September, 2000: We were two years along in the battle against ALS at that point and having lost his ability to swallow food, Mike had a feeding tube surgically placed. Once home, he was being fed by an infusion pump (which looks rather like an IV) that was equipped with an alarm; should any of the machinery malfunction. The at-home nursing instructor showed me the intricacies of the machinery while Mike had that “look” on his face…the look that said, “I am so OVER this”. Who could blame him?
As fate would have it, later that night, the machine malfunctioned at 2:30 a.m.; setting off alarms both on the machine and in my heart rhythms. It being the middle of the night, I could not get anyone on the phone to help me; resulting in one very unpleasant slumber party for the two of us. Having had absolutely no sleep and as most of our bodies do when we’re not taking care of ourselves, my body chose the following day to retaliate against me with a terrible case of shingles…so bad that I was bleeding from my backs of my legs. Add in that it was 95 degrees, our home had no air conditioning and that we had been in this terrible battle together for two years and suffice it to say – neither one of us was doing very well.
So as I wrestled with the uncooperative machinery while wiping the blood from my legs and trying to keep Mike cool from the terrible heat, I began to cry. Uncontrollably. Bless Mike’s heart, he was so worried watching me fall completely apart and when he asked to know what was wrong, I told him:
“I think I’m depressed”.
He nodded understandingly of course – while I felt incredibly guilty for complaining to my dying husband that I was depressed. Talk about selfishness! Where did I get off complaining – after all, he was the one that was dying, not me. So I didn’t say anything more about it – to him or to anyone else.
My mother came to the house a few days later – she was an integral part of Mike’s caregiving and was at the house at least three to four times a week. I recounted the events of that particular evening and following day to my mother and ended again with the words:
“I think I’m depressed”
…and then I apologized to her for saying it!
She thought for a moment before she looked at me and replied:
“There would be something wrong with you
if you WEREN’T depressed!”
I felt more freedom in hearing those words than I had felt in a very long time. Imagine discovering that there wasn’t anything wrong with me! I wasn’t selfish and I wasn’t losing my marbles. My husband was dying, my own health was at an all-time low – and it was perfectly fine to be depressed about all of it.
So at what point exactly did so many people get the idea that we shouldn’t be depressed or sad or at the very least…QUIET. Stop and think about what you have been through – the loss of a spouse, the adjustments you have had to make, the inevitable hassles that you have faced (financial, practical, possible conflict with other people, etc), the post-loss “chores” that need attention – is it any wonder that just maybe, you aren’t feeling quite yourself! Therefore, if you are or have been feeling depressed since the loss of your beloved, I am delighted to let you know that just as I was, you too are absolutely 100% normal in those feelings.
HOWEVER (and this is important…)
I recently heard a quote that I thought was absolutely spot-on:
“SADNESS IS WHEN YOU CARE ABOUT EVERYTHING
DEPRESSION IS WHEN YOU CARE ABOUT NOTHING“
Is it normal to feel depressed after the experience called widowhood? Without question. However, there is a huge difference between depression that lasts for a finite period of time in reaction to a traumatic event and depression that takes over, permeates and dominates your entire life. It is incredibly vital that you distinguish between “momentary” depression and a depression that is causing an inability to not only function in your daily life, but to thrive as well. As I am so fond of saying:
IF YOU NEED HELP…PLEASE GET HELP!
Review the list of symptoms at the beginning of “Widows Wear Stilettos…” (the book) If you are seeing yourself in those symptoms – PLEASE get the help that you need. Nowhere is it written that you have to suffer alone. You don’t. There are fantastic mental health professionals out there who are ready and eager to help. If you are one of those people who is thinking, “Well Carole, I tried counseling (or therapy or treatment) and it did no good”…I equate that to saying, “Well, I tried this medication for my sore throat and it didn’t do any good, so I’m not taking medicine anymore”. Instead, you try a different medicine, right? Same thing applies here. If whatever you tried didn’t work – TRY SOMETHING ELSE! Try a different treatment or counselor or therapist. Talk to your doctor, your cleric – ANYONE who is in a position of caring and compassion that can either help you directly or get you to the help you need.
Have you battled depression since you became widowed? Is it something that you still deal with? Please share your feelings, ideas and suggestions for others in the “Comments” section below