Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 15 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Purple Tour

My friend Wendy and I honored musical genius, and fellow Minnesotan good guy, Prince, this week with a one day tour of Prince sights and memorials. I grew up with Prince. His movie, Purple Rain, came out when I was a sophomore in high school. All of my high school and college sporting events, dances, proms and homecomings prominently featured Prince tunes. His 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance is still one of the all time best, in my humble opinion.

Like most Minnesotans, I was proud of Prince. Despite his fame, he stayed home and was an active and loyal supporter of local musicians, radio stations, and record stores. He was a huge basketball fan, and when the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx won the championship this past Fall, Prince threw them an impromptu all night concert and party at his home, Paisley Park. He was a mega-star, but he was also a decent, community-oriented guy.

The fence surrounding Paisley Park

An incredible painting left at Paisley Park

First Avenue, the club where it all began

Prince's star and memorial at First Avenue

Friend Wendy, inside First Avenue, where Purple Rain was filmed

The Purple Rain suit Prince wore in the movie
Wendy and I had a great day together. Rest in peace, Prince. You left us way too soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Kicking

I survived. I finished my sixth, and hopefully final, week of my increased work schedule, and I'm doing okay. Not much will change this week, as I've been surprisingly able to maintain a fairly regular exercise and meeting schedule despite the increased work hours. However, I am looking forward to getting a bit more rest and hoping to feel a bit more rested this week.

My mood has remained stable. I'm not exactly back where I was prior to this recent dip, but I'm happy I'm not where I was just over a week ago either. I'm still pretty amazed at how quickly things turned around. Saturday horrible. Sunday better. And better is still true. Like I said, it's not perfect, but I'm satisfied with better for now.

I had a good week. I exercised, made it to a couple of meetings, had a good visit with my sponsor, and of course, worked. Work went well. I didn't have any of the irritability of the week before. I happen to have some amazing patients right now, too, and that always makes work more fun and rewarding.

I also had the opportunity to speak to a college class this week. I always enjoy doing that. It was a class of future human service professionals, so they were an interested audience, easy to speak to. I love educating people about depression and mental illness, but the truth is, I likely get more out of it than my audience. Working with others always lifts my spirits.

So I'm still kicking, my friends. I'm so grateful. Thank you all for your incredibly generous and kind support over the last couple of weeks. Your words really do make a difference. Sharing your experience, strength and hope buoys me when I feel so low. It reminds me I'm not alone. Kicking the symptoms of depression is a lot easier when done together.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lighter

My psychiatrist (and her nurse) is a dedicated genius, and the best one around. We've been working together since shortly after my journey with depression began 15 years ago. She very quickly suggested an increase in my antidepressant when my mood started to dip and appeared to be staying low. That was about ten days ago.

When my mood didn't lighten up as rapidly as either of us would have liked, she suggested a new, low dose medication to augment my antidepressant. I began taking that pill late last week. Faced with another depression relapse, and after barely surviving the last one this past Fall, I was willing to try whatever she threw at me. I so appreciate that she takes serious note of these dips, and like me, she wants to arrest them as quickly as possible. It feels like a true team effort.

The effort appears to be paying off. Saturday was a terrible, horrid, heavy, lonely day. But something shifted Sunday afternoon. I went to a cycling class late Sunday morning. It was tough to motivate out of my house, but I had a helpful friend offer to meet me there, so I went.

The class was tougher than usual, likely due to my mood, but I did it. I felt like a wrung out dishrag afterward, but I managed to get myself to the store for much needed supplies and groceries, nonetheless. And when I got home, I was able to put everything away. And then I was able to do some laundry. And then I did something else, and something else, and something else. Before I knew it, I was calling my friend to go out for dinner!

That's when things got really interesting. In the middle of dinner with my friend and her husband, as if from across the room, I heard myself laughing out loud. I saw myself gesturing dramatically, freely, and smiling. It was a very weird moment. It was as if I was outside myself, observing, and kind of wondering what the hell was going on. It was pleasantly strange.

In that moment, I felt amazed. There was a huge disconnect between how I had been feeling and that moment. Internally I heard myself think, "Hmm...this is interesting," while still in mid, animated conversation with my friends! And then I reconnected. I simply let what was happening, happen. And I enjoyed myself.

