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!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Slipping?

I sent a note to my doctor yesterday. I'm a little bit worried. Something feels off. I'm not quite right, hence the note to my doc. Nothing to do but wait and see, really, but I just wanted her to know. Over the last several days, I've periodically had that sickening feeling I sometimes get prior to a depression episode. I hope it's just a little dip, or even better, nothing at all.

It's been awhile since I've had that sickening feeling. It scares me, but I'm trying not to focus on it. I'm trying to feel it and let it pass. I can't control whether depression descends or not. I can only control what I'm doing to keep it at bay. So I'll keep taking my meds, working, exercising, going to meetings, and seeing my doctor. That's where my focus needs to be. Worrying won't help. Acting will. I have to remember that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Feeling frustrated

It's been a week. I sat down at this computer several times over the last 7 days to write a new post, but I just didn't have anything I wanted to say. I'm still not sure I do. I apologize. My life, most of the time, is not terribly exciting.

Unfortunately, the only "excitement" I have to report is negative. I'm so sick and tired of writing about my aches and pains. In fact, perhaps due to a severe case of denial, or more likely due to unreasonable hope that what I knew happened would magically repair itself, I haven't written about this injury even though it happened in early January. I just didn't want it to be true.

I'm afraid it's true. Even before the MRI confirmed it, I knew it was true. I re-tore my right hip labrum. It's the same hip in which I've had 3 previous arthroscopic labral repair surgeries. I knew it the moment it happened, but I prayed I was wrong. I wasn't wrong.

The labrum is a thin ring of cartilage surrounding the acetabulum (hip socket) which helps cushion the hip joint, and more importantly, it helps hold the head of the femur securely within the socket.


The front or superior part of the labrum, as shown in the picture above, gets pinched in certain positions in certain people. I'm one of those people. I originally injured it in PT school in the mid to late 90's. I didn't know I injured it at the time, but when all the sitting I did in PT school became quite painful, I knew something was wrong.

In the late 90's nobody in the United States knew about labral tears. In fact, after a series of tests showed nothing (or at least nothing they recognized as an issue) Mayo Clinic Sports Med docs referred me to psychiatry because they were certain the pain I was experiencing was in my head. This was long before my depression began, and I really let the resident making the psychiatry recommendation have it as I stormed out of her office! I knew something wasn't right, and I knew I wasn't faking. Boy I was angry!

Fortunately, a few years later, in my first year as a physical therapist, I attended a hip continuing education course. The instructor was from Belgium. He began describing my symptoms! My boss and I stared at each other in disbelief. I learned right then and there what my problem was. At that time, while surgeons all over Europe were performing arthroscopic labral repairs, only 2 surgeons in the United States were doing the procedure. Thankfully, one of those surgeons was only 90 minutes away from me.

Well, Dr. Palmer, the surgeon who performed my previous 3 procedures, has retired. His office referred me to another orthopedic surgeon, who (fortunately and unfortunately) is one of the premier orthopedic surgeons in the state of Minnesota. Over the past month I've been jumping through a bunch of hoops in order to get "offered" an appointment. Apparently I made the cut. I'll be seeing Dr. Larson in April. 

Until then it's kind of business as usual for me. I can run with a labral tear without discomfort or much risk of further injury. My Achilles tendons are currently preventing running, and any kind of squatting, jumping (which is how I re-tore it) and sometimes even biking are not great for my hip. Sitting is actually the most uncomfortable thing to do. Nevertheless, I'll continue to do what I can to maintain my fitness.

I'm tired of hurting. I'm hoping Dr. Larson will see something he can repair, but even if he can, it's another set back for me. After my last procedure in 2014, I was non-weight bearing on crutches for 4 weeks. I'm frustrated. I've got no choice but to address the issue and keep moving forward. At some point, the tide has to turn. At some point, I'll be a runner again. I have to keep believing that.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

To run or not to run

I'm happy to report Jet and I made it through the recent Polar Vortex. It was 20-30 degrees below zero here for the better part of 3 days. It got so cold I had to put socks on Jet's feet every time he went out to pee. If he was out longer than 30 seconds without the socks, he barely made it back into the house due to his frozen feet. With the socks he at least had time to pee!

