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!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The same old medication dilemma

Why bother with these now? That's where my brain goes when I feel good, especially when I feel good on vacation. I'm here in Colorado. The air is clear. My brain is clear. I feel happy and free, so why take my medication? How about just taking a break from my medication? Yes, that's it, a break...

These thoughts are subtly compelling, provocative. It's hard not to pay attention, and I'm not sure I won't pay attention. Like I said, the thoughts are compelling. I take eight pills every morning--not all of them are for my depression. It's appealing to think of taking fewer or none at all. I mean if I'm better, and if I'm in a place where I expect to continue feeling better, why not take a break and clean these 'toxins' out of my system.

Of course, I know why. Because these 'toxins' are likely 75% responsible for my current state. Without them I may not be sleeping at night or staying awake (for the most part) during the day. Without them I may not be working. Without them I may not be socializing. Without my meds I may not have been invited on nor felt well enough to make this trip. Of course, I know that.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make the thoughts any less compelling...

Monday, June 29, 2009

I've been away!

Hello from Colorado!
So sorry for the abrupt departure from this space. I've been fretting about not being able to write, but here I am finally. I am in a Colorado cabin with my good friends Bill and Cindy. They were generous enough to invite me to their Northern Colorado cliff-side cabin for one week again this year. We spent a week here last year as well. The cabin is on a cliff overlooking a wide meadow with mountains in the distance. It has no electricity nor running water. It's perfect. (I'll post pictures soon.)

We arrived after a hectic run through the airport on Saturday. Our plane was cancelled, but after some fancy footwork we dashed onto an even earlier plane. In fact, I got a seat in first class! That was cool. It was sunny when we arrived, and it's been nothing but sunny and dry ever since. From our cabin, we can sip coffee and watch the sunrise bring the mountains to life. It's peaceful and restful.

The peace and rest have not, however, kept us from adventure. We've played, slept, and played some more. Today we hiked 6 miles in the mountains up to 10,577 feet. Tomorrow we may hike a 13,000 foot mountain. Needless to say, I haven't felt the need to run yet. My quads are tired, but my brain is clear.

My right shoulder is also a bit sore. I shot a 12 gauge shot-gun for the first time yesterday, hence the sore shoulder. Five of us finished off 200 shells shooting clay pigeons. (Otherwise known as trap or skeet shooting) It was a blast--no pun intended. I started off slow. It was tough for me to track a spinning orange disc hurtling through the air. Once I got the hang of it, however, I did pretty well. I finished with a 3 for 3 round. It was very satisfying obliterating that clay disc, reducing it to powder in mid-air, especially when I pretended it was my depression! Very satisfying.

The depression has, in fact, continued to stay at bay. I'm very grateful. I am alive and well here. I'm hoping to write with typical frequency again, but if I miss a few days...well, I'm probably having too much adventure or too much rest. Time for dinner...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Feeling thankful

It's not Thanksgiving, but I'm feeling particularly thankful today.
I don't know why I'm feeling so grateful, but it's nice.
I like it.
I want to thank everyone today.
Gratitude feels good.

I think I am especially thankful for how I've been feeling lately.
I've been well.
Sure, I'm still tired most of the time, but my mood has been good.
And for that, I am extremely grateful.

I am so thankful for the helpers around me.
I'm grateful for my psychiatrist.
I really don't know what I'd do without her.
I'm grateful for my psychologist.
She selflessly gives me her time. Don't know where I'd be without her either.
I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again.
I have a skilled, generous, and compassionate treatment team.
Without Deb, Shawn, Dr. L. and others, I wouldn't be here today.
I very likely wouldn't be alive.

I'm alive, and I'm well.
I'm living now, not just existing.
I've had opportunity and energy for some very rewarding experiences recently.
Telling my AA story.
Running a marathon.
Spending time with my family.
All rewarding. All positive.
All non-existent if I were only existing, not living.

No wonder I'm feeling grateful.
I feel a little silly,
but I'm gushing with gratitude today.
I'm sober.
I'm feeling rather well.
I'm working, running, playing...
Living.

I'm even feeling grateful to be feeling grateful...
and I hope some of you know what I mean by that,
because that means you've felt it, too.
Gratitude feels good.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guarding against post marathon let-down

I've heard about it, and now I think I may be feeling just the beginning of it, maybe. Post-marathon depression. Does that sound familiar to anyone? I'd love to know your story if you've got one, as I don't think there is much written on the subject. I'm feeling a little let-down, a little droop in my mood. I'm trying to guard against a big post-event plunge partly by just being aware of it. Other than that, I'm not sure what to do.

