Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 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!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Another chance encounter

It's been about one year since I was first hospitalized for my most recent depression relapse. Turns out I would be hospitalized again within a couple weeks of the end of that first hospitalization. Things have gone pretty well since then, at least where my depression is concerned. And I'm certainly grateful for that.

It was during one of those hospitalizations that I was able to work with a new-to-me psychiatrist for a short time. She also saw me once or twice during my Ketamine trial last Fall. She was great, and I appreciated her care.

I ran into that psychiatrist the other day. I was out on my ElliptiGo, taking a water break, when she approached. She was out for a run. I couldn't remember her name, of course, but I said hello, nonetheless. It took her a minute, but after I reminded her where we met, she remembered me. I thought that was kind of cool.

Really cool, however, was when she stopped to chat. She was amazed at how I looked. Beaming, she said, "It's so nice to see you out!" I laughed, because I'm out all the time, but of course she doesn't know that. The last time she saw me, I wasn't functional. I was lethargic, hopeless, and likely barely making eye contact. She never knew me as a "normal" person, only as a desperate patient.

We talked for a few minutes about running and how things were going. She was interested in my ElliptiGo and even took me up on my offer to take it for a spin. I was impressed. I guess I don't know her as a "normal" person either, only as a buttoned up professional.

It's always fun to run into doctors, social workers, or nurses who only know me as my hospitalizable self. When I'm not deep in a depressive state, I'm obviously a much different looking and acting person. I like that. I'm happy that's the case. It reinforces I have an illness--an illness of my mind, body, and soul. It's not who I am. Actually, depression steals who I am.

I'm not depressed. I have depression.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Blip

Taking my medications is a huge piece of my recipe for successfully combating depression. Nevertheless, I always want to take the lowest number and dosages of medication. I need my medications, but I don't want to take more than I require to maintain stability. And boy have I been stable! I've been feeling well for months. It's been really nice and a total relief.

I've been feeling so well for so long I asked my doctor to decrease one of my antidepressants, which we did about a month ago. We decreased another medication a few weeks ago. I was satisfied, pleased to be feeling consistently well. Hooray for me!

Unfortunately I had a little blip in my thinking and mood this week. My brain was getting a little noisy. Too many thoughts, too little space to process them. I was more irritable and had a harder time letting go of little annoyances. I was impatient. People in public spaces, drivers, and even some of my patients irked me. The occurrence of one of these "symptoms" wouldn't concern me. That's life. But simultaneous occurrence of crappy thinking, impatience, and irritability is always concerning.

It took a few days before I realized what was happening, but once I did I got concerned. I contacted my doctor. She was concerned. My history of sliding into full blown depression faster than a speeding bullet caused both of us to take notice. Actually, I got downright scared. I don't want to go anywhere near a full blown depression relapse again! We readjusted one of my medications. Bummer.

I have to be careful not to treat the med increase as a failure, but sometimes I go there. Instead I have to remember I have an illness, and clearly my medications are very important. I'm lucky and grateful they are such an effective piece of maintaining my stability. I hope this increase will quickly stymie the noise, impatience and irritability. I enjoy feeling well. I'd like to keep it up.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cancer

Cancer. It's not a word that's been associated with anyone in my immediate or extended family ever, which is remarkable. Never. How lucky is that?

My 19-year-old nephew has cancer. We found out yesterday. The mass behind his right eye is cancerous. He has a very rare type of cancer called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. It generally strikes children or young people. It is treatable. In addition to the surgery he has already endured (which they did through his right eye!), he will have to have chemotherapy and radiation. I don't know how long the process will take, but his plans, his life, as well as the lives of those around him, will dramatically change for the foreseeable future.

Prior to yesterday, we all knew cancer was the probable outcome. It was just a matter of figuring out what kind of cancer it was. Despite that knowledge, the definitive cancer diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. I was immediately terrified and overwhelmingly sad. I guess I was holding onto some remote hope that this would actually turn out to be nothing to worry about. Maybe that's human nature, but my reaction still surprised me.

I'm not very close to my brother, my nephew's father, but I love my brother's kids. Like his sisters, my nephew is a talented, humble, generous, loving soul. He's a division one college athlete, now faced with missing his sophomore soccer season, and an intelligent young man. He's got a full life ahead.

My brother and his family live out West, and I've never been to their home, but now I want to go visit. I want to hang out with my nephew. Love him, support him, and be there for whatever he may need. It's not necessary. He has a large, loving support system, so I'd likely be superfluous. Perhaps my need is more for me than for him... I don't know. I've never experienced any of this before.

No knowing what to do is uncomfortable. Fear is uncomfortable. I guess I'll stay home, for now, wait for tidbits of news, and hope and pray for progress. I have a feeling I'm going to be uncomfortable and scared for quite awhile, but my feelings are nothing compared to what my nephew must be feeling. If I could take away some of his uncertainty and fear, I'd do it in a heartbeat! More than anything, I wish he didn't have to go through this.

