Depression: How do you tell your boss you can’t work?

By Christine Stapleton

I went back to work last week. I had been off several weeks after a tough, two-week, out-of-town assignment that brought me to my knees on the edge of my black hole.

In all, I was gone five weeks – some pre-planned vacation and some comp time. Still, when you’re out of the office for that long, for any reason, people are going to wonder why you have been gone so long.shutterstock_180918260

If you don’t have a mental illness – whether it’s depression or alcoholism or an anxiety disorder – you’ve probably never been confronted with these questions: How do you call in sick when your mental illness prevents you from work? What do you say when you go back to work after an extended absence  because of your mental illness?

When you have to answer these questions, you realize how much stigma there is about mental illness.

If you had to take off a couple of weeks because you had pneumonia, you would simply tell your boss that you could not work because you had pneumonia. But what do you say when your depression prevents you from working? How do you call in sick with depression?

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Depression and anger Part 2: How I vanquish my anger

By Christine Stapleton

Apparently, there is a correct way to swing a sledge hammer and an incorrect way.

I was doing it incorrectly, although it still felt pretty good. Luckily, Tommy, one of the coaches at my CrossFit gym, witnesses this old lady swinging a sledge hammer the wrong way and – without a snicker – taught me the correct way to swing a sledge hammer.

At my age, 55, I don’t expect I will swinging many sledge hammers. Still, it’s good to know. Why? Because sometimes I get mad. Really mad. I need to physically release my anger.shutterstock_194511182

For a long time I didn’t know how much anger I was carrying around. Invisible baggage accumulated over decades. Then, a major depression right-sized me and I asked for help. I learned anger was a part of my depression, even though I felt numb. I would not be well until I learned to deal with my anger.

Women don’t get many chances to express their anger. Unlike men, who grow up playing sports like football, hockey and rugby, we don’t have many sanctioned activities that allow us to release our anger. Sure, we can get gnarly on the tennis court or golf course, swinging away at the balls.

But other than that, what do we have? Bridge? Book club? Scrap booking?

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Get me a sledge hammer: Depression as anger turned inward

By Christine Stapleton

About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.

This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.shutterstock_178702403

My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.

I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.

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Justifying late-term abortions: Mother’s mental health is not enough

By Christine Stapleton

Last week Florida lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions during the third-trimester. A doctor who performs an abortion during the third trimester and anyone who assists can be charged with the third-degree felony.

shutterstock_152763305However, the law makes an exception when a “physician certifies in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, there is a medical necessity for legitimate emergency medical procedures for termination of the pregnancy to save the pregnant woman’s life or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”

Without wading into the debate over abortion, I would like to weigh in on the exception in the exception of  “a psychological condition.”

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Mentally ill now and forever…amen.

By Christine Stapleton

Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.

It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years.  I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.

But for the last two weeks I have been under an unconscionable amount of stress. I say “unconscionable” because I allowed it to happen.shutterstock_176869352

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.

Recently, I accepted  an assignment which today I realize I should not  have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.

I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.

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Gluten and depression: Is there a link?

By Christine Stapleton

People who don’t eat gluten are a lot like people who do CrossFit. They talk about it incessantly.

I am both gluten-free and a CrossFitter. I don’t talk about either unless asked or I am around others who are gluten-free or do CrossFit. Or both. It’s gotten to the point where we have be become so annoying that we have become the butt of a really funny jokes:shutterstock_129962030

  • Ten percent of the population is gluten-free and the other 90 percent are sick of hearing about it.
  • Do you know the correct term for gluten-free brownies? Compost.
  • I hope your birthday is filled with lots of gluten-free treats that aren’t disgusting, just like everything else that is gluten-free.

Gluten-free is considered the Nehru jacket of nutrition trends: Hip for about 20 minutes, then profoundly ridiculous. Which is why I rarely talk about either.

When depression has pinned you to the mat and you cannot get up, you will risk being the butt of a joke to feel better. Short of getting drunk or stoned, I would stick Tootsie Rolls up my nose if I thought it would help my depression. It’s that simple.

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As she lay dying: Depression and my mother’s sad memories

By Christine Stapleton

Shortly before my mother went into hospice we sat alone together in her bedroom and she said: “If you want to ask me anything you should ask me now.”shutterstock_141509170

I was stunned.

My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.

I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.

He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.

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Botox: The new antidepressant?

By Christine Stapleton

Halle-freakin’-lujah!

We have a couple more studies that suggest that paralyzing key facial muscles with Botox can reduce the symptoms of depression.

In a recent 24-week randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, done by Michelle Magid, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas, 30 participants with depressive symptoms were randomized and give injections of Botox or a placebo between the eyebrows (which happens to be exactly where I need it.)shutterstock_124462930

The men were injected with 39 units of botulinum and the women were injected with 29 units. At week 12, the placebo group crossed over to treatment, and the treatment group crossed over to placebo.Participants were evaluated at weeks 0, 3, 6, 12, 15, 18, and 24. The primary outcome was a reduction from baseline of at least 50% in the 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score.

