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!

Monday, August 31, 2009

A very scary attack!

My dog, my boy Puck, was attacked tonight. We were two blocks from home, only 2 minutes into a 4-mile run. We were running our usual route, right past a home we've run by at least 1,000 times before. A woman and her large dog came out of the home's front door. Before I knew what was happening, the dog broke his leash and ran straight toward Puck. In an instant, he had his mouth around Puck's neck and Puck pinned to the ground.

I was screaming and attempting to pull the dog off of Puck. The woman was screaming and attempting to pull the dog off of Puck. Then there was a man in the mix. We were all circling around yelling, screaming, and pulling on the dogs. The big dog was growling viciously as he tried to shake the life out of Puck. Puck looked terrified. He was yelping, as he tried to wriggle free. I was certain Puck's body was about to go limp.

Finally, the man pinched the big dog's leg really hard (he told me later), which apparently distracted the big dog, and he let Puck go. I screamed something really unkind about suing their asses off (not one of my better moments), as I raced to gather Puck in my arms. I was certain he was going to be near fatally wounded, but he wasn't.

In fact, he's barely wounded at all. He has a nasty little gash on one of his ears, but his neck is intact. I don't know how he survived without major injuries. I don't know how he survived period. I'm so relieved he's okay.

I'm still traumatized by the incident. I was so, so scared. Puck, after he quit shaking, got up and wanted to continue our run. We didn't. I wish my memory was as short as my dog's.

The dog owners, it turns out, were only fostering him for a local rescue society. They told me they'd been trying to give the dog back for several days. They were equally as traumatized as I, and they were very apologetic. They called the cops, statements were given, and who knows what will happen to that dog now. I love dogs, but that was a scary, dangerous dog. If Puck had been a toddler rather than a dog...a toddler would not have survived that attack.

Puck will be ten years old tomorrow. He will need a couple of stitches in his ear--hell of a birthday present. I don't know what I would do without him. I'm so glad he's okay. Thank God he's okay.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Old writing

While cleaning my basement yesterday I found an old notebook tucked away in an ancient Runner's World magazine. On my way to the recycle bin I realized the notebook contained some journaling. Dated from late 2000 through mid-2001, the entries were all about my early struggles with this illness. The magazine went in the recycle bin while the notebook and I sat down.

I began feeling like something was wrong, or a bit off, in November, 2000. My words reflect the confusion and concern I experienced as I tried to figure out what was happening with me. Many entries sound like this one: "I feel there is something wrong--something wrong with me. How else can I make sense of these overwhelming, powerful, intimidating feelings racing through my head?" That was from February 1, 2001. Those early months, powerlessness is reflected over and over in what I said. It appears I didn't have an understanding of depression's wide ranging symptoms.

I didn't know what was happening. My early depression was apparently dominated by racing, intrusive thoughts, distractibility, and profound confusion. I was disturbed by my brain's errant path and exasperated by my inability to control it or cope. Feeling like an impostor in my own body was a constant theme. It appears those early months were very scary, unsettled times.

It's interesting to see the difference between then and now. While my depression still unsettles and exasperates me sometimes, I now have the benefit of previous experience. I have a label for the restlessness, intrusive thoughts, sadness, and fatigue. It's depression. And based on previous experience, I know that whatever crap I am feeling will eventually pass.

I guess that's one benefit of an eight year battle. Today I have acceptance, knowledge, and support. Those are three things I didn't have in 2000-2001. Reading my old writings, it's obvious those are three things which keep me battling today. Without them, I'd be dead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP Senator Kennedy


While I generally shy away from politics here, today one politician must be mentioned. Whether you are black, white, blue or green; whether you are from the conservative right or liberal left; whether you agreed or disagreed with his politics, Senator Edward Kennedy's death deserves one moment of our attention.

