Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 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!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve can be tough

Being single on New Year's Eve...not priceless.

New Year's Eve, I think, is a tough holiday when you're single. Maybe it's worse because I just went through Christmas and my birthday alone, too. I don't know. This year was supposed to be different, however. I was supposed to have a date. I was supposed to, but then it began to snow and blow in the northeast, and now I don't have a date.

I no longer feel like attending the sober party to which we were invited. I feel like sitting here watching football in my pj's, alone. Probably not the best plan, I know, but I'm so disappointed. My New Year's Eve just went from being a highly anticipated night to the dreaded, familiar bore. The wind has been sucked from my sails.

The wind has been sucked from my sails, but it's more than that, I think. This is a new relationship, a long distance relationship. Immediately after his first voicemail, my distrust was peaked. Fear, fear, fear...it's not snow, it's me--that was the familiar spot on which my thoughts took roost. I'm disappointed and afraid.

I don't like living in fear. Recovery taught me NOT to do that, and I thought it was a lesson I had learned. But then...no call, no voicemail, only the dreaded text message! "Not coming. Sorry." Really? Really? Is that it? Is it really an airport problem? I want so desperately to believe. Desperately! But two unanswered calls later, and my distrust won't leave me alone. It's amazing how quickly my old thought patterns lock me up when I'm scared.

And I'm scared...
I want to trust, but I don't.

ADDENDUM: It's 12:45 AM now and still no word... Fortunately, I said, "Screw it," and went to the party anyway. I had a really good time! Even better, it was the first sober New Year for several of the guests. Very cool to help them celebrate, sober-style! Very nice to be surrounded by a lot of fun, sober people while ringing in 2009. I'm so glad I went. It was way better than staying home and watching football in my pj's.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Suicide, depression & substance abuse highest in gay & lesbian teens with rejecting parents

I was tempted to title this post, "Suicide, depression & substance abuse highest in gay & lesbian teens with rejecting parents...No shit!" We've known for a while that gay and lesbian teens and young adults are more likely to kill themselves. According to a recently released study in the journal Pediatrics, we now know that gay and lesbian teens and young adults with unaccepting or unsupportive parents are 8.5 times more likely to attempt suicide. The following is from National Public Radio:

They found that kids who, by Ryan's measure, experienced high levels of rejection were nearly 8.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. They were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and almost 3.5 times more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex. That was compared with adolescents whose families may have felt uncomfortable with a gay kid, but were neutral or only mildly rejecting.

"A little bit of change in rejecting behavior, being a little bit more accepting," says lead researcher Caitlin Ryan, "can make a significant difference in the child's health and mental health."

Parents out there, please take note...please. Shaming or rejecting behavior, whether in regard to sexuality, mental health, or substance abuse, will not change your children. It may, however, cost them their lives.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three years is a long time NOT to drink.

Today is my anniversary. It's been three years since I took my last drink. More importantly, it's been three years since I realized I could no longer quit drinking on my own. I needed help, and I found it in the rooms of AA.

I was the most unlikely candidate to get sober using the twelve steps, as I didn't "believe" in them. Powerlessness, God, unmanageability, making amends--it was all crap as far as I was concerned. (Typing that last sentence made me laugh, and if you got sober in AA, I bet you're chuckling, too!)

I didn't want to accept I was an alcoholic. Like so many newcomers, I figured I was unique. I thought my education, intelligence and willpower somehow protected me. I was the exception to all "their" rules. Even if I was an alcoholic, I thought, I could figure things out and get sober alone. (I'm laughing again!) In the last three years, I can't count the number of times I've heard those exact thoughts from newbies crossing AA's threshold. I wasn't even close to being unique!

Ultimately, not being unique saved my life. Just as no one understands depression better than another with depression, nobody gets alcoholism better than another alcoholic. The secrets of a drinking life can only be honestly shared with others who've struggled the same struggles, thought the same thoughts, and endured the same experiences. Different, I was not.

I came in seeing only differences. Rooms initially filled with people who were "nothing like me" became rooms of brothers, sisters, confidants and mentors. The people in the rooms didn't change. I did. They didn't have to change. I did. Once I sat down, listened, and got out of my own way--a process which took about a year--I felt a new happiness and a new freedom. I began to recover. Life is not all sunshine and roses, as any regular reader of this blog knows, but it is different. Recovery makes it different.

AA may not be for everyone, but without it, I know I wouldn't have recovered from my alcoholism. I am alive today because of the family I found in the rooms of AA. I am living today because I stopped treating my depression with alcohol and started treating it with antidepressants. (With alcohol, suicide was all but certain. With antidepressants at least I have a fighting chance.) I am more hopeful, more honest, and a lot happier today because I do my best to practice the Twelve Steps in all my affairs. Through the generosity, compassion and understanding of my friends in AA, I have a new life today--a life I never imagined just three years ago. And for that, I am so very grateful.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

getting back to running...and acceptance

The worst part about any running layoff is starting up again. One run here and there feels good, but once I start back a bit more seriously, it sucks! For example, I ran Christmas morning prior to visiting with my family. (I didn't realize until we were out and away from the hotel that it was actually -15 degrees outside!!) Despite that, and because of that, I ran quickly through the cold. I felt good. I marveled at Puck's frosty goatee and laughed when my eye lashes began to freeze. Call me crazy, but it was fun. That was two days ago.

Thinking ahead to the upcoming racing season and my still unfulfilled Boston goal, I ran again today. It sucked! It sucked like all other returns to running have sucked. I hate it! Does this happen to anyone else out there?

Today, as in other returns previously, nothing felt fluid or coordinated. My lungs felt stiff--unable to expand enough to fulfill their oxygen requirements. I was short of breath way too soon at a pace which should have been way too slow. My high heart rate bugged me again. That one really pisses me off! If I didn't have to take these damn meds to stay somewhat sane, I wouldn't have to strain at the upper end of my heart's capability--again at a much too slow pace for such a high heart rate! I ran three miles. It felt like ten, and my heart rate monitor screamed, "slow down, slow down," half the time!

Feeling this poorly, doing something which used to feel so easy, reminds me of several humbling realities of which I am not fond. I'm getting older and therefore require more time and energy to run and to recover. I'm a little heavier and therefore slower. I have depression and therefore require meds with unpleasant side effects. I require meds with side effects which directly impair my running and racing ability. In summary, I am older, heavier, and taking medication to control a chronic illness. Each factor by itself has the power to slow even the most competitive runner, which I am not. Combined, these humbling realities remind me I need to practice acceptance.

Acceptance...seems to have been a theme this week. Okay, I'll work on acceptance of my current reality, but that doesn't mean I have to like it! I still hate getting back to running. It's difficult, and I prefer easy. But I also know today's difficulty will be tomorrow's reward. Hmmm...in that case, I can't wait until "tomorrow!" It's much easier to accept "easy" than it is "difficult."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thoughts for us...

I'm thinking this morning of us.
mentally ill,
like me.

Mental illness.
a unique affliction,
dreaded
difficult
debilitating.

stereotyped
scary
stigmatizing.

No Hallmark or flowers.
No visitors or gifts.
No casserole or hotdish!

Are you the black-sheep
in your family, too?
Are the whispers you hear
always about you?

Our invisible pain
more painful still,
as nobody asks,
Hey, how are you?

Please
Allow me.
How are you?
How are you?


On this day of blessings, may each of you know peace, grace, and serenity.
For this, I will pray.
Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

family...too predictable.

I'm sitting on a hotel bed, watching football, about two miles from my youngest brother's home. After a long, chilly drive--my car's heat is not working properly--I spent just 2-3 hours with my brother's family and my mom, and already I'm wishing I was somewhere else. Sometimes I hate how screwed up my family is. And why does screwed up get so much more pronounced during holidays?

It started with me getting lost, not understanding my brother's directions or my brother not understanding where I was...who knows, but that began the tension. As I entered his home, despite my resolve not to comment on my frustration, my brother's initial sarcastic comment initiated a brief heated discussion. It went something like this,
"I was right."
"No, I was right!"
"No, I was right!"
"No, I was right!"
Get the general idea? Futile. Stupid. I don't even think we said hello.

I fed my new nephew, visited with his 3-year-old brother, gave my mom her presents, and listened to my sister-in-law's comic antidotes about my father's latest clueless, social mis-steps. (He's really good at being socially inept!) Nothing substantive was mentioned, which is fine. No goodies, coffee or even water was ever offered--again, not unusual with at least two of my brothers. Perhaps social ineptness is inherited? All in all, it was an awkward, barely comfortable time.

My brother and his wife left for her grandfather's home, as is her tradition, and my mom made me pancakes. While making pancakes, she told me my other brother asked if I was going to be around when he arrived in two days. My mom added that after she reported I wouldn't be around, my brother expressed disappointment and said he had wanted to see me. This is the brother of whom I wrote a few days ago. This is the brother who lives less than one hour from my home. After pasting me with a verbally abusive tirade, this is the same brother I haven't spoken to in over a year.

I should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn't. Before I knew what hit me, anger and resentment boiled to the surface. I spurted, "Oh bullshit, mom! He couldn't care less about seeing me. He's so selfish and self-centered! He doesn't care about anyone but himself! The last time we spoke he blasted me with names so mean... He's never apologized, because he doesn't do that, and we haven't spoken since!"

To my mom's credit, she ignored my heated burst as if nothing had escaped my lips, which is what I immediately wished, that nothing would have escaped my lips. She said, "I'm not sure this pan will work for pancakes." I looked and said, "Sure it will." And so we went. Almost comical really...

