Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 18 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

My fragile brain

Sometimes I wonder if mental illness has made my brain "fragile." It seems I'm unable to handle stress like I used to. Or perhaps I get stressed with less provocation than previously. My brain has been feeling fragile for a couple of weeks, and it's getting exhausting.

Here's the scoop: I've got a couple of things going on right now. One is political. If you've been reading for awhile, you know I don't say a lot about political crap. I used to be very active politically. I grew up in a very politically active family. I then lived in Boston where politics seems to be front and center all of the time. And I was okay with that. I've also been to Washington D.C. to march for more than one cause over the years.

But those years are long past. As I've dealt with this illness, politics (which basically feels like arguing these days) just exhaust me. I still have feelings about things which are important to me. I still vote regularly, but I just don't have the inclination to debate or participate anymore. That is, until now.

The City of Rochester's Park Board has decided, with little to no input from anyone in the community, to destroy the one and only public running track in the city. In its place they are going to create a short, paved oval. The track they are destroying is a 90 year old cinder track which is in a park dedicated to soldiers. It is used daily by countless numbers of people from various walks of life. The reason for the asphalt oval (not regulation track size) is to allow food trucks a place to park for the one festival (7 days long) which takes place in the park every summer. It is ridiculous.

The local running community, of which I am a part, organized an effort to stop the paving of this track. We were encouraged to show up en masse to the park board meeting last Tuesday. I knew I probably shouldn't go, because I feared it would be too much for me, but I went anyway. It was too much for me.

Maddening, frustrating, infuriating; I left the meeting early. I had to. But I haven't been able to let it go. I feel so strongly about this issue, so angry, yet so hopeless to do anything. I've tried and tried to move forward, to allow the feelings to pass, or at least to reduce from a boil to a simmer, but I just can't. And it's driving me crazy. I'm so glad we have people in this community taking the lead on this fight. I don't know how they do it. I've had to pull back, but I wish I could let it go.

So that's going on... Meanwhile, I'm still dealing with post operative complications from my most recent oral surgery. It's coming up on 3 weeks since that horrible experience, and I still have an open sore in my mouth and pain. In fact, on Thursday night I realized the pain had actually localized to one tooth, and that sent my stress level through the roof.

The painful tooth is the last molar on the bottom left. Actually, it's the second to last, but I'm already missing the last molar. That's important, because the painful tooth is a crowned tooth. I had a root canal on that molar 4 or 5 years ago. That's important because it means there's no way to repair the tooth if, as I suspect, the root canal has cracked (as a result of that violent surgical procedure 3 weeks ago). I'm pretty sure I'm about to lose another tooth! And if I do, I'll be unable to chew on the left side of my mouth, as I won't have any molars!

Again, I'm so frustrated and angry! I've called the surgical office at Mayo Clinic multiple times to express my concerns about the open sore and the amount of pain I've continued to have. I've been brushed off each time, reassured that "nothing was wrong." Finally, on Friday morning, after being put off by Mayo once again, I called my dentist. She put me on antibiotics, in the hope that it's just an infection. But after almost 3 days of Penicillin, I'm pretty sure it's a broken crown or root. Unfortunately, I've been through this before, so I'm familiar with the feeling.

I have an appointment with my dentist tomorrow afternoon. And even though I think I know what's going to happen; the tooth will need to be pulled which will set in motion yet another lengthy, expensive and painful implant procedure, I can't seem to quell my feelings of frustration, anger and fear.

These intense emotions, to situations I think I should be able to handle better, make me feel as if my brain is fragile. I don't know if that's the case, and I don't know how to explain what I mean any better than that. Just fragile.

I think it's okay to have intense emotions. But I also think it's healthy to be able to move past the intensity, especially when I take healthy steps (like signing petitions, talking to others, writing) to move forward. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, my brain seems to be stuck on boil. Boiling is exhausting. I'd really like to reduce the intensity to a simmer. Know what I mean?