Despite the cold, I was able to get out to run 3 times this week, including yesterday when the temperature rebounded to almost 40 degrees! I didn't run at all last week, as I focused instead on the heel drop exercises I had begun for my sore Achilles tendons. I'm in the midst of a 12 week, 180 repetitions per day, heel drop program, which is supposed to essentially cure Achilles tendinopathy in about 75% of cases. (It's called the Alfredson's heel drop program if you're interested.)

I figured I wasn't supposed to run while doing the Alfredson program, but I couldn't find any evidence to support that assumption one way or the other. I didn't run at all last week. My Achilles tendons felt better by early this week, so, being a runner, I decided it was time to give running another try.

My first two runs this week went very well. I ran 6 miles each time, and my Achilles tendons didn't scream at me every step, as they had during the previous few weeks of running. I was encouraged. Unfortunately, after running 7 miles yesterday my Achilles tendons are very sore today.

I know, I probably wasn't supposed to run, but every run lately has felt wonderful! Maybe it's because I've been unable to run for so long that I'm now grateful for every step, every breath of fresh air, every foot fall crunching on the snow. I've thoroughly enjoyed being out there putting on the miles again.

I'm hopeful I'll be able to get back to pain free running and training again. But at this point I'd probably be smart to take another week or two off and continue working on my heel drops. I pray the tendinopathy resolves. But I also know, being a runner, I'll likely keep pushing the limits despite knowing better. The internal battle will continue. What can I say? I'm a runner.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Suicide

When I was a junior in high school, 17 years old to be exact, I attempted to end my life. January 30th, 1985, was supposed to be the last day of my life. I had a plan. I carried out my plan, step by step, over the course of several weeks preceding January 30th. I was serious. But I lived.

Here I am, 34 years later, remembering those moments, that day, that moment. I was not the person one would have expected to attempt suicide. I was still a straight A student and athlete, but the depression which began at age 15 had worn me down. I no longer felt I could fight. So I made a plan and carried it out.

Fortunately, I failed. Life hasn't always been easy, but it's been good. I've had many, many wonderful experiences, seen many beautiful things, and interacted with many lovely people. But don't worry, this isn't an anti-suicide-smile-and-your-world-will-be-blissful speech. Of all people, I know that's not the case.

Sometimes life sucks. I know. My life hasn't been blissful for long stretches of time. In the last 18 years, since my depression returned, my life has intermittently been far from easy, or pretty, or hopeful. My severe depression episodes usually incite a return of significant suicidal thoughts. I'm not immune.

In fact, since I've attempted suicide in the past, research indicates I'm more likely to make another attempt and to die by suicide. According to The World Health Organization, "by far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt." I know that. It scares me sometimes.

So I get it. But as I look back on this day 34 years ago, I can honestly say I'm glad I failed. I'm glad I didn't put my mom, brothers or friends through the pain my suicide would have caused. I'm glad I lived to experience all the learning, running, travel, relationships, and even pets I wouldn't have experienced had my life ended that day. January 30th, 1985 was a very bleak, desperate day, but I'm grateful it wasn't my last.

One day at a time, my friends. If life feels overwhelming, desperate or bleak, just make it through today. If you are feeling suicidal, and especially if you have a plan, please get help now. Keep fighting. Please. 1-800-273-8255

Thursday, January 24, 2019

To whine or not to whine

I was talking to my doctor this morning. She's a few years older than I, and like me, she also played college sports. We were ironically chuckling about all of my physical ailments. I've got bad Achilles tendons, a repeatedly torn and surgically repaired right hip labrum, an arthritic right knee, a sore right thumb and wrist, and left shoulder rotator cuff impingement. And those are only the current aches and pains! We were chuckling as we recounted how, as young people, we heard older adults complain about their aches and pains and cavalierly thought that would never happen to us. Well it's happening. I guess I'm not immune.

