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, April 24, 2017

Stupid FB Post

I was planning on writing a post about how well I continue to feel and function. In fact, Jet and I ran 20 miles yesterday, and it was a good, doable run! Amazing. That would not have been possible just two short weeks ago. I was really pleased. With the help of TMS, I'm getting my life back. That's what I was going to write about. But now I have something more pressing stuck on my mind.

I was just peeking briefly at Facebook, It's not something I spend a lot of time doing, and perhaps what follows is exactly the reason why. A friend, who happens to be a nurse, posted this little ditty from QuizzClub.com: My doctor asked if any of my family members suffered from mental illnesses. I said no, they all seem to enjoy it. In response, my friend received 3 comments approving of her funny post and multiple Likes, smiley faces, and even one heart emoji. I, on the other hand, began to fume.

Is anyone else offended by this post? Why is this funny? If we substitute cancer, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis for mental illness, is this little ditty still funny? I think not so much. And that's the point! A biological illness which tears lives apart, disables people, and on many occasions leads to death isn't funny! Yet multiple viewers had no trouble, and presumably no second thought about pushing the Like button. I'm so angry and sad.

I tried to let it go. I'm not a big Facebook user, and I didn't want to create a scene or initiate some heated discussion which would likely end up pissing me off more than I cared to deal with, so I tried to let it go. I couldn't. I just thought she should know better, and if she didn't know better I wanted to educate her. I finally decided to at least send my friend a private message detailing my feelings and the reasons behind them.

This is what I wrote: "I don't want to create a big scene on Facebook, but allow me to say something about your 'enjoying mental illness' post. I know you meant it lightheartedly, but as a person with severe, treatment resistant depression, an illness no different than any other in that it is an illness, I find that post short sighted and offensive. My recent bout of depression tore my life apart and nearly outlasted my ability to stay alive. I was in the hospital for 18 days, suffered thru 9 ECT treatments, was unable to work, make any money, or pay my bills, and am now in the midst of 4-6 weeks of daily Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatments. Please think about it. Substitute any other illness; cancer, heart disease, or MS, in place of mental illness in that little ditty. Is it still funny? Not so much. Just my thoughts as I attempt to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. Thanks for listening."

My friend was sorry she offended me and said it was not her intent. I know that. I know it wasn't her intent, or presumably the intent of QuizzClub.com, to offend anyone. She found it funny. She re-posted a post that's been viewed over 4.2 million times already. Clearly she wasn't the only one who thought it was cute or funny. That's the real problem. How do we combat this pervasive sense that mental illness is something to be made light of rather than an illness to be taken seriously? I don't know. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Honor, Potential Honor

I am humbled and grateful once again to be honored by Healthline.com for having one of the best depression blogs. Considering how many depression blogs are out there, and they only chose a few, I am proud my tiny little space was recognized for quality of content and for "educating, inspiring, and empowering readers." What more can I say than that? Thank you, Healthline. I appreciate the honor.

Speaking of honors, I have decided to submit an application to the Twin Cities Marathon sponsor, Medtronic, to become one of their Global Champions, and you may be able to help. Medtronic is selecting 10 marathon runners "who use an eligible medical device, or have had a medical procedure or therapy" to their 2017 Medtronic Global Champions Team. They are looking for inspirational stories from runners to share with the world.

To qualify as a Global Champion the Medronic website states, "If you are a runner and have overcome medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, neurological disorders, obesity, or gastrointestinal and urological disorders and have returned to an active life with the help of medical technology or solutions, inspire others and share your story. Apply to be on the 2017 Medtronic Global Champions team."

I couldn't help but notice mental illness was not specifically included in their list. However, Medtronic says of a Global Champion, "With grit and determination, they’re ready to show the world that life with a medical device or procedure won’t stand in their way of pursuing their goals and passions." I think that's me, and I think recovering from my depression relapse via Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation qualifies.

That's right. I think I'm recovering from this unbelievably horrible, despair-filled depression relapse. The TMS really seems to be working. I almost can't believe it. Ten long weeks of hopelessness and misery seems to be abating.

