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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I recently suffered from a serious depression. I was so depressed that thoughts of self-destruction were almost impossible to get out of my mind. I cried all the time and was paranoid about everything and everybody. I felt I couldn't do or say anything right. I thought I had nothing to live for. What a helpless feeling!

My mother and two of my friends insisted that I have my thyroid gland checked. My doctor didn't think a thyroid evaluation was necessary because I didn't have the usual physical symptoms. She wanted to prescribe anti-depressants. However, when I insisted, she agreed to do the thyroid function test.

A couple of days later, she called and prescribed medication to treat my thyroid problem. She also congratulated me for insisting on the test.

If I had not asked for the thyroid test, I would be taking anti-depressants and still be physically sick. Perhaps others who struggle with depression are really suffering from thyroid disorder. -- FEELING BETTER IN ATLANTA

DEAR CONCERNED: I would like to think that those who are on anti-depressants have been first evaluated for physical disorders. However, if they haven't been, perhaps your letter will give them the courage to insist on testing to determine if there is a physical cause for their depression -- which can be caused by a thyroid condition. Depression can also be caused by certain prescription medications, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons), and even lack of sleep.

Before any anti-depressants are dispensed, a complete medical evaluation -- including blood tests that would reveal a thyroid problem -- should be performed by a qualified physician.

DEAR ABBY: I am a single mother. Please tell your readers that not all of us on welfare are freeloaders.

I have been on welfare since August 1992. For the past two years, I have tried to get off.

My grandmother sees the stress I'm dealing with every day, and she sometimes takes me to play bingo. The few times I've gone, I have heard remarks such as, "How can people on welfare afford to go to bingo?"

Abby, I have applied for jobs -- sometimes three or four times at the same place -- but I am not called. I have no car, so it would be almost impossible to get to some jobs. On AFDC, I receive $490 a month and $140 in food stamps. I pay $400 for rent and another $60 for utilities. I have no phone, so my mom lets me use hers as a message phone.

Many jobs require people to speak Spanish. I speak only English. Until people who trash us walk in our shoes a while, I wish they'd lay off. -- ELIZABETH B. IN FRESNO, CALIF.

DEAR ELIZABETH: Although some individuals may take advantage of the system, I'm sure the vast majority of those on welfare would gladly work if they could find jobs that paid a living wage.

DEAR ABBY: My husband needs to be on oxygen all the time. He has a portable tank for when we go out, but it's too cumbersome for him to manage by himself.

When we are in a restaurant and he needs to use the restroom, what should I do? Should I take him to the ladies' room with me? Should I go to the men's room with him? Should I ask the waiter or some other male service person to accompany him?

What is the polite or socially acceptable course of action? Please don't use my name. -- FLORIDA WIFE

DEAR WIFE: Have your husband ask a male employee if there is some man who could help him to the bathroom and assist him to return.

DEAR READERS: Credit Charlie Reinke (L.A. Times) with this one: "For Christmas, I got a great exercise machine. It came with its own dust and cobwebs already on it."

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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