I left her office still chuckling and began thinking about this blog post. I made a plan to write about my failing joints. But when I sat down to write I recalled another topic of discussion. In addition to chuckling about my aches and pains, we also happily reflected on how well I've been feeling. Gee, that seems like a more appropriate topic for this blog.

You see, it's not just that I'm feeling well, it's how long I've been feeling well. I know I just mentioned this in a recent post, but it's so cool, I'm going to say it again. Since my Ketamine infusions, which ended in early October, 2017, I have not had a significant depression relapse. I had a few blips in 2018 but nothing significant, and over the past several months I've felt better and better. I feel like pinching myself sometimes.

It's wonderfully strange for me to be free of a depression episode for this long. Other than the Ketamine, I've not done anything special or different over the last 15 months. Instead I've continued to do what I've always done; take my medications, see my doctor and therapist, exercise, attend my meetings and stay sober, work, and socialize once in awhile with a few friends. So it must be the Ketamine? There's really no way to know. I guess I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.

Yes, I wish my body wasn't physically hurting in so many places, but it's way more fun to reflect on how mentally well I'm feeling than it is to whine about my aches and pains. I may choose to whine next time, but today I'm celebrating instead. I'm happy. I feel good. I'm happy I feel good. At least one area of my body is not aching!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

She would have been 50

I don't always remember this day, but I've been thinking about her a lot lately. And with good reason, I guess, as today would have been her 50th birthday. But she's not here. She hasn't been here for 36 years. Isn't it strange? I miss her, yet I have no idea who she would have been had she not been killed at age 14.

I was 15. My step sister was 14. Pam left the house in a breeze to go ride her bike with her friend, Paula. It was before dinner. I didn't even say goodbye. I don't even think I was in the kitchen as she flew out the door, but I heard her go. My step-mother was beginning to prepare our meal. A very short time later, before my step-mother had even turned on the stove, I heard the phone ring, my step-mother hurriedly yelling to my father, and both of them flying out the door.

This was long before the days of cell phones. I don't remember how we learned that Pam had been hit by a truck, but we knew, and we knew it was serious. My older brother got our neighbor, one of my favorite teachers, to come to the house. I guess he thought we needed an adult present, as there were five of us between the ages of 4 and 16 left at home.

Our neighbor tried to continue making the dinner my step-mother had started. I called my boyfriend and retreated to the bedroom I shared with Pam. After my boyfriend arrived, dropped off by his parents, we laid together silently on the bed.

At some point the phone rang again. I don't remember if I answered it or not, but I'll never forget my father's words from the other end of the line. Tearfully, he said, "She's not going to make it, honey." Pam was brain dead. She would have turned 50 today.

Pam and I were only sisters for a little over 3 years. Neither of us had had a sister before. She had one brother, only 4 years old when she died. I had 3 brothers of my own. We moved into my step mother's house, which despite being built for a family of four, then housed eight. I moved not only into Pam's bedroom, but into her bed, too! 

Needless to say, things were a bit awkward at first, but sharing a bed with someone lends itself to finding common ground. We became very close. I remember our long talks at night. I remember us clinging silently to each other as our parents, in the room next door, fought hard many times. We had our own friends, our own lives, but at home we played catch in the yard for hours, had long discussions, gave each other back rubs, and basically stuck together.

Pam died just a few days into her Freshman year. My life changed the day she died. Even 36 years later, I can still feel the pain, chaos and confusion of that time. But today, I'm happy I am remembering her, and us, and our time as sisters.

Fifty years old... Would she be married, have kids? Where would she be living? What would she be doing? I wonder. But there is one thing I don't have to wonder about. I know this, Pam and I would be celebrating her birthday together today. In those three short years together we laid the foundation of a lifetime relationship. It's unfortunate we never had the opportunity to live it. Happy Birthday, Pam.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Gratitude is possible

Let me say this, I'm grateful I am grateful. Gratitude is a relatively new concept for me. Prior to getting sober 13 years ago, I really had no idea what it meant to be grateful. If I throw out those first 2-3 years of sobriety, when I was still trying to figure things out, it means I've only practiced gratitude for the last 10 years or so. That's not even a quarter of my life!

