Supporting A Loved One Living With Depression

Supporting A Loved One Living With Depression

I wrote this a few months ago before I was brave enough to publish my thoughts.  And I believe it is important for me to take part in this conversation and share with all of you who are helping and supporting a person with depression.  We need to realise we are not alone either.

Insight – Listen and Learn

Last night I went along to the award-winning show written and performed by Rob Mokaraka, “Shot Bro! Confessions of a depressed bullet”. This story is about Rob’s personal battle with depression and a traumatic event in 2009. With a lot of professional help and the aroha (love) of whanau (family) and friends, he crafted a show that empowers people with depression.
I have been following this show on Facebook for the last 18 months or so waiting for the day that the show and I were in the same place at the same time. I saw a piece on Maori TV a couple of years ago; Rob was sharing his story about depression and I knew it was something I needed to see. Hopefully it could give me more insight into the minds of my loved ones living with depression and maybe it could add another tool to my belt when trying to support them. And it has – more insight and more tools.

Our journey – Learning to support my husband who lives with depression

I have not personally battled depression and I find it very difficult to imagine the magnitude of the struggle going on for people. I am not sure you can really comprehend the effects if you have not experienced it in some way yourself, but my husband Cam has and does (and many others in my tribe do too). The last eight or so years for me has been about learning how to support Cam and my tribe. My biggest work-ons have been trying to understand what it is like (this is the hardest part for me and I am not sure I will ever really get it) and trying to be understanding. There are moments when I am very understanding, then there are/were those moments/days when I would want to pull my hair out, because Cam knew what it is that would help him feel better but yet he’d just sit on the sofa! And in my head I am shouting, “Why don’t you just get off the sofa and go for a walk and get some sun!’ – not very understanding.

I believe that for those of us who have not suffered with depression, it is difficult to understand and empathise. And many times I was left frustrated as both of us logically knew that going to for a walk or doing something that we both loved doing together would probably make him feel better, but he was not willing or able to leave the house. There were days I would sit in with him but other times I just wanted/needed to get out and so would leave the house for a few hours. For those of us supporting a loved one, we need to make sure we get time out and make time for our self-care. We are no good to anyone when we are running on empty.

We have a problem in New Zealand

In our society we clearly have a major problem with depression. Our suicide rate in New Zealand is amongst the highest in the OECD. We have a major problem. We have a public mental health system that is not robust enough to deal with the magnitude of the issue, waiting lists to get into publicly funded programs and therapists can take months to be seen. Private therapy seems unaffordable to many of the people that need it most. I have no doubt the clinicians in the sector are doing all they can to help their clients but there are just not enough of them to go round. So that leaves us, the friends and families, to step up and lean in. Be prepared to be uncomfortable yourself, be prepared to ask hard questions and be prepared to accept the answers that you are given.

10 Things I have learnt along the way that may help them and help you – in no particular order:

1. Validate rather than invalidate – their feelings are real to them, their perception is their reality, don’t dismiss these feelings.
2. Work on being non- judgemental and adopting a non-judgemental stance, this takes practice folks. But will be so helpful to your loved ones. I encourage you to read more about how and why.
3. Cuddles, love, connection – just sit on the sofa and hold their hand
4. Listen – don’t try to fix or solve the problem, just listen until you are asked for advice or asked to help them problem solve.
5. Ask them what they personally need. – Get specifics. “What does support specifically look like to you?” For instance, when I am down I want help finding solutions, so when I talk to a friend I appreciate them giving me solutions. However, my husband does not. He just wants someone to listen and not judge or give solutions… he says he has already thought of the solutions and knows which is the best option but when he is that low he cannot action it. He is stuck and needs time to work through it. So for us, I listen, give him a cuddle and then leave him to have some alone time (in the room or on the sofa) while I get on with other things.
6. Find support yourself – make sure you take care of yourself. Know that you are not selfish for needing some time out.
7. Be honest with your emotions to encourage those around you to be honest with their feelings, don’t say you are good or fine when you are not. Create an environment around you where honest emotions are well received and therefore the barrier to open conversations is taken away.
8. If you are concerned about suicide, then ask the person if they are having thoughts of self-harm/suicide, sit with them, keep a close eye on them. I feel very grateful Cam has never been suicidal but a few of my tribe have been.
9. Know that you will not always get it right, but remember you are trying your best.
10. Know your boundaries and let your loved ones know too. For example, I only ask 3 times if people are ok – they need to come meet me some of the way. And I don’t stay overnight in hospital when friends have attempted suicide. Cam is the one who has stayed the night and slept in the hospital chair for our tribe. So many broken people… there have been too many hospital visits.

