Kristen talks to a residence life professional from Canada in this episode where we discuss the issues with asking our higher education staff to work harder instead of working smarter. Listen in to learn more about their story, including how they first discovered their depression through physical symptoms and with the diagnosis of their primary care physician, and how they learned to care for themselves by recognizing the limits on their energy.
If you recognize these symptoms, you may be experiencing depression. Consider seeking help from a licensed therapist or your primary care doctor (from Mental Health America):
Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
Sleeping too much or too little, middle of the night or early morning waking
Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment (such as chronic pain or digestive disorders)
Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
In this episode, Kristen talks with Gavin Henning about his experience with depression – including the long journey to discovering that the problem for him was actually depression. Gavin discusses his career in higher education from hall director to faculty. He also discusses how, despite his experience with depression, he’s been able to hold such positions as the president of both College Student Educators International (ACPA) and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). He shares with us his experience trying to cope with his depression with alcohol abuse. Give this episode a listen to find out more about Gavin’s path in higher ed with depression.
Aedan is Kristen’s 11-year-old son. He has known that his mom has depression for the past three years – ever since a particularly bad episode almost ended her in the hospital. Since then, he has had multiple discussions with both his mom and his dad about mental illness. His dad interviewed him recently about his thoughts on mental illness for this video.
My Mom Has Depression
Kristen has written about her relationship with Aedan before and how mental illness plays a role. Read Kristen’s letter to Aedan about her depression.
Resources for talking to kids about mental illness
Aedan is one kick-ass kid. Seriously, not only does he understand mental illness and depression, he loves Harry Potter, Minecraft, and riding his Y-Fliker around the neighborhood. He also doesn’t like haircuts, just finished fifth grade, and would want you to know that he’s working on having his own awesome YouTube channel – as soon as he figures out all the technical stuff. He is loved dearly by both his mom and dad, and he’s just a good human being.
FROM: Past Clare RE: Rules of bipolar depression DATE: July 5, 2016
It has come to our attention through several channels that you are starting this week dealing with a bout of bipolar depression. We are deeply sorry for this and hope that you are able to move through it in a healthy and comfortable fashion. As a result, we would like to remind you of the basic rules you created in a time when you were not feeling so low. Please adhere to these rules as closely as you can in order to ensure you do not experience the negative side effects of depression. We know that the direct effects are bad enough.
Admit that you are depressed and that you are not in control of your feelings. Denying it or calling it something else is not helpful or healthy. You will take better care of yourself if you admit that there is a problem and you are powerless over it. If it works for millions of addicts out there, it can also work for you.
You are not required to go to work, but you cannot stay in bed all day. We understand that you may have to take a sick day or two – after all, bipolar IS an illness. This is completely normal and understandable. However, it is not acceptable for you to stay in your bed with your computer watching Netflix for the entire day. Get out of bed. You can watch Netflix on the couch.
You must tell at least one person you are depressed. We don’t care who, we just care that you tell someone so that at least one person knows that you are dealing with it. The best option (if it is available to you) is to just tell your supervisor when you call in to work. Friends, family, even complete strangers are all acceptable. We do recommend someone who knows you but are willing to concede that sometimes you just want to keep this private. We know that the act of telling someone is cathartic for you – even if you cannot recall that at this time.
You must eat three meals. You do not have to cook, clean, organize, shop for groceries, or even leave the apartment; BUT you have to eat. If you can, eat healthy things. We understand that you may not be able to do this. If you cannot, we prefer that you eat junk rather than not eating at all.
You must exercise. This is loosely interpreted but does not include sitting on the couch all day watching Netflix. On the worst days it COULD include doing situps and leg lifts on the floor next to the couch while watching Netflix. This is entirely acceptable.
NO major life decisions. No, you cannot quit your job, end your relationship, buy a house, get a tattoo, drive to Chile, go bear hunting, or set out to run a marathon without training. Right now you are not in control of your emotions, and decisions should be put on hold until further notice. We recognize that some of the examples given are more likely to be associated with your mania. We included them here because manic Clare is even more likely to make rash decisions than depressed Clare is. All interventions are good interventions in this case, and thus we have included these notes on this rule today because it applies to mania as well. Please note that while it may seem like these kinds of decisions may make you feel better, you will still be depressed afterward because you are not in control of this (see rule number one).
Be kind to yourself. Examples of this can include: taking a bath, getting a massage, making a (small) purchase of something you wanted, sitting in the sun, calling a friend (you may or may not disclose your depression – either is fine), eating truffles (please avoid eating the whole box, but if you do we will not judge), or going to the shelter to pet puppies (you may NOT adopt one however). It is also OK to do things that are not active but simply tell yourself kind things, or avoid telling yourself unkind things. Do things that you know make you happy, even if today they do not.
We appreciate any level of cooperation you can muster regarding these rules in the coming days. Please know that we recognize that by having these rules at all we are inevitably setting you up for what you will consider some level of failure. We do not consider it so. Understand that while these are framed as rules, we see them more as guidelines for healthy navigation of bipolar depression, and that there may be days where you will be unable to engage in all seven. THIS IS ACCEPTABLE. Please note that if you are unable to adhere to rules one or two for three or more days you should call your therapist and discuss options for increasing your personal safety.
It is advisable to review this memorandum the moment that you believe that you are experiencing depression in order to ensure maximum impact. We also understand (as with everything in this memo) that this may not happen. If you have read this far we are in deep appreciation of you and want you to know that we love you. Lots of people do.
Clare Cady is a senior program officer of national college programs at Single Stop and the director and co-founder of the College and University Food Bank Alliance. She has a background in education and the nonprofit sector, and has worked both in student affairs and outside of the profession. Beyond her work, Clare is a backpacker, singer-songwriter, crossfitter, and t-rex enthusiast. Her belief in critical thought and questioning leads her to never accept the premise of the given question, and her dream is to one day snuggle a polar bear. Connect with Clare on Twitter @clarecady