Fortunately, I did figure some things out. And fortunately, gratitude became a part of my life. It feels good to be grateful. Awareness of the blessings in my life carries me through a slew of difficulties. When I'm having a crappy day, practicing gratitude gives me a chance to collect myself. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, or scared, reminding myself of that for which I am grateful dampens the emotional intensity. And when I'm being smothered by the hopelessness of depression, making a gratitude list allows me to catch my breath, to move forward, and to continue the fight.

A recent blog post by Therese Borchard has me thinking about gratitude. In her excellent post, Therese quotes from the book, What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker. Apparently, Dr. Baker believes one can't be grateful and experience fear or dread (hmmm...depression symptoms?) simultaneously. What?? Therese points out that has not been her experience. It's not been my experience either.

Even in my darkest times, I have not lost sight of the good in my life. Due to depression's blunting effects, the good may have seemed distant or have been difficult to fully experience, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it. According to Dr. Baker, that practice should have, in essence, cured my depression. He argues, "During active appreciation the threatening messages from your amygdala and the anxious instincts of your brain stem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex." I'd like to see the randomized, controlled, clinical data backing up that statement!

I have to say, I was unfamiliar with Dr. Baker's work, or perhaps more accurately, his thoughts. Therese's post sent me on a little Google expedition, and I was reminded exactly why I was unfamiliar with his work. He is the author of the type of book, the oversimplified self help testimonial, of which I generally detest. You know the book: if you just think this way, take these steps, or wear this color you'll be happy, beautiful, rich, and illness free! Oh, and don't forget the abs of steel and fabulous sex... But I digress...

Yes, Dr. Baker has some good thoughts, but to suggest that feeling grateful will block negative feelings and lead to happiness is just wrong. Am I a failure because I still have depression despite practicing gratitude? If I just practiced harder, would I achieve happiness? So I don't really need this medicine? It's a dangerous message to a person struggling with mental illness, especially to the person who already believes the mis-education and stigma, in other words, the person who would be picking up this type of book.

I agree, being aware of and practicing gratitude is a useful tool, no matter what ails you. It certainly has helped me. But I don't think gratitude cuts off negative thoughts and emotions. It doesn't need to exist in a vacuum. And I certainly don't think it guarantees happiness.

I'm here to tell you, despite feeling grateful for the blessings in my life, I still have depression. It is possible to experience the negative thoughts and emotions of depression while simultaneously feeling appreciation. Oh,and I'm not a failure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A disturbing story

The title of the article says it all, "To get mental health help for a child, desperate parents relinquish custody." It is a disturbing, horrific story of a family and their adopted son. Daniel went from a normal child to a boy who "began to show signs of serious mental illness that eventually manifested in violent outbursts and nearly a dozen psychiatric hospitalizations, starting at age 10." Despite private insurance and Medicaid coverage, it seems nobody was willing to pay for Daniel's recommended treatment--"institutional services that cost at least $100,000 a year."

Daniel's parents had no choice but to relinquish custody of their son in order for him to receive the care he needed. By giving up their custody rights, and turning Daniel back over to foster care, "the child welfare agency would be obligated to pay for the services." But it wasn't as simple as that, Daniel's parents had to go through hell first (my opinion).

According to the article after Daniel's 11th hospitalization in two years, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services stepped in. They gave Daniel's parents an ultimatum, "[They] basically said, 'If you bring him home, we're going to charge you with child endangerment for failure to protect your other kids, and if you leave him at the hospital, we'll charge you with neglect.' " What kind of choice is that?

