Snake’s Belly: The Depression Series I

“I feel lower
than a snake’s belly.”
So spoke my father
four years ago.
Mom had Alzheimer’s.
He was caring for her alone,
not wanting to place her
in an institution.
She was often cantankerous, if not combative.
She required intensive hands-on care
as her physical health declined.
Dad was being stretched to his limits,
emotionally, physically, even spiritually.
He sat on his porch as she slept nearby
and spoke to me in his coded language.
It was easier for him
to refer to a limbless reptile
than to confess, “I’m really depressed.”

All of us have the blues from time to time,
caregivers like anyone else.
But that’s not the same as depression.
Depression occurs when this experience of the blues
becomes a way of life,
infiltrating our days,
taking over our nights.
Study results are clear and consistent,
but they’re not commonly acknowledged.
Becoming a family caregiver
increases the possibility of depression.
Those who care for their parents at home
experience depression at twice the rate
of non-caregivers.
Those who care for their spouses at home
are six times more likely to have depression
than their non-caregiving counterparts.
Caring for a loved one who has dementia
is particularly depression-prone.
Sleep deprivation contributes to depression.
So do poor eating habits,
failure to exercise,
and lack of one’s own personal time.
So does social isolation.
So do increased financial concerns.
As we all know,
all of these factors are more common
when someone in our family
requires a lot of our daily attention,
whatever the cause.
So the first words for family caregivers
who find themselves depressed are these:
You’re not odd—
you’re like many, many others.
You’re not abnormal—
you’re experiencing a predictable human response
to a real life struggle.
And your situation is not hopeless—
there are things that can be done
and ways that life can improve.
We’ll deal with this more
as this series continues.

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One Response to “Snake’s Belly: The Depression Series I”

  1. Susan Says:

    Amen!

    I say this over and over to our own caregivers’ group, but nobody seems to want to admit they’re depressed. Part of the problem, I think, is a misunderstanding of depression, not knowing that it can also involve chronic anger and debilitating fatigue, as well as ‘the blues’. Part of it also our average age; many of us were raised to ‘keep your chin up’ and not complain, which isn’t always the best way to deal with things.

    Thanks for spelling it out! I’ll keep repeating the message too, meanwhile. If it gets through to just one person who then gets help because of it…well, that one person is worth the trying.

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