By Carla Schick
It’s hard when one of the people that you love best feels like the world is empty - that there’s no purpose in life; that we’re born, we get married, have children, deal with life’s many challenges and curve balls, and then we die. But, it’s true. Where do we find happiness in an existence like that? My mom is one of the strongest women I know, but sometimes depression attacks her mind and heart and leaves her feeling powerless and alone. She focuses a lot on the past. She used to be very active as a bank manager, wife and mother of an elementary school kid. To me, she was supermom. I remember when she would get up at four in the morning to get her aerobic workout in with Kathy Smith. Then she’d get ready for work, always dressed to the nines. She’d make me a nutritious breakfast, brown-bag my lunch and then drive me to school herself, instead of having me take the school bus. My parting salutation would always be “TTFN, ta ta for now!” because we were both Tigger fans. Her spaghetti sauce was always made from scratch, our home was spotless, our laundry was done, my homework was finished and she always did it looking like a million bucks.
But in September 1993 when my mom was 32 years old, she had an accident that changed everything. Coming down the staircase, she slipped and damaged the nerves in her right foot. Her first doctor performed the initial unnecessary operation on her foot, slicing into the top of her foot at the toes, making three different incisions. I remember waiting with my dad at the hospital while she was in surgery. When she came out of the operating room, she had been crying because the anesthesiologist hadn’t given her enough anesthetic and she had woken up during surgery. Still in chronic pain in 1997, she saw another doctor who also thought that an operation was the solution to all of her problems. He cut into the bottom of her foot to explore the entrapped nerves. He promised that after this surgery, she’d be running marathons. Well, that didn’t happen. After seeing specialist after specialist, from head doctors to neurologists, podiatrists to physical therapists, she’s still stuck at square one.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the pain hasn’t improved, but her methods for dealing with it have. Because she refuses to take the heavy duty pain prescriptions that leave her in a state of perpetual incognizance, my mom has learned to live with the chronic discomfort that renders her foot black and blue. Between foot ice baths, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and sheer willpower, my mom has learned to cope with this thorn in her side. But there are days when everything just becomes too much: the throbbing in her foot, the pain in her lower back because of the way she walks, the monotony of a sedentary lifestyle, what she perceives as in increase in her weight and an overall feeling of worthlessness because she no longer brings in a paycheck. On these days, she feels that there’s no purpose in life. Depression is her kryptonite.
My mom is not clinically depressed; she is just deeply discouraged from chronic pain. Since you’re reading this, you likely can relate. When her emotions get to this point, I’ve always made it my goal to try to make her laugh. I’ll tell her a goofy joke, buy her a fluffy coffee, make a funny face, purposely do something incorrectly because I know my folly will make her smile, take her for a drive, and just try to be as positive as I can to lift her spirits, even just a little. Sometimes my little attempts work, and sometimes they don’t.
Recently, she had one of these days. In addition to all the pain, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the feeling of unimportance - that somehow her existence doesn’t make all the difference in my life. She didn’t want a coffee, my little tidbits of advice weren’t helping and the results of my efforts to make her smile were sparse. The magician was officially out of tricks. So I had to break out my research skills to see what I could find on coping with feelings of depression.
Here are some suggestions I found:
- Break your routine - Going through the same routine day after day can be monotonous and depressing and make us feel like we’re stuck in a rut. To get out of this rut, we need to temporarily change our routine by doing something we wouldn’t normally have time for or that we’ve never tried. Taking a day off from work every now and then can make us feel happier and more productive.
- Think about the big picture - As Carl Sagan made evident with the Pale Blue Dot, we’re insignificant creatures living in a vast universe on a tiny planet. In the long run, everything we do will probably be forgotten. What matters is the present moment and enjoying every second of life that we’re blessed with.
- Do something to help yourself - The best way to stop feeling depressed is to take action. Once we decide to stop brooding over our problems and start taking action, we won’t have time to feel depressed. Action will occupy our minds and give us something to look forward to. Once we get some results, we’ll build momentum, and positive thinking will keep getting easier.
- Live in the present - Focus on what we can do in the present moment. Don’t worry about what we should have done last week or what we might be able to do tomorrow. The only time we can affect is the present.
- Watch your thinking - Become aware of the times we dwell on the negatives in life. We need to tell ourselves to “stop it” when we start to go over and over the negatives. By doing this, we can build a positive habit that will change our lives for the better.
- Break it down - Separate depression into smaller, more manageable parts such as physical, emotional and mental, and try to improve each one individually so that it’s not overwhelming.
- Set goals - When we write down our goals, we begin thinking about how we can achieve them. Our brain chemistry will change, and we’ll begin moving forward with purpose.
In my mind, my mom is still supermom. She’s still beautiful, and she still works harder than most people I know. I’ll share my newfound knowledge with my mom. Maybe, in some small way, these suggestions might be helpful.
Below are links to the advice found in this blog:
How have you coped with feelings of depression?