Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD

“Before you can break out of prison, you must realize you are locked up.”  – www.healthyplace.com

Everyone is affected by a terminal condition called “life”.   In every family, there are emotional or physical Illnesses that affect one member – the sufferer – yet also affect others – spouses or partners, parents, children, or siblings.   To a lesser degree, friends, co-workers, or neighbors may also be affected.   Disease and genetic disorders like  Lyme disease, asthma, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy or cancer are chronic conditions and are lifelong disabilities physically but emotional disorders, many linked to genetic predispositions, traumatic physical events or lifestyle choices can can radically change the family dynamics no less permanently.

In most cases, there is no preparation. no schooling or a “recommended reading list” in one’s formative years, for family members when a loved one has a mental illness like anorexia, depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.  These can also accompany or be elevated by an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances.  A casual relationship may not reveal the extent of a sufferer’s condition.   But in a long-term relationship, marriage or one with frequent connection or intimacy, between spouses, or parents and children,  clues early in a person’s life may exist.  Of course, everyone experiences an illness, accident, depression or difficult circumstances that are temporary.  It takes long-term observation to note patterns that may indicate unhealthy behavior.

When a participant (an active observer, or even a co-dependent personality type) is not a professionally-trained counselor, experience, level of empathy and often spiritual foundation are the only tools available.  Behavior that later manifests in addiction,  mania and depression mood swings,  obsessive-compulsive activity, hyperactivity, sleeplessness or its opposite, and emotional disconnection may be subtle at first or have sudden onset.   With PTSD,  post-traumatic stress disorder, a life event such as death of child, a combat experience, a severe accident, sexual assault or abuse can severely damage a formerly healthy individual and ripple emotionally through a family. Triggering events may be a tone of voice, a certain time, a season, a smell, sounds or a characteristic that one person displays.   For someone in a relationship with another who experienced a traumatic event -even years in the past – “walking on eggshells” becomes normal.  Often in hindsight to a failed relationship, injury or death of the sufferer, particularly when a victim was unwilling or unable to seek help, guilt may emotionally affect those in the victim’s circle for years.   Yet PTSD is not a terminal condition, but requires compassion, professional treatment, cooperation, and ongoing engagement on the part of the sufferer and her close personal relationships.

For many, when it is a close family member, in late adolescence or early adulthood, it is a natural response to think the behavior  including addiction, is just a “phase” he or she is “going through”.   From the outside looking in,  the addict, when rational and sober, seems to be functioning individual – but it is a ruse.   Some are able to hold a job for a time.  They may frequently change jobs due to work stress or the addiction’s toll on a person’s performance.  It is a natural self-defense mechanism or social response for people not to ‘get involved’,  or to overlook indicators, but these are not compassionate responses of family and close friends.   However, an addict can also mask his or her  problems by being outgoing but shallow, and very reserved (personal details) to coworkers, family members or others in his or her circle of acquaintances.  One sort of behavior that may be due to embarrassment,  or pride is a need  to appear to be “holding it together”.   Limited engagement,  that is,  keeping visits short with family and family friends at holidays or other gatherings.

When the sufferer is an adult, who arguably is not a “danger to themselves or others”, there is little one can do more than to suggest, advise, or urge the sufferer to seek professional help.  The longer the addiction continues, the more the addict does damage to themselves physically and emotionally.   Hospitalization and treatment of the symptoms may give the addict an opportunity to be sober for a short time.

Treating the problem – the addiction – without a sustained, professional program to treat the emotions or physical underpinnings, is a temporary measure.   In the meantime,  the family and close friends have to endure their own emotional pain to partner in their loved one’s recovery.   For some,  replacing the destructive addiction with a positive one particularly through physical activity can be successful when partnered with professional counseling.  It may well be a lifelong activity. A new ‘normal’.

For those who are willing to consider a spiritual component to ongoing wellness,  study of the Bible offers examples of successful lives though suffering from illness, depression or anxieties.  The Bible offers hope in illustrations of several figures who suffered from depression.  King David is lauded as one of the most devout leaders in the Old Testament, but his Psalms are full of outpouring his anxieties, fears, troubles, and anger to God.

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God  – Psalm 42:11

Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is another.  In 1 Kings 19:4

while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush,(A) sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life;(B) I am no better than my ancestors.”

the passage illustrates his depression.  Job also battled depression.  Examples:  Job 3: 26

26 I have no peace,(A) no quietness;
    I have no rest,(B) but only turmoil

and Job 10: 1:

“I loathe my very life;(A)
    therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
    and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.

While these figures went on to have great impact in the Bible and to adherents for thousands of years, there is no indication that they were freed from the emotional and physical ailments that people still endure today.

One of those who has been successful in ongoing recovery from anorexia, BeautyBeyondBones, offers her personal experience and resources that are instructive for eating disorders and other communities who are seeking support with emotional and physical disorders.

In the following article, there are some good tips for families dealing with the various demons affecting their loved ones.   But it is only a starting point.

Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD

fitness test

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. John F. Kennedy
(brainyquote.com)

One of my earliest memories of my father was him working out on the pull-up bar he had secured in the doorframe between the hallway and the kitchen of our home.   In the bathroom he had dumbbells that he would use before he got ready for work.   Years later I saw pictures of him on skiis and also when he was a great swimmer, looking very fit in a picture taken at the beach.  He was a handsome and strapping young man.

