Lessons from Laura

Lessons from Laura

Fighting a War on Two Fronts

Lesson from Laura by Carolyn Bradfield

My daughter Laura lived in our basement for the last 3 years of her life. To me, this was a sweet deal for her. She had a huge private space with a kitchen, a hot tub right outside her back door, a swimming pool to relax in and a private entrance to come and go as she pleased.

However, to Laura that basement was one of the prisons that she was trapped in. The other was a constant and persistent state of depression and anxiety that she just couldn't seem to shake. The combination of fighting depression coupled with fighting addiction was a war that was very hard to win. And for people like me who haven't experienced depression, it's very difficult to understand the struggles of those that are in the throes of it.

A devastated sad woman is sitting on the floor in her living room looking at the window. She is depressed.

Addiction, Depression & Anxiety

I've shared before that addiction is a disease, a brain disorder, that is triggered by substance use, but has its roots in a combination of genetic, biological, and behavioral factors. This can also be said of depression or anxiety. None of these diagnoses represent a flaw in your character. It is not something the person can just choose to snap out of and be happy or grateful. It's not a sign of laziness or weakness.

When Laura dove into the deepness of depression, here is what happened to her. She felt hopeless, bad about herself, her anxiety increased, she slept a lot and just couldn't get out of bed and take a step forward. Naturally, she turned to substances to relieve those terrible feelings which only compounded the issue.

Addiction & Depression

It's very hard to deal with addiction by itself, but when you add depression to the mix as is often the case, the negative impact just multiplies. Look at the facts:

  • Individuals diagnosed with depression have a 1in 10 lifetime risk of suicide.
  • Individuals with both addiction and depression diagnoses increase their suicide risk to 1 in 4.
  • The single biggest predictor of relapse in alcoholics is the presence of depression.

Laura's father, David, was cursed with alcoholism his entire life, and that was coupled with depression. He never treated either in a meaningful way and when he turned 58 after he had lost everything, he shot and killed himself. I often wonder if Laura's death was not just from an overdose, but from a deliberate attempt to relieve the terrible pain and depression she felt.

Fighting the War on Two Fronts

The reality is that you cannot fight addiction and ignore the co-existing disorder of depression or anxiety. That strategy will virtually guarantee you limited to no recovery and a predictable cycle of relapse. If I had to redo everything, as I often wish I could, here are some things I would change.

Talk more openly and non-judgmentally about how the person feels. Let them know that you may not be able to empathize, but you can certainly listen as they express their feelings. I didn't do this enough with Laura and that is a big regret that I now live with.

Avoid telling the depressed person things like, "Why don't you just get up?", "Why don't you just call a friend?", "Why can't you just be happy?" That only makes them feel worse and compounds the problem.

Consider a medication strategy early. Medication has the benefit of smoothing out the chemical reaction that is at the root of depression. If one drug doesn't work well, try another until you find the right combination. Taking medicine to help fight the disease is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Find a good therapist qualified to help with both addiction and depression. It's important the person be able to talk about their feelings as they are progressing through their recovery process.

My Takeaway

Remember that depression and addiction are brain disorders with common roots. They should be treated as the disease they are and not viewed as a character weakness or simply laziness. Am I now or will I ever be depressed? Probably not. However, I have a new insight and understanding of those that are and just how complex a world they live in. It's so uncomfortable for those people to talk to their family and friends about how they feel without sustaining the judgment that they know will come.

InterAct LifeLine

InterAct provides technology for Virtual Care and Opioid Education Programs for use by treatment programs, state and local governments and non-profits.  Carolyn Bradfield founded InterAct LifeLine in 2018, shortly after her daughter overdosed and died.

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