I thanked my mom for the good pancakes as I exited my brother's home. I could have spent the rest of the evening with my mom, but I chose to come sit on this bed with my dog instead. She probably doesn't feel too good about that, and realizing this right now for the first time, I don't feel too good about it either. She flew up here to see us. I guess when one is raised around social ineptitude, it does rub off. Damn!

What is it about families that brings out the worst in some of us? How can I be so comfortable and real with my friends, yet uncomfortable and protected with the ones I'm supposed to know and love best? We keep trying, but I feel as if we barely tolerate one another versus actually enjoying each other. It's always a relief to leave, and from the rooms of AA, I know I am not alone in experiencing that exit relief. Why is that? What is that? Anyone?

I'm feeling frustrated with what feels like banging my head against a wall. Why do I put myself through this? My family doesn't know the real me. Even if I could show them, I'm not sure they'd see the true me anyway. My brother proved as much with his ages-old anger during his hurtful tirade 1.5 years ago. The shit he referred to, the feelings he vented--they were old, very old. It was as if he were yelling at the pre-teen me, age 12, rather than the adult etta, age 40. I'm feeling frustrated. I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm feeling guilty.

I'm feeling sorry for myself... I need to approach this differently, but I have no idea how to do that. No idea whatsoever! I can't continue to bang my head against the wall. I need a different perspective. Perhaps I need to practice some forgiveness. Maybe I need to try out acceptance. I don't know. I'm totally open to suggestion. Thanks for letting me vent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Singing and laughing for Christmas

With apologies to Clinically Clueless for stealing her idea, I also surfed YouTube for a male chorus singing an enchanting Christmas carol. What I found is less enchanting than it is utterly enjoyable. Following is a video of The Boston Gay Men's Chorus singing a lighthearted version of the Hallelujah Chorus. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Darkness Fading

It's a day I always dread, yet by early December, I can't wait for it to arrive, for once it's upon me, I can begin to look for the light again. From the moment we turn our clocks back, I dread the oncoming and ever-increasing darkness. Here in the far north, darkness is a prime complication of winter. December 21st is the shortest and therefore darkest day of the year. I hate the long dark. Like many with depression, I much prefer the sun, the light, and the energy of longer days.

Yesterday, the sun officially rose at 7:41 AM and set at 4:35 PM. Our day was only 8 hours and 53 minutes long. Almost 2/3 of yesterday was darkness. The high temp was a whopping one degree Fahrenheit, and the wind chill hovered in the -30 to -40 degree range, but it was the darkness of which my depression-riddled brain took note.

Like I said, I both dread and anticipate December 21st every year. It is equal parts culmination and initiation. We culminate the dark and initiate the light. It is a unique day, and I'm very glad it's passed. Six months of darkness fading are ahead. What a beautiful reality...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Redefining Christmas

The upcoming visit to my family has prompted thoughts of gifts. Just as we typically don't gather as a family for holidays anymore, we no longer exchange gifts either. I do buy my mom a gift every year, but I don't feel right about offering her a gift while my brothers stand by and receive nothing. That would be odd, don't you think.

My brothers don't want for anything, and giving them more stuff seems pointless. I would just be giving out of obligation, and it likely wouldn't mean much to me nor them. I used to love Christmas and giving gifts. Becoming a single person quashed my enthusiasm. Struggling with a chronic, debilitating illness changed my priorities. Stuff is no longer very important to me. I'd rather someone took me out for dinner, washed my dishes, or donated their resources to mental illness research. Obligatory giving makes me queasy.

Fortunately, I discovered a solution today. After hearing a story on NPR, I checked out this website, which is dedicated to redefining Christmas. This is a very cool site. The following is an excerpt from their homepage:

Give others donations to their favorite charities Redefine Christmas is neither commercial venture, nor money-maker. It's simply a charitable idea, shared by many, that our holiday gift giving could be more meaningful and do more good. In addition to the gifts we enjoy shopping for and giving, we're often compelled to give gifts that aren't so meaningful. Imagine if we replaced those gifts by giving others donations to their favorite charities. And we just request that others do the same for us.

And then there's this from another page on the site:
It's not about reinventing the holiday. It's about changing the way we look at gift giving and receiving. It's taking money we usually spend on obligatory gifts with little meaning, and creating gifts of charity that give in multiple ways, to the receiver, the giver, and people who truly need.
Seems I'm not the only one thinking about obligatory giving. What a wonderful solution. I will be purchasing the gift of charity for each of my brothers this Christmas. Now I'm excited again!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas with the family...ugh

Ahhh, yes...The holidays. Nothing brings out one's long-stuffed anxieties and resentments with more alacrity than the holidays. This morning, the resentment gurgled in my mother's voice, as she explained how difficult it is to schedule our Christmas meal around the family gatherings of each of my brothers' wives. I had to bite my lip. I wanted to remind her how long it had been since she had any scheduling worries, as I can't remember the last time all of us got together! I just listened instead.

It's been a long, long time since all of us have been together for a holiday. Sure, we live all over the place, but the reality is we just don't care enough to get together. Just because we are family doesn't mean we like each other! It took a long time for me to be okay with that. My family gets along much better when we each live at least a toll call apart!

Getting together, when you come from a terribly dysfunctional family, is not usually a joyous occasion. We don't yell, or drink, or beat each other up, but it's just not fun. There's tension. There's sarcasm. There's back-handed "compliments," which are really put-downs in disguise. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Fun... Fun is not what comes to mind when I think of gathering with my family for Christmas. My long lost (I thought they were lost) anxieties and resentments have been tapping my shoulder all week. Seriously, I can almost hear them! Tap, tap, tap..."Peek-a-boo, remember me?"

For example, I have no desire to see the brother who lambasted me with sharp, hurtful sarcasm and anger, without cause, over one year ago. As I wrote in April, despite apologizing for my part, I do not expect he will ever do the same. He doesn't know how. We've not spoken since his last hurtful e-mail.

I typically don't think about him nor the entire scenario, but faced with possibly spending two days with him changed that. Tap, tap, tap..."Yoooooou-hoooooo..." Despite praying about it (my sponsor's suggestion) and working to let go of my resentment, I am still hurt. So hurt that I actually changed my plans. He and his family will be the only absent family members when I join everyone at another brother's house.

Part of me thinks changing plans to avoid him is wrong. I should be bigger, somehow. But I don't know... Depression has taught me to pick my battles. I've learned to conserve my energy and to expend it judiciously. The tension and awkwardness of sharing space with my family is stressful enough, I think. Perhaps adding the hurtful brother to the mix would have been too, too much. I think it would have, and the risk to my mood and energy wasn't worth the risk. Holidays tear apart "normal" people. I'm just emerging from a very difficult, hopeless period. Even on my best days, I'm not "normal." I didn't think it was worth the risk to my mental health to subject myself to more than I needed. But I'm still not sure...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best of the Web! Are you kidding??


Today, to my surprise, Psych Central included this blog in their list of the top ten depression blogs on the web. Wow! I am stunned, honored, humbled, and grateful.
Thank you, editors of Psych Central, for this tremendous gift. Thank you, readers, for sticking with me through this first year. I've learned a lot, developed e-friendships galore, and felt your love and support when I needed it most. Thank you.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's my BIRTHDAY!

Shameless self-promotion, but when one is single, letting people know it is your birthday seems imperative! Yes, it is my birthday today. I'm listening to MPR's Radio Heartland show, and they already played my birthday request, Bobby McFerrin's live version of The Wizard of Oz. If you haven't heard it...well, it's pretty incredible. I will try to link to it or put it on this blog later--if I can figure out how to do that! (any help out there greatly appreciated!) I'm still recovering from the flu, which is good because my social worker is about to take me out for breakfast. I think I had one real meal yesterday, so I think pancakes should go down okay this morning. I'm getting a little sick of ginger ale, pretzels, saltines, and popsicles! Anyway, happy birthday to me! The sun is shining and it may hit 10 degrees! What more could I ask for??
Happy day, everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The FLU: I don't recommend it!

UGH...
I've
got
the
flu.

It began on the way to work yesterday morning. An hour later, I was on my way home from work--stopping half-way to puke out my open door. Not fun. It's been a long time since I've been this physically sick. I sure as hell hope it will be a long time (or ever!) before it happens again.

Now, back to bed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I worked to get here, now I have to work.

I'm a little tired. I'm a little relieved. I'm a little satisfied. I'm a little proud. And I'm still a little scared. My former DBT instructors would be so pleased--look at me, living in the gray area between black and white! But if I am to survive in my new job, my new relationship, and my continued sobriety, gray is the place to be.

What's that? A new relationship? Yup, and that's all I'm going to say about it for now!

As for my new job, it's going well. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday seems to be working, as it allows me a day of rest in between. Unfortunately, the 45 minute drive has been longer than I anticipated. The wide open, 20-mile portion of two-lane road through farm country, combined with the nasty beginning to our winter, has already left me weary. The addition of nearly two hours to my work day hasn't been easy either. Ten hour days were not part of my original plan.

Originally, I wanted to work four, 6-hour days. In almost all of my "depression" work experience, it is at 6 hours when my brain slows to a crawl, my memory befogs, and my body shuts down. Once I accepted a position 45 minutes from home, however, I decided 4 days of driving would be too much. So I settled on the 8-hour, every other day schedule instead. It didn't dawn on me how much twice daily 45 minute jaunts would add to my day. I don't know why. I'm a bit worried about it, but I've decided to take it one day at a time. I know I've got to give my body plenty of time to adjust to my new schedule before I begin making any decisions about changing it.

