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Grief combined with depression may need extra medical help

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My husband and I cared for my mom in our home for several years before she passed away two months ago. The first two weeks I was nearly paralyzed with grief. After that, like someone flipped a switch, I went into a wild cleaning and tossing out spree. I just had to do something. Now, I've sunk into a low that's hard to explain. I don't want to get out of bed, shower, or even talk to anyone. I've been taking antidepressants for years and have done well on them. I don't think that my depression is making my depression worse since I know what that feels like, but I will see my doctor next month. Do you hear of these things with others?— ER

Dear ER: This first part of your note sounds like many others that I've received where people simply want to know if their grieving is normal. Since everyone has a different normal when it comes to grieving even a medical person couldn't answer this without more information, but ordinarily operating in a fog after the death occurs is not unusual. Cleaning frenzies aren't unusual, either. Falling into despondency for a time after the death is certainly normal.

However, living with depression, even depression that is ordinarily well controlled, changes the picture. Your low seems to be very deep. Even though you don't feel that your depression is part of our grieving, I'd advise you to see your doctor earlier than you planned. If necessary, see someone on call.

Your depression may or may not figure into your reaction to your mother's death but seeing a medical professional is the right way to approach this. If the doctor thinks that a change in medication will help you cope, consider this. If not, at least you'll be working with your doctor which is definitely advisable under these circumstances.

While we can't medicate our way out of grief, if what you've been through has deepened your pre-existing depression that needs to be addressed. Even if your doctor feels that your medications are doing their job and that you are just going through the normal grieving process, you and your husband will both feel better having gotten a medical opinion.

Unless you are already receiving counseling, you might want to ask this doctor for a referral to a grief specialist. If you are receiving counseling, increasing the number of appointments that you have may be a good idea.

I'm certain that you've thought of all of this but it's hard to get motivated when you feel so low. However, often when we drag our feet it's a sign that we need to get moving. You are no different from anyone else who is going through this kind of grief, but you do have an extra concern that should be addressed just to be safe.

You are showing admirable strength and courage in acknowledging that you may need help. I hope that you act on this knowledge.