This is the third post by Anna on being a caregiver. Earlier posts are The Depression Dialog and Know the Enemy.
I used to get so mad with James when he had major mood changes. Trivial little things seemed to set him off, but I saw no rhyme or reason to the whole mess. I staggered from one day to the next, not knowing what was coming, feeling like a punching bag.
In my last post I wrote about the diary I kept for 2 years; it was the key to working out what caused James’ mood swings. We made some breakthroughs just by reading it back from time to time, but most progress came from charting the data in an Excel spreadsheet. This gave us a clear, visual way to see the relationships between triggers and symptoms. We discovered a couple of major depression triggers this way, and also found that small things that were minor irritations would snowball with other events added in.
The trick for us was to discover which triggers were the most important ones, where the threshold was before they would have an impact, and what we could do to reduce their effects.
Here’s an example. We used to have a busy social life. Through my diary, I began to notice that 2 days after a meal out, James would spiral downwards very quickly and experience a period of depression for 5 or 6 days. It was a very strange, but consistent pattern. We eventually discovered that certain food additives were a trigger; things like preservatives, artificial colors and artificial flavors. Adjusting our lifestyles and upending our diets was difficult, but by doing so we pretty much eliminated one of his major triggers.
Another example is our “feral hour”, around dinner time when the kids are tired, hungry and cranky. Very loud noise is another trigger, since it causes James to become very irritable. If it becomes all too much he will disappear until the kids are calm again. He can now recognize when his irritability is rising, and so takes preventative action. The key is that we have agreed that he can do this when needed, so I don’t feel resentful for lack of help. Leaving me to handle “feral hour” alone is better than suffering another bout of depression.
This knowledge continues to be very helpful to us. We know the little things that can snowball, and we take action when, or before, these little things happen. It’s a preemptive strike, so to speak. Whenever a trigger or potential trigger comes along we have a specific plan to remove its effects. As a result James’ depressive and manic episodes have become more intermittent.
Click here for the fourth post in this series, Keeping Your Mind Together.