Aug 8, 2015

Depression and Stroke, aka If It Comes to Depression, You Know What Hell Feels Like

I think of depression as an inverse proportion formula--the longer you live with the stroke, the shorter you think about depression. It was that way with me, but it isn't that way with everybody.  "P" says on Facebook, "I'm still depressed 20 years later. How come you're not?"

Well, "P," the last time I thought about depression was 2 days ago. The time before that? I don't know, but it wasn't much in the last 2 years. So what prompted my depressing thought? I'll tell you.

My personal assistant said, "Do you have to wear that brace forever?" But that comment, even though it was horribly depressing, didn't give me depression. It just gave me, for a fleeting moment, sad thoughts about all the things I couldn't do anymore, like tennis, square dance, run. But I didn't dwell too long on that thought--maybe 5 minutes at most--because what's the alternative?

Plus, depression comes in many forms:

Major Depression (5 or more symptoms for 2 weeks or longer--loss of interest in your activities, sleep problems, weight fluctuations, energy level changes, feelings of guilt, trouble concentrating, thoughts of suicide)

Dysthymia (2% of people have it for a year which can be indicated by low mood  sadness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, and changes in sleep habits and/or appetite)

Bipolar Disorder (patterns of excessive highs and lows)

Seasonal Affective Disorder also known as SAD (most often during winter when the days grow shorter and less sunlight is available)

Psychotic Depression (seeing or hearing things that aren't there, incorrectly believing that others are trying to harm you)

Postpartum Depression (comes right after childbirth, lasting a week or even months)

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (once-a month mood swings, trouble concentrating, irritability)

'Situational' Depression (death, divorce, financial woes)

Atypical Depression (increased appetite, sleeping more than usual, arms and legs heaviness, overly sensitive to criticism, all of which a positive event can temporarily improve mood)

If you recognize depression in yourself or others, and you or others want to get help, there is help available. (The operative word is want). Talk therapy and drugs help, but only if you want it. I can't stress "the want" enough.

Three of many studies about depression that caught my eye appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association:

So those findings helped me to generate ideas.

1. Rehab therapists, on the whole, don't give reasons why you're batting the foam ball, why you're putting round pegs in round holes, why you're standing up and sitting down with 10 reps and 2 sets.

If they took time to explain why you're doing those things, maybe stroke survivors would realize the importance, not just silly games to waste time, to try and decrease or even eliminate depression.  

Sometimes, therapists don't listen. I heard them talking. They're more concerned with the schedule (oh, God, I have 3 more patients to see) and the order of the room (I must return the ball to the basket) than they are with explanations (the exercise I am asking you to do will improve your balance, endurance, your future life!)

2. Our no-nothing Congress should pass a law (yeah, that's gonna happen) that there should be a psychiatrist or psychologist or a licensed social worker in those first weeks or months in the rehab center after the stroke to avoid depression and regularly see patients and scare them "straight" into rehabbing all they can, by telling them "do you want to have a hand and foot that are dead?" or "you have to try and pronounce each syllable. TRY!"

For me, it would have made all the difference from keeping me in Hell, aka depression, for those first years. Then I went to talk therapy. Fortunately, I was only a visitor in Hell and I got out. But I wanted to escape the torments of depression. 

Remember what I said earlier? I can't stress "the want" enough.