In a yet-to-be-published study in the in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Eric Finzi, a cosmetic dermatologist, and Norman Rosenthal, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, randomly assigned a group of 74 patients with major depression to receive either Botox or saline injections in the forehead muscles that enable us to frown.

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Why pinching pennies on mental health care won’t work

By Christine Stapleton

My disenchantment with politics has hit a new low. I didn’t think that was possible until I began looking at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s 2015 budget proposal line-by-line.

I was writing another story on child welfare programs and figured while I was looking at the budget, I might as well shutterstock_133736621look at our governor’s budget proposal for mental health programs. Going straight to the bottom line, I see the governor is proposing spending $2.1 million more than the current fiscal year on adult mental health programs. Good news, right?

Wrong.

I took a gander at funding for strategic priorities:

  • Indigent psychiatric medication program: $0 down from $1.5 million this year.
  • Maintain funding for adult community mental health services: $4 million, down from $10.2 million..
  • Maintain funding for Bay County Assertive Community Treatment Team: $0 down from $1.2 million.
  • Community mental health programs in 3 counties: $0 down from $1.9 million.

The only strategic priorities that will see an increase in funding under the governor’s budget is mental health transitional beds, $2.5 million compared to $0 this year and $3 million to restore county criminal justice grants, which received no funding this year.

But under the category “Provide Effective and Enhanced Prevention Services,” which support 7 community crisis stabilization units and other local mental health care programs – the governor is cutting funding for all seven programs.

The governor’s proposed budget would have ticked me off three years ago – at the height of the recession – but it infuriates me now because Florida has a $1.2 billion budget surplus. So a $2.1 million increase for adult mental health care programs amounts to chump change. I mean, really?

The governor claims the three main parts of his “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” are: 1) Creating Jobs for the Next Generation; 2) Investing in Education; and 3) Strengthening Florida Families. If that is true, investing in the state’s mental health care system should be among your top priorities.

If you want to attract business to Florida, you need a healthy and attractive environment. Homelessness and those pesky homeless people pushing grocery carts along the sidewalk or lining the intersections with their “Will Work for Food” signs are not attractive to businesses considering moving to Florida.

Many of our homeless and poor have mental illnesses, such as alcoholism and addiction. And if you can’t muster up the compassion to care for them because it’s the right thing to do, think of it from an economic perspective: Getting those people off the streets is good for business. It’s going to help lure business and tourists – or at least not repel them.

You want to strengthen Florida families? Provide housing, treatment and respite care for our families who are touched by mental illness. That’s just about all of us.

I bumped into an acquaintance last week whose adult brother has schizophrenia. He can’t keep a job and is now living in half of a termite-invested mobile home that would probably have been condemned had she not interceded. Two weeks ago he tried to kill himself – in front of her. They kept him in the hospital for 72 hours – the maximum allowed – and then let him go.”

“There is nothing for him. No safe place for him to go.  It’s so sad,” she said.

Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall: How can politicians and policy makers not see it? How can they not see the link between the economy and mental illness? How many times do we need to explain that depression is the #1 workplace disability?

If we can’t do the right thing merely for the sake of doing the right thing, let’s do it because it makes financial sense. Let’s do it for the almighty dollar. Let’s just do it.

Stack of pennies available from Shutterstock.

 

 

 

 

 



Bullying people with mental illnesses

By Christine Stapleton

Imagine a bulletin board on the internet that allowed anyone to comment – anonymously – on your job performance.

Anyone can say whatever they want about the work you do. Some praise and thank you. Others mock you and trash a project that you painstakingly researched and produced. You must always always put your name on your work and claim it as your own. Still, anonymous critics swipe away at your work, leaving you unable to confront your accuser.

shutterstock_92850706That’s what it’s like to be a newspaper reporter these days. It used to be that when readers wanted to criticize or comment on your story they would write a letter to the editor. Newspapers didn’t publish anonymous letters. They called the author and confirmed the person actually wrote the letter.

Then came the internet. Anyone can anonymously say anything about your work – and you – without any consequence. It ‘s unfair but as my mother used to say – “Life isn’t fair.”

You were right, mom. Life isn’t fair.

I am also an alcoholic. An alcoholic journalist. It’s been 15 years since I had  my last drink but I am still an alcoholic and still a journalist. Always will be. I’m not ashamed of being an alcoholic or a journalist. I understand there is still a lot of stigma associated with being an alcoholic. But I am at a point in my career, life and recovery where I am comfortable with who I am. I don’t hide either but I don’t mix the two in reporting the news.

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Hoping for a Happy Ending
Check out Christine's book!
Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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