Today my coworkers couldn't stop enthusiastically telling me how different I am today compared to just last week; "like night and day," to quote one of my assistants. Likewise, during a phone call, my psychiatrist's nurse made several comments about how much better I sounded. I kind of wish I had a video recording of what I looked and sounded like these past 10 weeks. Apparently, I've already made a huge recovery. I'm so relieved to be feeling better. Thank God for TMS.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Perhaps?

Maybe I'm being too (cautiously) optimistic too soon, but maybe, perhaps, hopefully, I might be feeling a little bit better. I've had 4 TMS treatments, and up until Friday nothing had changed. But then again I wasn't expecting any miraculous change, as the psychiatrist told me it may take 4-6 weeks of 5-day-per-week treatments before I noticed any improvement, if there was going to be any improvement at all. I think maybe there has been some improvement. And it seemed to happen suddenly Friday afternoon.

It was really quite strange. All of a sudden Friday afternoon I noticed I was feeling more energetic, more positive, and more hopeful. I was lighter, moving at more normal speed (as opposed to the slow motion of the previous several weeks), and processing life a bit quicker. It was like something had shifted. I took note, but I was careful not to get too excited. However, as my friend, Wendy, pointed out, even if the next day again sucked, a few moments of feeling better were worth it. Too true!

As it turned out yesterday was not great, but it wasn't horrible either. I was really fatigued and had very low motivation, but I think my mood was still lighter even though I didn't do much all day. Today I continue to feel a little bit better. Jet and I ran 14 miles this morning. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the city was very quiet, as it often is on holidays, so it was a nice run. I'm glad I didn't have more than 14 miles on the schedule, though. Fourteen was definitely enough. Now I'm just enjoying the sunny day.

I resume my TMS treatments tomorrow afternoon. I certainly feel more enthusiastic about attending my appointments now that I have some evidence the treatments may actually be making a difference. Already. I'm feeling extremely cautiously optimistic. The only possible side effect I've noticed is trouble sleeping. I've been unable to fall asleep when attempting to nap, and it takes me a lot longer to fall asleep at night since I began TMS. But if that's as bad as it gets, no problem. I'll deal with it.

I want to thank all of you who have been so faithfully following along over the past few months. Your comments have been so kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. I am so very grateful. Thank you. You're readership and interactions with me through this blog have made a huge difference in my life. Huge. It is so helpful to know I am connecting with some of you or even making a difference in somebody's life despite my despair. I really can't explain it well enough. Thank you for reading, and if moved to do so, please keep commenting. You are making a difference, and I appreciate it. Carry on, my friends!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New Treatment

I began a new treatment yesterday. At 2:00 PM, Monday through Friday, for the next 6 weeks, I will be receiving transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). I am hopeful it will bring me some relief.

For those of you unfamiliar, as I was until yesterday, TMS works by placing a magnetic coil against my head. The magnetic coil alternates between active electrical pulses for 4 seconds followed by a 26 second pause for a total of 37 minutes. The pulses feel like being hit by a tiny hammer, quickly and heavily. It's uncomfortable but tolerable.

According to a 2012 study of 300 patients who received 4-6 weeks of TMS treatments, 56% reported at least a 50% improvement in their depression symptoms. Fifty six percent is not as high a percentage as I would like, but it's certainly worth a shot. I can't continue to live the way I'm currently living. This illness, at this rate, will kill me. That's just a fact.

I'm continuing to put one foot in front of the other. After two days of hardly being able to move, I was satisfied to be able to run this afternoon. I've been feeling really agitated, so I ran really hard. It felt good, a different kind of pain for 65 minutes. The physical pain of a hard run makes so much more sense to me than the mental anguish of depression; anguish which wasted no time re-enveloping me within minutes of completing my run this afternoon. That just baffled and demoralized me.

This is a baffling illness. I'm so tired and demoralized and confused. I just want to feel better. I need some relief. Hopefully TMS will be the beginning.

