freely and take care of them. I suggest you write down how you are feeling or speak out loud to the person you miss (privately, so people don’t misunderstand and think you’ve lost your marbles! :-)). This is a healthy way to cope so that you don’t end up with too much “stuffing”.

2. Honor that person. Do not forget to show that person that you still care. Maybe you’d like to set a place at the table for the loved one, say a special prayer or express thought of gratitude about them. This suggestion only works if the rest of your family is on board. If you feel the family would not be responsive to this idea, honor the person in your own way, privately in your head. You could share their favorite piece of pie. Light a candle that is always present but only you know is the light of your loved one’s spirit and love. You could visit the gravesite and talk to them or go to a spot that held special meaning to you both. Leave a flower, a beautiful stone or note. This too will help you cope with your emotions.

 3. Make a new tradition. Your holidays will never be exactly the same as they were when your loved one was present. I mean, who or what could fill that persons spot? Nothing can, and if you expect it to, you will set yourself up for disappointment. But don’t let that happen. Create a new tradition! If your tradition was to start the day by going out to breakfast, make holiday pancakes at home instead! Create a new and fun tradition to look forward to every year. One that will bring some new holiday cheer!

4. Focus on the present. Please do not forget about today! After you have given time and honored your loved one, coped with your emotions and created a new tradition, don’t forget to enjoy it! Just simply observe your surroundings by asking yourself what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Breathe deeply, slowly. This will quickly and painlessly bring you back to the present. All you have is this moment, so don’t forget to be in it!

Take what you like of these ideas and make them your own! Do you have an idea that’s not here that may help? Your thoughts and observations enrich our community! Please share them in the comments section!

And if you feel the need for extra support right now you may always contact us. There is no reason to feel alone.

Photo courtesy of Irina Patrascu

9 Depression Busters Just in Time for the Holidays

6a00d83527e90e69e20120a74631f0970b-320piAround this time of year I don’t think there can be enough helpful tips to keep the Happy in the Holidays. That’s why I’m sharing these classic holiday depression busters by Therese Borchard, mental health writer extraordinaire.

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.

1. Expect the worse. 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.

2. Remember to SEE. SEE stands for Sleeping regularly, Eating well, and Exercising. Without these three basics, you can forget about an enjoyable (or even tolerable) holiday.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Check out How to Avoid the Holidays with Seriously Toxic People

5. Know thyself. 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.

6. Travel with polyester, not linen. I’m saying that you should lower your standards and make traveling as easy as possible, both literally and figuratively.

7. Make your own traditions. 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.

Check out For the Holidays: Change can be Empowering!

8. Get out of yourself. According to Gandhi, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.

Check out How to Bring Christmas Cheer to a Loved One in the Hospital

9. Exercise your funny bone. Remember, with a funny bone in place–even if it’s in a cast–everything is tolerable.

Check out A Merry Christmas Gift: The Gift of Laughter

Please share your favorite depression buster if it isn’t here! Click on the “Comments” tab above. We could all use your wisdom!

Read Theresa’s entire article here.

Beauty in a Dark Sky


Even in a dark sky there is light and beauty. Sometimes it’s easy to see. Sometimes we need patience, time and breath to see it.

Photo courtesy of Steve O’ Bryan of SmackSmog



Blues or Depression? 8 Ways To Tell

380747916_5cdc54b030My senior year of college my Dad suggested I go to a therapist. He thought it might help me find some direction. During a hard college career that was interrupted by chronic illness, I changed majors three times, and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I thought what the heck, I’d give therapy a go.

After a few sessions, Dr. Greenbaum said I was depressed. Well blow me down! I wasn’t sad or crying all the time. How did he figure I was depressed?

He explained that you don’t have to feel sad to be depressed. Sometimes being depressed meant the stark, cold absence of happiness, feeling ‘flat’ or ‘empty’. There is a condition called dysthymia that is a sneaky form of depression. Not as imminently dangerous as major depression, dysthymia lasts longer, two years or more, is as serious and sometimes even more debilitating than major depression.

Eight potential signs (lasting longer than two weeks) of any kind of depression are:

  1. Feeling helpless, hopeless, stuck, “What’s the point?”
  2. Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  3. Appetite or weight changes
  4. Sleep changes. Insomnia or sleeping all the time
  5. Agitation or feeling slowed down
  6. Loss of energy, fatigue, easily exhausted
  7. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  8. Concentration problems, indecisiveness, lack of focus

Dr. Greenbaum taught me that being diagnosed with a chronic illness hit me harder than I wanted to admit, even to myself. He helped me get my head out of the sand and start living again. You might consider finding a good therapist for yourself.

More on: The symptoms of depression and types of depression

and How to Find a Good Therapist

Photo courtesy of Ozan Ozan

Snow in March?! 10 Ways to Fight Springtime SAD!

In the Deep North where I live, Spring can be a bitch. There’s really no other word for it. A friend of mine said she heard this on a local radio station: “What is December without the Holidays? It’s March!”

Yes, it’s known that Seasonal Affect Disorder strikes in the late fall/early winter but I believe there’s an SAD II. It occurs with the vernal equinox and the return of Daylight Savings Time when you live above the Mason-Dixon line or anywhere where it’s snowing (for crying out loud) after March 21! I have no proof of this, just strong anecdotal evidence and my own experience which is hard to deny.