Senator Edward 'Ted' Kennedy died from brain cancer last night at his home in Massachusetts. He was 77 years old. An active senator for 46 years, Kennedy was considered the patriarch of the U.S. Senate by members of both parties. According to NPR, Kennedy was a part of every piece of social legislation passed by the senate since 1962. We're talking civil rights, healthcare, education reform, HIV/AIDS funding, family and medical leave, employee rights, minimum wage, etc... He authored so many articles of legislation, he had a far greater impact on this country than either of his more famous brothers.

Of all that legislation, I'd like to mention a few which may be of interest to my readers. First and foremost, Kennedy was instrumental in the passage of Medicare, the health care program for all disabled Americans, including those of us disabled by mental illness. Speaking of Medicare, Kennedy was instrumental in the decade-long battle to get equal coverage for mental illness under Medicare. Kennedy also had a hand in the WICC program, a program which assures nutrition for low income women and children. Lastly, Kennedy was an early adopter of Title Nine, the program which assured women, like me, equal opportunity and funding for varsity sports. Without Title Nine, my high school may never have started that girl's basketball team--the very team on which I played in it's first year of existence. I had no idea I had Ted Kennedy to thank for my high school and college basketball career. Kennedy's legislative prominence has clearly had a positive impact on my life.

Rest in peace, Ted Kennedy, and rest assured you have left an enviable legacy on the world behind.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Making connections

A cool thing has been happening lately. At each of the last three races I've run, friends, acquaintances, and even a couple of strangers have approached me to tell me they've been reading my blog and/or to talk about depression. It's always nice to hear from people who read my blog, although I am always surprised when someone tells me they do. Insecurity shining through, I guess.

Despite my surprise, it's very gratifying to know my words are circulating. It's most gratifying to hear from people who otherwise rarely discuss their struggles with mental illness. That was, after all, the original intent of this blog--to create a safe space for people with mental illness, to educate others about mental illness, and to reduce the stigma and isolation of mental illness.

The funny thing is, as readers comment here or introduce themselves in public, I am the one who benefits! I wanted to decrease your isolation, yet I am the one feeling less isolated. So thank you, readers, for your comments, your discussions, and your words of encouragement. You have a far greater impact on my mental health than you will ever know.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The half marathon report


Another perfectly gorgeous day today! Wow, we couldn't have asked for much nicer weather in which to race. I believe over 600 runners showed up. The course was new this year. It used to be an out and back course, which included many miles on a foot-bruising gravel road. Yuck! This year, it wound around the city, hitting some historic neighborhoods and several parks. It was lovely--a big improvement.

I improved as well. I think I came in a few minutes faster this year than last. That was a surprise because this year's course had a few lengthy hills, and as I mentioned a couple days ago, my legs have been feeling a bit dead. So, I'm happy about that, but I'm still not where I want to be.

I finished in 1:47:32, which was fifth in my very small age division. An average of 8:12 per mile is certainly better than I ran a few weeks ago, but it is not near the 7:45's I put down this spring. Worse, it is nowhere close to the 7:20's I ran a couple years ago for the same distance! I am encouraged that my recent times are coming down, but it is hard to figure why I've had such a dramatic drop off over just a couple years. It has to be the weight.

I've got to drop the weight. Only then will I be satisfied that I am just slower. Period. Accept it. Until I can lose these pounds, being slower will be difficult to accept. Actually, it's not just being slower, it is the amount of effort I must put out to run these slower times. That's really the issue, I think.

When I was running faster, sure racing was strenuous, but it was also easier. I felt light and free. Running felt natural. It flowed. I'm not flowing right now. That is what I'm ultimately striving for, I guess. Light. Free. Flowing. If I felt like that, it really wouldn't matter what the clock said at the finish line. I would be satisfied.