My mother was also an avid skier. When my father had surgery for a brain tumor requiring years of physical therapy, my mother continued a routine of taking my younger sister and me hiking, running, bicycling and swimming. This was in the mid-1960s, when the President’s Council on Physical Fitness was a sought-after award at school, kids were always in perpetual motion outdoors and  obesity was rare in my community.   In the years prior to her accident on the slopes (she shattered her ankle ending her skiing days) we took trips to Lake Tahoe in winter to ski.   She also had a daily regimen of exercising in front of the television broadcast of Jack Lalanne.  She swam laps in a pool for hours twice a week for perhaps thirty years – right into her 70s.

As a teen in Tucson Arizona, I worked on a ranch in the early morning and late afternoon before school, riding my bicycle several miles to and from school.  I rode horses several days a week, which is great exercise for your legs, back and core.   And in the Navy, I continued to work out, even though I did not have a runner’s body, running several miles every day with the leadership of my department.  I was never a body builder, but regularly worked out in the base gym.  And cycling around the cities I was stationed.

In my late Thirties,   I started to lose interest in fitness.  Whether laziness, age or  a depression mindset thing,  I started to gain weight and stopped going to the gym.   It was actually my selection for Chief Petty Officer that turned me around.  Up at 0430, meeting a group of men and women ten to twenty years my junior at 0500, we ran along the beach and golf course at the base.   Calisthenics, tug-of-war contests, and even a half-marathon were activities I determined to give my best – “lead from the front” attitude. It was in response to a challenge that a Chief, five years my senior issued me.

fb_img_1528732288111After my military retirement,  I rode my bicycle for miles to and from work for a few years. One month after I started to up my efforts – getting the clipless pedals on that bicycle, I had an accident and broke my wrist in several places.  I was afraid to ride a bicycle in San Diego after I recovered.   Then work became my excuse to not exercise and binge eating instead to cope with stress.  Obvious to all, I started to get terribly out of shape to the point, on a vacation cruise in November of last year,  I was teased by a Jamaican tour employee who nicknamed me “Santa Claus”.   Upon my return,  I hated my cruise pictures  – alongside our very fit friends.  I made a decision.  No more Santa Claus.  With an illness at the end of the year to motivate me,  I decided to follow my spouse’s commitment, by eating nutritiously and moderately.  And get into physical fitness again.  There have been few things in my life that have not been accomplished when setting my mind to push through.  I believe that anyone with sufficient motive and “never quit”  attitude can achieve anything,   I intend to wear my uniform, fit and with pride,  for  Veteran’s Day this year.

I just turned 59 last week,  and I am well on my way to my next milestone: I was under two hundred pounds when I received my Chief’s anchors in 2004, and I will be there again.  It takes forty minutes a day four days a week.   I walk the dogs daily, and hike with my friends (and the dogs)  Saturday mornings.    And I no longer eat the processed crap I ate unthinkingly,  as I look at it now as sidetracking my goal.

No longer being a fat old man has been noticed by my co-workers, and supervisors but particularly by friends I had not seen in a year.   “Half the man I used to be” is my new moniker.  My wife is excited that we are getting healthier together.  And my zeal for the outdoors,  my relationships with my wife  – we work out together ,  with my physically active friends,  and even zeal in blogging has been renewed.   And I intend to be healthy and active for my grandchild, Zander, just born, and any more in the future.

I want to encourage you to stay active.  Nothing will pull you out of anxiety, depression, a “funk”, or a stressful day at work like exercise and good nutrition.  You can find out if this is something you want to do as well here.

And nutritional help here

True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united. Wilhelm von Humboldt (brainyquote.com)

Veggies, exercise and sex

Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That’s what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation? Exercise –Jack Lalanne  (http://www.brainyquote.com)

All the world’s most difficult problems are often generated and also might be solved,  through sex, exercise, and eating well.

Yes, Sex.  There are many facets to this subject, but as far as health is concerned I am focusing on how this is part of a healthy lifestyle.  Many issues in monogamous relationships can be relieved through a healthy sex life.  Often, one, the other, or both partner(s), because of an emotional or physical-origin imbalance (a triggering behavioral response or physical limitation) can hinder healthy sexual life.  Our physical and mental health directly contributes to having satisfying relationships.   Contributing directly to a healthy life, is what we consume and the exercise we get.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – proverb, unk. origin

Of course,  many adults associate exercise with childhood or youth,  and delay or deny regular exercise.  Commuting early to work provides an excuse to not exercise.  The work schedule is another excuse not to regularly exercise (to relieve stress),  and the return home and additional commitments provide other excuses.  But those who do regularly exercise whether aerobics, weight-training and cardio-enhancing workouts see the doctor less for cardiovascular disease, joint ailments, and pain -medications than others.   Exercise helps keep circulation and all our bodily systems operating efficiently.

Personally, a recent education in the value of eating vegetables that provide healthy fiber, proper nutrients, as well as other food, and a radical shift in the amount of water I consume daily has made positive changes.   The difference between eating the processed, preserved, microwave-ready and overly-sweetened food,  and the natural, organic, non-preserved foods – with daily water intake, is visibly remarkable.   Appearance, energy-level, attitude and a healthy sex -life makes “Jack” NOT a dull boy.

Jack Lalanne lived healthily 97 years.  He once was celebrated at age 54 for besting 21-year old Arnold Schwarzenegger in a fitness challenge