Have I mentioned lately that I’m starting the whole menopause “thing”? All I want for Christmas this year is queen-size sheet sets. Preferably very high thread count. Seriously, I sweat more while I’m sleeping than I do at my kickboxing class. At least when I’m at kickboxing I’m burning calories. I don’t think sleeping and sweating is going to make me thin.
So, when Dr. Jennifer Payne was introduced as our next speaker at the recent luncheon for Hope for Depression Research Foundation I sat up at attention like my dog when he thinks he hears the refrigerator door open. Her topic: Women and Depression – especially women going through “the change.”
Menopause? Did someone say menopause?
Some days – not often anymore – I wake up feeling overwhelming guilt and gloom. I have done something wrong. I hit my rewind button and I can find nothing that warrants these feelings. But they are there. No matter how many times I repeat my mantra “Feelings aren’t facts. Feelings aren’t facts. Feelings aren’t facts.” I feel awful.
Saturday I had one of these mornings. The guilt and anxiety swelled as I looked at the wonderful day: Sunny, 70 degrees. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had done nothing wrong. All my bills are paid. Work is great. I have a story on the front page. My daughter is blossoming in college and has found a great part time job. I have wonderful friends. Seriously, my biggest problem is that my dog, Dog, has fleas.
Audrey Gruss has no problem talking about her mother’s depression — even to a large audience in a ballroom at an elegant hotel in Palm Beach, where everything and everyone looks so refined and polished. She speaks candidly – not as a victim but as a daughter. It is her way of taking at swipe at the stigma that still stifles families who need help.
“Hope is a very important word. It is also my mother’s name,” Audrey told a crowd at a fund-raising luncheon at The Breaker’s Hotel last Friday. Thirty five years ago Audrey’s’ mother had a “nervous breakdown.” She went away to a hospital. The doctors told the family very little about their mother’s condition.
“That was an era when cancer was thought to be contagious,” she said. “Patients weren’t told very much.”
Over the years her mother tried medications. “At certain time she was balanced but not totally.” Five years ago, Audrey’s mother died. About the same time Audrey became interested in the work of Dr. Jaak Panksepp, an Estonian born psychologist and neuroscientist who coined the term “affective neuroscience” – the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion.
To anyone who has depression, affective neuroscience is common sense. Of course emotions are related to activity in our brains. We might not be able to tell you how emotions affect our hypothalamus, cingulate cortex and hippocampi but we know there is something going on up there and it is not good.
Jaret Vogel called me last year after I wrote an article about the the dilemma facing families when their mentally ill child turns 18-years-old. There had been a horrific shooting at a family’s Thanksgiving dinner in 2009. The shooter, 35-years-old, killed his twin sisters, his 76-year-old aunt and 6-year-old cousin asleep in her bed. He had a 16-year history of mental illness.
As anyone who has an adult child with a mental illness can tell you, there is not much you can do when that child has all the rights and responsibilities of an adult. They can make their own financial, legal and health care decisions. That means the the programs and laws available to make sure they get the care they need – even if they don’t want it – vanish. Often, because of privacy laws, parents cannot even learn about their adult child’s decisions until there is a crisis.
That’s why Vogel called me. As a financial services professional in South Florida, Vogel had seen anguished families’ attempts to become the legal guardians of their disabled adult children. It takes thousands of dollars and a court order to establish guardianship. By the time a mentally ill child becomes and adult, many families are tapped dry – having already spent thousands of dollars on medications, treatment, hospital stays and therapy.