Part One | Part Two
Part Two: The Solution
By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
Our first part in “The Lady has the Blues” discussed the problem of depression in terms of its symptoms and its tendency to weigh more heavily on women than men. It was a rather glass half empty kind of article – a depressing piece on depression.
Here, though, we aim to raise the bar some and look at solutions for this widespread problem (one that so many of us are still embarrassed to mention in polite company). So stick with us if you’re looking to be more conversant on the topic. We’ll stay focused on the goal of how together women can become more informed about mental health matters that ultimately affect us all.
|Try the following for beating the blues|
Exercise your mind
Stay physically active
Try to ease off from worrying too much
Accentuate the positive both in your self and others
Know your limits and respect them
Let moderation be your guide
Think of living well as an art to be cultivated
Learn to say no to extra commitments
Allow time to just enjoy the moment
Sign up to be a volunteer
If you start feeling blue, call a friend, make a date or take a walk.
Managing and Treating Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) optimistically states that, “Even severe depression can be highly responsive to treatment. Indeed, believing that one’s condition is ‘incurable’ is often part of the hopelessness that accompanies serious depression.”
Seek professional help, encourages the NIMH. A range of antidepressants are available, as is psychotherapy, to assist women who suffer. There is no need to continue in shame and silence, according to government pundits. Depression is a reaction to a series of events and situations that tends to plague women disproportionately, so the sensible thing to do is accept the idea and then access available assistance.
Professor of psychiatry and vice chairman of Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) Department of Psychiatry, Kathryn J. Zerbe, M.D. agrees that there are many ways to keep the blues at bay. Zerbe focuses especially on four self-help ways women can be their own best friend and give the symptoms of depression the boot.
First, Zerbe is staunchly in Joan Coate’s camp [see part one of this series] and says that exercising the mind is where it’s at. “Brain research has demonstrated that activities like doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language or playing a musical instrument can help you feel better emotionally,” Zerbe writes in OHSU’s 2006 Women’s Health Annual pamphlet. “You don’t need to be Mozart to get the rewards; you just have to apply yourself and achieve a sense of accomplishment.”
Advice versus Real Life
Betsy Frankin of Seattle thinks Zerbe is right on the mark here. “Back when I was younger and floating around quite a bit, I suffered from depression that left me bottled up in a sea of worry and low self-esteem for years and years and years. Finally, I found the strength to go back to school and study nursing. Now I have my career and meaningful work. It has done more for me than all the drugs the shrinks tried on me for a few years there.
“These days I know that when the blues come knocking, it’s a signal for me to get up out of the chair and get busy: Nursing, tennis, the garden, signing up at the local elementary school to read to kids that need a hand. All of it gets you out of your own head and into places where you get some momentary relief that gives you the strength to do a little more the next day. These days, I’m happy most of the time and am so glad I didn’t give up so I could live to see why so many people always seemed to love life so.”
Second on Zerbe’s list is to “challenge your tendency to worry too much. People who worry tend to have higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders,” she observes. “Only a tiny fraction of all the things that could happen ever come to pass, so allow yourself the freedom from planning for every eventuality.”
Frankin’s not too sure about this point of Zerbe’s. “I’m a worrier, that’s for sure, and I see what she means when she says to dump all the fretting. But in my case, I found that things I worried about did come to pass. For me it was people not liking me, and I worried so much when I was with them that I didn’t really take an interest in them and sure enough they ended up not liking me,” Frankin said, chuckling.
“Sad, I know. Self-fulfilling prophecy, and all that. But it’s how depression works. Gets you by the throat. So just happily ‘challenging your tendency to worry’ seems a bit unrealistic to me.”
Frankin paused to consider her thoughts and then added, “I wish it didn’t. I really do I hate worrying all the time. It’s such a self-centered thing to do. That’s why of all the things I’ve tried to do to help my depression – my volunteer work (and the nursing) seems the most successful because that’s when I focus on others and their needs.”
Despite serious qualifications on Zerbe’s second point above, the skeptical Frankin gives a firm nod to the psychiatrist’s third tip: “exercise your body.” Once again, Zerbe points to the science that supports her assertion. “Studies have made it clear,” she writes, “that physical exertion can help fight depression or any tendency toward a blue mood.”
Zerbe suggests a fourth strategy in which women “alter their outlook.”
“Recent research,” she writes, “has shown that people can actually learn to be optimistic. Optimistic people engage in more physical activities, and they tend to watch affirming and funny movies and TV shows. Merely making such positive choices can help you develop the ability to see life as ‘the glass half full.’”
Lastly, Zerbe says to “give yourself a break.” Sigh. Doesn’t that sound nice?
