Grief and Dysthymia

My mother recently passed away due to a massive stroke and I’ve noticed an increase in download (1)my depression and anxiety symptoms. Around the time of her death my symptoms increased to the point where I considered going to a doctor for something to help sleep and for anxiety. Now, almost two months later my sleep has improved but I still experience waves of sadness and panic whenever I think about her loss. I can’t believe she is really gone. It just seems so bizarre since we were inseparable for so many years.

Grief vs major depression. I believe at one time therapists used to think that major depression was due to a major loss such as a job, relationship and or parent. Now with that idea somewhat out of favor it is hard to distinguish grief from clinical depression. Apparently they have similar symptoms and therapists are discouraged from diagnosing people with major depression while grieving a loss of a loved one. What complicates this further is the fact that people’s length and form of grief can vary to quite a degree. Some take a few months while some take a few years. Interestingly, some people who have taken antidepressants for grief have ended up stopping them due to a flattening of affect. Personally, a flattening affect is all I ever experienced from antidepressants and I think it might interfere with recovering from depression. I noticed that if I did experience depression with more sadness a period of improved mood soon followed. A flat affect seemed harder to recover from. This is an excerpt from an article on when grief becomes clinical depression.

Dr. Miller points out that for some people who have previously struggled with acknowledged or unacknowledged depression, the death of a significant other can be the catalyst that brings depression to the foreground. In such cases, professional treatment such as therapy and/or medication can be helpful. In the interviews we conducted while writing and researching Saying Goodbye, we learned that some people found antidepressant medication to be helpful for restoring sleep and appetite and “taking the edge off.” Other people who tried medication stopped taking it because they felt as though their feelings were “flattened,” and that the medication interfered with their ability to grieve.

As someone who has been diagnosed with Dysthymia at age twenty and also with Psychotic Depression eight years ago, this is even more complicated. I have experienced depression at a moderate to severe level for most of my life which didn’t seem consistent with the definition of Dysthymia. During my psychotic episode, eight years ago, I experienced a depression that was much more severe and bizarre. My experience of grief now seems more like my psychotic episode in that my sleep is more impaired and my stress level is much greater.

My relatives response was different than mine. My sister seemed to bounce back rather quickly. She initially expressed grief by crying but seemed to recover much faster and focused on the will and the process of probate which was necessary due to an error on the part of my parents. This could be partly due to her not be as close to our mother as me during the last eight years. I, on the other hand, was initially in a state of shock, disbelief and anger and have stayed there pretty much. I don’t anticipate that my experience will change much because that was how I responded to my father’s death seven years ago. Thoughts of my father aren’t as painful now but I think that is due partly to not obsessing about his death anymore. At least when he passed I still had my mother, now I feel like I have no one I can trust or who cares unconditionally about me. I think that might be why a death of a parent is so traumatic for most. To be loved unconditionally is unique to a parent child bond and it is something that most people try to find in a friend or a mate as they go through life.

My mother experienced her first stroke in 2009 and I took care of her from 2010 until 2018. When I initially came to stay my father was diagnosed with heart failure and was quite ill. I was still experiencing a psychotic episode at the time and had been hospitalized briefly unbeknownst to my family. This was all extremely challenging to say the least. My father then passed away in May 2011 after an operation to fix an aneurism. My mother was extremely distressed since her whole life was devoted to taking care of her family and also due to the fact that they were quite close. After about 2016 when she fell and hit her head she didn’t seem to recognize me any more but still remembered my sister. That was upsetting since I was taking care of her for all those years. In a way her personality died long before she physically did and I should be able to cope with this death better but for some reason that was not he case. When I sit in the living room now and think about her not sitting in the chair I experience extreme panic, almost like I did when a child and separated from my mother.

From 2010 to 2018 I didn’t work much apart from taking care of my mother. I initially applied numerous places but had no luck and gave up. Then around 2013 or so I attempted to volunteer at a library in hopes of obtaining a MLS. At one point my mother became so distressed by my leaving her alone and the people where I volunteered seemed so disinterested in me that I ended giving up. In the last couple of years when my mother became extremely disoriented it became impossible to work outside the home. I would have to sit with her in a room most of the day and if I left to go to another room she became incredibly stressed out. Even taking a shower became a major problem. If I left the house within the last couple of years she would be terribly confused what happened to me when I returned. This meant that I had to take her every where I went. In the last two years simply taking a walk became a problem since she was terribly fatigued. The fatigue toward the end was probably due to a heart problem. During the last six months she was first diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and then towards the last months she had a heart attack and was diagnosed with heart failure. I became as much of a prisoner of dementia and various health problems as she was.

To some people my response probably seems odd and excessive since most people are married when an adult and they form bonds with others. This has not been my experience. I have always felt the closest to my parents, had few close friends and never married. At this point in my life I don’t really care that much what people think of me. That is one good thing about getting older. I know I’m quite different from others and they will just have to deal with it.