Monday, April 10, 2017

No spunk today

One of the comments on my last post complimented me on my spunk. Not today. Today I'm just tired. I've got no energy for spunk. No energy for fight. No capacity to stand up for myself. I'm done with that. I'm tired. I'm tired of the stress. I'm tired of the judgment--mine and others. I'm tired of the mind numbing internal strife. I'm tired of all of it. I'm feeling so, so done. Yet here I sit...attempting to get ready to go to work, to help my patients...patients who have no idea how numb, lost and dead I am. I'll put on the face. I'll get it done. I have no idea how I'll do it, but I've done it before. So I'll do it again. But I'm tired.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fuming and insulted

I ran a long way yesterday, 18 miles to be exact, and at least the first 10 miles were spent fuming about the latest insulting difference between treatment for my illness, depression, versus treatment for just about any other "physical" illness. Too bad I can't type while I'm running, because I composed a whopper of a post during those first ten miles!

Here's what happened. A few days ago it was suggested, since I'm still not well, that perhaps I should attend an intensive outpatient program for people with mental illness. ECT, hospitalizations, med changes, therapy, mom visit...none of those interventions worked to alleviate my symptoms, so this was now the best idea we had. I quickly, and with contained irritation, declined. You see, I completed this very program several years ago. In fact, I've completed several similar outpatient programs over the past 15 years. And while I've learned a couple of things here and there, the majority of these remedial education groups have been more frustrating than productive.

These groups are intended to teach life skills, coping mechanisms, socialization, etc... There are lectures about how to organize our day, how to manage our time, with included blank time management schedules to fill out, and lists of pleasant activities we could tap into when feeling really low. Interestingly, I've never met anyone in any of these groups who was there to deal with their despair over their diagnosis of MS or cancer.

Perhaps it's a fact that people with MS or cancer know how to manage their time. Perhaps they realize eating a piece of chocolate (one of the items on the pleasant activities list) when feeling low would cure all that ails them. But me, a person with depression, a person who managed time well enough to excel through two post-graduate degrees, who holds down a professional job despite feeling like shit, who owns and maintains a home, and who has trained for and run 28 marathons; clearly my time management skills suck. If I could just fill in that blank time schedule and learn to take a bath or eat some chocolate, all would be well. So simple. How could we have missed it all this time. Why did we even bother with the hospital, or ECT, or medication??

But let me tell you the real problem I had with the most recent intensive outpatient program I attended. Instead of a room full of patients with depression, I was surrounded by all sorts of interesting characters, which is not to say I didn't learn from them. For example, I learned more than I cared to know about the best times and places to "score" after each group. I was usually the only sober person in the room. I was puzzled and saddened by the woman who seemed to have a different, fresh, self-inflicted flesh wound everyday, which she made no attempt at hiding. And worst of all, at every opportunity they had, I was forced to listen to snickering "patients" bragging about how they escaped jail or work release simply by attending this group. Yup, I learned a lot, none of it therapeutic.

When I couldn't stand it any longer, I pulled the instructors aside and explained what I was seeing and hearing every time they left the room. I told them I was very uncomfortable with the snickering and bragging. That discussion ended with me being dismissed from the group, as the instructors decided I was inappropriately focused on others rather then on myself. I was the problem. Fine. See you later.

I am a professional, functional, athletic, sober woman with a major mental illness. I have treatment resistant, severe depression. Why, when we run out of ideas we hoped would work, is the next step to send me to a remedial education group? I'm not saying there is no place for groups like this, but at the risk of sounding like a snob, groups like this are not appropriate for everyone. And they are certainly not appropriate just because nothing else has worked.

When the tumor doesn't shrink, or the MS doesn't abate, the next step is never to send the patient to time management training! It's not the cancer patient's fault the tumor didn't shrink. It's not the patient's fault the MS continues to progress. And it's not my fault I still feel like shit! I have depression. Even if I go take a bath with a box full of chocolates, I bet I'll still have depression. It's an illness. Let's deal with it like the illness it is. Please!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Isolation hurts

I've mentioned it more than once. You guys routinely mention it, especially recently. So I guess it's time to talk more about it. It is isolation. Depression. It is so isolating. No matter how open I am about my illness, depression leaves me feeling detached, alone, and different. Whether at home alone, sitting in a room full of patients and coworkers, or participating in a busy, friendly outing or get together, I feel isolated. Isolation is painful.