I'm guessing that focusing forward will help. That's why I'm already thinking about my next goal. In fact, I'm thinking about another marathon! Given the result of this race, I'm convinced I can run a better race by fixing some of the weaknesses of this training bout.

Running more miles on fewer pounds are two of the weaknesses I can easily address. For example, I only ran around 30 miles per week. Running at least 40-45 miles would give me a more competitive base. And then there are these 10 extra pounds I'm lugging around. I certainly will run better if I lay off the chocolate...but I LOVE chocolate! Fixing these weaknesses will make a big difference in a race--any race.

Racing--that's another thing I plan to keep doing to guard against post-marathon depression. I want to take advantage of my current condition, and stay motivated to improve my condition by signing up for more races. I hope racing more often will help keep this one race in perspective. After all, it was just one race.

Other than that, I think I'll keep talking to all of you. Since I began this blog 18 months ago, my depression has steadily improved. Coincidence? I don't know, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Have a good day everyone!

Ahhhh...

Icing my legs in Lake Superior after Grandma's Marathon while my nephew prepares to pelt me with a stick!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not the goal, but pretty darn good!

None of the locals could believe it. During a spring in which no day had yet topped 80 degrees, maybe not even 70, some of them said, the story of the day was the temperature. It felt close to 80 degrees by the 7:30 AM start. At the finish line of Grandma's Marathon 4 hours later, the thermometer read 87.

The first 5 miles were the worst, hot and humid with sun, a marathoner's worst nightmare. Around mile 5, the course turned toward Lake Superior, and thankfully the cool breeze was blowing in off the lake. Unfortunately, I was already toasted. Despite not wearing my watch, I started too fast in the hot sun. By mile 8 I had started taking walk breaks, as I already felt out of gas. At mile 9, I met my mom. I told her, "If I make it to halfway, I'll be content to walk it in from there."

One mile at a time. That was my mentality. If there was a water stop, I walked through it. When there wasn't a water stop, I focused ahead to the next mile marker knowing I would walk once I reached it. And that's how it went. One mile marker at a time, one water stop at a time. The miles between 10 and 15 were the longest. I'd already run long, yet I still had a long way to go.

I met my mom again at mile sixteen, and though I knew my Boston qualifying time was long gone, I also felt a shift. The mile markers had started to come more quickly. I continued with my run-walk routine, but the running was a bit easier. I finally had some gas in my tank, and no wonder! I was eating and drinking everything in sight! Still I wasn't really sure I would make it until I hit mile 18. At that point, I knew there was no way I would quit.

And I didn't quit. I ran the second half 8 minutes slower than the first, but I think that was purely a matter of more walk breaks. My running segments may have actually been quicker. I certainly felt better. Who knows? If I hadn't toasted myself early, perhaps that BQ time would have been close to attainable.

Attained or not, I'm happy with the result. What felt, early on, like a 4 hour and 30 minute certainty, ended up a 4:06 delight. I nearly burst into tears when I turned into the finishing chute. This is the first marathon I've trained for and finished since fatigue has been my constant companion and plague. As I turned that final corner for home, I knew that at least on this day, I had won. And that was a glorious feeling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Waiting

Up at 2:00 AM for some cereal, then at 4:00 AM for no reason, and finally at 6:00 AM for good. So much for getting a good night's sleep the night before the day before the marathon. I've now driven the 3.5 hours, picked up my number, shopped the expo, and taken my nap; and I've still got more than 14 hours to go before I step to the line. Ugh...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Athletes Come Out About Mental Illness

In recent days, two athletes have been news stories. Professional women's basketball player, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Major League Baseball player, Zack Greinke, have both publicly revealed their battles with mental illness. Both athletes were forced to walk away from their sports, and their livelihoods, secondary to depression. Greinke also suffers from social anxiety disorder. In separate Sports Illustrated articles, each player describes how the games they once loved became overwhelming burdens under the strain of mental illness.