Unfortunately, I am powerless to change my nephew's course. All I can do now is pray. So that's what I'm going to do.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A new goal

On a lark, I entered a lottery. Tens of thousands of people enter this lottery for one of approximately 11,000 spots. I had no intention of entering, but my other plan for that weekend didn't look likely to materialize. So when I received an e-mail from Twin Cities in Motion, the group which organizes The Twin Cities Marathon and 10 Mile, I thought, "What the heck?" I entered the lottery.

That's how I got a new goal. My name was drawn for one of the coveted spots, and I am now registered to run The TC 10 Mile race on October 7, 2018. I had hoped to run the marathon that day, but wisely I didn't register. I was waiting to see how my knee would heal. It's become clear over the past several weeks there's no way I'll be in marathon shape by October. At the rate I'm currently going, I likely won't even be in half marathon shape. But 10 miles? I think that may be doable.

So I have a new goal. I like goals, especially running goals. I need something to shoot for. I need a reason to train hard, and I like to train hard. But I likely won't be doing a lot of hard training for this race. Getting to the starting line healthy and able to run will be the primary goal. If all goes well, I'm hoping this race will be the first of many comeback races.

I'm excited. This race starts at the same time as the Twin Cities Marathon and finishes at the same finish line. I get to experience the marathon atmosphere, which I love, without the marathon mileage! It's the best of both worlds.

With this race as a carrot, I've already felt more energized and focused when out on the road. I have a reason, besides just "getting back to running" for being out there now. I've been frustrated with my slow, slogging run/walks, and I think part of the frustration has been the aimlessness of it all. With nothing on the horizon, I had no particular plan to guide me. And I guess "just getting back to running" wasn't cutting it. Now I have somewhere to go.

I'm looking forward to using this unexpected carrot to keep me moving forward. And I'm really looking forward to experiencing the marathon atmosphere and racing again. I like my new goal. I feel hopeful again; hopeful I'll be a runner again, and maybe, just maybe, a marathoner again. That will be a great day!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Sometimes reality sucks

I'm sitting here in fear. Within the last 24 hours, my 19 year old nephew, a Division 1 college athlete, told his mom "something isn't right," and thought she should make him a doctor's appointment. The doctor took an MRI of his head. Unfortunately, the results necessitated my nephew being flown from his home in Nevada to Stanford University Medical Center where right now they are preparing him for surgery. He has a large mass behind his right eye.

The mass has apparently been there awhile, as it has destroyed some of the nearby bone. At first the doctors hoped it was a brain bleed from a recent concussion. Then they hoped it was some sort of strange infection, but as of right now, the specialists examining him believe it is a tumor. They are currently considering exactly how to proceed, but surgery is now the primary option. They hope to remove the entire mass.

Meanwhile, I am hoping beyond hope the mass will be just that, a mass, a benign tumor, not cancer. Unfortunately, as a medical professional, I know it is more likely the mass will be cancerous. I am so scared. I had a very close friend die from a brain tumor, and I have a coworker currently fighting for her life who has metastatic brain tumors. Brain tumors are scary, destructive, unpredictable beasts.

So I'm sitting here in fear, waiting to read the latest text update from my brother, and praying for the best possible news. It's difficult to wait, so far away, for news I'm not sure I want to hear. Prayers for my nephew appreciated.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A little chaos

I've been thinking. It's easy to do well, play well with others, and take care of myself when things are going my way. Unfortunately, this week not much went my way. I saw it as a test. Could I continue to do what I needed to do despite a bit of chaos.

Some of the chaos involved others. For example, I've been fighting with a shady online retailer for several weeks, and every day which passed made my blood boil just that little bit more. I had never used this retailer before, but they had a great price on a new Garmin GPS watch, so I ordered it. I do most of my shopping online so after perusing all of their policies, I went ahead with my purchase.

Long story short, the unit was defective. I wanted to return it for a full refund, as is their policy. First they tried to convince me I should just get it fixed. Then they agreed to take it back, and even paid for my shipping, but 10 days passed without a refund. I contacted them on an almost daily basis, and they always had a reason for the delay. It was "getting processed," and then it was "getting processed in the warehouse," and then it was "intercepted by their warranty team to determine fault..." Meanwhile nearly 3 weeks had passed and they still owed me $365! That's when I got really angry.

I saw the writing on the wall. I wasn't going to wait for them to tell me they determined the defect was my fault, which would of course allow them to just offer me credit. There's no way I wanted to order anything from this company ever again!

I contacted PayPal. Thank God I paid with PayPal. I sent PayPal every piece of correspondence between the company and I, and despite giving me a timeline of 10 days to resolve the issue, PayPal resolved it within two days. They refunded my money. One headache over.

