What depression looked like, from the outside looking in.

This might be a little unrelated from my other posts, but here goes nothing. How do you appreciate something that you have never truly experienced? How can you understand something that you have never gone through? How do you begin to wrap your brain around something you can’t even visualize? These are questions I started to ask myself as I stood by friends or family who were experiencing depression. I decided to write this piece after I started reading about the anxiety and depression experienced by graduate students. But then I realized, at one point or another, I have either seen or lived with someone going through depression, so I wanted to describe what it looked like and what I have seen.

Having to watching someone you care about suffer from depression is hard. I say watch because that is all you can do. Be there and watch. You want to assure them that you are always going to be there, and that everything is going to be okay, but, as nice as those words sound, have you ever truly evaluated what that will take? Ever asked yourself if you truly can even be there, and if you can, are you who or what they need to get past their depression. I do not know what the right answer is, or what the right thing to do. Supporting someone suffering from depression can often go one of two ways. You can one, help them heal and they might get better, or you can become an enabler and make them sicker.

It is no secret that major depressive disorders are under appreciated or not fully recognized as diseases. This is something that even I was guilty of until I watched it unfold multiple times. I grew up in a small village west of Kenya along the shore of Lake Victoria. A part of the world where there is more emphasis on surviving than maintaining mental health. As a result, there are a lot of children and adult living with mental health problems. I must make myself clear that I myself have never gone through depression, so below is just my recollection of what I have seen looking from the outside in, either as I listen to someone who was going through depression or trying to help them cope.

People must realize that depression is not a choice, nor is it a phase, it’s a sickness with well characterized and defined biophysical and biochemical pathophysiology. Depression presents itself in varying degrees. Some cases milder than others, but, it encompasses more than just a change in mood, it alters your entire life. It changes how you feel, how you think, your interaction with your family members, your friends, and even your significant others. It changes what you think is true, and what is false, it changes what you think is real and fake. It changes the way you eat, if changes the way you sleep. It changes the way your body feel, it affects recovery, bone growth, brain development, and even shortens life expectancy.

The hardest part for me, has been figuring out where I fit in in the grand scheme of things. Looking from the outside, there is nothing you want more than to make a change for the one suffering, to make them feel better. There is nothing you desire more, and if you could, you would wave a magic wand over their head and make the whole thing go away, but the world does not work like that. And so, you begin to feel helpless. With each episode you begin to realize just how little of a “measurable” difference you can make. The situation gets worse when the one suffering sees how hard you are trying, but no matter how much they want to, they cannot change how they feel. Keep in mind that they did not ask to be this way, and if they could they would turn things around. While depressed, they are embarrassed for being the way they are. They don’t want to be dependent on anyone, they don’t want to be complaining all the time, they don’t want to be an inconvenience to anyone. Battling with all these things in their head drives them deeper into depression which only makes this worse.

They won’t deny the fact that they are struggling. They will tell you that its hard, and that they hate what they are and how they are feeling. They will apologize to you for what is happening, and what it must feel like for you. As they deal with their struggles they are thinking about you and what it must be like for you to be going through that with them. If they see you having a hard time they start to feel bad for you and about themselves for putting you through all of that.

You realize this cycle and starts to wonder, or atleast I did, what good am I doing? For some this can be overwhelming, but in the process you have to stay strong. In some situations, you might be blamed for certain things that may have nothing to do with you. You might be told that because you did this, and you did that, I am this way. You might be told you caused this and that. But you must remember that is not them talking. That is what they are feeling.

You might also be told to keep everything a secret making you the only person who sees them through their pain. I mean who wants their business out there. What is happening is already embarrassing enough. They have probably been told they are just seeking attention. Or maybe they are spoiled, they probably have also been told there are bigger issues in the world, other people have quit on them before, it’s too hard. The worse one is being told, why can’t you just snap out of it. I was once asked to think of any sickness out there, anything from a broken bone to an auto immune disease. How would you feel if you went to someone, told them you need help and they said to you, snap out of it? I got the picture, you don’t want to hear that.

 The secret to supporting anyone, is that you cannot go down in the pit with them. Its in the very nature of the word. Being a support mean you must support, you can’t support anything if you fall apart. I learned this from a YouTube video I once watched. Think of a boy who falls in a well and you want to get them out. You cannot afford to fall in with them, or you will never be able to do anything for them. So, you swallow whatever you are feeling, and you absorb what you need to absorb, and you do what needs to be done to make the situation better. Or atleast that’s what it feels like you must do. During this time, the one who is depressed will see what is happening, and they will try their best to make things just a little bit lighter, but that will only last for so long.