Greinke, SI cover boy and arguably one of baseball's top pitchers this year, missed almost the entire 2008 season while he sought treatment for debilitating depression and social anxiety disorder. His illness took him from promising rookie in 2004, to 17 game loser in 2005, to out of baseball in 2008. He grew to despise baseball and constantly entertained ideas of staying away for good. In a recent NPR report, Greinke revealed he had contemplated mowing lawns for a living rather than continuing to pitch. After receiving treatment, including anti-depressant medication, Greinke is now back and pitching stronger than just about everyone in the league. More importantly, he reports he's once again found joy in the game.

From a May 18, 2009 article on SI.com:
"Dr. Don Malone of the Cleveland Clinic has studied depression and other health-related issues in sports. He said high-level athletes can be especially vulnerable to mental illness."

"Athletes are used to working through things," Malone said. "If you have an injury, you rehab it and get over it. When you have a problem, you're expected to just buck up and get through it. Typically, coaches, media and other people are not the most understanding people in the world. They'll say to an athlete, 'You've got everything. What do you have to be depressed about?' But depression is an illness. It's not only for people without money. It happens to everybody, in any circumstances. It needs to be treated the same way in an athlete as any individual."

Holdsclaw, a four-time All American at Tennessee, winner of three NCAA National Championships and an Olympic gold medal, is also rediscovering joy in her game. Holdsclaw's severe depression led her to walk away from professional basketball not once but twice. She missed half of the 2004 season. In response to criticism regarding her missed time, at the end of that season Holdsclaw revealed she was clinically depressed. After treatment, she played two more seasons before suddenly retiring two years ago. With continued treatment, and after moving and surrounding herself with supportive people, Holdsclaw is now set to return to the pro ranks. Her new coach told SI, "I think this is the first time in her life that she's really, really, really been happy."

I'm glad to see athletes, male and female, coming out about their battles with mental illness. The more we share our stories, the more we can collectively reduce the stigma associated with these devastating illnesses. I applaud Greinke and Holdsclaw for their openness.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Final week heaviness

The marathon is a unique challenge. No matter how hard you've trained, no matter how excellent your condition, no matter the forecast for the day, anything can happen. Another unique oddity of marathon training is pre-race heaviness, which is what I'm experiencing now.

You'd think a person would feel light and free and fast these final days. After all, I'm running many fewer miles at increasingly relaxed paces. Yet, rather than a speeding cheetah, I feel more like a beached, pregnant whale. How's that for a visual?? Heavy...slow...foggy...

This is not a pleasant feeling even in the best of times. Feeling this way prior to a race is hardly conducive to rising confidence. I feel more like taking up my bed than stepping to a starting line! Alas, I should be used to the heaviness by now. It's happened previously. Yet, I can't help but worry.

I shouldn't worry. I know it's actually common to feel sloth-like prior to a marathon. The sudden decrease of hard training leads to a build-up of energy stores, a good thing that makes one feel like lead--at least that's what I've read. But I'm never too sure when I feel like lead. How can feeling heavy and slow be a good thing? I'm worried.

Unfortunately, there is nothing more for me to do now. I can't go out and run bunches of miles, decreasing my energy stores and thereby lightening my load. I can't go on a crash diet and lose ten pounds. I can't change any of what's already been done. I'm either prepared, or I'm not, and right now that's tough to accept.

Regardless, I must accept. I must accept the heaviness, stop the worry thoughts, and try to relax before the run. If I don't, I'm going to drive myself crazy before I ever step to that starting line!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

And she spoke...

Tonight was the big night. I spoke at my AA home group tonight. I was so nervous it was rather ridiculous. I spent more hours than I care to admit typing up my life's path this afternoon, but I'm glad I did. Being prepared helped tonight.

I think it went well. I was anxious about talking about depression in conjunction with my AA talk, but I did it anyway and received a lot of very positive feedback for doing so. I also gave a shout out to my mental health treatment team. Psychiatrists and psychologists are often derided by hardcore AA'ers who think AA should cure everything that ails us. Again, I received a lot of positive feedback from others who admitted to using "outside help." So it was a success, and I'm relieved.

It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, and the positive feedback felt really good. Like I said, I'm relieved. I'm so grateful to have found a community of wonderful, sober, healthy and fun people. I never would have thought any of this possible just a few short years ago. If you're struggling with alcohol, I encourage you to seek help. If I can do it, anybody can.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

dealing with frustration

I wish this was going to be a nice, sunny essay about how brilliantly I deal with frustration, but I'm afraid it may turn into more of a puffed-up rant! I've had a week filled with frustration. It's been challenging. I've tried to handle it all with a modicum of grace. Have I been successful? I don't know. See what you think.

