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!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Connections

Something strange has happened. Being away, it seems, increased my sense of connection, especially to the people in my life. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude in the wee hours of yesterday morning (my sleep is still not back to normal) I wrote a letter about it. I posted the letter to the private Facebook group I created prior to my trip, which allowed 25 coworkers, friends and family members to follow my progress.

Posting the letter to the group was a little scary, as I laid my emotions out there in a very personal way. I'm used to writing about these things here, somewhat anonymously, and posting my feelings to the black hole of the Internet. Even if my friends or family read what I write here, I rarely know about it. There's some safety in that. But yesterday, I felt the need to let those people closest to me know exactly what I was feeling. So far, I'm glad I did.

And now I'd like to let you in on it, too. If it inspires you to take a risk, to be open to adventure, to go after a dream, or simply to open yourself up to those in your life, to be honest and vulnerable, then publishing my thoughts and feelings here will be worth it, too. Here you go:

I know sometimes we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone. It’s human nature, right? I try to live each day with gratitude in my heart; to recognize the little things, the people, and the opportunities I have which make my life what it is, a pretty good life. No matter the challenges, the hardships, or the illness, I have a pretty good life.

As I sit here this morning, 5 days after returning home from a 27-day bucket list trip to Nepal and The Himalayas, I am feeling overwhelming gratitude. I am so lucky, and primarily I am lucky because of you. All of you…

My brothers. Despite our trials and tribulations, despite disparity and distance between us, I have siblings that care today. I have three brothers with wonderful families of their own. I have nieces and nephews I don’t often get to see, but cherish nonetheless. As a lot, we are healthy, prospering, successful contributors to society.

Though sometimes I feel distant from your nuclear family lives, being away made me feel more connected to you, my brothers, and your families. From your hilarious comments and “likes” to the thoughts and observations of my sisters-in-law in response to my Facebook posts, I knew you were each paying attention and interested, despite the business of your own family lives. That was comforting and reassuring.

Mom, you have often been a source of comfort and reassurance. It was no different while I was away. I could tell you were anxious and slightly fearful of the challenge I was undertaking, but you were wholeheartedly supportive, nonetheless. Among other things, you were crucial in assisting with changing my airline ticket when it became evident to me I needed to return early or risk my mental health. I haven’t always been the easiest daughter to raise, or even observe from a distance, of that I am sure, but you’ve always had my back. Thanks, Mom. I’m lucky. And grateful.

Speaking of gratitude, I will never, ever be able to express the depth of my gratitude to my psychiatrist, Dr. L. You were not only interested in and willing to follow my progress while I was away, you were a lifeline. When the altitude began wreaking havoc on my brain, heightening my anxiety to levels I’ve rarely, if ever, experienced, you were there. You were willing to participate in a dialogue with me, guide me, make suggestions, and reassure me. All the while I was halfway around the world! As usual, you went above and beyond what would be expected of any doctor. You were a touchstone, a presence, a voice to fall back on when I was tired, unsure, struggling, or frightened. I am certain this trip would not have been as successful if I hadn’t been allowed the selfless connection and support you granted me, Dr. L. Thank you.

As far as granting support, it is a rare opportunity to be able to take off for a month and still be allowed back to work with open arms. It was so reassuring to be connected to each of you, my coworkers, while I was away. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experience with you. My connection to you, my colleagues, with whom I have always had the utmost respect, was only strengthened by my time across the globe. To feel your sense of excitement and joy in each of my accomplishments and milestones was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I felt valued, appreciated, and respected. Where you could have been resentful and envious, left to pick up my slack while I traipsed around the world, you instead celebrated with me and relished in my adventure. I’ve never been so happy to return to work. I am truly grateful to work with so many amazing, supportive, selfless people. We are a good team.

Another team I appreciate now more than ever are the friends with whom I shared this adventure. Being a bit of a loner, I guess I wasn’t expecting the excitement and encouragement I received from each of you. I don’t do a lot of socializing. My world tends to be on the small side. But while I was out trekking alone, I felt nothing but support and camaraderie from the friends I allowed to follow me. I admit, I was surprised. And rather than saying anything special about me, it is instead a reflection of the kind, generous people I have in my life. Even if I see many of you only rarely, and even though I tend to think of myself as a unit of one, this trip made me realize I actually do have many caring, supportive friends. I only need to let you in to feel the love you so willingly shared with me this past month. Thank you, each of you. Thank you.