I'm trying to take a lot of things one day at a time right now. Like the gray area between extremes, living in the moment seems crucial at this time. Experiencing the moments of a new relationship, staying sober, enjoying a day without severe depression, dealing with my sponsor's cancer diagnosis and upcoming surgery, and coping with a new, more demanding schedule; they are all simpler when I stay in the here-and-now. I'm not perfect at it yet, far from it. But keeping the concept in mind allows me the chance to catch myself, and to stop worrying about the past or predicting the future. Practice makes perfect, right? I'll keep practicing. Will you?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Huge Omission

It’s 5:15AM, and I’m awake. I’m not typically awake at 5:15AM, but these are unusual days. Thinking at 5:15AM, after too little sleep, is an interesting adventure. Fortunately, sometimes adventures are interesting and fruitful. Let me explain.

Yesterday, at the suggestion of myself, I decided to write a gratitude list. I thought that was a pretty good suggestion from an alcoholic momentarily sponsoring herself! Last night at a meeting, I spoke about taking people and things for granted. My sleep-deprived brain must have recalled that conversation. This morning I was jolted with the realization that I’d left one large…er, huge item off my gratitude list. Yup, you guessed it, I forgot to list my sobriety.

Sobriety. How could I have missed that one?? Yikes! I don’t ever want to take my sobriety for granted. Like relationships (last night’s topic), sobriety requires vigilance, awareness, and work. Sobriety is not for the faint of heart.

Rarely have we seen a person fail. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program. (from Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 58)

Cannot or will not completely… As one of my old sponsors used to say, “Sobriety is not for wimps.” If I am to stay sober, I need to work my program completely. I can’t pick and choose. I can’t do it half-assed. If I want to stay sober I must remain willing, stay open to direction, and be unafraid to work. Fortunately, The Big Book also states,

We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principals we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. (from Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 60)
I don’t have to do this program perfectly to stay sober. What a relief!! I need to follow the suggestions of the program and my sponsor. I need to be of service to my group and my community. I have to focus outside myself, and I cannot take recovery for granted. If I do, I may suffer the fate of an old-timer who spoke yesterday. He had 21 years of sobriety. Fortunately for him, after “relaxing and taking it easy,” he returned yesterday from a relapse to start again at day one

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gratitude List

Today I am grateful for:

  • My happy dog, Puck, laying here by my feet in front of the heater, content, and in no apparent discomfort despite his recent injuries
  • Unconditional love
  • My health
  • Running and the continuing motivation to train and compete
  • Mom and Bruce
  • My warm, comfortable home
  • The giddiness of a new relationship
  • Bill and Cindy, Dr. L., Deb, and Shawn--I wouldn't be alive without them
  • The Morning Show on Minnesota Public Radio
  • My ability to work at a job I enjoy
  • My ability to work, period
  • AA and the local recovery community
  • My sponsor, Kim
  • Sobriety

Gratitude in a time of pain

My depression has been off the charts lately. I went through a brief period of hypomania, complete with excess spending, lack of need for sleep, and pressured speech, which was fun. But last week, I fell faster than a dead bird from the sky and crashed so hard it physically hurt. This prompted my psychiatrist to wonder about the possibility of bipolar disorder! WHAT???? Whatever the diagnosis, however, the pain is unchanged.

I’m so tired of talking about the pain. I’m so tired of battling the pain. I’ve been locked up in my incredibly disorganized and messy home, unable to sleep, write, or even move occasionally. I’ve given up on “healthy” coping. It’s amazing how quickly the old habits, the ones used purely for escape, swoop back in–perhaps on the wings of that dead bird falling from the sky.

I have minimally struggled with the desire to drink, but I’ve still got more in my arsenal than alcohol. Shopping, eating junk, obsessing about eating junk, self-harm, and suicide…these are all old standbys which have crept from the dark recesses of my brain. Within the past week, hopelessness has been more prevalent than at any time during the past 1-2 years, and the hopelessness didn’t scare me. That was scary.

So why am I telling you this? Well…from the few posts I was able to enter on my own blog I received grateful comments from others who could “totally relate.” I was spilling out hopelessness, discouragement and pain, yet others were glad to read it. The words I wrote and the feelings I spilled helped them connect, which in turn helped me feel less alone. I am so grateful for the readers who left those comments. While I am piercingly sad for their pain, their comments humble me and inspire renewed purpose. In AA, we encourage working with others to decrease our self-focus and distress. I forget that when I’m suffocating in the thick fog of depression. But it works.

Depression sucks. It is the most isolating illness I’ve ever experienced. I am so grateful for those of you who read my words despite the sometimes less-than-inspiring content. It is my wish that these words today, words I’d rather not write, words I’d prefer to replace with something more healing and hopeful, will touch at least one of you. When you’re touched, I’m relieved. Together, perhaps we can join hands in cyberspace, if only for a moment, and feel connected–not alone. Feel free to take my hand. “I totally get it.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

better. a little.

today is a better day. i have something very exciting suddenly happening in my life, and that certainly helps! so today is a better day. i am grateful. one day at a time on this rollercoaster journey...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nonsensical illness

The nonsensical illness continues today. I've appreciated your comments on my last two posts. I've been feeling isolated and totally alone lately. The noise in my brain seems so unique, in the worst possible way, that it really helped to hear some of you could relate. I had no idea! However, I'm also very sorry any of you can relate!

Today, I face questions of reality. It simply doesn't make sense that I can go to work, or to a meeting, or to a party and outwardly function as a healthy, happy human. Yet, inside there is only death, negativity, fear and sadness. It's nonsense! I feel like I'm leading a double life, and it makes me question the reality of this illness.

If I'm able to function so well despite the turmoil I feel, especially when alone, is it possible I don't really have depression at all? Is this just some elaborate ruse of which I've become convinced. The people "on the outside" wouldn't recognize the etta I know. Only a very select few even get to see her--mostly professionals--and even they don't get the full story. It's just too unbelievable. How can I smile while saying I feel like shit? How can I crack jokes when escape and death occupy my brain? It doesn't make any sense.

I am open and honest with people, yet I am always protecting, too. I'm protecting myself, and I'm protecting them. The disconnect between my shell and my core is so great, if I were truly honest, I'm afraid nobody could believe me. "Well you don't look like you feel like that. You don't act like you feel that bad. If you truly felt like that, there's no way you'd be able to work or run or..." At the same time, I don't want to add burden to those around me, even the pros. It's just too much.

I think I'm also ashamed of my sadness, lethargy, and hopelessness. I still think I should be able to make myself well. Just do it! I guess I tend to downplay the healthy actions I take while ruminating on the continually recurring negative symptoms. That's the problem, isn't it, the symptoms continually reoccur. And for whatever reason, this time I don't feel I have a lot left with which to fight.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

breathlessness, fatigue and noise

i'm in that space where everything is difficult. getting out of bed, going to bed, sleeping, staying awake, exercising, or sitting around. no matter what i do, it's hard, and slow, and confusing.

this morning, i awoke early and couldn't get back to sleep, so i thought i'd swim. i made it to the pool, but by the time i swam a couple laps, i knew...it wasn't going to happen today. and it didn't. i had a plan. i had to revise the plan again, and again, and again before finally giving in to the breathlessness and fatigue.

breathlessness, fatigue...everything takes longer in this icky space. showering, laundry, deciding... it's like my brain has to swim thru a morass of molasses before a thought is released. writing...this is a chore.

tears. no reason. just tears.
every emotion is heightened. every irritation more irritating. every stressor more stressful. every comment or reaction more personal. i can't seem to seperate myself from the world. it's all coming in all the time. i can't filter or sort. i'm overwhelmed because everything gets in. every input initiates reaction, and it's all personal to me. i'm not routinely aware of how much stimuli i filter just to move thru my day. i'm aware now, because my filters are gone. there is no gate. there is no halt. it's all in all the time, and i'm extremely overwhelmed.

breathlessness, fatigue, and noise...it's loud without filters. i can't make a decision, because i can't sort the true from the false, the important from the unimportant. it all gets thru so my brain treats every bit as necessary information. but it's not...it's not all necessary. a lot of it is just noise.

it's loud in my head without filters, and the noise wears me out. i'm so tired. i'm so tired of the noise. i'm so tired of the confusion. i don't know where to go. i don't know what to do. i can't even explain how i feel, because it's too loud. it's too loud in my head.

i'm tired.
and discouraged.
and i don't want to go on
like
this

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I want to write, but I don't.

I want to write, but I'm feeling transparent and vulnerable again, and I don't want people to know. I want to write, because writing helps me heal. When I'm having a hard time, I write to sort things out. However, when I'm feeling vulnerable, I can't write with zeal. I edit. I worry. I rearrange, and I delete. Without zeal, writing does not heal. I end up feeling more stressed rather than less distressed. To heal, I can't leave anything out. I want to write without leaving anything out, but I can't. I feel too vulnerable.

I want to write. I want to write for me but also for you. The reader--I want to write for you. Maybe you visit often. Perhaps this is the first time you're dropping by. This blog has apparently helped some of you, and that makes me very glad. Educating others about mental illness remains one of my primary goals, but I can't write for you if vulnerability is my concern. Anyone can write academically. That is not, and has never been my intent. I want to stay real. I can't be real, however, if my transparency is painful. Right now, transparent is painful.