Your support network is important

This is my lived experience I am sharing so those of you who are supporting someone know that you are not alone and you don’t have to be strong the entire time. Ask for help and support, share your situation and feelings with your friends, have a time out. I have had some incredible people who have supported me when things were tough at home.

My personal experience should not be taken in place of professional advice. Seek help for yourself or your love one.

Love Lex

 

Professional Services in NZ

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.

Learning To Be Assertive In And Out Of The Ring

Learning To Be Assertive In And Out Of The Ring

Learning to be assertive in and out of the ring is serving me well. The shift in mindset begins in Houston Texas.

The moment it all changed

25.01.2018: The 10-second bell had rung to signal the coming end of the first round. I had been boxing well up to this point. I was in control of the space and the tempo and rhythm of the fight. I pushed forward and my opponent backed up into the corner. My head was clear and focused on executing nice long straight punches. I went in with a straight right hand to the body – it landed cleanly – then pushed back out to have a look and reset. I created an opening and threw a beautiful long fast straight right; my opponent thought I was going to throw a straight left so she moved forward a little preparing to throw her right hand over my jab. She didn’t see the punch coming. It landed cleanly on her jaw and she collapsed to the ground immediately. I had knocked her out with a single punch… She lay in the ring while the doctors checked her over. My first thought while standing in the corner was, “Please let her be ok.” I was overwhelmed and teary-eyed in my concern for her. My hand was raised a few minutes later but the win didn’t feel shiny.

Why it didn’t feel shiny

In the days that followed, I was trying to figure out why the win didn’t feel shiny for me at the time. It came down to the ideas I had formed about who and what I was and who and what I was not. To me Alexis Pritchard the person was a kind, caring, smiley being, a helper and healer. She was not aggressive and not a thug (seemingly aggressive people and thugs are the only people that knock each other out, even in sport). I subconsciously decided to be a nice technical boxer. Because apparently nice technical boxers don’t hurt people. I liked to be liked, I like the idea that I am a nice person and nice people try their utmost to not hurt other people. Also, Alexis the person has a hard time with confrontation and would rather avoid it. So why then, I hear you ask, is she boxing? I box because is challenges every part of my being. You never stop learning and improving. You can always work on being better the next day. It pushes me to expand mentally emotionally and physically.

Now this irony is not lost on me. But for the first 13 or so years of my boxing career I navigated this fight landscape with the idea that I am a technical boxer, I don’t need to hurt my opponents I just want to box nicely and score some points. I am chuckling to myself as I write this because even in combat I want to be liked! I am also reminded of what my dad said to me after watching me fight, “It seems you don’t like flying above the radar.” There was a lot of truth in that statement. There were many fights where I was fighting to survive rather than fighting to thrive when I was in that head space. But the knockout in January took that explanation from me. And I have had to reassess my notions of good nice people.

Assertive Vs. Aggressive

The word “aggressive” has never sat well with me. I don’t want to be aggressive or of thought of as aggressive. For me there is a loss of control and an undercurrent of violence to aggression, there is not respect in this state of mind. In boxing, you are in a contract/agreement with your opponent; when you step into the ring both of you aim to overcome the other. However, you also agree to fight within the parameters of the rules of the game and respect both those and your opponent.
I tried the concept of “controlled-aggression” for a while, but as my most recent mental skills coach Dave Neithe, pointed out, there is no control in aggression. A better and more fitting attribute is to be assertive. There are various definitions of “assertive”; in them, what stands out for me are “confident” and “unafraid”. Being assertive means behaving confidently and not being frightened to say or, in my case, do what you, believe or need to do to work towards the outcome that you desire. But how does this translate into my reality?

Give yourself permission

To thrive, Boxer Lex needs to be assertive; she needs to hit them hard, she needs to put her foot down and capitalise when she sees an opening. She needs to assert her dominance over her opponents, even then they are hurting. They need to feel her power. Because sure as night follows day her opponents are not thinking about just boxing nicely. Their objective is to box well and box hard and make me feel their power. They want to win and, in this case, “nice” doesn’t cut it at the top of my sport. The attributes that I described above are not bad nor are they good. They are what is required of me in the boxing ring to thrive rather than just survive. I needed to give Boxer Lex permission to be assertive and I did. There was an immediate and noticeable change in how I carried myself in the ring and the intensity and fierceness I brought to training and competition.

