In my initial column on depression in caregivers, I focused more on the ups and downs of dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, the ‘blues’. It is very common when dealing with chronic illness to have good days and bad days, days when we seem to function well and days when we feel anxious, stressed and have difficulty coping. The feelings of depression that we have are more likely to be reactions to the situation we live with. As the Parkinson’s progresses, we go through many periods during which we make whatever adjustments are necessary. Obviously some changes are easier for us than others, but for the most part we are able to bounce back. We go along merrily until something else happens to pull the rug out from under us. This is the normal roller coaster ride of living with Parkinson’s Disease.

There may be times however when we are unable to bounce back. The problems we deal with daily start to become overwhelming. Depression becomes our everyday companion and begins to interfere in how we function. We may feel irritable and sad, always tired, unable to concentrate or make decisions, and at times even have doubts about our self worth. Time to stop and pay attention. This may be clinical depression rather than just the ‘blues’. It’s very important that we are able to recognize the signs of clinical depression:

  • the inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • lack of enthusiasm or enjoyment for doing what we used to like
  • changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • loss of interest in being with other people
  • feeling tired most of the time
  • feeling inadequate or overwhelmed
  • frequent crying and feelings of sadness for minor reasons

If one experiences several or more of these symptoms of depression for a prolonged period of time, it’s time to focus on what is happening. Clinical depression is very common among long term caregivers. It may slowly creep into our lives without us being fully aware of it until one day we feel that we can no longer cope. It has happened to me. It has happened to others whom I have known. I felt totally overwhelmed at times. I was irritable and sad, unable to figure out what to do next. I knew that something had to change because it was interfering with the strong relationship that Stan and I have and he was bearing the brunt of my problems in addition to dealing with his Parkinson symptoms. The best thing that I did was to think about myself, maybe something that we are not used to doing, and I sought professional help through my physician. Depression is very treatable. We do not have to feel this way all the time.

What made me seek help? I yearned for the joy of living that I had in the past. I wanted to look forward to each day and to help Stan do the same. We both deserved something better and I knew that there was something I could do to help myself and ultimately, be a better caregiver for him. Believe me, it can work. I am again enjoying wonderful sunsets and the vast beauty of nature, being with my friends, exercising, planning trips, and generally feeling good. All of that makes me a better caregiver.

Do I still have the roller coaster ride of dealing with Parkinson’s disease every day? Of course. Do I still get the ‘blues’? Of course. But the difference is that I am able to bounce back and look forward to the next day – please do the same for yourself.

Editors Note: Susan was caregiver to her husband Stan, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1980. He passed away on August 12, 2008 at the age of 73.

About the Author
Photo: Susan HamburgerSusan Hamburger earned a Bachelors Degree from the University of Wisconsin in Elementary Education, and two Master’s Degrees, in Educational Psychology and Biostatistics / Epidemiology. She has been a kindergarten teacher, a school psychologist, and retired as Bio-statistician at the National Institute of Mental Health.Susan has served on the Board of local Parkinson’s disease support group organizations since the early 1990’s. She has served Chair of the Patient Services Committee, Vice-President and President of the Washington DC area chapters of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association and the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Susan has also spent many hours on Capitol Hill, lobbying our Senators and Representatives to increase the funding for Parkinson’s disease research.
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