Overall, it was a good day to be a runner. I'm encouraged but hardly satisfied. I've got a lot of work to do, with my eating and on the roads, to get back to flowing. And flowing--that's where I want to be.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

another day in the life

not a particularly special day today. spent most of it alone. saw my psychiatrist. she's pleased the new med seems to be combating at least some of the fatigue, although i did note i still need to sleep every day. took a 90 minute nap today, and i'll probably be in bed by 8PM tonight. still can't get through the day without sleeping and caffeine. frustrating.

and perhaps related to the fatigue, i am also frustrated with my inability to lose this extra weight. this is the heaviest i've been in my life. i look fine. i look thin. it's the running thing. extra weight on a runner equals slower times. that certainly has proven true for me--big time! i just don't feel good lugging around at least ten extra pounds. i feel literally heavy. i've never had a problem with my weight. always been one of those annoying people who could eat anything and as much as they wanted. now it's different. despite exercising more and paying much closer attention to what i'm eating, my weight has not changed. it really sucks!

speaking of heavy, my legs were heavy and tired today, so i rode my bike rather than run. only went about 16 miles. the weather was crappy, so it wasn't especially fun to be out there. really windy with intermittent sprinkling rain. on my way home, as i wound my way through busy streets, i noted how much more stressful it is to bike than it is to run. the drivers here don't seem to care much for bikers, and there never seems to be enough room on the road. i'm always afraid someone isn't seeing me, and i'm about to become a hood ornament! it makes me quite anxious. running is so much more serene.

have a half marathon coming up this saturday. i'm not expecting too much, as i am feeling tired from all of my training. like i said, my legs are a little dead. i do hope i run better than i did in that local 11-miler three weeks ago. i hope i feel better than i did then, too. we'll see what happens. i'm not really looking forward to the race, but it's one everybody runs, so i will, too.

and that's about it. another day in the life. i'll keep moving forward one day at a time. hope you will, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spending time with others

Unusual day today. I went golfing, which was unusual. I hadn't golfed in two years. But even more unusual, I went golfing with three other women. I don't generally spend time with other people. It was strange to be out of my house all day, and even stranger to be out of my house with others.

You see, I'm a bit of a loner. I'm okay being by myself. Don't get me wrong, I like people, but people are complicated. People are social. People are exhausting. People require energy expenditure. Since my depression began, I've typically decided to expend my limited energy elsewhere. It's easier in so many ways to be alone.

But today I wasn't alone, and it was nice. Maybe this is another sign things are going well. I made plans. I didn't end up dreading the plans. I followed through with my plans, and I had fun. Hmmm...interesting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

did it anyway

Despite the heat,
Despite the sleep,
Despite the stomach ache,
Despite the headache,
Despite it all,
I had a good run.
I did it.

I had a good run,
A light run,
An energized run.
Go figure.

Today,
despite the obstacles,
I still had my perseverance.
Apparently,
that was enough.

hot, sleepy, tough

I haven't written yet this weekend because I've been having a long, hot, lazy, sleepy, tough-running time so far. Not sure if it's the weather, or a dip in my mood, or hormonal, or sleep apnea, or what...I'm not sure it it's anything at all. Perhaps it just is.

It just is--hot and humid. I grew up in a lakeside community where many people don't even have air conditioning. I don't do humid very well. I ran the longest 12 miles I've run in years yesterday. I hit the wall--hard--at mile three. At mile 6 I was back at home dropping off Puck and taking in any sustenance I could find. The fact that I even went back out was amazing. I contemplated quitting more than once. The second 6 mile leg took more than an hour to complete. I was drenched in sweat. I couldn't seem to get enough to drink. I didn't have any gas in my tank. My legs felt like jelly. You name it, I was struggling with it. It was a long, long run.

After my run, I slept and slept and slept. Don't get me wrong, I had plenty of other things to do. I just couldn't. Eating made me tired. Watching TV made me tired. Taking care of Puck made me tired. Thinking of doing anything made me tired. So I slept.

You'd think a person wouldn't be able to sleep much after sleeping practically an entire day away, yet here I am sleeping again today. I slept all night. I slept into the morning. I made it to an AA meeting, which of course made me tired, so I slept some more. Five miles are on the schedule today, but I'm waiting for the sun to go down and my energy to come up. I'm certain the former will happen, less clear of my chances for the latter.