Thriving

Boxer Lex is a fierce badass chick and she is me and I am her. Over these last few months I have noticed a change in me. I no longer only keep the assertiveness for the ring, I am becoming assertive outside of the ring too. I am going after what I want rather than holding back and hoping someone will notice. I speak up even when my voice is a bit shaky. I am letting people know how they can help me achieve and grow. By speaking up I am creating opportunities and I am starting to become very “lucky”.

Give yourself permission to be assertive. Give yourself permission to be great.

 

Love
Lex

Gratitude – How Writing In My Gratitude Journal Helped Me

Gratitude – How Writing In My Gratitude Journal Helped Me

Gratitude

Gratitude (noun) is a simple act the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Sometimes things in life are not that great

A couple of years ago my little family was in turmoil, we all walked around in emotion mind for many months, setting each other off just by breathing. I did not want to be at home or around my loved ones. When I was at work, at training or out with friends I felt like me, but every time I was in the car driving home I could feel my mood change. I felt irritable all the time, frustrated, and I noticed I was overthinking which led to trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I am the queen of sleep normally. Home was not my happy place anymore.

I had not been an overthinker like this before. Not sure if any of you have had this experience, but it is tiring. When you are running the same scenario over and over in your head for a few hours or days, there is no capacity to do anything else or to feel anything else beside the destructive story that is on repeat in your head. It made me react to people in an unkind or unnecessarily short manner, especially the ones closest to me.

The moment it dawned on me that something was the matter

One morning it took me 35 minutes of a 45-minute run to stop overthinking. When I run my head is usually clear of other things, I can be mindful and in the moment. I can take in my surroundings, listen to the sounds, appreciate the unique smell of NZ bush; I am aware of my body and how it is moving – I know when the pressure through my big toes are not even at push-off of my running action – this is how aware I am! But on this day, I was stuck in my thoughts with my scenario playing over and over, I was predicting the conversation and predicting the outcomes. I remember looking down at my watch at the 15-minute mark thinking: “Shit, I need to stop this silly thinking.” And I consciously told myself, “Lex stop. Enough already” and tried the technique where thoughts are like smoke coming out of a chimney and which get blown away with the wind.

A couple of minutes later I found myself back in my story. I got back to the gym and told my husband, Cam. He said, “Yeah, I have noticed this. You have not been yourself; you seem grumpy all the time and I am too scared to talk to you just in case I get my head bitten off.” It made me sad to hear this was how I was carrying myself. I value smiles, kindness, love, laughter and lifting people up. I don’t want to be a thundercloud. Please don’t get me wrong; we all can be moody, grumpy, irritable beings sometimes and are not smiling and laughing all the time. But I became a person who hardly smiled or laughed at home and this was not the me I wanted to be. This was not me.

I needed to change something

Something needed to be done. I was exercising regularly, I was eating well, and I had close friendship connections that were fulfilling (and they really did keep me sane(ish) during this period in my life), but I could not see the good in my life at home and I could not really see the good in the people at home either. I don’t know what it is that led me to a gratitude journal. I think it may have been a conversation with a friend or I maybe it was a TED talk on gratitude. But I am so very glad I started down that path. I set myself the task of writing three things I am grateful for each day, one act of kindness to others and a compliment to myself. I would sit in bed and write in my journal at night before bed. I noticed it cleared my head of the day’s issues. I could fall asleep more easily and it highlighted the fact that I had a lot to be grateful for. I had a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat and wonderful people in my life who I had strong connections with and made me feel loved. Those really are the important things in life. And once we understand that we can see through the turmoil of hard life situations.

Writing down random acts of kindness made me want to be kinder to more people including myself. I slowly started to return to a less moody, snappy, irritable person. When we are caught up inside our own heads we can’t see out and when we do see out all we focus on are the frustrating, annoying, irritating things people are doing or saying. Honestly, it is not usually the other people but ourselves and how we are perceiving them/things. We allow them to be frustrating and annoying. When we make time to focus our energy on a more uplifting practice like gratitude we change our outlook. There is considerable research out there about the positive effects of practicing gratitude. This really changed my outlook and helped me through a tough period in my life. I have continued to write in my gratitude journal. It grounds me to what is important and makes me realise I am very fortunate just as I am, with what I have.

Love

Lex

 

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