I want to write, but I'm worried. It seems I'm no longer as anonymous as I once was. I'm scared. There is a ton to tell, but I'm suddenly afraid to let you hear. I don't know who you are. I don't want you to think poorly of me. For months I felt well, and now I don't. I want to stay positive, but I'm not feeling positive. I want this blog to provide some hope, not drag people down. I'm too worried about who's reading my blog, who knows me, and who's trying to figure me out. I'm too worried about you, and that makes writing ineffective. I can't write if I'm worried about who might be reading. Right now, I'm worried.

I'm feeling worried, and vulnerable, and transparent, and sick. Ultimately, that's the problem. I don't like feeling sick. I don't like feeling out of control. I don't like having this fucking, unpredictable, irrational illness. This illness makes me feel vulnerable. I'd like to write more about that, but right now I can't.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cancer returns.

This time it is my AA sponsor.

My guide.
My mentor.
My friend.

She
has
cancer.

Not again.
Please.
Not again.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Controversy I created??

Phew! I unintentionally started a heated discussion on the other blog for which I write. Check out this post over at The Second Road, including all of the comments, and then please, please come back here and weigh-in. Why? Because I want to hear what readers of a primarily mental health blog think. I'm curious what some other people think. I have no desire to be "proven" right or wrong, so please keep your comments non-judgmental. No attacking others' opinions or experiences, please. Like I said, I'm just curious, and if you would be so kind as to add to the discussion, I'd appreciate it very much.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our Food Shelves Need Us Now

"I don't know where my next meal will come from," the office manager said. She hadn't eaten in two days. He said, "I'm a lawyer. My wife is a lawyer. We used to donate to this food shelf. Now I must swallow my pride. We need help."

I understand these comments. I remember that pride. Never in a million years did I... Read More

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day, Everyone!

Sitting here stuffed with stuffing…and turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and pie, I thought I’d wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your day was as uneventful and peaceful as mine. I worked at the hospital for 5.5 hours prior to attending a sober get-together with many friends. The food and the company were exquisite. I had some very interesting and fun patients today, too, so it’s been a good day. (Although I could have used a longer nap!)

Today’s events remind me; I am so grateful for my sobriety and for my sober “family.” I know many people with mental illness and/or addiction issues are separated from their families by choice or necessity, and holidays can be very difficult. I am separated by choice today. I suppose I could have called the brother who rudely insulted and belittled me more than a year ago and asked him what he was doing. I suppose I could have called my other brothers and done the same. But I didn’t.

Instead of obligatory invitations or half-heartedly visiting, I chose to keep my life simple today. I chose to give the gift of time by volunteering to work. I chose to spend the day with people I care about and who graciously care about me. I chose the rewarding path of recovery today. Sure, it would have been nice to see my out-of-state mom and step-dad, but other than those two people, I couldn’t have spent this holiday with nicer, more sincere people than the friends with whom I chose to celebrate.

I didn’t have that option prior to recovery. Mental illness, even recovery from mental illness, does not come with an instant community. While those of us suffering from brain disorders can share our experiences individually, we do not have the advantage of multiple weekly gatherings in rooms filled with healthy, happy, and grateful people. So today, with all the sincerity I can muster, I can honestly say I am genuinely, truly grateful to be a recovered alcoholic.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's Official--I'm Employed

As you know, I made a decision a couple weeks ago to look for a regularly scheduled, part-time, physical therapist position, otherwise known as "a JOB." While I've been working as an on-call PT for several years, I have not felt well enough to resume a regularly scheduled job until recently. (Of course, recently I've also not been doing so hot, but I'm sure some of those symptoms were triggered by this decision and the risk it entailed.) Well, last week, I was hired. As of December 1, 2008, I will be gainfully employed and eligible to drop disability! Hooray!

This is a big deal. I've come full circle in exactly eight years. My illness began in November, 2000, leading me quickly to disability. Hopefully November of 2008 will be the beginning of the end of the disability portion of this saga. I don't expect the illness to go away. I'm hoping to live with it at a higher level than I've been able to these past eight years. In the future, I hope my story will include November, 2008, as the time when fuller functioning returned. I guess I'll have to wait to see if that will be the case.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm back--for now.

It's been a long, tough, week. I apologize for stepping away from this blog and my TSR blog. I simply have had no desire to write. That happens sometimes when I'm feeling particularly hopeless, distracted, or overwhelmed. Feeling little to no control over the intrusive thoughts I've been having has left me little to no motivation to share anything with anyone--readers, callers, visitors...anyone.
I prefer to write when I feel I have something to offer. I don't like focusing on the negative. If I've written about it (hopelessness, intrusive thoughts, discouragement) and it continues, I feel no need to rehash or restate the dilemma. I'd rather focus on facts--what's wrong and what can be done, or what I've tried to do to make it better. While I've taken steps this week to improve my situation, feeling I have little worthwhile to offer right now continues. Sometimes, I just need to battle things through by myself.

I haven't felt like writing, but I have done some artwork. I finished the following painting last night. It's called Chaos Burning. They say a picture is worth a thousand words...that sounds about right.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the thoughts of my depression

Warning: if vulgar language makes you blush, or you don't approve of a lady who swears, tough shit! You may choose to discontinue reading now.

Just came from seeing my doc. I saw her two days earlier than planned secondary to the "lovely" thoughts I've been having lately. I don't want to get into the gory details, and trust me they are gory, but I did ask my doc, "Why?" Why do I have these fucked-up thoughts? They make me feel fucked-up. They are disgusting, shameful, and distressing. They make me feel like a bad person. (Brain: "Normal people don't think like this!" Me: "Oh shut the fuck up!") After noting that my deteriorating language might be a sign of how poorly I'm feeling, my doc noted that these thoughts are not new for me. When I've felt poorly in the past, she reminded me, my thoughts have been similarly distressing. Intrusive thoughts have been part of my personal symptoms.

I guess she's correct, after all she has notes while I have only my swiss cheese memory on which to rely. However, I remember a time when depression, for me, meant sadness, despair, hopelessness...you know, all the typical, well-known qualities we love about this fabulous condition. But, she's right, over the past couple years it seems my distorted thinking has been a reliably clear indicator of the deteriorating condition of my fucked-up condition.

I've written previously about the diagnosis criteria for depression. It includes all of the expected language regarding sadness, loss of interest, and lack of pleasure. However, upon inspection you'll notice these criteria lack any mention of fucked-up thinking. Nevertheless, depression can rule a person's thinking. For whatever reason, I am one of the unfortunate souls who can attest to this fact. And right now, it's really pissing me off!

These thoughts are sucking the life out of me. I hate them. I don't understand where they come from. I don't understand why they occur. My scientific brain wants to know the inner workings of my fucked-up brain. Why does my fucked-up brain hurl these bloody daggers from unconsciousness into the dark light of my consciousness? How does that happen? What is the reason? There must be a reason! Figuring out the reason would surely blunt the intrusion, wouldn't it?

No, of course it wouldn't. The intrusive thoughts are not so simply quelled. I know that. For that reason, sometimes I just need to rant. I need to flail angrily at this insane illness which robs my integrity, my sensibility, and my stability. For NO FUCKING REASON...

The great tumor of depression is consuming my brain again, and I'm really, really pissed off! I can't slice it out. I can't radiate it to smithereens. I can't even touch it! But I can feel it. I know it's there. My only recourse is continuing to move forward, one foot, one moment at a time, stopping occasionally to hold on, regain my balance, and perhaps to scream.

Monday, November 17, 2008

life moves on

this morning
it occurs to me.
no matter how i feel
no matter what i think
no matter if i want
life moves forward.

with or without me
life moves on.

whether i agree
or not.
whether i desire
or not.
whether i advance
or not.
life, it continues.

it does not inquire.
it does not linger.
it does not wait.
life scrambles on.
impervious.
oblivious.
impetuous.
life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

the thoughts are following me

The brain-fuck continues.
I slept almost all day yesterday. Even when I tried to wake up it proved very difficult. Made it out to a coffee date with a friend for about one hour but was back asleep soon after returning home despite planning to watch a football game. I woke up in my chair as the final two minutes ticked away. Right now, I couldn't even tell you who played.
I made it to my morning AA meeting today, but I was bothered by negative, intruding thoughts throughout. I went swimming after the meeting, which was a minor miracle, as I really wanted to come home and go back to bed. Swimming went well, but I couldn't believe the intrusive thoughts followed me right underwater! Horrible, disgusting thoughts...I usually can't think of anything but my swimming form and lap count while in the pool, so I was very disturbed. Horrible thoughts. I don't get it. I don't get it.
The rest of the day has been filled with restlessness. Tried to watch some football again today, but was unable to focus on or care about the game. That's atypical. I'm uncomfortable at home, but it's painful to be out, too. I know, because I just went to the mall to poke around--something I never do, but I didn't know where else to go or what to do. There was an event at my church tonight, but the thought of hanging around with people I knew was even more dreadful than anonymously walking around the mall. I feel like people can see right through me. Vacant. Unfortunately, I also feel caged in my house. The options seem limited. I don't know what to do.
I'm uncomfortable. I'm scared. I don't like feeling like this. I don't want to keep having fucked-up thoughts out of the blue. This is depression having its way with me. I'm trying to remember it will pass...
It will pass...right? God, I wish it would pass soon...now...

