Making a significant change in your life can be both daunting and exciting. Whether you or someone else has made a decision that will cause an upheaval, you can make the most of it by being positive and proactive. Tack this list to your mirror or refrigerator and star* the ones you want to give special attention to today.
There is, fortunately, a lot of information and help for people who suffer the torment of a major depressive disorder. But there is precious little help for or even acknowledgment of the partners of depressed people. Depression can take a serious toll on loved ones and on the relationship itself. Confusion, frustration, social isolation, loss of intimacy, communication problems, codependency, and sadness are some of the possible consequences of living with a depressed partner.
It's hard to watch the familiar, loving person you know become a distant stranger, one who withdraws or lashes out, or both. It means that your own need for emotional intimacy, companionship and social activity will be largely unmet by your partner for the duration of the depressed cycle. It's natural then, to focus your problem-solving attention on the partner, while you lose sight of maintaining your own health and simultaneously, and inadvertently, changing the relationship to something less than healthy and happy.
You, as the partner of a depressed person, need special care and attention. As you care for the depressed person, you must make sure you take care of your own emotional and social needs and of the relationship you value.
Time for a rewrite!! You've put another year to bed and now you get to decide if you like the program you've been living or if the next episode needs some tweaking or perhaps a major overhaul. You can make subtle or significant changes to the show. You can write an entirely different script or you can simply change the dialogue. You could add more interesting or supportive characters, and drop the characters that don't help drive the storyline. You can add more action or more contemplation. You have ultimate control over how your story unfolds.
What changes do you want in your story? A new business. Less eating. Gentler words. Reconnection with old friends or making new ones. Meditating. More physical activity. Stopping self-medication. Building a garden or a boat. There are so many ways to fill your story with your personal values or your own goals. What are yours?
The first task in a rewrite is to decide what you want to change that will promote the story you want told. Of course, the follow through gets tough when the weeks begin to roll into old patterns, so vigilance is paramount.
Here are some very clever ways to make those changes, then keep them in place after making them.
The serenity prayer of Reinhold Neibuhr invokes acceptance of what you cannot change, changing what you can, and possessing the wisdom to know the difference. The idea is a good model that covers a lot of ground, but determining the difference between what you can and cannot change isn't always easy. Here are some things you do have control over.
Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag
Here's your single serving of ice cream. Each bag can be personalized according to taste, with mint, chocolate, or fruit. This is a fun way to spend time with your favorite people on slow, hot days.
A colleague who just heard your presentation at work is giving you some feedback that you were too quiet, didn’t get to the point quickly enough and lacked a compelling example. Your breathing goes shallow and your body stiffens, your heart speeds up, and you look around to see if anyone is in earshot of this conversation. You worked for days trying to perfect this presentation--days!
Conflict is inevitable. How you address that conflict can mean the difference between being constantly in battle, and an easy alliance with your significant other, parent, child, or co-worker. Fighting dirty creates losers all round. Fair fighting creates winners of everyone. Each of the following rules can make conflict a business-like, and profitable, endeavor.
When our bodies react with fear, there's so much we can do to beat that anxiety without drugging ourselves. These are some powerful "weapons" against anxiety.
_“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Had it not been for failure, humankind may never have known the magnificent Audubon bird paintings that gave rise to the Audubon Society or the inspiring music of Handel’s Messiah, sung every year at Christmastime around the world.
Our bodies are wonderfully constructed to keep us alive and out of danger without relying on our conscious thought, which has other higher functioning tasks to do. An unexpected, sudden, loud noise? We jump, not “on purpose,” but involuntarily. Our bodies take care of alerting us so we will be prepared to take action. Ancient structures deep within the brain tell us, “Wake up! There's danger.”
Fear is a good thing. So is some stress. Yerkes-Dodson law proposes that we perform best at an optimal level of arousal; exceeding that optimum level results in a decline in performance. Think about studying for an important test or preparing a “make or break” business deal. In these instances, we understand the potential effect on our “survival” in our academic or economic lives. Here, our thoughts encourage stress. If we manage to function at a moderate level of stress, we'll perform well.
However, when our thoughts include fear of failure, alienation from friends, unrealistic time pressures, a sense that we are not in control of the situation, or that performance equals self-worth, our bodies can shift from optimal stress to anxiety. We may experience nervousness, irritability, apprehension, a sense of impending doom. Without addressing the negative, self-defeating thoughts, we may even shift from anxiety to panic.
It is vitally important to address the validity of these sometimes unconscious thoughts in order to shift back to a productive level of stress. Do this with your therapist and you will gain greater control of your stress responses.
There are behavioral actions you can take at any time that complement your work with me. Actions that physically communicate to your brain that it is time to relax, that there is no fast-approaching danger. For a few of these, make sure to see Secret Weapons in each newsletter of 2012.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.