This is Part Two of The Life of Cathy Ulrickson. I just want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Cathy again for choosing to use my platform to spread her message of mental health both from the perspective of a Family Nurse Practitioner and a mother of 4. Do enjoy!
The second part of my story is the personal side. As those of you who are returning know, I am a Family Nurse Practitioner by trade, and if you haven’t yet, please read Part One of this guest blog series.
I am a single mother of four; three sons and one daughter, all one year apart. They are all exceptional in their own way; all college educated, hard working, honest and finding their way. We are a close knit group, even though we are separated and live in different areas. I had no preparation of what was about to happen to us.
One day, out of the blue, my youngest son broke. He was 21. I can’t explain it any other way. He just broke.
It took some time for me to comprehend and understand what was going on. I wasn’t sure if this was an acute event, or perhaps something he had been struggling with on his own and went unnoticed by all of us. He was always on the quiet side, highly intelligent and athletic, an extremely hard worker, very responsible with his money, no drugs or trouble of any kind and I honestly did not notice anything that would prepare me for this. When it happened, he was unrecognizable. He got fired from his job.
He was barely functioning.
He suffered from extreme depression and anxiety disorder. He had panic attacks. We were uninsured. He had a suicide attempt. It was an educational process for us all, and we all took the journey together, one step at a time. I witnessed these “panic attacks” and I thought at one point he was having a seizure. It was frightening. I felt helpless. He had good days where the conversation flowed easily. He had bad days where one word, action, or opinion could set of a cascade of behaviors that not only none of us understood, but he certainly did not understand either. There were times he could not handle crowds of any kind, going into a store was out of the question. When the company of one, perhaps two was plenty.
He struggled. He suffered.
He fought through every day, sometimes it was an hour, or less, at a time.
I got him a puppy. He needed a reason beyond himself. A purpose to get up in the morning. He still has her. I think in a way she saved his life. She is family to all of us. Here we are, six and a half years later, and he is stable, employed and doing well. He still fights through every day but has gathered valuable tools to help him do just that. Meditation, two hour work hours every single day, seven days a week and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which he did himself.
I realized I was only looking at mental illness, and especially Anxiety and Depression from the viewpoint of a professional healthcare provider and not as a human being. Not as a mother. I knew the details and facts and figures. The medications and treatment options, but it was the true picture I did not fully understand. The human side.
The combination of the two, professional and personal, is experience I hold dear. It has made me a better mother, a better healthcare provider and a better human being.
With that being said, here are the top things I have learned.
- Never ask a person who struggles with any of the above disorders, but especially depression and anxiety “How are you feeling today” or anything even close. How can that question be answered when they truly do not even know themselves?
- Do not go overboard offering suggestions, it only encourages feelings of failure.
- Positive vibes, mantras, etc do not work. You may have good intentions, but oftentimes good intentions to someone with Anxiety or Depression are received as insulting and a sinking feeling of being even more misunderstood.
- During a true panic attack, do not panic. Speaking to the person will not help as oftentimes they are unable to speak. Touching them sometimes makes it worse. Just sit close by. Simple reminders like “breath”, or offer to breath with them. Gentle and quiet reminders like “it will be over soon”, and “you’re doing great, I’m right here with you”, sometimes can get through.
The MOST important way you can support a person with anxiety and/or Depression is simply?
You don’t need to fix anything, offer suggestions (even out of love), or go overboard simply because it is YOU that needs to feel you are doing something,
Just be there. Sometimes no words are necessary. Just be there.
And if you can’t be physically present? A simple text message of:
I’m thinking about you
You are important to me
Just wanted to remind you that I’m here
You are enough
These subjects are book worthy, and I am not sure I have done them justice by two short blog posts, This is truly just scratching the surface of a very deep issue. But I hope in some way, you found something useful, picked up one more idea, or have journeyed one step closer to a deeper understanding of what surrounds us ALL every day.
May we all become more passionate human beings.