Friday, November 14, 2008

playing dead

this morning I just want to curl up on the floor and play dead. the load of the past few weeks has apparently come down hard on my head. all day yesterday brought headaches and screwed-up thinking, which i topped off with a couple pints of ice cream--that was helpful (pure sarcasm, in case you were confused)!
i just saw my doc, and now i'm feeling hopeless. isn't that weird? supposed to feel better after seeing the shrink, but sometimes, when i'm feeling particularly unnerved to begin with, i feel worse rather than better after seeing her. it's NOT because of anything she did or said, absolutely NOT. i think it's me realizing i only have me once i've left her office. she has no magic pill to make all the thoughts, anxiety, and behaviors go away. talking with her helps, but once i've left the office, i'm the only one i've got. i've either got to get through this or not. i've got to sit with my discomfort, my worry, my fears, and my thoughts, or not. and that sucks. it's uncomfortable, disconcerting, and distressing.

my brain is taunting, "no, no, no...it's useless. all those plans you've been working on, all those happy thoughts you've had...see, it's useless! this is the real you. you can't do any of that! this is what happens when you try to live a 'normal' life--you can't, because we always come back. actually, we never left. we've been here all along. it's fun to let you build yourself up while we wait to knock you back down. yeh, we've been stifling our giggles watching you 'grow.' had a few laughs at your expense.
you think you can escape from us, from this? HA! we'll move things when you're not looking, turn on radios that aren't there, and cue destructive thoughts in your brain until you're willing to bleed to kill us. that's how it is. that's how it's always been. so go on, get back in bed. don't you think it's time to rest?"


time to rest...if only i could. rest would require me lying down with me. more opportunity for my cruel brain to tie me in knots, question reality, and weigh me down. but escaping doesn't offer much hope either. i'm stuck with myself. right now, there is no more uncomfortable place to be. no wonder i feel sad, hopeless, and alone. depression has the edge...again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cooking for Thanksgiving--an expert's view

If you love to cook like I love to cook, I've secured some timely and thoughtful advice from Maxine, Hostess-extraordinaire! Take note:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

intrusive thoughts II

just now.
It happened Just
now.
poured Out one
but suddenly
Wanted them All.
then there they were.
All.
in My hand.
so Small
so powerful.
So dangerous.
I didn't do it,
but the Thought
It was there.
Suddenly.
out of the blue
Disturbing
distressing
Confusing.
Disturbing.

scary.
what if?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Moderately off

I'm feeling kind of sad today. I don't know why. Nothing special happened. In fact, I even got to see my therapist, as she had a cancellation which allowed me time I otherwise wouldn't have had until next week. Yet, I don't think I even mentioned feeling sad to her. I don't think I talked about much of anything. It's like my brain went blank once I sat down in her office. Stupid...or weird, I'm not sure which.

There's still a lot going on in my life. I'm having some financial stress, which I hate. I'm filling out applications, interviewing, and trying to figure out how much I will be able to work if offered a position. As I wrote last week, I don't want to take on too much, as just having a regularly scheduled job will be a big, big change. I don't want to fail. I don't want the depression symptoms to worsen. It's scary.

My parents left today. They are full-time RV'ers heading south for the winter. I guess that could explain some of the sadness. My mom and I have had a strained relationship since she left when I was twelve. In fact, I hadn't lived within an hour of my mom since she left in the 1970's! That is until she and my step-dad moved into an RV park a couple miles away in early September.

Fortunately, the combo of depression and alcoholism forced me to mature in the last few years. It was actually nice to have her so close, although I think I've probably gained 5 pounds from eating out and, well, just eating. I don't really cook meals. She does. You know, like a salad, a meat, a potato, and a veggie? That's an extremely rare occurrence when I'm taking care of myself! I'll miss them.

I'm trying to deal with not being able to run by swimming, lifting, biking, etc., each of which involves going to the gym. Going to the gym requires planning. Running doesn't require much planning. In a moment, I could throw on my shoes and skip out the door. It seems going to the gym is a two hour event no matter what I do. I'm happy with my swimming. Swam another mile today. However, my leg doesn't seem to be improving. Today, I had pain picking up the pace to cross the street. That wasn't a hopeful sign.

I'm worried about losing my fitness. I'm worried about gaining weight (even without my mom cooking). I need to strengthen my hip. I'm worried I won't be willing or able to strengthen it enough. I need to rest my leg. I'm worried it won't be healed even after resting it. And I just want to RUN! No worries...just RUN! Perhaps I wouldn't be feeling restless and sad if I could run into the night right now. That's the other thing swimming, lifting, and biking can't do for me, combat that restlessness. I can only combat those feelings, it seems, by hitting the streets.

Speaking of hitting the streets, I've done a poor job keeping up with walking Puck. The days have been gray and cold. I've walked him a few times, and he is getting better, but I feel like a bad mom when I don't walk him. I'm trying to make up for it by playing tug and ball with him in the house, but I really need to be more diligent with the walks. Poor guy, he must be soooo bored! Sorry, Buddy! I'll do better.

I'm feeling a little sad today. I'm feeling a little restless, too. A bit overwhelmed as well... My thinking is also slightly, 'er moderately off. Not good...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Closet--a love story.

He mentioned his life partner died a year ago. That caught her attention. It was her first clue. She assisted him as he limped into the hallway with his new walker. Purposefully she asked, "How long were you and your partner together?" It was only a slight variation from the routine question she usually asked. After all, most of her patients were elderly Midwesterners, and relationship longevity seemed to be their most common denominator.

She loved interacting with these long-term couples. The enduring love between them was endearingly transparent. Coming from a splintered family, a couple of foster homes, and her own dissolved relationship, this endearing love and commitment both touched and amazed her. She cherished their stories of first dates, old cars, tough times, successful kids, conquered challenges, fulfilled dreams, and world travels. Fifty, fifty-five, and sixty were common answers to her question, but 62 years was the longest relationship she had encountered thus far.
"Fifty-three years," he said. "Pancreatic cancer, we only had six weeks..." his voice trailed off.
The therapist refocused his attention on the task at hand, which was learning to walk with his new hip. He was tall, fit and appeared younger than his 77 years.
He continued, "I didn't think I would make it. I still miss..." And then he said it, the pronoun the therapist hoped he'd feel free to share. It was the reason she followed his lead and used the term partner rather than wife.
"...him," he said. "I still miss him terribly, but I have to move on, right? That's why I'm here. I wanted to get this done and move on."
"I'm so sorry," responded the therapist. "Of course you miss him. Fifty three years...That's wonderful!"
"Yes, it was, " he replied.

The therapist felt sad, not only for his loss but for the cautiousness he assumed when he revealed his love and loss. Fifty three years and he still took care before mentioning the person with whom he shared his entire adult life. Even one year after his partner's death, he felt her out before he let the therapist in. He had no idea she could feel his losses--the loss of his partner and his freedom--as if they were her own. As his therapist she couldn't reveal her background or history. He may have assumed, but the truth was likely more complicated than he figured. She couldn't share her deep understanding of his cautiousness or fear. She was like him. She was, but now she wasn't. It was confusing even to her. At least, she thought, her patient realized she was a safe person with whom he could share. She was glad for that.

When she treated him again, the patient shared more about his life. He was an artist, a lawyer, and a concert pianist. His partner practiced healthcare with some of the best. They met in the Army 55 years ago.
"The Army," she exclaimed! "That must have been tough!"
They knowingly chuckled together, and with a sly smile he simply said, "Yes." As they continued walking he proudly filled in the details of their life together. The therapist was thrilled to listen and learn. Finally, self-consciously, he said, "I have a picture of him...if you'd like to see it."
"Oh, yes, I'd love to see him," she enthusiastically replied.

Back in his room she set the heavy briefcase beside him on the bed. She watched as he removed an object encased in bubble-wrap. She couldn't help but feel sad. It was a framed 5x7 of him and his partner. Two older, smartly dressed, smiling gentlemen stood arm in arm in front of one of the patient's paintings.
He apologized for the effects of aging and then said, "That was on his 72nd birthday. I wish I had known. That was the last picture we ever had taken. He didn't make it to seventy three."
Looking up from the picture she said, "I think you both look great. It's a really nice picture. I'm glad you've got it." She handed the frame back, and he removed a tattered picture from his wallet.
Smiling broadly he said, "This is what he looked like when we met." The therapist eyed the black and white photo. It was a picture of a handsome, young, army man.
"I can see what you saw in him," she remarked. "He's quite handsome!"
He smiled the smile of a sophomore in love. "I've carried that picture for 55 years."
"Wow," was all she mustered in response.

