Depression is a difficult and pervasive illness. Many in our community, educated about and knowledgeable of their own experiences with the illness, are struggling . JFS therapists also hear from others, without any history of, or familiarity with, depression, who wonder and fear they are depressed. The reflection below, written by JFS’ Board President, Betsy Threefoot Kaston, is a powerful testament to self-assessment and awareness during a fraught and difficult time. The author is a clinical drug trial candidate battling cancer. Our current moment’s uncertainty takes on new levity in light of her experience. If you believe you are struggling with depression, please get in touch with JFS or another mental health professional.
by Betsy Threefoot Kaston
How do I feel? Confused, sad, happy, sinus headachy, a little hungry and that I just woke up and are gathering my thoughts kind of feeling. Why do I ask myself this question? One of the special effects listed on several of the drugs I am on is depression. Being in a trial, I get asked a long list of questions about my symptoms on everything from digestive issues to sex, from being able to dress myself to maintaining my normal work schedule, from foggy brain to depression, the list is long. Most of the questions require no thought, just a yes or no answer.
Depression is harder. The Signs and Symptoms from the NIMH.NIH.gov are the following:
If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Do I have some of these symptoms? Sure. Do I get sad? Yes. Look at what is happening in the world. If this does not make you sad, then you have a problem. Do I feel helpless? Not really, but I do sometimes exaggerate my need for help so Jeff will make me dinner. Do I have feelings of guilt? Sometimes when I ask Jeff to do something that I could easily to myself. I have not lost interest in hobbies and have tried to start new ones. Do I have decreased energy? Sure, I have less energy. It is on the list of special effects of most of the chemo drugs I am taking. Do I have disturbed sleep? Yes, because I have a dog that likes to cuddle around 3AM and a husband that snores. The questions never have the why part. Do I have a change in appetite? Sure stupid I am on Chemotherapy. Do I feel restless and have trouble sitting still? NO. Do I have poor concentration? Sometimes. I am not only on all types of cancer drugs, but I am also easily distracted (not new), taking medical marijuana and having been stuck on a farm for about 4 months where lack of concentration can be useful. It allows the time alone to pass quickly and adds excitement to my day when I remember what I started out doing. Do I worry about my health? Yes, I have cancer and it sort of dominates my health concerns. Do I want to die? No.
After having anxiety (another symptom) about whether or not I am depressed, I have concluded that I am not depressed. I maybe a little moody at times. I maybe be worried about friends and family. I may have feelings of guilt that I can’t do more to help Jeff. I am not suffering from depression. I am looking forwards, not backwards. I am dealing with he world outside of Threefoot Reserve as best I can. Thus far, the cocoon I am living in has WiFi and cell service. I can visit the outside world via technology and shut it out when I choose. In some ways that visit the best of both worlds. The main thing is that virtual hugs and kisses from grandchildren are just not the same as the real thing.
Those who do suffer from Depression have the above symptoms and more. The numbers of people who have this condition is staggering. In 2017 the number of adults in the US with a form of depression was over 17 million or over 7% of the population according to the NIH. Who knows how much higher it is today? These are the people we need to worry about and check in on.
There is help available for those with depression.
Jewish Family Service of GNO https://jfsneworleans.org
Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TYY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)