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!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I want to help

I have a friend with depression and anxiety. She's a good friend, a wise friend, and a generous friend. She gives freely of her time to assist others in whatever way she can. She's helped me out multiple times. She always provides emotional support when I'm low. All I have to do is ask.

Unfortunately, my helpful friend has trouble asking for help for herself. A few days ago I realized my friend needs help. She's struggling. Through tears, she finally let out some of what's been going on lately. I was surprised. Apparently she's been struggling for awhile, but I didn't know.

I couldn't know what my friend was going through. We haven't seen each other lately, as we've both been busy, and she didn't mention it. When I saw her a few days ago, I had an inkling something wasn't quite right. It wasn't, and by the time she let it out, she was really hurting. I felt so bad for her. I did what I could in that moment. I hugged her and let her cry.

My friend and I are similar in many ways. She doesn't like to cry anymore than I do. I'm not even sure she liked being hugged, but it felt like the right thing to do. And like my friend, I often think I should be able to fix things, like my mood, by myself. Sometimes I wait too long to ask for help. My friend waited too long, too, in my humble opinion.

I want to help my friend. I want to hold her and tell her it will be okay. I want to help her clean her house, take her dogs for a walk, or cook her a meal. But like me, my friend can be fiercely independent, and it's tough sometimes to get in. That frustrates me. She's hurting, and I want to fix it.

I did ask her how I could help. I spent time with her last evening at a local event, but I could do so much more. I could do more if my friend would allow it. She doesn't have to go through this alone. I don't want her to struggle alone, but I guess I can't help unless she requests it. Right?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Humbled again

I was notified yesterday by the website Healthline.com that they have chosen my little blog as one of their 17 best for 2016. I've been similarly honored previously, but it always amazes me when it happens. Of course I hope people who find my blog enjoy it and even gain new information or perspective from it, but when I compare my small effort to some of the other depression blogs out there, I rarely feel I measure up. For example, most of them have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages! I guess I'm a bit behind in the whole social media realm. I'm lucky I can figure out how to add pictures to my own blog posts. Nevertheless, I am extremely honored and grateful for the Healthline.com recognition. If you are here for the first time, welcome to Depression Marathon. Enjoy your visit. And a big thank you, to my regular readers and Healthline.com, for your continued support.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Change...not a fan

I am a lucky woman. I believe I have the best treatment team around. When my depression sucks me under, my team of expert providers (and a few incredible friends) keep me afloat until I once again can swim. They are incredible at what they do. I count on and trust each of them.

One of those experts is my social worker, SM. She and I were connected more than 12 years ago. Since that time, she's been a crucial cog in the wheel. She's helped me connect with other providers, navigate the non-user-friendly Social Security Disability system, find unknown resources, listened, advised, and listened some more. I don't know what I would do without her.

Unfortunately, I'm going to find out exactly what I'm going to do without her. My social worker is leaving. She told me a few days ago she's taking another job. My heart sank. Did I mention I hate change? Initially I panicked. Then I got really sad. Then I panicked. Then I got really sad, again. This was big, big unwelcome news. And this will be a huge unwelcome change.

I don't like change. I like my pleasantly boring, stable life. I feel safe with my current treatment team. I knew someday this would happen. But I always figured I would be the one leaving, you know, like after I got better and didn't need the help? My social worker leaving just wasn't in my plans.

Thankfully, SM knows me so well she gave me a month to digest the news, but as of early June, she will be done. We talked for two hours on Wednesday, our last meeting together. We decided to close my case rather than SM assigning me a new social worker. I don't have the energy to get to know a new person. I'm not a fan of letting just anyone into the nitty-gritty details of my life, and I'm even less enthusiastic about feeling vulnerable with someone I barely know. So I'm going forward with one less team member.