He returned the tattered black and white to his wallet. Then, gently, he re-folded the bubble-wrap around the 5x7 frame. Closing the wallet, he stacked it atop the re-wrapped frame and placed them both inside the heavy briefcase. He closed the case, latched the latch, and locked the lock. His love, pride, and grief emanated as he handed the case back to the therapist.
"Thank you," she humbly murmured.
"Thank you," he replied, "for taking an interest and letting me share that with you."
For a moment they clasped hands. She felt honored and sad as she placed the briefcase, which encased the love and loss of his still-cautious life, back inside the closet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

random thoughts on a gray day

I'm having a slug day. It's cold, grayer than gray outside, and sleeting, snowing, or raining most of the time. I made it to my AA meeting this morning and went out to breakfast, as we often do, with 10-12 women after the meeting. Came home stuffed with some fine blueberry pancakes intending to go workout. Intentions don't count for much. I've been sitting in my chair snacking and watching football, crime shows, and football ever since. (Had to turn the Minnesota game off. They were getting whipped!) I could be at the gym, exercising, while watching football, crime shows, and football. I could be walking Puck. He got his staples out yesterday and needs to be walked twice per day. I could be writing for my blogs (Oh, I guess I am doing that at least.). I could be raking piles of leaves in my yard. They are wet, but I almost prefer them wet. They don't fly away, and they're easier to bag. (Bummer, Alabama just fumbled the ball at the goal line. It went out of bounds. LSU gets the ball at the 20.) I could be sending out more resumes and following up with potential employers. I heard some bad feedback from a former employee of one potential employer, one that I've interviewed with. Another PT I know just quit working for the same office. Doesn't make me feel too warm and fuzzy about them as employers. (Bummer, LSU just threw an interception deep in their own end.) I could be looking into personal trainer classes. I took a continuing education class 2 days ago which made me question why the hell I haven't pursued becoming a personal trainer yet. (Touchdown, Alabama.) I've always wanted to be a personal trainer. It is a perfect fit for me! But, like many things I've always wanted to do, I've been too chicken to pursue it! God forbid I actually do something I'm good at and passionate about! It seems like the more I want to do something, the more afraid I am to do it. How stupid is that?? It's that fear of failure again. I have less fear about things I'm less passionate about, so I do those things instead. Dumb. I've always thought I'd be a good coach, too, especially a running coach, but...NO! Too scary. Pathetic. (Beautiful pass, beautiful catch--LSU scores.) Thankfully, the functional exercise class I took from a very intelligent, energetic personal trainer may have pushed me forward. You guys can keep me honest on this one, okay? (Oooooh, Alabama fumbled the kick-off. LSU recovered on Alabama's 30) I need to look online to check into available personal training classes to become licensed. I need to make a call to see about funding. (Thirty yard TD run. LSU leads.) It's time to "just do it." Speaking of just doing it--I'll go workout at halftime. I promise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking for a job

Depression disabled me. I was unable to work, even unable to care for myself at times. Things have been getting a little better, and a little better, and a little better over the last several months. I haven't been in the hospital for over one year, the longest freedom tenure since this odyssey began eight years ago. Yes, eight years now. Eight years ago this month, November 2000, my new, uninvited life began. It's been a long road.

But now, I am looking at going back to work. I have been working on-call for years, but I'm talking about going back to a regularly scheduled, part-time position. Fortunately, physical therapists are in high demand. Unfortunately, most healthcare organizations no longer hire part-time employees. It's too expensive to provide part-timers with benefits, I guess. That's not the point, however. The point is, I'm looking at going back to work, and this is big deal!

It's big, and it's frightening. I've had a few phone interviews already, and I have an interview with a local PT office tomorrow. It sounds like they may be open to part-time employment, although I don't know if that would include benefits. I'd certainly like health benefits. I'm sure many of you understand when I say living with a chronic illness, without benefits, is also scary.

I kind of enjoy the interviews. They don't scare me. I've found a new, relaxed attitude during the interviews I've already done. With what I've gone through these past eight years, my perspective has obviously changed. I'm not perfect, but neither are they. They are either going to like me or not. I'm either going to think the position or employer will be a good fit or not. I'm not desperate. I know I can live on very little income. I've been doing it for at least 6 of the last 8 years! I also know if I accept a position which isn't right, I'll set myself up for failure. I don't want to fail. Failure scares me!

The possibility of failure is frightening. When I worry about failing, my thoughts race. What if I get in over my head? What if I can't tolerate even part-time employment? What if I can't manage the stress of a new job, new co-workers, new patients, more responsibility, and more scheduled time? What if that stress increases my fatigue? What if that fatigue keeps me from doing the other activities which keep me stable? What if losing my balance and stability leads to increased depression symptoms? What if a depression relapse disables me again and keeps me from working? Whew!! Thinking is frightening.

Therefore, I'm trying not to think. There is a lot of uncertainty ahead. I hate uncertainty. I have no idea what is, or is not, going to happen. Clearly, thinking about all of the negative possibilities does not help! I'm trying to stay in the moment. I'm trying to live one moment at a time. I cannot allow myself to think ahead, although that is a very difficult thing not to do. However, if I allow the negative projection to take hold, I'll likely end up paralyzed, desperate, and discontent. I'm trying not to think.

This is a time for trust and faith. I'm not so great at either of those. I have to trust everything will work out as it should, that I'll be able to handle whatever is ahead. Thinking about it or predicting the future does not help. But trusting things will work out, and trusting I'll be taken care of is very, very difficult. I can't think about that either.

Perhaps, as our new President-elect stated last night, "this is a defining moment..." for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

an update

It's been a long time since I've missed writing two days in a row. I think this may be the first time I've ever missed three, but life has been busy, busy, busy. Here are the highlights, lowlights, and a little of the in between.

I ran 8 miles of the marathon course on Sunday. My leg held up okay after a week of swimming and rest. My friend who missed qualifying for Boston, by 12 seconds, 4 weeks ago qualified Sunday with 58 seconds to spare! It was nice to be there on an almost perfect day. Being at the race, supporting my friends, and focusing on somebody other than me, me, me helped me feel better about not running. I made the right decision. It would have been painful and ugly if I had attempted the distance on my bum leg.

Speaking of my bum leg, I finally saw the orthopedic doctor today. My x-rays were negative, no stress fracture. That was the good news. The doctor believed I had a "stress reaction," which is the precursor to a fracture and apparently just as painful. That was the bad news, because she doesn't want me to run--AT ALL--for the next three weeks! (I can hear all of you fellow runners gasping!) For the next three weeks, she wants me to walk only! YUCK! I hate walking! After three weeks, she thinks it will be okay to begin a walk-run program. She laid out a FOUR MONTH plan for my return to running! I tried to smile and stay calm, but my brain was screaming, "I don't think sooooooo!!!"

This is the point at which that damn twelve step program I follow starts tugging at my shirt tail. "Whoa...slow down," it says. "Remember me? Remember? Living life on life's terms, remember that one? How about willingness? What about listening to others who may, as unlikely as it may seem, know more than you? How about not trying to control everything?" That damn twelve step program... Well, we'll see. I'll keep swimming for the next couple of weeks, but I can't imagine I won't attempt to run just a bit as well. But I'll try to be good.

It is a tad ironic, perhaps cosmic, that the doc wants me to begin a walking program at the same time Puck will need to begin a walking program. I told you, I hate walking. I love my dog, but I hate walking. I was dreading having to walk Puck a couple times a day, but now I'm going to be forced to walk myself! Hmmm...there's that damn twelve step program again...my Higher Power taking control, intervening for my own good, despite myself! Puck gets his lamp-shade collar off and staples out on Friday. I guess he and I will begin hobbling down the street together on Saturday. Isn't recovery sweet? Ugh!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Suicide Rate Among Vets Rising

Veterans appear to be at higher risk of suicide leading the military to seek help from NIMH to research the problem. The article states the Army cannot pinpoint the cause or reason for many of its soldiers suicides. Those of us with underlying mental illness know too well there doesn't have to be a reason.
My first suicide attempt was planned for a time when my life would appear great, no trauma or stress immediately preceeded it. In fact, the people around me probably thought I was feeling better. I was. I was relieved it would be over soon.
I imagine having depression or bipolar disorder in the military would be extremely difficult. I imagine many struggling soldiers keep their thoughts and feelings secret, and therefore don't receive proper treatment. I'm glad the Army has stepped forward to initiate such an important study, but I also hope they institute stigma-busting education so their soldiers will feel free to seek necessary treatment. Remember, the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression!
The following article appeared in the NY Times:

Army and Agency Will Study Rising Suicide Rate Among Soldiers

Published: October 29, 2008

Conceding it needed outside help in figuring out why the suicide rate among service members was rising, the Army announced plans on Wednesday to collaborate with the National Institute of Mental Health in an ambitious five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.

The Army will make thousands of soldiers available to researchers for interviews and will provide access to its many databases, including those with medical, personnel, criminal and deployment histories. Researchers will draw from a cross section of the Army and will include soldiers who have just joined the service or are training for war and those who have returned from war.

Rather than wait until the study is completed, the National Institute of Mental Health will provide the Army with new information as researchers find it in the hopes of preventing soldier suicides.

Peter Geren, the secretary of the Army, described the five-year, $50 million study as a “landmark undertaking” modeled after the Framingham Heart Study. That influential study looked at heart health over a long period of time among a large group of participants who had not yet developed symptoms or suffered a heart attack.

“The goal is to build resiliency and to prevent suicide,” said Mr. Geren, who approached the National Institute of Mental Health with the idea to partner on the project.

Suicides in the Army have been climbing since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2007, 115 soldiers killed themselves, a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 people, or 1 percent lower than the civilian rate.

Of the 115, 36 soldiers killed themselves while deployed overseas, 50 had deployed at some point before the act and returned, and 29 had never deployed. Only a fraction had a prior diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The pace of suicides by soldiers in 2008 could eclipse last year’s. As of August, the number stood at 62 confirmed cases in the Army. An additional 31 deaths appear to be suicides and are under investigation.

Dr. S. Ward Cassells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the Army was familiar with the most common triggers: marital or relationship problems, poor job performance, feelings of failure on the battlefield and alcohol or drug abuse. Yet, in half the cases, Dr. Cassells said, the Army cannot figure out why the suicide occurred.

“We’ve reached a point where we do need some outside help,” Dr. Cassells said. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve also learned we don’t understand it all.”

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said researchers would study, among other things, the role that combat and multiple deployments play in suicide. They will conduct follow-up surveys of soldiers to show how risk factors evolve over time and shift their focus, as they see fit, depending on what they find. The study also will look at existing treatments and gauge their effectiveness.

The findings could be far-reaching not just for the Army but for civilians, as well, Dr. Insel said.