Enjoyment felt like a foreign concept just a few short days ago. But I'm happy to report I've handled the last two busy days, and some difficult patients, with relative calm and professionalism. I've felt lighter. I'm feeling lighter. I'm a little bit hopeful.

And I'm still a little worried. I guess it's difficult for me to let go of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Each lighter moment, however, allows me to hold tighter to the hope and kick more of the worry to the curb. The curb. That sounds like an excellent place for my depression, too. I think I'll keep kicking.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Expectations

I had to leave work early yesterday. It was my fourth day of work in a row. I wasn't able to function at the level I'm accustomed to, was near tears, and I was totally worn out. I admitted my current struggles to my supervisors, and they said they understood, but I felt terrible about leaving. I was, I'm just now realizing, ashamed. I berated myself throughout the entirety of my drive home.

That was not new, as I had also berated myself while driving home the previous afternoon. I was unhappy with how I behaved with one of my supervisors late Wednesday afternoon. Nothing major, in fact she didn't even notice, but I was irritated with an addition to my caseload, and I felt I let that irritation show. It wasn't professional behavior, and I wasn't proud of it.

I pride myself on being a good employee, one that accepts challenges, is kind and respectful to patients and coworkers, and deals professionally with each task. I don't usually get irritated at work. The fact that I reacted with irritation to such a simple request bothered me. To me it was further proof that depression had taken hold. It was further proof that I wasn't in control. I wasn't beating this thing, this illness I hate.

I wonder if people with other chronic, relapsing illnesses struggle as I do with expectations of themselves in the midst of debilitating symptoms. Despite everything I know about this biological brain illness, with its plethora of confounding and debilitating symptoms, I still beat myself up when I can't overcome it. I make it a moral issue, a character judgment, even though I know depression is no more about poor character than is a brain tumor! Why do I do that?

I know this is an illness. I speak publicly about this illness. I've even been featured in videos educating others about depression, the illness. Yet when I'm in the midst of it, I can't believe it's got me. I can't believe I can't will it away or overcome it with sheer determination. And when will and determination don't work, I get down on myself for it. That's not helpful.

I woke up this morning hoping for a better day. I try to start every day with that attitude when I feel so low. Unfortunately, I was barely through breakfast when it became apparent the symptoms had not left. The heavy limbs, muted thinking, and lethargy were pronounced. But I'm working on acceptance today. If I fret about simple things turned difficult, worry about how long this might last, or wallow in the heaviness, I'm not helping myself.

I want to help myself. Truth is, I'd like to plow right through this day, and the next, and the next as if nothing was happening, but that's not realistic with this illness. I have to accept that. I have to change my expectations, and be okay with doing less, still doing, but doing less. Depression wants me to throw in the towel. I want to act like it's not in the room. I guess I need to find a happy, acceptable medium. I haven't done much today, but I've accomplished more than I would have if I'd given up the fight.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Gray

It's been a long weekend. My mood has gone from low to no. That is, I'm at that point where I feel very little to nothing at all. Just indeterminate, monotonous gray. Gray hurts. I'm not sure how a color can be painful, but gray hurts. Gray is empty. Gray is cold. Gray is a hole in the middle of my chest. And even if I could, I haven't the energy to fill it. Doesn't matter, gray is cavernous, impossible to fill. Gray is heavy. Gray is slow. Gray is isolating, very, very isolating. It doesn't want to go out. And if it must, gray keeps its head down and eyes cast low. Being seen hurts when gray. And I'm gray. Just gray.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Should I be concerned?

I've been having some tough days. My fatigue level continues to climb and it is now affecting my functioning and my mood. My mood has definitely taken a dive toward the bottom of a very dark pool, and I'm not sure how long I can hold my breath. I'm feeling the all too familiar signs of depression sneaking in.

First those familiar symptoms were presenting themselves one at a time, but over the last two days they seem to have been settling in en masse. My mood is low. My energy is low. My thinking is off. My motivation sucks. I want to sleep all the time, yet my nighttime sleep is disrupted. It's difficult to face the day. It takes everything I have to put on my therapist role at work. I'm overwhelmed with simple tasks. Things aren't getting done. And I don't like being out in public. I'm a little worried.

