With a Little Help from My Friends

I get by…

When I’m depressed, I need help in order to prevent myself from staying home and hiding. Yeah, I do that .

It turns out there is nothing I can do to stop this from happening. Once the depression kicks in, I’m pretty much caught in its patterns, and I can’t get out until the depression lifts. So a few days of my life disappear, or a week, or two. I don’t even have the wherewithal to take medication (and the medication doesn’t work for me anyway).

Since staying home and hiding pretty much screws up my life, I’ve spent years trying all sorts of solutions for this. None work because the depression handicaps all ideas. Shoots each one down in a fiery flaming crash, actually.

It’s only recently that I have, grudgingly, admitted that perhaps that I will not sort this out on my own. I am pretty open about being manic depressive and family and friends do look out for me when I am in public. But I haven’t really asked for direct help when I am depressed. That’s because there’s a bit of a difference between “keep an eye on me this afternoon” and “I need you to keep tabs on me every single day and intervene when things are going wrong.”

I’ve always felt that it would be unfair to place such an ongoing burden on anyone.

The turning point came when I realised just how much my staying home and hiding upset my parents and that they were willing to do anything to prevent it from happening. Of course, since I’m fairly clueless, it took many many years to come to this realisation.

I’ve finally set up this pattern that allows me to get out of the house on mornings. And it relies on my parents and a friend.

My parents live about ten minutes away from me.  Our current setup is as follows:

  • I visit my parents every morning at around 7:00 am to have breakfast.  This way they are reassured that I am doing ok (and I get breakfast). Afterwards, I go home and change to go to work. A friend passes by me at 8:00 am and we leave at about 8:30 am or so.
  • I usually call my parents between 6:30 and 6:45 am to say I’ll be coming. Since I have trouble making telephone calls when I am depressed, not hearing from me is the first sign for my parents that I may not be doing well.
  • My dad will usually call if he doesn’t hear from me, because I sometimes forget to call. If I don’t answer my phone then he knows that I am doing badly and he makes arrangements to pass by me at around 8:00 am.
  • If my dad has to pass by me at 8:00 am, then he hangs around until I get changed to go to work, and he doesn’t leave until I do. That way, he knows that my morning is kick-started.
  • Since it is possible for me to visit my parents, and then come back home and hide instead of changing and going to work, I have a friend who passes at 8:00 am and hangs out with me until I actually leave the house. Having them there ensures that I actually get changed and leave the house.

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It is kinda. I could have simplified the process such that I change and then go by my parents and then go directly to work. That way I don’t need another person to help me out on mornings, and that’s what I would recommend to someone else since it’s less complicated.

It’s just that I usually carry my dogs for a walk and then to visit my parents, and I need to carry them back home before going to work. Before you ask why don’t I do all that first, my parents like seeing my dogs.

Anyway, the point here is that my parents and my friend act as the external force. If I am depressed, I won’t make myself get up and get moving. But they can help me get it done.

Obviously it’s not quite that simple. It’s never quite that simple. Here are some additional pieces…

  • Probably the most critical thing is that I was the person who set up this system and agreed to the setup involving my parents as described above.  The agreement was critical. If my parents had suggested this pattern, I would not agreed to it, and moreover I would have been annoyed with my parents when they passed by me in the morning and the system would have failed.
  • Having made the arrangements, I have to actually listen to the people who I asked to help me. This sounds obvious, but when you are depressed, it is possible to not let them in your house. Or to be angry with them. My arrangements here work because I have had good experiences in asking people for help (usually asking friends to monitor my actions in public), and then actually listening to them when they tell me to do (or stop doing) something.
  • When my dad passes to chivvy me out of the house, he is nice about it. It isn’t about being angry or annoyed or even being encouraging or chipper. All of these things are a turn off when I am depressed and I would dread it if he showed up like that. All he does is show up and act pleasantly – and he brings coffee. We have coffee and then I go and change and then we leave the house at the same time. Important – my dad’s presence matters more than any action he takes.
  • My father passes at 8:00 instead of 7:00 because it is possible for me to forget to charge my cell phone and then show up by my parents fifteen late. The hour grace period just prevents my parents from having to rush unnecessarily just because I am slow off the mark.
  • My parents are semi-retired and have the time to visit me on a morning and spend the 20-30 minutes it takes me to change and get ready to leave the house. Of course if your parents can’t do it, perhaps a friend may have the time, or the nice old lady who lives down the street. It doesn’t have to be family, just someone with some time. And you can pay someone to do this, just as you would a babysitter.