Monday, June 3, 2019

Living my values

News flash: In the past I could be a jerk. When I was drinking and depression ruled my life, I wasn't always nice. I was self-centered. I was a victim. I was a know-it-all. Sometimes I was an ass. Looking back it makes me cringe. But that was my reality for a few too many years.

Thankfully, I don't act that way anymore. I've done a lot of work, opened my ears and shut my mouth, and learned from people around me; people who have what I want, people I admire for their ability to live life on life's terms. I'm talking about people who are nice when being nice is hard. I'm talking about people who feel empathy for others even when they're dealing with their own shit. I'm talking about people who not only have values but those who act according to the values they profess.

That's the kind of person I strive to be these days. Of course, I'm a work in progress, but I'm definitely not an asshole anymore. Thank God for that! But here's the thing I'm thinking about today. It's easy to be nice, grateful, humorous, empathetic, and professional when things are going well. But do I live up to those values when faced with a challenge?

At this moment of reflection, I confess I fell off the beam recently. I don't feel I handled a stressful situation at work very well. In a nutshell: I had something I value taken away from me, without my consent, and feel I was treated less than honestly and less than fairly by at least one superior. The question of fairness is a tough one for me. In my past life playing the victim was something at which I was well practiced. Unfortunately, I think the it's-not-fair-trigger got the best of me over the past couple of weeks.

I'm not happy with how much angst, consternation, and bitterness this situation engendered. I'm especially not happy I allowed that bitterness and anger to come out sideways. While I didn't say anything inappropriate, I didn't necessarily act nice or professional either. I didn't stomp my feet pound my fists and yell, "it's not fair, it's not fair," but I really wanted to! And that bothered me.

It's been a couple of weeks, and I am still angry, but I'm also now at the point of practicing acceptance. After all, I said what I needed to say, politely and professionally to the appropriate person, but nothing changed. I acted pissed off and less than friendly, and nothing changed. I could keep pushing to the point of being an ass, but the only person that will hurt is me. It's not worth it. I've worked too hard to become the person I'm proud to be. I don't want to throw that away.

I like being the funny coworker, the professional, skilled coworker, the kind coworker. I'm proud of the fact my coworkers like to work with me. That wasn't always the case. Acceptance, therefore, is the only reasonable route to take.

I may not like the situation. I may not think it's fair. But if I can accept it, let go of that which I have no control, and take actions over which I have control, then I won't turn into an asshole. Being an asshole takes a ton of energy! It's simply not worth it. To quote from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, "acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today." Acceptance and living my values are the only things which will bring me the peace and serenity I seek.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

2 hours

Sunday was a gorgeous day to run 13.1 miles. Of course I haven't run 13.1 miles in several years, so I had no idea what to expect. Based on my recent training runs, which have been slow as usual, and my recent 10-mile race experience, where I averaged 9:23 per mile, I figured I'd have a great day if I ran 10-minute mile pace during Sunday's Med-City Half Marathon. So that was the plan. Run 10 minutes per mile and be thrilled with the result.

Well sometimes I'm not too good at following plans. You see, my friend Mike was pacing the 2 hour pace group. His sign said that was around 9:10 per mile. Too fast, I thought, but I lined up with him anyway. I expected to quickly fall off the pace once we got going, but I didn't. That was kind of fun. And I wasn't dying, yet, so that was a bonus. I kept an open mind but didn't put any pressure on myself to keep up.

That laid back attitude came in handy when Mike and his pace group slowly progressed beyond my sight beginning around mile three. By mile 6 I could no longer see his sign bobbing up and down, and I was okay with that. I was still comfortably running way faster than I had expected. I wanted to stay comfortable, so I hung out around that 9:10 to 9:15 pace. I was very happy with how I was feeling at the pace I was running.

At mile 6 we hit a long, fairly steep downhill which lasted almost a mile. After a pit stop (dammit!), I just let the road take me for a ride. I ran that downhill mile at 8:30 pace. From that point on, I was able to keep my legs turning over, as if still on a downhill, and didn't run slower than one 8:54 mile the rest of the race. I passed Mike with a smile around mile 11. My fastest mile was my last, 8:23, and I was still feeling good! That's how a well executed race is supposed to feel! I was so excited; shocked and excited!