I hope acknowledging the symptoms here, writing them down, and reminding myself they are just symptoms of this chronic illness will help. Experiencing the symptoms today doesn't necessarily mean a full blown, long, drawn out depression relapse is on the horizon. Staying aware of and on top of the symptoms may allow me to put up the fight I need to keep my head above water. Drowning is not a foregone conclusion, right?

Yes, I am concerned. Scared, even. But I've been here before. I've had struggles that were just that, short-lived, temporary struggles. I need to keep pushing myself forward through the morass. I know I won't feel better if I pack it all in, lie on the sofa, eat pints of ice cream, and set myself up with back to back to back Law and Order reruns, even though that's what I really want to do. I know I can do better than that.

Tomorrow is another day. I hope a better, lighter day. I will do what I can. Thanks for listening, my friends.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fatigue, thoughts, and mood

I apologize for going missing for almost a week. I don't have a lot to say. I continue to be very busy working. It feels like I have little time to squeeze in my other obligations, like exercise, meetings and Jet. I was doing fairly well this week until about Thursday. That's when the fatigue really hit.

Wednesday was my day off. I managed to sneak in a nap between errands, appointments, and chores, but apparently that wasn't enough rest. By Thursday morning I could barely get out of bed. It felt like all the energy had drained out of my body. My brain and my body felt like lead.

I pulled myself through the rest of the work week, made it to a cycling class and a meeting this morning, but since then I've been on the sofa. I'm a little concerned. Despite several hours of sleeping off and on, I've got the beginnings of a migraine. My mood is a little low. And my thinking is a bit off.

My off-thinking concerns me. I've been having some scary thoughts over the past several days. I don't usually have these thoughts. They typically only occur when I'm not doing so hot. They are intrusive thoughts about horrible, usually violent things happening to my dog, Jet, or to people I care about. I hope the presence of these thoughts is not a signal of depression around the corner.

Just in case, I'm being hyper-vigilant. I wanted to do a couple of other things today, but I'm going to be okay with staying home and doing nothing. I may even rest my eyes some more if I feel I need to. I'm going to pay attention to my nutrition, stay away from sugar (hopefully), and tone down the intensity of my exercise for now. I'll keep moving, but not to the point of further sapping my energy.

My hope is I can stop the fatigue in its tracks. Less fatigue and improved energy will hopefully lead to fewer scary thoughts and an improved mood. One foot in front of the other, my friends. I guess I had more to say than I thought.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Survival

Sitting here drinking my coffee this morning, I'm tired but satisfied. I survived my very busy week. And while I didn't do so perfectly, I made it. My house is a bit of a mess, the laundry needs to be done, Jet needs some attention and exercise, my bills need to be paid, and I need some groceries, but hey, I survived.

Looking back, I worked 5 of the last 6 days, got in a couple of cycling classes, and made it to one 12-step meeting. I tackled an urgent medical situation and a sick friend. I traveled 182 miles round trip to see an expert regarding the ongoing saga with my teeth, specifically my missing canine. And I checked in with my psychiatrist.

My mood is okay. I've been so focused on going forward and doing what I needed to do next, I don't think I had much time to even consider my mood. Maybe that's fine. As I sit here now, checking in with myself, I think I'm okay. Like I said, I'm tired. I'd really like to crawl back into bed, but I've got a lot to do today before returning to work tomorrow.

It was an abnormal week for me. I had more time and energy constraints. I missed about half my normal amount of exercise, including all but one of the therapeutic (for both of us) walks with Jet. I had to cancel my hour with a private patient I assist. I normally attend three, not just one, 12-step meetings. And like I said my bills, chores, and errands were all put on hold.

Today getting groceries is a priority. As my stock dwindled this week, and as my fatigue rose, I found myself eating more and more junk. Sugar is my primary foe. I crave it like mad and put up only cursory defense when my energy is low. Unfortunately, I indulged those cravings these last couple of days, and as is typical, I ended up feeling like crud, physically and mentally, afterward. It's time to get some better nutritional options back into my house.

