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March 7, 2015 / 16 Adar , 5775
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Coping With Depression – The Holistic Alternative

(Names are changed)

Last week I wrote about well spouses who eventually chose to get a physicians help with the problems they were having coping, with their partners’ chronic illness. While interviewing well spouses on this topic, I discovered that several people had chosen to avoid discussing their problems with a professional and instead sought help in over-the-counter holistic medication and herbs. Many did this without the help, guidance or monitoring of a nutritionist, homeopath, doctor, pharmacist or naturopath.

It is important to remember that all medications, whether herbal or prescribed, need to be handled with care and monitored by a professional. All our prescribed medications have been tested and dosages standardized. This is not necessarily true for all over-the-counter natural medications. The same product produced by different companies may have different strengths and purity. They may contain ingredients that are contra-indicated with other medications that you are taking. Though there is certainly a place for these medications, and many may help where prescribed medication have not, it is important to remember that they are medications. Like all medications, they need to be monitored by someone who is familiar with them and knowledgeable about where and how they are produced.

Zev was a well spouse under tremendous stress. He was also overweight and had a family history of heart disease. Zev was experiencing chest pain periodically. His doctor sent him to cardiologists, who after doing several tests, suggested that Zev have an angiogram. To Zev’s delight, the angiogram only showed negligible blockages of ten percent in his arteries. Zev’s cholesterol had always been within a normal range. Still, his cardiologist felt it needed to be lower and put him on cholesterol medication.

The possible side effects of the medication were disturbing to Zev. He went on the Internet and researched several natural alternatives to the medication his doctor prescribed. Instead of just switching the prescribed medication for the natural one, Zev brought the information to his cardiologist. Together they worked out a safe plan to see if the alternative medication would work for him. Over time, and with the help of his cardiologist, Zev was able to switch to the natural medication that he was more comfortable with.

Shoshana was a well spouse. She was also in the sandwich generation. Shoshana had young children, a husband with MS, and a mother with many problems, which included a heart condition and depression. As Shoshana’s mother’s health worsened as she aged, so did her depression. Shoshana had heard about a herb that was thought to be helpful with depression. She brought some to her mother. Following the suggested dosage on the bottle, her mother began to take the medication.

It never occurred to Shoshana or her mother to discuss this new herb with her doctor or cardiologist. Whenever the herb was on sale, Shoshana picked it up regardless of brand. It never occurred to her that the dosages and purity could be different in different brands. It never occurred to her that it could contain ingredients that could pose a problem with her mother’s other medications.

Pela was a well spouse who had high blood pressure. Her blood pressure had been under control for a long time. Quite suddenly, it rose again. Her doctor tried many new medications, but had great difficulty getting her blood pressure consistently under control again. It would be normal for a while and then spike again. Only later was it discovered that Pela was a licorice addict and that the licorice she consumed was nullifying the effectiveness of the blood pressure medication.

Aaron’s chronic illness was causing a tightening in his muscles during the day. As a result, he began to have pain in those muscles at night. His doctor put him on a muscle relaxant on alternate nights. On the nights that he took the relaxant, he slept well. On the other nights, he barely slept. It was not that the pain was unbearable on the nights without the pill. It turned out that the pill was habit forming and Aaron could no longer get sleep without it.

Stanley and Sharon were on the same medication to help them sleep. Stanley had no problem, while Sharon felt she was becoming addicted. Stanley could take the medication as needed. Sharon could not sleep without the medication once she began taking it. Sharon had to come off the medication. She had to come off the medication very slowly. Stanley is still using it.

Doctors today are more open than they used to be to discussing alternative medicine. It is possible today to find a doctor who will consider alternative ways of dealing with a problem. In the same vein, professionals in alternative medicine realize that people are often taking medication prescribed by their doctor when they approach them about a specific problem. The key is to get a professional you trust to help guide you.

Medication is very individual. What works like a charm for one can be a disaster for another. Going on or off some medications require small changes in dosages. Consistency and monitoring by a professional is vital. Do not become your own physician, buy something over the counter, pop the pill and expect miracles. Not only may your miracle not materialize, but you might find a nightmare in its place.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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