Are you…

  • Close to tears when your kids, the organization you volunteer for  or the people you work for ask you to do one more little thing for them?
  • Biting your husband’s head off because he innocently asked what’s for dinner?
  • Waking up stiff and in pain because the cold, wet weather invades your bones?
  • Worrying constantly?
  • Hating on all your friends who are on Caribbean cruises right now?
  • Having trouble remembering to smile?
  • Looking around and see only piles of laundry, where the paint’s chipped and the dust bunnies lurk?
  • Feeling a lot like the Snow White dwarves, Grumpy, Sleepy and Dopey?

Then the sun comes out and the temperature rises above freezing to a searing 40 degrees F/4C!!! Suddenly it’s like that scene from The Wizard of Oz when the wildly saturated technicolor is let loose! Oh the relief! The joy! The ridiculous desire to break into song or dance to anything with a Latin beat!

But it’s just a tease because your iPhone weather app shows five incoming days of little clouds with flakes coming out of them. And once more the blanket of dread descends. I, for one, cannot take this anymore! Neither am I in a position to jump in a plane and head to the Virgin Islands. So what’s a SAD person to do?


Getting Back to ‘Normal’ (Whatever That Is)

How are we expected to move on with our lives, with holiday shopping, meal planning, cookie baking and parties after what happened in Newtown? On the day of the shooting I went to two holiday parties where everyone carefully avoided talking about what happened just hours earlier. It was weird and a relief at the same time.

Someone wrote that even those of us far away from the incident, we still may need to go through the five stages of grief as described by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. On Friday many of us were clinging to the denial and bargaining phases. We did not want to believe we were all so vulnerable and made up reasons to avoid going there. Some just went straight to anger even depression. None of us were ready for acceptance.

As with any act of terrorism, if we give in to depression and anger and let it obliterate the happy and good in the world, the terrorists win.

Now for our spirits’ sake we need to give ourselves permission to engage in the brightness and goodness of life. How?


5 Things We Can Do in the Wake of Tragedy: Responding to the Newtown Shooting

In rearing my kids I always told them that ‘hate’ is a strong word. Don’t use it lightly, I’d say. Don’t say, “I hate this tuna casserole!” Instead say, “Gee Mom, I strongly dislike this tuna casserole. Could I have a hot dog?” Save ‘hate’ for when ‘hate’ is the only word that can describe how you feel, when it counts.

I hate so much of what has happened recently.

I hate the senseless loss of the innocents. I hate the loss of good people who cared for the innocents.

From there it gets a little mirky.

I hate that I have to separate myself from this tragedy in order to survive it. This is happening to them, not to me. I am safe, my children are safe.

In graduate school I learned about cognitive dissonance: the struggle of the brain to reconcile what we know to be true with what we want to be true. I want to believe that what happened in Newtown would never happen in my town. That desire belies what I know too well, that it can happen anywhere. That we are all vulnerable. I have to fall on the fact that the chances of violence really happening to my loved ones are microscopic, just as the chances of a plane falling on my house are microscopic. But a plane really did fall on a house not far from where I live. So where does that leave me?


Being Helpful vs Being a Doormat

Today I realized that a lot of what stresses me out is other people’s issues, not mine. Just this morning I was upset that my 19 year old didn’t have a ride to work. Why? He could have discussed his problem the night before with me or his father and all would be well. Later this morning, a vender I work with made a mistake and just looked at me as if it were up to me to come up with a solution.

My knee jerk reaction is to fix things for everyone asap. In my work other people’s issues ARE my business! So where does the line get drawn? Now I can see I need to be clearer about what is mine to fix and what belongs to others.

Thank God the part of me that is sane got through! Even though it made me anxious, I let my son figure out his transportation dilemma. I also put the problem back into the vendor’s hands where it belonged.

Both my son and the vendor acted surprised that I didn’t take responsibility for their actions. My son griped but found a ride easily enough. The vender was silent for a heart beat or two and then just said “Wow.”

I still feel a bit nervous, I admit, but also invigorated and oddly empowered! Wow, indeed!

Photo courtesy hownowdesign via Flickr

Depression: What is it? What does it feel like? How is it treated?

The statistics on depression are depressing. About 5% of the world’s population suffers from depression at some time. In the US depression is the leading disability for people between 15 and 45 years of age. Chances are good that you or someone close to you has experienced depression first hand. There are so many myths and misconceptions around depression it is refreshing to watch this program, Charlie Rose Brain Series: Depression, where intelligent people explain what depression in all it’s forms looks like, can feel like and how it can be treated.

What I appreciate about this program is that these experts, the people who study depression as well as those who have experienced the worst kind of major depression first hand, all state that psychotherapy alone, or with medication, is a powerful treatment for depression. Too many physicians out there are very quick to treat their depressed patients with Zoloft, Wellbutrin or whatever, and do not bother to make a referral to a good therapist. Offering drugs alone may be depriving their patients of the most effective way to not just get them out of depression but to help them stay out. Depression, like anxiety, can relapse. Good psychotherapy provides people with psychological, emotional and behavioral tools that can be used as needed.

Medication is good. Psychotherapy is good. In combination, for some of the worse, most stubborn depression, they can be the needed one two punch.

Click here to view the program’s video. It is an hour long show well worth your time.

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