“Develop a ‘no tolerance’ policy for self-disparaging comments,” she writes. “It’s amazing how self-critical we can become without even realizing it, a reality that research suggests may contribute to higher rates of depression among women. Use positive self-talk to reframe your thoughts, and jot down positive affirmations and good qualities about yourself on a note card so you can refer back to them.”
Frankin sighs too, but instead of finding Zerbe’s thoughts “nice,” she is suspect. “I hate to be the naysayer. I really do – especially when people will probably just dismiss me as a glass-half-empty sort,” she said, with a short laugh.
“But think about it. These little ‘power of positive thinking’ affirmations. All that Norman Vincent Peale stuff and the thoughty little sticky notes stuck up around the house with these trite, preachy ditties.
“Doesn’t that strike you a little on the nerdy side? I mean, do we have to give up being intelligent and cool to deal with depression? I can see the learning a new language and staying physically active ideas, but these other areas are more amorphous and strike me as overly naïve, sugary and silly. Really. In my mind this kind of stuff plays right into why women are depressed in the first place. They are sort of childish when you think about. Sort of contrived and not authentic. Not an organic way that develops of its own accord, you know?”
Laure Meleer, M.S.N., R.N.C., C.C.E, director of the Women’s Health Division at OHSU is not as quick to judge Zerbe’s ideas as Frankin. Rather, Meleer echoes some of Zerbe’s thinking in her own suggestions for keeping ill feelings down to manageable levels.
For starters, Meleer begins by asking what she sees as the key question: “How can I achieve a balanced life and better manage stress?” Her answer is fourfold.
First, she suggests altering our outlooks. “Remember that all stress is negative,” she writes. “Look on the upside of change instead of the downside; view change as a positive challenge as opposed to a threat.” Meleer even offers up an attention-getting anecdote: “A terminally ill woman once said to me, ‘I am about to depart on the greatest human adventure.’” Certainly a positive spin on death.
“Know your limits,” is Meleer’s second pointer. “Work on establishing your priorities to limit your exposure to stress. Set realistic goals at home and at work. Don’t be afraid to ask those around you for help; that’s what family and friends are for!” she observes. “Don’t work yourself into the ground. Retreat and refuel when your body tells you to.” She even adds that, “When I turned 40, friends emphasized the best part of maturity’s milestone: ‘Welcome to the ‘Without Guilt Club.’”
Like Zerbe, Meleer also sees moderation as an important ticket to well-being. “The ancient Greeks spoke of ‘a golden mean’ as the key to happiness and success,” she writes as a prelude to making a pitch for reasonable amounts of physical exercise, maintaining a nutritious diet, taking time to relax and incorporating meditation in order to “gain clarity and perspective.”
Finally, Meleer thinks that if women suffering from depression could see life as an art that needs mastering, they might not feel so overwhelmed. “Cultivate an attitude of gratitude for relationships, the environment and your work,” she suggests. Also, “laugh out loud; then laugh again.” Then, “enrich somebody’s day by virtue of your presence… [remembering that] one of the great axioms of life dictates that the best way to find yourself is to serve another.” Finally, Meleer writes, “challenge yourself to learn something new every day.”
Ponderings on a Sunbeam
Sunbeams are the stuff of light and energy – everything the gloomy clouds of depression are not. And as Betsy Frankin so courageously admitted, crossing the formidable gap that seems to divide one from the other seems as impossible as leaping the Grand Canyon.
Part of the problem, in our view, is an on-again, off-again approach that plagues so many women who have depression. It’s an either-or type mindset that either forges ahead full steam or dallies and dithers at the starting gate without much direction.
Particularly when coming across an article like this that is so full of helpful tips, there is a tendency so say, “OK, tomorrow I’m really going to get started: Positive affirmations, exercise, help my neighbors, eat right, quit worrying and meditate before I go to bed.” If you laughed out loud, good. If not, perhaps read our attempt at levity again.
The idea, of course, is to skip the barnstormer approach and come in through the back door on these things. To coax new habits ever so gently like we were training a young pup. To realize that the authoritarian drive to force and rush and hurry things is more a symptom of depression than a solution.
So – we suggest putting on a quiet piece of classical music and sifting back through this article in a leisurely manner, maybe taking a moment here and there to breathe… and to listen. Should a line pique your interest, spend some time with it. Try it on like a new piece of clothing. See how you like it.
See if it is one of those shirts that might go with everything. A shirt you might reach for day after day. A comfortable shirt that might help you find a more soothing path to travel.
We hope you find a shirt – or even a bandana. And hope to see you on the trail. A trail that after all is said and done, we all walk together.
To the sisterhood. To freedom from depression. To sunbeams.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
Perimenopause and Depression: Risks and Symptoms
Menopause and Depression - Jury Still Out On The Connection
More Reason to Worry? Women and Anxiety/Panic Disorders