“The Army really is a microcosm of the nation,” he said.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Living life on life's terms

It's not meant to be. Not right now, anyway... Picking up the pace to beat the "Don't Walk" sign yesterday just about made me scream. My right leg needs time to heal, I guess, so no marathon for me. No running at all, I think. I have a doctor's appointment next week to check this out, but ultimately, I think I just need to rest.

I love rest, but I hate forced rest! I also hate the fact that I was in great shape to run a good marathon only to be thwarted by the weather! And now, injury blocks my path, but what can I do? I could be an idiot and attempt to ignore my screaming leg, but that would be, well, idiotic! I think I've pushed it as far as I can. Living life on life's terms is the best option I have left.

It's funny. Before I entered recovery, living life on life's terms was never a valid option. It may have been an option for you, but it was never a valid option for me. As a person and as a runner, I always wanted to be in control. Donning my Freudian glasses, I might surmise that growing up with abuse, where personal power or control are nonexistent, my former need for control makes perfect sense. But I've never been a big fan of Freud, though I always envied my brothers' ability to pee standing up! Freud's unique perspective notwithstanding, I now realize that many of us battle with living life on life's terms, regardless of our upbringings.

Over the past month, my life has been pretty bumpy. There's all the stuff you guys already read about--senseless death, anniversary of senseless death, running highs, running woes, fatigue, injury, and Puck's penchant for rupturing major knee ligaments--as well as some garbage I have yet to reveal. Like I said, pretty bumpy. Previously, any one of these life events could have triggered a depression dive or drinking excuse. As of today, neither of those things have happened.

Instead of sliding into the abyss of darkness or drink, I've coped. Sure, it hasn't all been perfect. I've slept a little more, run a little less, probably eaten more chocolate than usual, ignored cleaning my house, and watched more TV. At the same time, I've met my commitments, made it to the gym, and attended more AA meetings. To survive this month relatively unscathed is a miracle. I'll take a wider ass and a messy house over depression and drunk despair any day!

A couple days ago my therapist noted, "You seem to be taking this all in stride." I remarked, "Yes, what else can I do? I can't change it, so it doesn't do any good to worry about it." At which point she said, "Right! But that hasn't always been the case." Oh. I get it. Living life on life's terms. Cool. Take that, Sigmund!

Monday, October 27, 2008

A painful run

Decided to try running today. It's been 8 days since the last time out. With the marathon coming up on Sunday, I need to make a decision about running it. I tentatively set tomorrow as decision day. If tonight was any indication, the decision likely has been made. While I had a bit less pain than last week, I still had pain with every single step of my 4.5 mile run. It was impossible to get comfortable. It was impossible not to focus on it. In a marathon, pain is not something I can afford to focus on from the first step, especially since my ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston.

I hate the thought of having done all of this training for nothing. I hate the thought of having to maintain my current level of fitness, somehow, if I choose to wait for a December race date. But, if tomorrow doesn't feel any better, I think the decision has been made, and it will be back to the pool for me.

What a bummer...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An update on the dog and the runner

Since a few of you have asked...

Puck is doing very well. As I said earlier, his pain seems better controlled this time around. He is able to put weight on his operated leg already. He's figured out how to lie down and get back up without hurting himself, crying, or making his mom cringe! Last night, he even picked up his "hotdog" (a stuffed hot dog given to him after his first surgery) and wanted to play.

Believe it or not, there are actually two silver linings here. First, Puck hadn't yet fully recovered his range of motion or strength in his previously operated knee. He still favored that leg, although I think this was more out of habit than true weakness, and he did not have full knee flexion which altered his gait. As a result of this surgery, he is being forced to use that leg and knee, which should break his habitual movement patterns and improve his strength.

Ironically, the other silver lining is due to those habitual movement patterns and poor strength. Because he had not fully regained stability, strength and range of motion in his previously operated leg, he is also being forced to use his current "bad" leg more! Thus, he's already weight bearing on it, and he's already bending and straightening it more than he ever did with the first one. As a result, I think he will maintain more strength and motion in this leg. Both of his hind legs may be improved by the time he heals from this surgery! Two silver linings to an otherwise horrible situation. Imagine that!

As for the runner, 'er, me, things are a bit more gray. I made a choice not to run at all this week. The combination of fatigue and right shin pain were inhibiting my motivation. Primarily, I was hoping some time off the road would improve my leg I can't hope to finish a marathon if I have pain with every step. So, I hit the pool and the bike. The good news is the pool was kind. I hadn't forgotten how to swim laps, although I'm sure I don't have the prettiest stroke in the pool! I bullied out one mile two or three times, and then last night did my "long run" in the water.

After a long, sleepy day, I entered the pool without a plan. As I hopped into the water I decided to swim a ladder--200, 400, 600, 800, 600, 400, 200 yards with 20 breaths in between each swim. Don't ask me why I decided to do that. It sounded like a challenging workout that would take awhile!

It did take awhile, but by the end of the first 600 I was thinking, "You idiot!" Nevertheless, I persevered through all the negative mind games, and I did it! In fact, I must have been brain dead after the second 400 because I swam a final 300 rather than the 200 I had planned! Needless to say, I was pretty happy with myself! Later, I figured it out. I swam 1.9 miles in approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. I believe 45 minutes and just over 1 mile were previously my longest swims! Hmmm...I wonder why my shoulder is sore today??

So where does all of this leave me? Oh, I don't know!! The marathon is next Sunday. Lots of locals are running it, so I would like to give it a shot. However, I don't want to do more damage than good to my leg or my psyche. I'm worried about Puck--he needs almost constant attention these first couple weeks. I'm concerned about the weather. It's getting cold here! And finally, I'm afraid of not qualifying, which is the all-time poorest excuse not to run. In fact, if that were my only excuse, I would definitely have to push through it! Bottom line, I need to make a decision! I just need to make a decision. As usual, I'll let you know...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Puck's home--again.

I picked up Puck this morning around 10:00AM. Just like last time, when I entered the clinic I heard only his persistent bark from the back room. He cannot tolerate being in a cage. Fortunately, he seems to have less pain this time around. He's already putting some weight on the leg, whereas last time it took him several days to just touch his foot to the floor. The difference must be the fact that there was no meniscus damage in this knee. Puck seems comfortable, and he's been very quiet and sleeping most of the day. I'm so relieved. Last time he was in so much pain. I didn't want him to go through that again. Hopefully, things will continue progressing well. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I don't know if I can do this again.

I don't know if I can do this again, but of course I will. It's 6:45AM. In 15 minutes I have to load up Puck and leave for the vet clinic. It may seem like no big deal, especially if you are not a pet owner, but Puck is my child-equivalent. It is a big, big deal. My heart has already sunk, too heavy to remain suspended in its usual locale. I feel so guilty for throwing that damn ball. I feel so sorry for the pain he is in and the severe pain he is about to endure. I can't explain to him what's going on.

I can't tell Puck what to expect. I can't remind him he's been through this before and assure him everything will be okay. He didn't understand why I wouldn't feed him this morning. He stood at his dish, on his three good legs, staring up expectantly with his innocent brown eyes. He's not going to understand when I leave him at the vet clinic with tears in my eyes. It's frustrating, and I'm already stressed.

I woke up several times during the night just to listen. Was he asleep? Was he comfortable? Did he need help repositioning? The rapid fire click, click, click of his toenails against the hardwood assured me he was at least chasing pesky squirrels in his dreams.
--------------------------------------------

I wrote the above before leaving this morning. It's evening now, and Puck made it through surgery. I didn't watch the procedure this time. The vet reported his knee looked perfect except for the totally ruptured ACL. That's better than his other knee where we found a torn lateral meniscus, too. Hopefully, this means quicker and more complete healing of this one. He still lacks some flexion on the other side, likely as a result of the torn meniscus.

I miss my boy right now. My house is so quiet without him here. He'll stay overnight at the clinic. I can't wait to pick him up tomorrow, and yet, unlike Puck, I know the stress that's ahead. I think I'm going to be doing a lot of praying over the next few weeks. In fact, I'm on my way to an AA meeting right now. Think good thoughts for me and my boy, please!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

another ACL bites the dust...

Reality TV couldn't have hoped for more irony than this...

On the way back from the vet, moments after he and I discussed allowing Puck to play ball again despite my wariness (terror, actually), I stopped at a park to give him a few tosses. On the first gentle, short toss my beautiful, happy, energetic dog, Puck, ruptured his other anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

His second ACL surgery in the last 4.5 months is scheduled for tomorrow.


My sponsor says God wouldn't give me more than I can handle. C'mon, God, isn't this piling-it-on a bit?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My friend Kathy

An unwelcome anniversary is approaching. In a few days, it will be two years since my 46-year-old friend, Kathy, tragically died after falling down her basement stairs.

Kathy was an RN at Generose, 2 East, Mayo Clinic's adult psychiatric inpatient unit. That's where we met. She was my primary nurse during my first admission to her unit. As my primary nurse, she spent a lot of time with me, and we quickly developed a bond. Through multiple admissions over 5-6 years, Kathy and I continued to cross paths. We developed a special bond. Nothing inappropriate, all professional boundaries were maintained, but she became a friend, a confidant, a mentor...a mother figure. I trusted, respected and admired her. She was a hell of a nurse, and I'm sure she was a a very special wife, daughter, sister and friend.

Kathy was not supposed to die. She was supposed to be around to see me get well. She would be elated with my sobriety. She would be proud of the person I've become. I never envisioned a future without Kathy in it. When she died, we hadn't spoken for several months, but that made her no less a part of my life. I knew she was there. I knew she would celebrate with me in victory and always support me in defeat. I just had to pick up the phone. She was there, and then she was gone. Senseless, tragic, shocking--gone. Why God? Why?

