Variations: The Depression Series II

Brendan Halpin has written
about caring for Kirsten,
his wife with cancer.
It was a hard time.
While joy did not
completely abandon him,
he often had “the downs.”
Much of the time, however,
he felt something different:
[This experience] has really long flat stretches. Not up, not down—just flat. Some days I feel like I’m about to cry all day, but most days I just feel numb. I guess that is really a down in disguise.

Not all caregivers experience “the downs,”
but those that do experience them variously.
Some feel a low-level sadness
that builds gradually
and goes on for months.
Others have a sudden, negative change in outlook;
they become painfully despairing.
For still others, like Brendan,
life simply becomes very “flat”
without much interest or feeling.
Any of these experiences can be
an expression of depression.
Its common signs are varied;
they may, in fact, take opposite forms.
Depressed people often feel constantly tired,
and act lethargic,
although some become workaholics.
The depressed may have trouble sleeping,
or awaken without feeling refreshed.
Alternately, they may sleep more than usual.
They may show significant change in appetite—
eating less or eating much more—
and show a consequent change in weight.
Events that used to give pleasure
no longer do so.
The depressed often experience
a loss of self-esteem.
Life may begin to appear hopeless;
they may begin to feel helpless.
Uncharacteristic behaviors may appear,
like sudden outbreaks of anger.
Serious depression may lead
to thoughts of death or suicide.
Obviously, caregiver depression
needs to be taken seriously.
It presents obstacles not just for our health,
but for the well-being of whoever
is in our care.
The National Mental Health Association
has a confidential depression screening checklist
that can help us identify the appearance of depression
and help gauge its possible severity.
I filled it out today;
it took less than two minutes.
It can be found at
The more we’re honest with ourselves,
the better we can deal with
whatever we have to face.
It’s important for us to remember
that whatever our feelings these days,
they need not determine what life
will be like for us in the future.

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