It will be okay. That's what everyone, friends and professionals, have said. I will be okay. Of course I will. I'll get through this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. In fact, I don't like it. Selfishly, I wish SM wasn't going anywhere. I'll miss her kindness, professionalism, work ethic, compassion, and expertise. She has been an amazing social worker but an even more incredible human being. Thank you, SM. I'll miss you.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Moments

I had the rare opportunity last night to share my recovery and recovery community with my parents. I invited my mom and stepfather to present me with my celebratory cake in honor of 10 years of sobriety at an event we call cake night. My sobriety anniversary was actually 4+ months ago, on December 28, 2015, but my parents were in Florida at that time. With ten miraculous, sober years under my belt, I thought it was time I invited my mom and stepfather to participate in this nice event.

Cake night happens the first Saturday of each month. It is a time for families and friends to come together in celebration and gratitude, and most importantly a time for the alcoholic to say thanks to those who've supported him or her. It's a really poignant, laughter-filled, energetic event.

We celebrated 14 different anniversaries and 124 total years of sobriety last night. The place was packed! When it was my turn, my mom and stepfather stepped to the lectern and said a few words about me, and then I got up and said a few words about my journey with alcohol, the miracle of sobriety, and thanked my parents for being in my life today.

I wrote about the miracle of my sobriety here in December. The close relationship I have with my parents, especially my mom, is probably the biggest miracle of all. My mom was a very young woman when she had all four of her children, my 3 brothers and I. Perhaps she was overwhelmed. She admits today she struggled as a mother. Both she and my father were loud and violent.

My mom left my father when I was just 12 years old. Continued violence in my life as well as resentment toward my mother for "abandoning" us turned me into an angry teenager, and then an angry teenager with severe, suicidal depression. To this day I remember vividly the moment I told her I hated her. Looking back, it makes me cringe.

Through my adult years, until I got sober, my mom and I had a decent relationship, but I always kept her at an arm's length. I certainly didn't let her close enough to offer help when I needed it. I didn't allow her to see me vulnerable. And if she sensed vulnerability and tried to assist, I shut the door in her face even harder.

That's why last night presented a rare opportunity. Though my mom has experienced the full, ugly brunt of my depression, she didn't witness my drinking or my slide into alcoholism. She wasn't living near me, and I was a solo drinker anyway. Nevertheless, my mom did experience the alcoholic personality traits I eluded to above, the arrogance, belligerence, and selfishness. As long as I continued my active alcoholism, she never had a chance. I would never have allowed her to be a full participant in my life. We would have always danced an arm's length apart.

Last night we danced cheek to cheek. In ten years our relationship has improved tremendously. My mom hasn't changed. I have. She always remained loving and supportive, even as I rejected her, but now I let her in. I learned how to be a daughter in recovery. What a gift! It was a rare moment for my mom, stepfather and I last night, and it only occurred because of my sobriety. It's good for me to remember that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Return

In what I hope will be the first step in a long, strong, fast, and injury-free return to competitive running, I got on a treadmill today. It was an Alter-G Treadmill, and I ran at 10 minute pace for 20 minutes. An Alter-G allows for running without the full, punishing effects of gravity. With each footfall today, I hit the treadmill with only 40% of my total body weight. It was pretty neat to essentially weigh 60% less than I actually do. I felt like I was floating at mid-stride. And my Achilles did not hurt!

Reducing the impact on my Achilles 60% will hopefully allow me to return to running without re-injury. I'm encouraged. It's several hours later, and I do not have any increased soreness. I'm hoping to run 2-3 times per week, slowly building time at 40% weight bearing before advancing to 50%, and then 60%, and so on. It may be a long process, but I'm so, so ready to get back to my running life, I'm willing to be patient.

Even though it felt strange to be so light on my feet, I was happy and relieved to be back running today. I reveled in every moment and every movement. From my heels hitting the treadmill, to my arms swinging at my sides, to my lungs rhythmically expanding and contracting, the familiar movements felt wonderful. I almost couldn't believe it.

It's been one year and eight days since I originally tore my right Achilles. I've missed being a runner. I've missed the challenge, the satisfaction, the socialization, and the competition. I've missed quality time spent with my dog, Jet. I've missed part of me. A chunk of my identity has been absent for more than a year. I'm anxious to get it back. Today, hopefully, was the initial step in the process of reclaiming the complete me.

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.



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