There is a huge void in my life where Kathy once stood. Knowing she was there comforted and supported me. I didn't need to see her or speak to her to know and feel that. Now I wish I had seen and spoken with her more. To say I think of her often doesn't even come close. I still look to her for guidance almost daily. But she's no longer here, and that makes me very, very sad. I never told her how special she was. I took her availability for granted. She wasn't supposed to die. There is a huge void in my life where Kathy once stood. I am grateful to have known her, but I miss her. I miss her so, so much. She wasn't supposed to die.

Monday, October 20, 2008

a very unmerry-go-round

More fatigue today, napping doesn't seem to alleviate it for more than an hour. It's frustrating. Regardless, I was a little more functional today. I swam one mile rather than run one step. The swimming went better than I was expecting, although--surprise!--it did wipe me out for a couple hours.

I met with my therapist this morning. Boy, it's been a long two weeks since I last saw her! There are some pretty big changes afoot in my life, and I'm feeling very overwhelmed. My therapist is especially adept at breaking things down and putting them into perspective. I appreciate that. But despite her best efforts, I'm feeling hypoxic and overwhelmed.

I'm entering into a transitional phase. Change and transitions are hard for normies. I think they are especially difficult for those of us challenged by mental illness. Change is scary, risky, uncertain, and tumultuous. Feeling fatigued and unmotivated doesn't help. The fatigue only increases my stress, as I worry about coaxing enough energy to function effectively during this transition.

As usual during times of stress, I question which came first. Am I fatigued because my depression is rearing it's ugly head, or is the fatigue a result of change and uncertainty? I guess the fatigue is a symptom of my depression regardless of the trigger. Prior to getting sick, fatigue was not my immediate nor normal physical response to stress. In fact, I often functioned better under stress. But since depression became a part of my life, especially over the last 2-3 years, fatigue has been ever present.

Which came first, the stress or the fatigue, may seem like a moot point. However, understanding which came first helps me understand how to deal with it. I'm feeling overwhelmed, restless, irritable, and discontent. If the fatigue is a symptom of the stressful feelings, I'll do better by pushing through it, even attacking it. But if the fatigue came first, as a symptom of depression, attacking it will only aggravate it. Similar energy dips over the last eight years taught me to listen. My body will only allow so much at these times. In the past, when I've ignored its signals and pushed beyond my body's new, lower limits, I've spiraled down into a deep, dark hole. I don't want to do that, so I've been trying to listen, to rest, and to sleep as needed.

Yet I need energy to meet the challenges of this transition! The fatigue, therefore, has become another stressor! Worrying about being too fatigued to handle stress is making me stressed! Questioning if I should be pushing harder or resting more has magnified the restlessness and discontent! I'm overwhelmed worrying about being too tired to handle feeling overwhelmed! How ridiculous is that??

It seems this is a vicious, never-ending cycle of fatigue and stress! How do I stop it? I'm getting dizzy! How do I get off? Stop! Stop! STOP THE MADNESS! I want to get off!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

my day

breakfast
sleep. sleep. sleep.
lunch
sleep. sleep. sleep.
run 10 tough miles (supposed to be 15)
dinner
sleep. sleep. sleep...

how's your day been?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

whipped, wiped, dead.

apparently
I caught a virus
yesterday.
bed
bed
bed.
sore, achy
and
wiped out.

worked nine hours
today.
brain and bod
totally
whipped.

I hate this fatigue,
exhaustion.
but
unlike depression
at least today
I know
what
caused it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fatigue, Pain, Worrying, and Running

I've been having a tough time writing lately. I don't feel I have anything interesting or valuable to say right now. I'm just feeling a bit blah. Training again after my DNF (did not finish) at the Twin Cities Marathon.
I'm tentatively planning to run another marathon November 2nd, but not feeling nearly as confident of meeting my goal, which is qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I did have a good 20-miler on Saturday, but still... I'm hoping I can improve my confidence over the next few weeks, otherwise I am doomed. I think not finishing has effected me more than I thought it was going to. I'm having a DNF hangover.


I wrote the above paragraph a few nights ago, but I never got around to posting it. I guess that fact only reinforces what I wrote. There are some big changes going on in my life right now. Nothing I am prepared to write about yet, but suffice it to say the impending changes are likely draining my energy stores.
I'm also worried about the pain in my right leg. I've got some pretty severe shin splints going on. Trying to decide if I can baby it along, yet maintain enough fitness to run a quality marathon in 3 weeks, or if I should take a break now, let it heal (hopefully), and shoot for a marathon in December.
It's a tough decision. If I stop training, I fear losing the fitness I have built up over the past few months. That's an awful lot of work for nothing! However, continuing to run through the pain has consequences, too. The pain forces me to alter my stride and hinders my running efficiency, which means more energy expenditure and a slower pace. As a result, I may not be able to run a qualifying pace for 26.2 miles. Typical worries of the long distance runner...

Now that I've written down all of those worry-thoughts, I guess it's no surprise that I've been really wiped out for the past couple days. After working just four hours today, I collapsed in bed for two hours. I had a ten miler on my running schedule yesterday, but I was unable to do it secondary to fatigue and leg pain. So I rested yesterday and moved the ten miler to today. I wasn't hopeful about accomplishing the distance today either.
After collecting myself from bed this afternoon, I set out. During mile one, I stopped 2 or 3 times to readjust my shin wrap and contemplated quitting. In the second mile, I was certain I would turn around any minute. With the leg pain and fatigue, my body felt totally discombobulated! I wasn't sure what was going on down there! Whose legs were those flailing about? At mile 2.5, I was able to let Puck off leash. I always enjoy watching him romp around. He's so damn happy!

Before I knew it, I had settled into a comfortable pace, and it was fast! Even though I was still having some pain with each step, my body at least felt like my own. I was able to maintain my pace for the rest of the run. By the time I got home, I felt great.

I chuckled as I entered my house. This sport is a constant surprise. In the span of 9.5 miles, I went from lethargy, pain, and frustration to energy, less pain, and freedom. Getting those miles done makes me feel a lot better about hitting the pool, rather than the road, tomorrow.
Hmmm...it appears I've made a decision, for today anyway, to continue training.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Special Victims Unit portrays bipolar disorder admirably!

Wow! If you didn't see Law and Order Special Victims Unit tonight, you missed what was the most accurate portrayal of mental illness I have ever witnessed on prime time television. Detective Stabler's daughter is diagnosed with bipolar disorder after "self-medicating" herself into an overdose. The doctor's quick and precise diagnosis of her underlying bipolar disorder was unfortunately not the most accurate part of the show. Nevertheless, Kathleen, Stabler's daughter, is arrested for stealing, which leads to the introduction of Stabler's estranged, untreated, bipolar mother played expertly by Ellyn Burstyn. Burstyn plays the part so convincingly, one has to wonder if she has personal experience with bipolar. Her actions and dialogue freakishly duplicated the actions and words of someone I know with untreated bipolar disorder. It was unbelievable!
With lines like, "...but when I took the meds, I felt like a shell...like I was missing a part of me..." (I'm summarizing. I can't remember the exact words), Burstyn speaks a truth many of us with mental illness recognize. Her eccentric actions and grandiose thoughts were right on the money. Better still, the program realistically highlighted a family's stigma-based secrets and shame surrounding one member's mental illness.
Bravo to NBC and Law and Order for SWING, tonight's outstanding episode. If you didn't see it, look for it. I promise it will be worth your time.

Life without therapy

Okay, that title is a bit misleading. I'm still in therapy, but I've cut back to every other week rather than every week. No big deal, right? I mean, that's the point of working with a therapist, to get better. And that's what's happened. I've improved enough to cut back on therapy. So why do I feel so lost?

My sense of loss seems over-blown. If I had cancer, I'd be thrilled NOT to see my doc every week. It would mean my illness had improved. I guess this is just another difference between mental illness and most other illnesses. If any of my other docs were treating me for a chronic condition, I'd be ecstatic if they told me I didn't need to follow-up as often!

While I like all of the healthcare providers I see, the difference between my therapist and the rest of them is the relationship. I have relationships with my therapist and my psychiatrist that far exceed the intimacy of the relationships I have with my orthopedic surgeon or allergist, for example. My depression has improved primarily because of my relationship with my therapist.

That's the irony of getting better, I guess. In order to improve, I need a close, trusting, stable relationship; but once I do improve, that valued, reliable relationship changes. Continue to get better, and I lose the relationship all together. Like I said, cruel irony.

I've been seeing my therapist at least weekly for 3 or 4 years. She's been a stable, supportive presence in my life. Every week, rain or shine, I knew I had that hour to figure things out, let off steam, or get the encouragement I needed. My relationships with my psychiatrist and psychologist are a couple of the very few I have where the boundaries and roles are crystal clear. I will miss that clean, clear hour every other week. Seems so small, but that hour of simple, uncomplicated communication holds me all week. I'm not sure if it can hold me for two.

I realize, intellectually, that the decreased need for therapy signals a momentous leap forward in my odyssey with depression. I realize that, but it still feels like a loss. I also realize going from every week to every other week is hardly something to freak out about, and I'm not freaking out. But I feel a loss--an ironic, confounding loss.

I needed to write about this, because I wonder if others have also felt this loss? I wonder if, like me, others have felt silly and shameful about feeling loss over such a small, and ultimately positive change? If so, you're not alone. I feel it, too.



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