This story is so disturbing. It graphically highlights how differently we treat those diagnosed with mental illness. Is there any chance a parent of a child with cancer, or diabetes, or muscular dystrophy would have to face the decision these parents had to face? I don't think so. This child was sick. Everybody knew he was sick. But treat him for his illness? Nope. Costs too much. Ridiculous.

Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. Daniel got treated, remained connected to his parents, and now leads a stable, productive life. I'm amazed it turned out that way, and I'd venture to guess this family's happy ending is not the norm. I urge you to read the full article. It's a multi-faceted issue. And I'd love to know what you think.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Here's to another good year

I'm a bit sad 2018 is behind me. I had a pretty good year. Sure, I'd like to be back running and racing, but other than that, 2018 was quite kind. My year was filled with activities and adventures. Looking back over my 2018 blog posts, I see lots of photos, smiles, and gratitude. Fortunately, 2018 was very unlike 2017. In 2017 my blog posts were filled with pain, angst, and only 2 photos; two photos in an entire year of blog posts! Yup, I'll take another 2018 over a 2017 anytime.

Of course the best news of 2018 was what didn't show up in any of my posts. For the first year in a lot of years I didn't have to write about one hospitalization for depression. Not one. Since my Ketamine infusions, which were completed in early October, 2017, I have been free of a significant depression relapse. Wow. I'll have to do some research. That may be my longest span without hospitalization in the 18 years I've been battling this illness.

I don't know what else to say. That discovery, no hospitalizations, has me feeling thoughtful, and dare I say it, hopeful. What if that was it? Wouldn't that be amazing? It would. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing that, so I'll try to stay in today. Today, I'm feeling well. I'm feeling thankful to be feeling well and to have had a pretty good year. Here's hoping 2019 treats me as well as 2018 did.

Friday, December 28, 2018

13 years

I'm not sure why I got it when so many others didn't. Luck? Willingness? Chemistry? Maybe a bit of all three? I don't know, but I'm happy I got it. I'm thrilled and grateful today to be celebrating 13 years of sobriety. Most of you reading this post have no idea what I was like when I was drinking. Allow me to give you a glimpse.

When I was in the thick of my disease, and that includes years of abstinence, I did not know what gratitude meant. I did not understand the word, and I'm pretty sure I never once uttered it in conversation. Humility was even more foreign to me. I certainly didn't understand the concept. And if I was ever aware of the word, I probably thought it had something to do with humiliation.

I was selfish, self centered, and controlling. I figured it was my responsibility to make sure you knew what you should be doing, whether that was as a colleague, a family member, or a friend. I could be a jerk, but if I was, I was sure it was because you caused me to be a jerk. Rationalization was one concept I did understand. I'm sure I often wasn't a pleasant person to be around, but I had no idea.

Since I knew what was best for me, I didn't come to sobriety willingly. Believing in something greater than myself, listening to suggestions from others, and admitting I was powerless? None of those ideas sounded even remotely right. Like I said, I'm still not sure why I got it. After all, I came to sobriety kicking and screaming.

I kicked and screamed for well over a year, if I remember correctly. I'm so lucky the people attempting to assist me, to listen to me, to share their knowledge with me; I'm so lucky they didn't give up. They continued to share their experience, strength and hope, despite my reservations and probably protestations. But for some reason I continued to come back for more.

I guess that's what was required, though, because at some point something clicked. Maybe I became willing? Maybe I gave up thinking I knew what was best, not only for me but for you, too? Maybe I realized I actually was powerless? At some point, I got it. Something clicked, and I began to change.

Sobriety is about so much more than not drinking. For me, it's about becoming a better person, a kinder, gentler person. It's about learning to trust. It's about living life on life's terms rather than mine. Amazingly, when I gave up trying to control everything, I found a freedom like I'd never known before. It's weird, and strange, and wonderful.

I'm amazed to be sitting here 13 years sober today. I'm humbled, and grateful, and happy. If you're struggling, know it's possible. If you're willing, a better life, not necessarily an easier life, but a better life is there for the taking. After all, if I can get it, anyone can.



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