It's been a long, strange weekend. I'm trying not to worry about it. I'm trying to just let it be what it is. Besides, my mood seems okay, and I did get my long run done. The rest is just gravy, right? It would be nice, however, to wake up!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Caribou

My house is being cleaned. I'm banished to the local Caribou Coffee shop. It's too hot to run, and I have to meet my social worker within the hour anyway. I'm listening to Minnesota Public Radio on my headphones, but I can still hear two college-age women animatedly discussing their crew teams. I'm fascinated by a woman at the next table who, despite missing her left arm below the elbow, is typing faster than I. There is a woman with cancer soaking up the sun at a table outside. And there are smartly dressed medical personnel sipping, sitting and roaming about. Such is the case when observing life in a coffee shop across the street from Mayo Clinic.

It is a gorgeous, albeit hot, sunny morning. I'm feeling fortunate today. My house is being cleaned by a friend who charges me far too little for the job she does. I dislike cleaning, and when I feel bad, I just don't do it. Finding Mo, a fellow 40-days of yoga classmate, was a God-send. She does a great job, and it is so nice to come home to a clean house! I highly recommend letting someone else clean once in awhile.

I'm feeling fortunate today. I'm about to meet with my social worker, an involved member of my treatment team. And even though I don't always think I need to meet with her, it is nice to have another person keeping track of me. She sees me in my surroundings, not an office, and therefore she quickly gets a picture of how I'm doing. Sometimes, I think she knows before I do when things are sliding downhill. Like I said, it is nice to have another person keeping track of me.

I'm feeling fortunate today. The sun is shining, and I'm not one of these people taking a break from work. I'm enjoying a day off. Part-time work may be a requirement of maintaining my mental health, but at least my career choice allows me to survive fairly comfortably despite working part-time.

I'm also fortunate not to be one of the patients I see around me--the lady with cancer sunning herself outside, or the man in the wheelchair who just rolled by. I have an ambulatory illness, which right now allows me freedom from a hospital bed. I've been there, done that. I'm grateful I don't need hospitalization today.

I feel fortunate today to be able to appreciate the fortune in my life. I'm not a millionaire. I'm not famous. I'm not even without struggles. It's the simple things I often take for granted which make me fortunate. I'm grateful for my fortune today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a hilly metaphor

I had a thoughtful 6 mile hilly run today. The first six weeks of my marathon training program call for "the hilliest run you can find" every Tuesday. Those of you following along know I hate hills, but I'm dutifully following my program. Today was week three. Somewhere between an up and a down this morning, I had a thought. Running a hilly route is like traveling along the road of depression.

The only difference between depression and running hills are the ups and downs are reversed. That is, running uphill is akin to sinking into depression's morass, whereas running downhill is like climbing out of the depression hole. See what you think.

As I run uphill, or sink into depression, every step feels more difficult than the last. Soon my muscles ache, and fatigue settles in. The negative thinking begins, and I contemplate quitting. It would be easier to quit than to continue struggling along. As the hill continues, I have less and less fun. I worry about surviving to the top, and I can't wait for the hill to end.

On the contrary, arising from depression's hole, or running downhill, is often lots of fun. Every step feels so easy, sometimes I think I'm moving too fast. I catch my breath and let my mind flow free. Quitting never presents as an option. As I continue toward the hill's bottom, I know my ease cannot last. Sometimes I worry about the next hill coming up, but I always hope the freedom never ends.