1:58:56. That was my official time. I averaged right around 9 minutes per mile, a full minute per mile faster than I thought possible! Never in a million years did I believe I would run a half marathon, at this stage in my training, in under 2 hours. I wasn't sure I'd ever run under two hours again! While it's a far cry from my pre-injury days, when 1:40ish was more my time, it proves (to me) I may have a better chance of regaining my form, and speed, than I thought possible.

I ran with my Defeat the Stigma tank top and had a few conversations about mental illness along the way, so that was a bonus, too. I was very proud to represent those of us with mental illness and proud to be putting the issue out there for "regular folks" to see. Sharing the moment with my brother, who also ran well, was nice, too. It was a beautiful day to run 13.1 miles, and I'm so happy I did!

A friend and I just before the gun went off.

My brother and I at the finish. My smile says it all.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pain

Being in pain is tough. Actually, it sucks! And I'm in pain. I had an oral surgery one month ago to remove some excess bony growth in my mouth, under my tongue, basically the entire floor of my mouth. It hurt, as the surgeon had to slice along my teeth in order to fold back the tissue to get at the bone. Thankfully, I was asleep for the procedure. With pain meds, a lot of ice, salt water rinses, Tylenol and Advil, I got through it. It took about a week for everything to calm down.

On Tuesday I returned to the surgeon's physician assistant for a follow-up. I was concerned, as I had developed a sore below my teeth on the inner surface of the left side of my mouth. Turns out I had reason to be concerned. There was dead bone pushing its way out through the tissue, much like a sliver works its way out through your skin over time. Why was there dead bone?? I don't know. But apparently it was kind of a big deal, as the PA sent me down the road to the surgeon's office right then and there.

The surgeon's resident checked me out and informed me he'd basically have to re-do the procedure on the left side in order to remove an entire ridge of rough, dying bone. Okay. I had no idea what I was getting into! Remember, I was asleep for the initial procedure. This time I was awake. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the procedure was very rough! The number of and amount of Novocaine injections was enough to begin my barely contained panic, and it only got worse from there.

I survived, and left feeling relieved and numb. I wasn't too worried, or maybe I just didn't think about what would happen after the Novocaine wore off. Two hours later I was in agony. I dealt with it as best I could with Tylenol, Advil and ice, but within a few hours I was back on the phone to the PA. I have never in my life requested pain medication, but I couldn't believe how much pain I was in. Not only did the surgically traumatized area hurt, my entire jaw, the left side of my face, and my neck were aching beyond belief. I could feel my heartbeat in my jaw! I was awake during the procedure so I think I tensed the muscles into oblivion! I could barely open my mouth.

Well, the PA politely refused to prescribe pain meds. Instead she prescribed a Lidocaine rinse (which tastes like rubbing alcohol and numbs the tissues for about 30 minutes!) and prescription strength Advil (whoopee!). Since I'm only supposed to rinse with the Lidocaine solution every 3 hours, and since the Advil and Tylenol do absolutely nothing to relieve my pain, I've been in utter agony for 5 days and counting! With the exception of rupturing my L4 disc a couple of years ago, I've never experienced this much pain!

My mouth is now full of canker sores and basically feels like one big open wound. Eating and drinking is a tortuous experience. I can carefully slurp down yogurt or drink protein shakes with the right side of my mouth, but even that is excruciating. I guess this is one way to lose a few pounds. I had to leave work early on Wednesday, took Thursday off, and only worked part of the day yesterday. I can't think. I can't concentrate. My mood is, at best, slightly cranky, as my mouth hurts all the time!

I talked with the PA again yesterday to voice my concerns. She assured me it will get better. Of course it will, but geez is this amount of discomfort really necessary? I'm frustrated, and in pain, and concerned.

