Depression is one of the greatest misunderstood conditions for those among us that don't suffer from its insidious effects. It can be like a permanent living nightmare for unfortunates struggling to deal with endless variations where depression ranging from shear despair through to utter hopelessness strikes in a family. Ten years ago my wife, one of three most important people in my life, was diagnosed with severe clinical depression bordering on bi-polar and the profound effects it was having on my young family, and still to this very day are proved to be challenging.
The day we realized a prolem was getting out of control we sought professional help. On this day I learned about the common cause of physical symptoms that indicate severe depression; For the first 30 years of my life I had assumed depression was like a bad day where the obvious cure was to just snap out of it' and stop feeling sorry about what life deals up. The most simplistic explanation for one of the most complex of problems suffered by millions was that a chemical imbalance in the brain caused the condition. If only it were so easy; a treatment using a few pills and everything will be right wrong!
Serotonin is the chemical in question that serves many functions within the human body chemistry. One of the more important functions is with the body's central nervous system where serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter. The effect that relates to depression is where the serotonin deficiency or imbalance affects mood, body temperature, appetite, sleep and more. One of the more damaging side effects of depression in a relationship is mood swing from euphoric to rage without any halfway point between these two extremes. It was in fact this jumping from happy and excited to a violent rage or hysterical tears within a couple of minutes that motivate our seeking help.
It became impossible to predict any one specific trigger point and sometimes just being in the field of vision was enough to be a problem. Restoring the serotonin balance was easy enough to do however the symptoms just don't vanish in a cloud of medical genius, they are always there lurking in the background. My hardest challenge was to look through the negative emotive lash-outs that still occur from time to time. When I am caught off-guard and fail to spot the subtle warning signs the inevitable fight begins because of my thoughtless retaliation. Like it or not when the person who means more than the entire world me lets fly it becomes an emotionally bruising experience.
Here is a recent example that I fortunately spotted in time came about when the lease on my work vehicle expired and I began looking to make arrangement for a new one. It fast became an issue of contention and nothing I could rationalize changed the accusation of only looking after my own interests. Explaining that my employment paid the house and all bills therefore both our interests were served did not have the slightest effect. The solution was surprisingly simple and the internal head flashlight exploded with a great idea during the drive to work. It occurred to me in that forty-minute contemplation of all my problems that we no longer needed a large family station wagon therefore the price of two smaller cars would be a better idea.
Diving for the phone as soon as I hit my office, I forwarded this solution and it was absolutely perfect. We go out together next Friday 15 February and collect a brand new car each; I plan on cheating outrageously on this point and making it a special Valentine's Day gift. This came about partly thanks to what I learned on a mediators training course where I learned new methods of drawing out the underlying message behind an emotional outburst. The solution happened when I applied one of the mediator strategies which is to ask the question "how can I go about satisfying my needs and wants while at the same time satisfying those of my wife"?
Our second car is an old bomb (as many second cars seem to be) and used more oil than fuel, we live on a semi-rural 5-acre lot that is 15 minutes drive to the nearest town. The underlying needs and wants of my wife in this instance was to have a small reliable fuel efficient car so she no longer feels trapped during times we don't have enough money to keep her car running. A person not suffering depression would see that my having another car was essential while the second was not. The depression talk expressed this with "you are always getting things for yourself and never thinking of others in the family".
Both my children are now young adults and growing up in a family where one member suffers from acute depression was not easy for them. Sometimes the kids would spend time in their rooms crying because of some emotive incident for which they had no understanding. Many times I would come home from work tired and hungry to find my housebound wife doing anything remotely close to preparing a meal, bathing the kids or doing the washing. It was not being lazy; it was the utter hopelessness of depression than tore any desire to do the most basic of family activities that affected us all.
So many other manifestations of depression impacted every day, and these ranged from impulse buying of luxury goods, junk food binges, staying indoors for days at a time and not doing anything more than watching television, drinking bottle after bottle of caffeine loaded soft drinks (that was a tough one to deal with), smoking more than 50 each day (even tougher nut to crack three years without a smoke now and I am so proud of her). It seems nothing was unaffected and sometimes still is affected that profoundly impacted on the entire family.
The pharmaceutical treatment is on-going and probably will be for many years. While this blunts a great deal of the raw emotion and depression symptoms it does not completely erase them. All of us have to work very hard in our family relationship and three things that make the difference: love, understanding and patience. Without these I expect this would have been an entire family ripped apart by depression.