Up and down today's hills, my physical exertion reminded me of the mental gymnastics associated with depression. Depression, like running hills, is a total body experience of struggle followed by freedom, pessimism succeeded by clarity, and fatigue relieved by energy. Uncanny, isn't it?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bread and Jam

My friend, Renee, in her continuing quest to domesticate me, invited me to make bread and jam with her yesterday. Renee enjoys cooking, baking, and eating. I enjoy only one of those three, and it isn't either of the first two! Nevertheless, I took her up on the offer, as I figured eating may be involved! That's me, using all of my Girl Scout skills, measuring flour and mixing dough.Renee had to teach me how to knead the dough, which I confess may come in handy the next time my depression has me frustrated. That dough would be no match for a disgruntled etta!

While the dough rose, we made blueberry jam. It was another foray into domestication I never thought I'd take. It turns out making jam is not nearly as difficult as I imagined, although one does need the correct tools.
Stirring boiling blueberries...even I could do that!

Pouring boiled blueberries into jars...hmmm, really not so tough. Look at those delicate hands work!
After about three hours, Renee let me take home this beautiful loaf of bread and 4 jars of blueberry jam. Ummmm, ummm good! Thanks, Renee!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Progress.

In the end, I was happy. The 10K this morning was far from easy, but I felt so much better than last week, I was happy.

We started under cloudy skies with rain threatening. It was humid but relatively cool. I knew the course was a 6.2 mile loop, not out and back, but that was all I knew. It became clear within the first few miles that it might also be hilly. It was. I started faster than I thought I should but kept it up, as I felt okay with the pace. I was running within myself.

I believe I was somewhere among the top five women at the first mile. Between miles one and two I passed a few young men and a woman. One young man stayed with me almost stride for stride for the next 4.5 miles. He couldn't have been more than 16, but he was not going to let me go. It was okay. After awhile, I was almost glad for the company.

The paved bike path meandered around the countryside. It was hilly--up and down, up and down. Light and strong, light and strong--those were the words I repeated to myself. At 3 miles I had two women in my sights. They were at least 50 and 100 yards ahead, but I liked my chances. I was feeling okay. Light and strong, light and strong--breathe in, in, out, out. I was in a rhythm.

Then we hit it. Maybe it began at mile 4 or 4.25. I'm not sure when it started, but I can tell you this, it was the longest hill I have ever seen in a race--ever! One and a half miles later and we were still running up and into the wind. Isn't that always the way--up and into the wind! It was a cruel hill, that's for sure.

Somewhere on the way up I passed the woman who had been 100 yards ahead. But that woman right in front of me, she never came back. My sidekick and I survived the wind and the hill. The last 1/3 of a mile was gratefully flat. In the end, he raced ahead. I came in one second behind, the third woman overall at 49:24; an average just a smidgen under 8 minutes per mile, and good enough for first in my age group.

I'm happy. It was a very, very difficult course, and I was able to maintain what felt like an even pace. Most importantly, I didn't hit the wall! I'd like to be faster, but I'll take it. It was a good day.

Friday, August 7, 2009

lunch thoughts...

I'm at work. Slow day. Having random thoughts. My co-workers all went out for a lunch buffet. I'm scared of buffets. Luke warm food picked over by hoards of coughing, non-hand washers is just not appealing to me. For some reason I lose my appetite.

I saw my doctor yesterday. She's quite pleased the new, anti-fatigue med appears to be working. I checked my pulse a couple times yesterday and it was 68 and 72. That's not stellar for a runner, but it's better than it was on the old anti-fatigue med. Despite the average, rather than high, pulse rate, I'm still concerned the med is what made my race last weekend so tough.

Speaking of racing... I have a race tomorrow. It's a local 10K. Ten kilometers (6.2 miles) is not my favorite race distance. I'm more suited to the 5K--run fast and hold on--or the half marathon (13.1 miles)--run steady and hold on. The 10K falls somewhere in the middle. It's too long to run fast and hold on. It's too short to run steady and hold on. I'm never quite sure how to attack the distance. I'll let you know tomorrow if I figure it out.

Back to that new med... I'll let you know tomorrow how the race goes. If I feel like I'm running into the wall way too soon and much too hard, I'll be very worried about that med. It would reinforce the idea that it is affecting my ability to run fast. I hope that's not what happens, though. Since beginning that med, my mood has risen while my fatigue level has dropped. I don't want to have to decide, again, about taking a med which helps my fatigue but injures my running.