I'm scheduled to run a half marathon with my brother tomorrow. I'm not sure how that's going to go. Instead of a fun return to the event, it may be more of an uncomfortable slog. Not exactly what I had hoped or planned for, but I'll do my best. Being in pain sucks. I'm counting the minutes until I find some relief. And I don't think I'll allow anyone to take a scalpel to my mouth ever again!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Spam

I just finished a long day of work on top of a long week of work, more hours than I've worked in months, and I came home to spam. And I'm not talking about the mystery meat, produced in a town just down the road (really), which comes in a can! I'm talking about the stupid comments stupid people attempt to post on this blog. You never see these comments because I moderate them out of existence, but unfortunately I do. They aren't pretty. They are, in fact, stupid.

Maybe I'm overly cranky today. Maybe I worked one hour too many this week. But after reading the comments today, I guess I snapped. I know some of you don't like having to jump through hoops in order to leave a comment, but if you had to read the crap I have to read, you'd understand why I require you to jump. Those hoops at least keep some of the spam from reaching me, but despite the hurdles, some self-serving commentators persist.

These people almost always leave a comment which has little or nothing to do with my post. Their comments are almost always boastful diatribes about what I need to do to cure my depression. If only I'd do this or that I'd feel better, and oh, by the way, here's a link to my website where you may purchase my product or my YouTube channel where you can hear me preach my happiness gospel. It's maddening and stupid.

Apparently there's no cure for stupid. If any of these people actually read just a few paragraphs of this blog, they'd realize they were wasting their time. If they read the introduction to my comments section, they'd know there was no chance of me posting their link. They don't really think I'll actually look into their magical cures or listen to their self-promoting, stupid thoughts, do they?

I'm sorry. I know I'm not solving the problem by posting this, but sometimes this blog is just my selfish venting platform. And today is one of those days. I know I will continue to get stupid comments from stupid people who have only their own interest in mind. They will continue to contribute nothing to any meaningful conversation. And I will continue to delete them.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Social...or not

I don't understand me. My coworkers and few close friends are shocked when I refer to myself as an introvert. With them I'm happy, smiley, funny, confident and energetic. But put me in a group of people, even a group of like-minded people like runners, and I feel totally out of place. I often avoid such groups for that very reason.

But in an effort to expand my horizons, once again, I put my insecurities aside and went to a meet-and-greet with a local running group. These people weren't total strangers. I knew at least 25-30% of them at the get-together Thursday night. This group is extremely popular and from all accounts very fun. They do a ton of things together and also volunteer in the community. I've participated in some of their activities but never as an official group member.

I've stayed away from joining this group for years because drinking is a prominent fixture in many of their social activities. It was a big part of why the group was originally formed. However, in recent years they've expanded to focus more and more on running, training, volunteering, and including families in their events. There's still a lot of drinking, but I like what the group has become, a very tight-knit, supportive, community-centered, and fun group of people.

With all of that in mind, I went to the meet-and-greet event at a local microbrewery. They had a large tent outside and there must have been at least 100 people in attendance. They had games meant to encourage mingling and meeting others, free food, and several drawings for various prizes. The tent was loud, boisterous and filled with laughter. And I felt totally alone and out of place.

It was silly. I was frustrated. I knew many of the runners in the tent, yet I spoke with a total of maybe 5 people the whole evening. The only person to whom I said more than a couple of words also admitted to being an introvert, and I think we kind of clung to each other for much of the evening. If it hadn't been for her, I might not have lasted the 2 hours I did.

In attending this event I had hoped for something new and different, yet what I got was the same old familiar feeling. Discomfort. Loneliness. An outsider looking in. I didn't feel like I belonged. I was certain everybody else was having a totally different experience, one filled with joy, laughter, and connection. That's what I wanted to feel, but it just didn't happen. Again.

For as long as I remember I've felt the same way no matter how familiar the group. I don't understand me. I don't understand how I can think, feel and behave one way with my coworkers and close friends yet totally the opposite anytime I'm in a group. Maybe I'm a part-time introvert? I don't know.