My most immediate frustration is my screwed up internet connection. It's been goofed up off and on for almost one week! This situation frustrates me immensely! It may be because I know little about the inner workings of computers and internet connectivity. Lack of knowledge, I find, quickly increases my frustration quotient.

Knowing little means I had to call the dreaded tech support people in India. Does anyone else get frustrated when they can't understand what's being said to them? After what seemed like an hour, the overly polite tech supporter helped me fix the problem. Beautiful! I was extremely grateful.

Unfortunately, the fix didn't last. Every time I've awoken my sleeping computer since then I've encountered the same problem. Sometimes I could fix it, sometimes I couldn't. After wishing the problem away without success, I had to return to tech support. Today I was told, "We're updating your server." In other words, I've just got to deal with it and trust it will be taken care of soon. That's difficult for me to do, but I'm trying.

On a totally separate front, I had a softball game last night. As usual, we got creamed. Perhaps you've guessed, but I am a fairly competitive person. Therefore, getting smacked down on the softball field is quite frustrating. Don't get me wrong, I can play for fun and recreation, which is what I thought I was getting myself into when I joined this team. However, I have trouble with lack of effort, indifference, and unfamiliarity with basic rules. It is a team sport, but only half of our team understands the game or how to use a glove. That's a bit more recreational than the other teams in our league, as scores like 20-2 and 23-2 attest. I wanted to have fun. I'm instead finding frustration.

Those are just two examples of my frustrations this week. I'm not even going to get into the massive paperwork screw-up I made at work yesterday! As we say in Minnesota, "Uff-Dah!" The good news, because my therapist always tells me to look at the positive, was that I was able to handle these frustrations with a bit more grace than I would have years ago.

At work, I bit my tongue, apologized, and fixed the problem the best I could. I had to bite my tongue because my old habit of blaming someone else for my screw-up was gurgling up inside. I didn't blame anyone. I swallowed my pride. I took the blame, and I fixed it.

On the softball field it would have been easy to blame, but there was no point in that. What I really wanted to do was walk off the field in a huff--how childish is that?! Yet, I may have done just that in the past. God, that's awful to admit! But I didn't storm off. I stayed. I played my best, and I offered instruction and encouragement where I could. I wasn't happy with the result, but I wasn't an asshole either. Improvement...

Speaking of improvement...years ago I would have chewed out those tech supporters. Instead of getting help, I would have gotten high blood pressure! Yelling is a lot easier than acceptance. I have no control over these 'server updating' issues, and that's difficult to accept. But by accepting reality, rather than trying to manipulate it, my life stays simpler. I am still frustrated. I don't necessarily like the reality, but at least I can sit comfortably with myself.

I'm not sure what all of this means. It's been a challenging week. I'm not a fan of frustration. It's an uncomfortable feeling. Yet, I feel I've met it with some success this week. And eventually, things will have to get easier, right? At least, that's what my therapist tells me...

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Special Graduation

I recognized his lackadaisical stride and hunched shoulders despite my distant position atop the grandstand. Zoom in with the camera--yup, definitely B., the young man I've mentored since he was sixteen. He's 18 now, and the sight of him in his cap and gown brings a surprising tear to my eye. I realize I am beaming the wide, proud smile of a parent, and I chuckle to myself. With no kids of my own, this may be my one-time moment of beaming pride.

I follow his progress all the way to his seat. Thousands of onlookers prohibit him from spotting me in the crowd, and I am sad. I think he trusts that I am there, but I know he'd feel better if he was sure. I wonder if his alcoholic mom even made the one mile trip. I find out later she didn't bother. He says he doesn't care, but deep down I know he's hurt.

He's very sweet with me. His smile as he approaches is perhaps the most relaxed on him I've ever seen. We hug--the first time ever, I believe. A stranger kindly snaps a couple of pictures of us. He thanks me over and over for being there. I tell him I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I feel so honored to be included.

I tell him I'm proud of him. We talk about college and whether he will attend the overnight grad party. As usual, I find myself encouraging him to go, to get out of his comfort zone, and check out the party. He thanks me again, and then quietly thanks me for the past two and a half years. We chuckle as we review all that we've accomplished together. He jokingly says, "When I'm famous, you can say you knew me when I flunked my driver's test." We laugh out loud, and I hesitantly take my leave.