While in the midst of that daily headache, things at work got a little chaotic, too. We're still busy, but the bigger issue was with a fill-in occupational therapist. I saw him alone in a room with a patient, a patient who had a history of making false accusations. I informed him of this history and suggested he may want to treat the patient in a more visible location. He thanked me and moved. Sounds pretty innocuous, right?

Wrong. Immediately after I spoke with him, he went to the facility director and told her I said something horrible about the patient. The facility director caught me in the hallway, and she was angry! I had no idea what was going on! After the facility director spoke to me, I went to the occupational therapist and asked him why he spoke to the director and what exactly did he say? He repeated the totally bogus words he was certain I had uttered. He informed me he documented the bogus statement in his patient note as well. I was incredulous!

Another long story short, after exchanging heated words with the OT, I re-approached the director to clear my name. Thankfully, she believed I didn't say what I was accused of saying and all was well, but I was still so angry! I couldn't believe what had happened. Here I was trying to protect this employee, and he turns around and sullies my reputation, with an outright lie, in my building! I'm thankful my director knows me well and supported me, but I'm having trouble letting go of my anger.

I'll keep working on that anger. Hopefully that will end the relationship chaos. Unfortunately, I also have chaos at home. I'm sitting among that chaos right now. I had to clear a spot for my computer just to write this post. There's stuff everywhere, and nothing is in its place.

I began a project this week. I'm painting trim and doors and shutters. It was just supposed to be shutters and the front door, but then I added the bathroom door, and then the bathroom trim, and now I've got new knobs and towel hangers, and I'm patching holes... You get the idea. My house is torn apart. Fortunately, I know this is temporary, and it motivates me to continue working, which is what I need to do right now.

I'm not enjoying the chaos, but I'm managing, and so far I'm still feeling well. I'd like things to calm down a bit, but it's good to know I can step up to the challenge if needed. Hope your lives are chaos free! Carry on, my friends.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The review

Helpful. Competent. Always a pleasure to work with. Skilled. Great team player. These are a few of the comments made in reference to me by my coworkers, other physical therapists, which I learned of during my recent yearly employee review. One of my employers includes comments from coworkers in each review. I like it. It's nice to know what the people I work with directly think. And boy have I grown!

I'm not sharing these comments in order to brag. I'm sharing them because even after many years of sobriety, these comments still amaze me. You see, before I was humbled by horrendous depression, and before I was brought to my knees by alcoholism, I was basically an ass.

Twelve to fifteen years ago coworker comments, had I had the opportunity to read them, likely would have been along the lines of thinks she knows everything, selfish, and/or a very negative person to be around. I would have been shocked and dismayed then, but now I'm keenly aware of how accurate those comments would have been at that time.

There's something to be said for adversity. Apparently I benefited from being knocked down a notch. I especially benefited from getting sober, which included learning to live life on life's terms, not mine. Among other things, I learned I wasn't the center of the universe, everyone did not need to hear my opinion, I wasn't always right, and by giving of myself I would receive much more in return.

Whereas I always thought I had to take the lead (i.e. be in control), because of course I knew better than anyone (no matter the subject), I now take great pride in being a team player. I'm glad my coworkers think I'm competent and skilled, but being "helpful" and "a pleasure to work with," means more to me than anything else. That's what makes me puff my chest out these days. Yes, it would have been nice to learn these lessons without so much pain, but that wasn't my journey. I'm just glad I learned them, nonetheless.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Suicide and the ER

Suicide has been in the news and on my mind lately. On the heels of the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, another suicide hit close to home last week. The niece of one of my best friends killed herself. She was young, beautiful, and seemed to have a life very much worth living. She left behind a husband and two young children. There is nothing to say to ease the pain and confusion of her extended family and friends.

Fortunately for those of us who struggle, or have family and friends who struggle, with suicidal thoughts, there was some hopeful news today. I read about a recent study focusing on "a simple emergency room intervention" which cut the risk of suicide in half. And the intervention used was truly simple; a safety plan and phone calls.

The study coordinators trained emergency room staff to create a safety plan with each patient prior to discharge. And here's the key, I think, the staff followed up with phone calls to the patient after discharge. The first phone call was made within 72 hours, and the staff continued calling until the patient followed up at least twice with a mental health professional.

I have experience creating a safety plan. The inpatient hospital unit in which I've been a patient requires one be developed prior to discharge. While the staff there do not follow up with phone calls, I have found the safety plan an effective coping tool. The friend whose niece just died is actually an integral piece of my safety plan. I've found it helpful to have a written plan when I've felt low, alone and desperate, especially in the days immediately following hospital discharge.

