Are these feelings normal, or symptoms of depression?
December 11, 2008 9:06 AM   Subscribe

How do I sort out whether my feelings are due to grief, or depression, and how do I proceed after the suicide of my brother-in-law?

About a month ago, I began feeling the effects of depression. Periodically throughout my life, I have had major depressive episodes (diagnosed by a physician and a psychologist separately) and I have gotten semi-used to them, so it wasn't much cause for alarm, aside from the fact that it was the first one in quite a long time.

About two weeks into my funk, my brother-in-law (remember Mike?) committed suicide. It has now been just over two weeks since he died, and I am obviously feeling a lot of things: grief for his wife and family, especially my husband, with whom he was close - and grief for Mike, for feeling that desperate and hopeless; disbelief that he did what he did and that he's really gone; guilt and regret about the feelings detailed in the linked question; and the underlying depression that I was already in the middle of.

I am not suicidal, but I feel numb. I was once on antidepressants but haven't been for about two years. My husband and I have an appointment with a counselor on Saturday, and I have purchased a book on grief to understand what I and others around me are feeling (it is en route). I am questioning whether I should go see my GP to get a prescription for antidepressants, because I am not functioning well at the moment and when I have felt like this previously, I have been extremely destructive with my life (quit my job, quit school, self-harmed, etc.). At that time, however, I was not in counseling or therapy. I know it's normal to have a period of grief after a death, but I don't know where the line is drawn as far as normal vs. needing extra help. This is my first experience with death.

So how do I determine whether my feelings and emotions are cause for intensive treatment, or if it's a normal grief experience?

(My husband, for his part, seems to be coping better than I, but I believe that he is looking forward to counseling, as well.)
posted by alpha_betty to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've received a lot of comfort and sense from the following books by Pema Chodron:

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

Best wishes to you and sorry for your loss.
posted by mctsonic at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2008

how do I determine whether my feelings and emotions are cause for intensive treatment, or if it's a normal grief experience?

Your feelings can both be normal and be cause for intensive treatment. It's good to get a safety net. You probably want to let the professionals help you decide whether to wait and see or to start on antidepressants.
posted by salvia at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

And I'm really sorry to hear about Mike.
posted by salvia at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2008

I'm really sorry about the loss of your brother-in-law.

Your numbness and grief after Mike's death are by themselves normal reactions, but they can exacerbate an already bad mental health situation. Relapses of depression are extremely common. Many people who stop needing medication for a while eventually experience a relapse that again requires medical treatment.

You know your history best. Do your current state of mind and body fit a pattern that has in the past led you to self-harm or destructive self-sabotage? It sounds like they do. If medication has helped you in the past without too many detrimental side effects, then you may well want a prescription written out for you, even if you decide not to fill it immediately.

If you can, try to get an appointment with a psychiatrist as well. Many GPs are very good about keeping up with mental health treatments, but they are not specialists, they may not be aware of all the best options, and sometimes they choose to prescribe because it's something they know they can do for you that may help.

The combination of a good psychiatrist and a good therapist is important for dealing a one-two punch to recurrent depression. Patients who use both medication and therapy instead of one or the other often get better results.
posted by jeeves at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

My sincere condolences. I lost a cousin to suicide last year (oddly, he too had just married an older woman with kids from a previous marriage). Like you, I have a history of depression, and it took me months to get through the grieving process. I would not be shy about seeing a psychiatrist and getting something to help you through this time, especially since you've had self-destructive behaviors in the past. It doesn't mean you need to stay on medication forever.
posted by desjardins at 10:00 AM on December 11, 2008

I am so sorry that you're dealing with this, and my prayers are with you and Mike's family.

After re-reading the original "Mike" thread, I'm guessing that one of the things that is probably whirling around your head is a bit of ambivalence with regard to the situations that you had described in your earlier post.

I will put forth the counseling suggestion and make another: This may actually provide an opportunity to heal the breach between you and Mike's wife. Reach out to her in simple ways. It's amazing how simple things like meals and laundry and such become an enormous burden in periods of grief. Phone calls just to say hi and see if she needs anything. Write her a letter and share some of your favorite memories of Mike. Not only will she appreciate genuine gestures of compassion and love, but I think you'll find that performing them gives you remarkable comfort.

Years from now, when your extended family looks back at this difficult time, they will remember the things you did for Mike's wife and marvel at what a blessing you were to her. And so will she.

I wish you luck, and my heart goes out to you.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2008

Thank you all for the replies so far. DWRoelands, you're right. The night before Mike's memorial I stayed the night with Sally to help with the baby, clean her house, and help her go through photos to choose which ones she wanted to display. This alone led to serious bonding between us and since Husband and I have been home I have spoken with her a few times to check in. Husband's extended family has already been incredible about expressing their thanks for my support of them and Sally.

Jeeves, what a great response. Thank you for the advice.
posted by alpha_betty at 1:04 PM on December 11, 2008

I just read your other post, I am so sorry to hear about Mike.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:38 PM on December 11, 2008

« Older How big can an airplane get?   |   what was this reading THING?!?! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.