For that child who fell in the well, if your hand is not long enough to get them out, go get a rope tell them to hold onto it and pull them out. Call the fire department and the police. Call the community and bring together who has the necessary resources to help you help this child.

Lastly, talk about how you feel. The worse thing you can do to someone who is suffering from a lack of self-confidence is to treat them as a helpless child who cannot handle anything. I get it, why would you make things about yourself. After all they are the one that is struggling, but, in talking you build trust, bond which brings strengths to the relationship which will give them what they need to keep fighting.

After countless hours thinking it over, I cannot for the life of me reason out the best thing one can do for themselves or for the depressed, but whatever the case is, talking is key. Talk to each other, talk to family, talk to significant others, and talk to professionals.

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Social media connections lead to greater patient activation

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This is just a quick post about an article I found on Nature Review Rheumatology. It says that social media connections lead to greater patient activation. Compared to patients who were assigned to answer module questions using a diary, those who were assigned to answer questions using social media forums showed greater agency, community, self-efficacy and empowerment. The findings suggest that interventions that promotes patient’s activation could potentially increase patient engagement in their own treatment, promote a healthier lifestyle, drive healthier behaviors as well as reduce delays in seeing medical attention or going in for annual checkups. Below is the link to the article. Visit the link below and share with other people. You never know who might benefit from this.

I welcome any idea, stories, or just a chance for a friendly exchange. As the link below implies, social engagement brings about a sense of community and belonging which leads to healthier choices which leads to healthier life style.

To me this makes sense, if all your friends are doing the right things, making the right decision, sharing their stories, and taking care of themselves, you are more likely to follow suit. So share your experiences, what can others learn from what you have been through?

Citation:

Sadun, R.E., and Schanberg, L.E. (2018) Using social media to promote medication adherence. Nat.Rev.Rheumatol.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41584-018-0037-1

How I deal with my anxiety as a graduate student.

Anxiety and depression in graduate school is real and is a problem. It can affect your work and your personal relationships. While most institutions provide resources to help their students, many still struggle. Those coping with anxiety or depression, unless pushed, will not come forward and talk about what they are dealing with. No one wants to be a bother, or always being the one complaining. We are all dealing with our own things, so it’s a lot easier to just hide. Despite your difficulties, you are still more important to yourself than your school, your job, or your research. You must take care of yourself first. If you don’t, it does not matter what you want to do, you won’t be able to do it, because you will be too overwhelmed to do much of anything.

Anxiety and depression can occur because of a lot of different things, and while some may say ups and down is part of a normal day, a lot of people feel down all the time. It can be because of school, future, work, a failed relationship, family, self, friends, a bad memory or a bad experience. Whatever the case, it’s real.  A comment from a reader on a previous post about anxiety and how the body responds got me motivated to share my tips on how I deal with my anxiety. Depression is something I have only witnessed, I cannot say with confidence I have experienced it.  Below are 4 things I do to deal with my anxiety.

•    Reach out and talk to someone: It’s such a simple thing to say and can be so hard to do sometimes but talking could make all the difference in the world. Find someone who at minimum is willing to listen, just listen. For me, talking is also an opportunity to process my feelings. When you are inside your head, try saying it out loud sometimes. You will be surprised how different things sounds when you say it to someone else compared to when you say it to yourself.

•    Read: When I start to feel overwhelmed I read. Read a good story or if you are like me, read about the anatomy of anxiety and depression.  I have come to learn that when I do not understand what I am feeling, reading helps. Once I have a picture of some of the possible triggers to my anxiety, I could start to evaluate what has been happening in my life that may have brought about the tension.

•    Exercise: One of the best things you can do for yourself is excise. During training, your body releases growth hormones of various types that strengthen mental and physical capacity, all of which counteract the adverse effects of anxiety and depression.

•    Experience: Broaden your experiences and try new things. Make it a point to try something new, atleast once a month. I have come to realize that, the more I experience, the less anxious I feel. When you try something new, naturally you’ll be anxious, you have never done it before. But the more times you put yourself out there, the more confident you will become. Strength comes from experience. I know that sounds like a quote but the science behind it is cool. Comment below if you would like to know more.

Share your tips on how you deal with anxiety and depression in the comment section below. I welcome stories or resources other students might find helpful. Knowing that someone out there knows what you are going through could make all the difference.

The Anatomy of Anxiety: How The Body Responds

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Every now and then I find myself overcome with anxiety. I am anxious about school, my future, my research, my family, and even my personal relationships. I have started to do some reading, trying to understand why am I the way I am. What am I feeling? What is happening to my mind and my body?. Interestingly, once I was able to visual what was happening, I started to come up with ways to get it under control.