As a result of this experience, I don't feel any closer to officially joining the group, but I haven't given up yet. I plan to attend at least a few of their upcoming group runs, which they hold a few times a week. Hopefully running side by side, even with a stranger, will encourage me be social and help me feel the connection I seek.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Bombshell

I told her I was scared and freaking out. She encouraged me not to freak out. But it's no use. It's been 5 days since she broke the news, and I'm still frightened. I'm still freaking out. My psychiatrist, the only one I've had since this illness began over 18 years ago, is retiring.

She works so hard, and she might be 60 years old now, so I knew this was eventually going to happen. I selfishly hoped it wouldn't happen for a few more years. Unfortunately, I only have a few more months. She's retiring at the end of this year.

I've said it multiple times. I have the best psychiatrist on the planet. We have an excellent working relationship. She knows me better than most, if not all, of my family and friends. She's warm, intelligent, humble and incredibly compassionate. She routinely goes above and beyond for her patients, and I've routinely been the beneficiary of that dedication.

I'm really worried about how I'm going to get along without my doctor. She stuck with me and by me throughout my illness; in the early years when I was unstable and angry, in the midst of my alcoholism when I was self-centered and manipulative, and through multiple depressive episodes when I was hopeless and suicidal. She never shied away from doing what needed to be done. This woman kept me alive.

But Dr. L always went way beyond just keeping me alive. Whether through new medication trials, referral to and collaboration with outside providers, and/or just good ole fashioned talk therapy, Dr. L made sure I got the most out of my life while being least affected by this impossible illness. She worked hard for me and celebrated enthusiastically with me. (She was perhaps my number one cheerleader while I trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal last October.)

I love that she takes pride in my success. She should. She'll never take any credit though. That's not her style. Nevertheless, Dr. L is directly responsible for my health, prosperity, and success. Without her I would not be where I am today. I'll never be able to thank her enough.

Eighteen years. I know I'm lucky. Dr. L's care and support has been extraordinary. I think I'm going to have a very difficult time developing a similar relationship with another doctor. So despite her admonishment not to, I'm freaking out. Still. Sorry, Dr. L.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lazy...and not

Things are weird here. Maybe it's the weather. Sun and 70 one day, snow the next. (I wish I was kidding.) My energy level and productivity have mirrored the weather in some ways. Some days, like yesterday, I get a lot done. Other days, like today, I feel like I accomplish little to nothing.

For example, despite the dreary, cold, constant rain yesterday, I ran intervals on the treadmill, lifted weights, ran some errands, took myself out for a pancake lunch, and went to an appointment. Then I crashed. So all of the household duties on my list didn't get done. I hate that. But at least I felt productive for half the day.

On the other hand, today and Monday I got nothing accomplished other than work. I worked, and then I crashed. Sitting here typing is a big accomplishment. I was on my way to bed after falling asleep in my chair at 6 PM! I'm not a fan of that either. I feel lazy.

I seem to have a consistency issue. I've had some really good productive days recently, like running 8 miles and then cleaning my basement (something I've had on my list of things to do for... oh, I don't know, a year!). But the next day I didn't even come close to being productive, unless you count moving slowly from room to room and then taking a nap as productive, that is. On those days, it's been difficult to move. I've felt lazy while simultaneously feeling like there was nothing I could do to combat the laziness. I'm not sure what that's all about.

I think my mood is okay, but I'm certainly more tired and sleepy than usual. Maybe I'm not yet back to 100% following my recent depression relapse. Maybe running a few more miles is robbing me of energy at other times. It doesn't feel like I'm doing too much, but I'm leaving lots of things on my to do list most days of the week. For every burst of energy and productivity, I seem to have double the amount of lethargy. It's frustrating and a little weird.

I hope I even out soon. I'd like to have a more equal distribution of productivity and rest. And I'd prefer my lazy time be a decision rather than feel forced upon me. But hey, if this is my biggest worry right now I guess I'm actually doing fairly well.