Why is it important for me to get out of the house on mornings? I’ve found out that if I get kick started on a morning and get out of my house, then I’ll do some stuff  during the day. I’ll probably be at a lower productivity level than normal –  sometimes a lot lower, but still – less is better than none. And if I stay home when depressed, it’ll be none.

So. To summarise. If I get out of the house on mornings, I’ll get some stuff done. But I can’t guarantee that I will be able to get out of the house on mornings. So I set up a system so that someone else checks to make sure I get out of the house, and if not they pass by and hang out until I leave the house.

With a little help from my friends and family, I get by.

You Can’t Go it Alone

You really can’t. You need help from others.

I used to think that I could manage the mood swings by myself.  You know – I’m strong and capable and mood swings are a solvable problem, so once I developed the proper systems to manage being manic depressive, this would take care of itself.

Mind you, I wouldn’t get rid of the mood swings – I’d just have systems that kept the mood swings in check while I went about my life. If you have asthma or diabetes or any other chronic disease, you’d know what I mean.

So yes, I can develop the systems I need. In fact, I’m pretty good at it.

Unfortunately, the problem with this mindset is depression.

Depression prevents you from doing anything. Anything. You might want to do stuff; you might know that you need to get something done; but you just can’t. Even if you want to. Some part of you mind slides over making sure it gets done, or you end up with an intense fear / desire to not do it. Or you forget, even though one minute ago you knew it was important.

In fact, this is so pervasive, so critical, that to me this is the defining aspect of depression. Things can’t get done. The negative feelings about yourself, the panic attacks, the feeling that you are a failure – they are all there, but they are secondary and pale in comparison in terms of defining what depression is.

So you can have the best, most perfect, most robust systems in the world for dealing with mood swings, but if you can’t use them because you are depressed, they are pretty useless.

Note this has nothing to do with your strength of character or willpower or common sense. If you are depressed, no amount of will power is going to get you to do something.

What do you do?

Your systems have to include other people, so that when you can’t get yourself moving again, others can step in and help you out.

In the posting on Friday, I’ll describe how I’ve involved my parents and friends, but for now remember this – you need others. Partners, parents, siblings, aunts, friends, roommates – you need to get them involved in helping you.

It’s not an admission of failure or weakness. It’s just common sense.

Having Two Sets of Clothes

Every time I get depressed, I eat a lot and I add weight.

If the depression episode is short – say, one week long as it used to be for me – this wasn’t a problem. You can add a few pounds in a week, but it’s relatively easy to lose those, especially if you hit a manic period afterward and get into a gung-ho exercising mode.

On the other hand, if the depression period is more than one week or if your moods are unstable and you keep on having depression episodes with only short breaks in between, you can really add on the pounds.

Guess which pattern I’ve been following lately.

So, here I am at about 27 pounds overweight. I’m not happy about it and while it may be easy to lose a few pounds, it really takes effort to lose 27.

The good news is that the weight packs nicely on me, so I don’t look grossly fat. Just, er….big.

The bad news is that my clothes don’t fit. Well, lots of them don’t fit. Especially the 32 waist pants.

Which brings me to an important issue.
If this pattern happens to you, you must own two sets of clothes.

You need your “This is how I want to be” fitted shirts and t-shirts and your narrow waisted pants, and snazzy shoes that make you look good. And looking good matters because knowing you look good can help delay the onset of depression. Not a lot perhaps, but every little helps.

You also need your “I’m depressed and I’m getting fat and piss off, I don’t care how I look” clothes. These are the baggy comfortable T-shirts, the shirts one or two sizes larger, and relaxed fit jeans that are 2-4″ inches bigger than you’d like. You might also need longer belts.

You probably have all of this already. Here’s the really important thing – if you hit a good spell and for a few months you are looking fantastic, do NOT throw away the bigger, baggier clothes. No matter how good you feel or if there is some pressure to get rid of extra clothing.

Regardless of how you feel now, there is a high probability that sometime in the future you will get depressed and add weight. So you’ll need the bigger clothes then. And trust me, realising that you are depressed and adding weight is bad, but having to wear slightly too tight pants or slightly too snug shirts just piles on the humiliation. Or even worse, having to go out and buy bigger pants just to be comfortable.

Keep the big stuff and think of it as one of the methods of coping with depression, not as a waste of cupboard space.