I’m looking out the window at the season’s first significant snowfall. The plows have been out already, but in two months today will be merely a ho-hum winter day, and not worth a plow run. We face a long, cold winter here on the south shore of Lake Ontario, where “lake effect” adds snow inches and wind chill — kind of a double whammy.
Which leads me to the topic of depression. Winter lasts four months and, unless you like winter outdoor activities, it can get old quickly. We want a white Christmas (but not so white you can’t get to Grandmother’s house), and then we tell Mother Nature she can leave. But she hangs on, and on. We get the winter blahs, or even seasonal affective disorder because of lack of UV light. All this is as common as the winter cold.
With this snowy baseline, caregivers face a triple whammy this year.
- Experts tell us this will be a devastating Covid season. I fear a greater surge after the holidays when families and friends discover that their Christmas party may not have been worth it after all. We are experiencing fear, grieving, cabin fever; and say good-bye to all those fun communal activities that get us through normal winters. And serious health issues may take a back seat to Covid beds and medical staff.
According to the website site PSYCOM, https://www.psycom.net/covid-19-suicide-rates, 75,000 more people will die from Covid related suicides.
Our loved ones, our care receivers, suffer depression as well. For example, at https://www.mesotheliomahub.com/mesothelioma/mplications/mental-effects/co we read “Mesothelioma patients may suffer from multiple physical complication as a result of their cancer symptoms and treatment. These physical changes could lead to mental and emotional strain. A serious illness, like cancer, can affect the mental health of the patients and their loved ones.” (By the way, this is a great website if your loved one suffers from mesothelioma, for not only care issues, but legal claims.)
Many chronic diseases interfere with our life-style —from dealing with pain and other symptoms, decreasing mobility or mental function, or even where we live—thus creating a depressing situation for the ill person. And for caregivers, their loved one’s depression becomes contagious. It’s hard to keep your happy when your loved one is miserable.
Because of Covid, a caregivers’ isolation creates a thriving petri dish for depression. Usual outlets, like lunch with a friend, or physically being with your fellow caregivers in a group, are off the table for now.
Church attendance is a lifeline for many caregivers. Now we literally zoom in and out of God’s house. Worship has changed, and I miss the grace and power of communal, physical worship.
So, between the winter blahs, Covid, and care receiver/caregiver depression, we face a triple whammy.
Managing Caregiver Depression
From my own experience, I can tell you depression sneaks up on you. I was experiencing 5 out of the 15 symptoms of depression listed at https://www.caregiver.org/depression-and-caregiving before I realized I was clinically depressed. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where NOT becoming depressed would be unusual. I was a caregiver. What did I expect (as I lectured to others)? “Physician (or nurse) heal thyself”! So, I did — with the help of my doctor and medication.
In this Covid season, it is more important than ever to be creative and find stress relieving outlets.
- Make more phone call visits with friends (not emails), because we need that physical and emotional contact, and the spontaneity of conversation.
- I’ve written before about finding your “bliss” (hobby, activity) that gives you pleasure. Some people have worked so hard all their lives, they never had time or inclination to find “their thing.” No worries. It’s fun fiddling with a puzzle, or binge watching your favorite programs series. Try something new for the heck of it. You may discover “your thing” after all.
- Reach out for professional help. My husband’s cousin, a nurse, also has her doctorate in psych, and consults with patients through telemedicine. She is a busy lady because more people are using this method to get the help they need.
- Join a virtual support group. Many organizations, like the Alzheimer’s Association, have such support groups and online assistance.
- And don’t put yourself down if you need medication. We all need help now and then. Although I am a believer in the health benefits from micronutrients found in whole food, there is a place for pharmaceuticals.
- Because of Covid isolation, it is easier to anonymously seek God, or learn more about him online. If you do not belong to a faith community, or belong to one but always wondered about the others, this is a great way to attend Catholic Masses, various Protestant services, Jewish (both rabbinical and Messianic) sabbaths. I believe God wired us all differently, and we grow close to God in our own way. This is a great time to find your way in the privacy of your home. I interviewed a business executive who told me it took him 20 minutes to muster the courage to enter the church he eventually joined. Now it is easy to “lurk” without fear.
Challenges Make Us Strong
If you believe the CDC, this Covid winter will be long and dark. When it’s dark, we turn on the lights. This is our challenge. Use whatever wattage you need. Turn on the floodlights if need be!
Be creative. Explore the world through technology. Get help. Turn to God, especially if you never have before. You will find he is your strength. Dust off your Bible. Read spiritually enriching books, articles, devotionals. Dig out those CDs or DVDs that have been gathering dust. Heck! Read all those books you meant to get to, be they cozy mysteries, thrillers, or non-fiction. Light the fireplace in your heart! And don’t forget how our favorite music sooths us and brings back happier times.
You CAN do this. In one way or another — care receiver, care giver, or just someone struggling through winter — we all give and receive help throughout our lives. Now is no different. It’s just more important.