Unfortunately my emergency room experiences, at the same hospital as this healing inpatient unit, have not always been helpful. And as the comments on my recently republished post prove, I'm not alone in having negative emergency room experiences. That's why I find this study so hopeful. It's focused on teaching ER staff to assist patients in need, mental health patients, who don't always get the most unbiased, compassionate treatment otherwise.

Suicide is a desperate act committed by a desperate person. Unfortunately, I understand the desperation. I've experienced the pain, the isolation, the utter hopelessness which leads a person to consider that end. If ER staff, or any mental health provider, can cut the risk of suicide in half just by taking the time to create a safety plan with their patient, I'm all for it. I hope emergency rooms around the country will get on board. A little compassion, and a simple plan, goes a long way.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Go Play

Playing is so important to my mental health. I may be 50, but I still like to be silly when given the chance. And truthfully, any time of day is a chance to be silly, have fun, or laugh as far as I'm concerned. Fortunately, I had an unexpected opportunity to play July 4th and 5th. I thought I had to work. I found out I didn't, so I took an impromptu trip to see my family and friends in Duluth. And while I don't have any pictures of the beautiful fireworks display, I do have these.


This is my baby brother. He hosted me at his house for two days. We had a wonderful family barbecue on July 4th, went to the beach with my nephews and the dogs, watched the fireworks, took in a few big ships coming into port, and played in Duluth's Canal Park.




This is one of the ships coming off Lake Superior into port, under the Aerial Lift Bridge, in Duluth on July 5th. I grew up seeing these ships out on the lake and coming into the harbor, but I've never tired of the experience. This ship was 1000 feet long. It's fun to see and hear the tourists' excitement, too. For many of them, this will be a once in a lifetime experience. I don't take my ability to repeatedly see this sight for granted.





These four pictures are of my nephew, Connor, age 9, and I, age 50(!), as we climb a few walls. I was a bit of a rock climber in college (actual rocks, as they didn't have climbing walls way back then), but I don't remember it being quite so challenging! My legs were fine, but my poor arms and hands are still sore 2 days later! What fun, though! I wish I hadn't gotten so tired after only 4 climbs. I would liked to have climbed all afternoon. If you're ever looking for a very mindful, challenging activity to take your mind away for a bit, climbing is it! I had forgotten that. You can't focus on anything other than your hands, feet, and trembling muscles while hanging onto a wall 50 feet off the ground. This may be my new go-to activity next time I'm struggling with my mood. I'm going to check out the local climbing gym as soon as I can lift my arms again!

There you have it, folks. Two days of playful fun. It was a spur of the moment trip, and I wanted to take full advantage. Mission accomplished. I think those of us who struggle with depression have to make an extra effort to get outside of ourselves and look for opportunities for enjoyable distraction whenever possible. I know it makes a huge difference for me. Depression, even when we're not stuck in the darkest hole, likes to steal joy, and laughter, and fun. I refuse to allow it. It is because I have depression that I must make the effort to find joy in everyday life, and when I have the chance, to seek out extra adventures to feed my soul. Go play, my friends!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Little things

A couple of days ago, I found myself grinning from ear to ear and happier than could be. And then I found myself giggling, at myself, for being so giddy. You see, it was all about a hat. That's it. Just a hat.


I have several baseball hats, all different colors, with many different logos, but this hat is my favorite. I've had it for years and wear it more than any other I own. So when a snap on the adjustable strap broke a few weeks ago I was really disappointed. On Thursday, I found someone who could fix it, and he did so in 5 minutes! Hence my giddiness as I walked out his door.

I experienced a similar giddiness just a couple of weeks ago. That time it was about a chair; a 28-year-old, black, leather reclining chair with matching ottoman. It was the only chair I ever sat in. It was the chair in which I watched television, read magazines, took naps, and wrote many blog posts. I sat in it a couple of weeks ago, and it broke. I was so sad!

For days I regaled my coworkers with semi-faux trauma over the loss of my chair, and we all had a good laugh. I put the chair outside to be thrown out with the trash, and I began my search for a new one. Well, I discovered they just don't make things like they used to. Rather than real leather, steel, and a fully reclining seat, I found all sorts of junk for all kinds of money. I was disgusted.

I decided maybe I didn't have to throw away my beloved chair after all. I couldn't believe it, but I found someone to fix it. I drove the 30 minutes to her farmhouse and sheepishly presented her with my well-worn, broken chair. No problem, she said! Her husband would fix the mechanics, and she would take care of the rest. Giddiness! I should be in possession of my brand new, old and beloved, chair in just a few days!

It's the little things. I'm glad I have the capacity to appreciate little things like this. I think that's important. I also think it speaks to how well I've been feeling lately. If I wasn't feeling well I'm sure I would not have giggled with joy over a silly, fixed hat or at the prospect of reupholstering a really old chair. But I am smiling, giggling, and satisfied. Sometimes little things mean a lot.



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