He's going away to college. I pray he will be okay. I'm so proud and yet also sad. I will miss him when he's gone, but if he's willing, I hope never to lose track of him. Our relationship will change, as he will need less assistance from me. Perhaps this is just what it feels like to be a parent--love him and let him go. It's so cliche, but graduations truly are an ending and a beginning, aren't they? Congratulations, B., and good luck!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Study--Running Improves Mood

It's true. We've all heard it from our doctors, families and friends. "Exercise and you'll feel better." Now researchers have gone and proven it. Researchers from the University of Vermont evaluated the overall mood of two groups of students at several intervals: one hour, two, four, eight, 12 and 24 hours. The questions addressed tension, anger, vigor, fatigue, confusion and depression. The students who rode a bicycle for 20 minutes at moderate intensity scored significantly higher than the non-exercise group at every interval up to 12 hours.

This newly discovered long-term effect was one of the reasons I noted this article in my Running Times magazine. Previous research had shown a mood boost immediately following exercise. Nobody had ever proven this long-term benefit before. Knowing I may have 12 hours of relief if I can get myself out on the road may help get me out the door on rough days.

The second point to note, which again will help on rough days, is that I don't need to run myself into the ground to get this benefit. The students rode their bikes at "moderate intensity." Granted, moderate intensity may feel like maximum intensity on bad days, but it is nice to know I can boost my mood without having to torture myself. If we remember this study when our moods interfere with our plans, when moving feels impossible, maybe we'll be able to move anyway.

What do you think? Have you been helped by exercise? Did the benefit last?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A near suicide

She had nearly completed the note by the time the officer pounded on the door. Only a few words were left unsaid when her daughter later discovered it. Standing in her mother's silent home, the eerie mid-sentence stop terrified her. She had no idea.

Earlier that morning, her mom, a mutual acquaintance, sent my co-worker a text message saying she was done. She "couldn't do this any more." Calls to her home were met with hysterical sobbing, ominous predictions, and finally hang-ups. I dialed 911. We had no idea.

She is safe now on a 72-hour-hold. We are shocked, dismayed, worried. Wanting to help but meeting the family resistance of shame, we are told to stay away. Stigma rears it's ugly head.

It is a lesson, a reminder. We may never know an other's secret anguish, as mental pain is often hidden by shame. We must never take words for granted. What if we hadn't called the police? Like chest pain and shortness of breath, words can also predict imminent death. It's a lesson not to forget.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gratitude on the Run

I had an interesting speed workout today. I had 8 x 1 mile intervals scheduled. I knew it would be a tough day, especially after ending last week with four straight running days and a 20+ mile weekend.

My legs were a bit heavy, and my heart wasn't totally into it early in the run. As I often do, I decided to try repeating a mantra to keep my mind focused and positive. I started with the serenity prayer. That's always a good one for me, and it had worked for miles as recently as my 16-miler on Saturday. As I began my repeats, between 7:40-8:00 minutes per mile, it soon became apparent I needed a shorter mantra. Heavy breathing shortened it to "God, grant me... God, grant me..."

Late in the first interval it suddenly occurred to me, "What the hell am I asking for? And what gives me the right to be asking for anything right now? I'm running. I'm doing something I love, and I'm able to do it!" Without another thought I found myself repeating, "God, thank you. God, thank you."

For each interval after that, I repeated the same mantra, thanking the higher power I choose to call God, and I felt freedom. I was struggling physically, but something strange was happening spiritually. I can't explain it any better than that...sorry. I guess it was just about time that I focused on thanking God for what I've been given, the ability and freedom to train and perform in a sport I love, rather than asking for more. It's so easy for me to ask. Sometimes I need to remember to appreciate what I've already got.

God, thank you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Let there be Light

Ahhh... June.

Driving home at 10PM tonight, the western sky was still a subtle, golden-orange. This is one beauty of living so far north. We may suffer through the darkness of winter, but June brings the longest days, and therefore more light, than any other time of year. Long days begin with first light around 5AM and don't end until, well, apparently after 10PM. Driving home under tonight's still glowing sky reminded me how grateful I am for the light.

I've never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but my brighter mood over the past couple of brighter months makes me wonder. I definitely have been feeling better than I ever did over the long, dark winter, and this isn't the first year I've noticed that fact. I frequently use a SAD light in the winter, but there seems to be no substitute for good 'ole sunshine. I'll be celebrating June's long days, and hopefully my better mood, until at least June 21st--the day the darkness begins settling in again.



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