I am happy to be working and running and getting things done again. I've come a long way compared to where I was just a couple of months ago. That's a relief, and I'm grateful. Perhaps this is all part of the healing process. It never happens as quickly as I'd like, but maybe I'm getting there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

UnitedHealth Sentencing MI Patients to Death

Read this. UnitedHealth, a medical insurance company based right here in my home state of Minnesota, I'm sorry to say, apparently thinks health insurance parity laws are merely suggestions rather than rules.  UnitedHealth is being sued in a massive class action suit for cutting off benefits for patients with mental illness or substance abuse. Benefits have been cut and appeals denied at the expense of and even resulting in the death of patients. According to a judge quoted in the article, when it came to covering behavioral health, UnitedHealth consistently demonstrated a pattern of putting dollars ahead of patient care. Are we shocked by this? I wish I wasn't.

We all know insurance companies are for-profit businesses, but it seems UnitedHealth is going the extra mile to make money (or at least not lose a dime) on the backs of their beneficiaries with mental illness. Haiden Huskamp, a Harvard Medical School economist quoted in the article highlighted that reality. He said, "A 2008 federal law requires insurers to treat mental health care the same way they treat physical health care. Insurers, though, can find strategies around it, such as not having enough people in-network to provide mental health care or making it hard to get the medications people need." So much for parity.

This is so scary and maddening. UnitedHealth is a huge company insuring 6.1 million people across the United States and in 130 other countries. And it's apparently company policy to cut off mental health benefits. The lawsuit alleges UnitedHealth, after initially covering an acute mental health crisis, routinely failed to provide coverage for any type of follow-up care. As the article notes, this would be like an insurer covering a diabetic emergency but then not covering insulin once the patient returned home. In more than one case, their careless disregard for one of their beneficiaries led to death. People died. People with mental illness died as a result of UnitedHealth cutting off their access to care.

I do hope justice is served for the patients and families UnitedHealth screwed. Perhaps if an example is made of one company, other insurers won't be so quick to look for the parity law loopholes. Of course, no matter the outcome of this case, the lives lost due to UnitedHealth's callousness can never be recompensed. It's sickening. I don't know how these insurance company executives sleep at night.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A holiday run

I love running on holiday mornings, especially the family-focused holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My city is unusually quiet on these mornings, just as it was this morning. And the people I meet are always cheerful. I also get to look in on the lives of many as I pass by homes bustling with family activities. It's a unique perspective, and I love it.

It seems I always feel serene and hopeful after returning from a holiday run. That was certainly true this morning. It was a beautiful morning for a run, slightly overcast with moments of brilliant sun, cool breeze, and barely another soul on the roads and trails. Jet and I set out around 8:30 AM. I wish I could have stayed out for hours and continued my enjoyment.

I settled for 93 minutes of enjoyment. We ran 9.7 miles. It was probably too far, but it was too nice to come back sooner. And too interesting. Within the first mile, I observed an 8 or 9 year old boy all dressed up in cowboy hat, boots, and fake beard hanging out on the sidewalk. I smiled. Some sort of church program?? I don't know, but he was pretty proud of his look.

Families were the order of the day from that moment on. I passed several families outside in their yards, parents with video cameras in hand, little kids racing around picking up hidden (and not so hidden) eggs. Screeches of delight I could hear for blocks, as there were virtually no cars to drown out the fun.

Late in my run I passed two incredibly well dressed children, maybe 8 and 6 years old, getting their photo taken (by 2 equally well dressed adults) on their front steps. The little boy was wearing a 3 piece suit, complete with a pastel green tie. He had his arm around his little sister and could not have been standing any taller. It was cute.

The run was a lovely start to my day. I pampered myself a bit after my run. And I spent most of the afternoon enjoying some really good food with friends. I hadn't spent time with these friends all winter, as they go south when it gets cold, so they wanted to see my Everest photos. We were able to do a slide show on their television. I got to re-live my entire trip (all 393 photos worth) in extra large HD. That was really cool. I'm not sure who enjoyed the slide show more, my friends or me!

I hope those of you who celebrate Easter had a lovely day as well. Holidays can be difficult if you're sick, or alone, or both. Earlier this week I was feeling a little sorry for myself, thinking this was going to be a long, solitary day. I'm grateful for my ability to run and for my friends. Because of each, I had a very nice day instead.



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