Does anyone out there watch the TV show, Dexter? I've been going through the first two seasons on DVD. I love it! Check it out if you have no idea what I'm talking about. And with that random thought, my lunch has ended. Good day, everyone!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

NOT tired??

Driving home tonight, a 45 minute drag of a drive, I couldn't put my finger on it. Something was different. Hmmm...what was it? My car was the same old Saturn I've driven for the past 11 years. The road was the same boring, flat, rural strip. The radio was blaring the same, hip, yuppie station. But something was different.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. It was the yawning. The yawning, or more specifically the lack of yawning, that was the difference! I wasn't yawning. I wasn't slipping on the precipice of consciousness. Rather than bobbing up and down, my head was still. That was it! I wasn't tired!

Not being tired is such big news in my world, I had to tell you. I was exhausted yesterday. I was tired the day before that. But today, I'm not tired. Is it too much to hope that this will last? Could this be a new trend? Maybe that new med is making a difference. Maybe it's the C-PAP machine I've worn each recent night. Maybe, maybe, maybe...

Maybe I'll stop worrying about why, and when, and how long; and just enjoy this moment of relative normalcy. Hmmm...normal. So this is what it feels like.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another marathon

I've decided to run another marathon. I signed up to run the Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Virginia on November 14th. I'm officially in my second week of training. I was right. The Women's Race I ran a couple weeks ago did jump start my training. Following The Runner's World training program, rather than creating my own, has also been helpful. This way, I can just run whatever the schedule tells me to run--no thinking required! I've also reduced the long-term stress by printing out only one week of the schedule at a time. Training for a marathon is daunting. Focusing on only one week at a time has made it much less so. I think I'm off to a decent start. I'm really tired, of course, but that makes sense. It is much nicer to be tired as a result of running than it is to be tired as a result of depression!

Join me in Richmond, won't you? I'll be the one with 'etta' emblazoned across my chest.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Racing again

I ran another race today. Eleven miles, out and back, pure torture! Okay, I'm exaggerating. It wasn't all torture, but the last 2-3 miles were a death march. God, I wanted to stop and walk something fierce! I didn't. Yippee (she said dripping with sarcasm)!

Here's how it went down:
It was a beautiful, cool morning--perfect running weather. I trolled through the first 5.5 miles with two other women in my age group, one of whom chatted most of the way. It was nice. We had fun. I knew, however, that they were both running stronger and easier than I. At the turnaround, I let them go.

I didn't see one of them again. It was the same woman I locked up with, and who outlasted me, last weekend. She looks great! I caught and passed the other woman about 4.5 miles from the finish. I felt really strong when I caught her. I think I was even speeding up. Unfortunately, that didn't last. By the time I hit 3 miles to go, my feeling was more uh-oh than yippee. The last two miles, as I noted, were torturous hell.

I'm disappointed both with how horrible I felt, and how slowly it turns out I ran. I averaged about 8:30 per mile. Contrast that with the 7:45's I averaged in a 9.4 mile race just two months ago, and you can see why I'm disappointed. I certainly felt like I was running a whole lot faster! That's never a positive thing.

The intense effort and poor result makes me concerned that this new anti-fatigue med is causing the same problem the old med, it's cousin, did. That is, increase my resting pulse rate.

When I ran the 9.4 mile race, my resting pulse had finally returned to a reasonable 62. (I quit taking the old med in December.) My current resting pulse is in the mid 70's, although it was in the mid 70's the week before I started the new med, too. Nonetheless, racing today felt a lot like racing last year did--tough, and last year it was due to the old med's side effect. But I realize I can't jump to any conclusions, because the other reality is I've hardly trained since Grandma's. Today's result could be nothing more than that. Wait and see, I guess. Wait and see...



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