My anxieties have prevented me from enjoying the simple things in life, even things that are good for me. I have taken comfort in my solitude and I put more work into being alone because stepping out my room, opening up to someone else, opening up to new experiences is just too overwhelming. The excuse is always one of the following, I’m not prepared, I dont want to, or I dont have anyone to do it with. The goal now is to move away from it, and the first step is to understand it, evaluate the cause and with that come up with ways to make it go away.

Could Cinnamon make us better Learners?

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In addition to be a great additive in desserts, cinnamon has been used for many centuries across many cultures for medicinal purposes. The health benefits are many, a few includes; anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetes, anti-microbial, immune booster with potential cancer and heart disease protective abilities.

In additional to preventing fatal disease, a recent publication showed that cinnamon can aid in learning. The paper is title “Cinnamon converts poor learning Mice to good learner” implication for memory improvement”. The data in this paper suggests that if you are not a good learner, or struggle with short term or long-term memory, it may not be your fault. Difficulty in learning has been associated with defects in the hippocampal neuronal network. This is the part of the brain that regulates learning and memory. Learning impairment are also characterized by a down regulation of many genes important for ion conduction, synapse formation, and many other cellular processes that strengthens synapses. Impairment in learning and memory is also associated with low levels of glutamate receptors, NMDA an AMPA. These receptors are crucial for calcium release in neural network which drives the release of neuro transmitters. In cinnamon fed mice, the paper shows an increase in the expression of these receptors and when tested, they mice showed increased learning capabilities.

While further studies is still required before it will be known if the same effects can be observed in humans, there has been reports of cinnamon reducing the effects of neurodegenerative diseases. I think it worth trying.

Below is the link to the paper;

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097886/

Five things I Learned Talking with a stranger over coffee.

Different people have different approaches to their first encounter. First date, first interview, first whatever, it all feels the same because it is foreign, that is why it is first. This can get even more complicated when it comes to dealing with people. You never know what people are going to say or do. So, how do you go about sitting in front of someone you do not know, talk to them for a good minute and benefit from the interaction without being creeped out or creeping them out? Let’s make it more interesting, how do you deal with someone, who from the first few seconds of meeting, you already know they are your complete opposite?  Below are five key points, I have learned and witnessed to be suitable for taking charge as well as contributing to any interaction and if done correctly, will produce fruitful results.

1.      Make eye contact;

a.      At one point or another, you have felt ignored, and I am sure you hated it. This holds true for everyone. By keeping eye contact, it shows that you are present and interested in what is going on. Do not be a creep through. Keep eye contact but the same time, don’t look like you are spacing out. Remember to blink and even look away at times. Staring directly into someone’s eye can get wired very quick.

2.      Ask relevant questions;

a.      Asking questions is does three things, it shows you are actively participating in what is going on, you are paying attention, and three you are interested and want to know more. This is a good thing because it keeps the conversation going.  Ask questions that keep the discussion going without changing the subject. It is very awkward bringing up something utterly unrelated to the present situation. Also, remember to take turns. Asking too many questions in a row will slowly tune things into an interview, and we all know how uncomfortable those are.

3.      When answering a question, offer something about yourself;

a.      In asking question, you are going to have to answer a few yourself. Don’t be stiff, answer the question you are asked, but in addition to your answer, offer something about yourself. This is very crucial in social settings than in professional settings but can still be beneficial in a professional setting and here is why. By offering something about yourself, it makes you more human making it so much easier to connect with you. This will lighten up the atmosphere. A light atmosphere enabled openness which brings forth more sharing, in sharing questions are created and so on.

4.      Pay Attention to your body language;

a.      Pay close attention to your disposition. People and keen to body language whether they want to or not. Are you up and alert of tired and lethargic? Whatever it is you are projecting is what the other person is going to emulate. For reasons I cannot explain, we as people tend to soak up the energy of those around us, so your body language can make or break your first encounter.

5.      Stay Collected;

a.      Basically, what this means, is get a hold of yourself and get your life. Look like you belong. What does this mean? This required you to pay attention to the other four things listed above which will allow you to gauge the direction of the situation. While anyone can come up with a series of step to handling everyday interaction, the truth is, people are unpredictable, so you have to be able to make a decision on the go and adjust yourself accordingly based on what you see is happening. Why is this important? During your first encounter, you do not know the other person and so what is typical for you is not typical for everyone, so pay close attention.