Unfortunately, my isolation is only increasing with each passing day. The longer this depression episode continues, the more painfully detached I feel. Here's the thing. People, by nature, want to help. But people, by nature, also expect (consciously or unconsciously) to get something positive from their efforts. Despite all of the words of wisdom, the encouragement, and the hugs I've received from friends and professionals, I've had very little positive to offer them in return. I can't tell them I'm better, which I'm sure is frustrating.

If it's frustrating for me, it's got to be frustrating for them. As a result I find myself wanting to reach out to others less and less. The longer this depression episode lasts, the less I want to talk and the less I think my friends, family and even professionals want to hear. It's human nature. When they don't see any changes from their efforts, listening to my woes must become more tiresome and more burdensome. What else can they do? We've done it all. Despite hospitalizations, med changes, ECT treatments, and talk therapy, I continue to feel so, so low it's hard to imagine continuing forward.

This morning the painful isolation really got to me. I had to leave work before I even signed in. I began crying on my drive to the office. I stopped at a friend's house within blocks of my facility. I cried, we talked, and I attempted to pull myself together. Ten minutes later my friend sent me on my way and I soon walked into my office. I was 30 minutes late and feeling fragile, but I thought I could do it. I was wrong. Feeling like an idiot and totally overwhelmed, I sat in my office in despair with tears rolling down my cheeks. My assistant was kind enough to find my supervisor, and with her permission I left.

After a few hours home in bed, I returned to work this afternoon. There were simply too many patients who needed to be seen for me to miss an entire day. Somehow I made it through four hours of patient care. Now I'm home again feeling exhausted and alone. Nothing else has been accomplished today, but nobody wants to hear that. It is what it is. I'd like to sleep a long, dark, quiet sleep. It seems there's nothing else to do. At least I'm out of ideas. I'm tired. I'm alone. And I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just want it, depression, to go away.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

No pancake breakfasts

I'm hesitant to write this post. I don't want to be a complainer. I don't want people to see me as ungrateful or selfish. But there is a reality out there that's moved to the forefront of my mind recently, and I feel the need to talk about it, to educate. I will speak only from my own experience, but unfortunately, I believe my experience is not unusual.

Within the last six months, a colleague of mine was diagnosed with cancer. She is a full time, fully benefited employee who is now back at work after missing a few months for successful treatment. While she was out one of our coworkers began an online crowdfunding campaign in order to decrease the burden of her medical bills and living expenses. It was a wonderful, compassionate gesture, which was embraced by all.

Forty four thousand, nine hundred two dollars and fifty five cents. That's $44,902.55. I'm fortunate. I pay a lot of money every month, over $600.00 to be exact, for insurance to cover most of my medical bills and prescription costs. So this bill sitting in front of me for $44,902.55, which is just for my hospital stays, it does not address any MD charges or the cost of ECT treatments, will largely be covered by my insurance. I'm grateful and relieved. Unfortunately, my relief is short lived, as I currently have no idea how I will continue to pay for the very insurance premiums which will cover that hospital bill.

I have depression. Because I have depression, I am unable to tolerate working full time. Because I work part time, I am not eligible for benefits like health insurance, paid time off, or health savings accounts. I missed 14 days of work without pay while I was ill. I've worked fewer than 40% of my hours for 10 days since. Since February 13th, I've received just under $300.00 in pay. I have a few dollars in savings, but the stress of spending my savings on a daily basis to cover my mortgage, health insurance premiums, vehicle payment, utility bills and groceries has been overwhelming and frightening.

Despite being open about my illness with friends and coworkers, I don't think the financial burden of this illness has crossed anybody's mind. I'm not asking for money. I'm just pointing out yet another naive and unfortunate difference in how mental illness is perceived. Those around us seem to immediately understand how financially stressful a major illness can be, and they move to help. Perhaps those same people don't realize depression is a major illness, too?

I used to say the difference between mental illness and other illnesses was pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. In my neck of the woods, that's how families, friends and coworkers used to raise funds to assist the sick people in their lives. I guess the difference now is in online crowdfunding campaigns.



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