I'm looking forward to what I hope will be a slightly less busy, less stressful week ahead. I will be working four days, but only two in a row, as I have Wednesday off. I'm already committed to attending at least two meetings, as I am actually leading one. Finally, I plan to find more time for Jet and exercise and less time for ice cream! I'll let you know how it goes. Carry on, my friends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A stressful day

If you've been following along, you already know I've been busier than I'm accustomed to at work. In fact, this week I'm working 5 full days, including Saturday. And the days have been full! Today was a particularly stressful day, and I just need to vent a bit, or I'm afraid I won't be able to sleep a wink tonight.

I started out in one building where I had a full morning of patients. A couple hours into my day, an unscheduled outpatient walked in asking me to look at a pain in her right side. I told her I could look at it, literally, but I couldn't do any treatment without a doctor's order. She was quite unhappy with me. I convinced the patient to sit down and rest, as she didn't look good, and I was worried.

Unfortunately, within 30 minutes the patient deteriorated to the point of requiring urgent medical attention. Despite repeatedly vomiting and dangerously staggering around the office, the patient was adamant that I not call an ambulance. With help from other staff, we convinced her an ambulance was necessary, and we made the call. I have no idea what happened, but I sure hope the patient is okay. It was a very unexpected, tense situation.

The stress continued the rest of the day secondary to the sheer volume of patients we are currently treating at two different sites. I spent more hours than I cared to at work the past two days. I had to rush to get to my cycling class last evening, but despite rushing home tonight, I could not make it to my regular 12-step meeting. I was exhausted, and I needed to take care of Jet.

I really could have benefited from that meeting, though. My adrenaline was still running high when a friend from my recovery program called a couple of hours ago. She's new, and she asked me to help her out. Unfortunately, I'm worried about her. After listening to her explain why she couldn't do this, didn't like that, and didn't think the other was fair, I finally had to speak up.

I was blunt. I told her I was worried about her. I told her I didn't think the path she was taking was the healthiest path. I told her what worked for me in early sobriety, and while I couldn't tell her what to do, I didn't think she was putting forth the effort required to stay sober. Like I said, I was blunt. But I felt I had to be. I'm worried about her.

It turns out being blunt is also stressful. Through her tears, she thanked me, but I still felt guilty when I got off the phone. After all, I made her cry! I immediately called two other women in recovery. I was concerned I had been mean, but they both assured me I did the right thing. One of the women even told me I was fighting for my new friend's life, and that requires directly telling the truth. Tell the truth I did.

I'm still a little revved up. I'm also exhausted. I'm glad I handled what was in front of me today, and I even think I handled things to the best of my ability. Nevertheless, I hope tomorrow is a shorter, quieter, smoother, less stressful day. I hope.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tired

I'm doing okay. My mood is okay. Despite Social Security piling onto my already full plate of concerns, I'm hanging in there. But I'm tired. And I'm getting a bit down on myself for being tired.

You see, I've been working 4 days a week for, well, about one week, and I'm already tired. I spent much of yesterday, my day off, sound asleep. I slept late. I went back to bed after taking care of Jet, and then I went back to bed again after being up for only a few hours. I had no trouble falling asleep last night either. I'm just tired.

To make matters worse, I'm feeling frustrated about feeling tired. I find myself comparing myself to "normal" people. Most people, I told my social worker this morning, work 5 days a week. I'm tired working only four, I exclaimed with disgust! That frustrates me. I expect more from myself.

Perhaps, though, the frustration is about more than my expectations. I think feeling so tired, apparently due to my increased workload, reminds me that I'm not "normal." It reminds me that I still have this chronic illness. And even though my mood is okay, and whether I like it or not, my depression still impacts my functioning and my life.

When I have long periods of mood stability, as I have for the past several months, I tend to forget depression affects more than just my mood. Fatigue has been a constant companion throughout my illness. It's certainly worse when my mood is low, but it doesn't ever really go away. I want to forget it, to wish fatigue away, but I'm being reminded once again, it's still here.

So I'm not "normal." I'm tired from working 4 days a week. Whatever the reason, that's hard for me to accept. But I'm certainly not going to let it stop me. I'll keep pushing forward, try not to be frustrated by what is, and rest as needed. Sounds good, but even as I wrote that last sentence, I shook my head in frustration. I guess I need to work on my acceptance.



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