I am a lucky woman. I took an adventure to an area I had dreamed about for years. I expected to be challenged and thrilled, and I was. I’m proud of myself for taking the opportunity to make a dream reality. I expected I would learn a bit about the world, a different culture, and myself on this trip. And I did. What I didn’t expect, however, turned out to be the true gift. Love, support, connection… on so many levels. I’m still reeling a bit processing all of it.

I guess I just wanted to say thank you, to all of you, many of whom, like me, I’m sure never expected this outpouring of heartfelt gratitude. Perhaps you never imagined your singular place in my life could make such a huge impact. Perhaps that’s the lesson for all of us. We make a difference. Even when we think we are just doing what’s expected in our particular roles, we are making a difference in somebody’s life.

I want to thank each of you, today, for making a difference in mine. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Home again

I arrived home from Nepal around 9:00 PM, US Central Time, on Sunday, November 4, 2018. I had traveled well over 30 hours by the time I walked in my door. I was tired and relieved.

Jet was here waiting for me. My assistant, Michelle, who took care of Jet while I was gone, dropped him at home a few hours before I arrived. Perhaps it was a function of traveler's fatigue, or perhaps it was simply that I really missed Jet, but I basically bawled my eyes out on and off for several hours after arriving home. It was strange. I was overwhelmed, sad, relieved, happy, and who knows what else! I was out of sorts, to say the least.

There was so much to do after getting home. It would have been easy to collapse on the sofa and leave the bags in the middle of the floor. Fortunately, I resisted the urge to do just that. Instead, I've kept busy resettling. I've unpacked, done all of my laundry, gone grocery shopping, completed paperwork for my health insurance, and updated this blog with photos from my trip. So if you're looking for some pictures, I went back and added several to each post I wrote while away. Check them out and let me know what you think.

I plan to return to work tomorrow. I still have my high altitude cough, developed about 10 days ago, so I will also check in with my doctor tomorrow, too. I'd like to get rid of that. On Thursday, I'm looking forward to checking in with my psychiatrist. She was very helpful while I was away, allowing me to stay in contact as needed (like when my anxiety rose off the charts). She followed my progress on Facebook, as well. I am very lucky to have such a skilled, caring doctor. I'll always be grateful for her assistance.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Everest Base Camp, but I'm looking forward to getting back into my regular routine. Right now I have no desire to begin exercising again, but I'm going to force myself to get back out there soon. I did lose 10 pounds while away, so I'd like to put some muscle back on my frame. And I'd like to become a runner again. I'm going to take it slow, see if I can avoid injury, maybe run a Turkey Trot in a few weeks, and eventually, I hope, race the marathon again. Now that I've put Everest Base Camp behind me, that will be my focus. Just run...

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Back in Kathmandu

Sunset in Lukla
Sunset in Lukla
Sunset in Lukla
It took another stressful 2 days of waiting and negotiating at the Lukla airport to finally get on a flight yesterday, which brought me back to Kathmandu, after finishing my trek.  That makes 4.5 wasted, incredibly anxiety-filled days on the front and back ends of my trek spent at airports with seemingly no ability to transport the vast numbers of trekkers awaiting flights. It tarnished an otherwise incredible experience.

The past two days were full of anxious tears and major frustration, as I was bumping up against my international flight home, which begins later tonight. I was so relieved to actually get on a flight yesterday, that that too brought me to tears. I'm really tired of crying now.

After arriving at the hotel yesterday, I took my first real, hot shower in almost a month. What a gratifying thrill! I also got my first look at myself. Weird. I literally had not seen my face or most of my body for a month.

There are no mirrors in the Himalayas, and even if there were, it wouldn't matter, as I was covered from head to toe 99% of time! I discovered I badly need a haircut, and I've lost at least 10 pounds! I've been working hard on the desserts since getting back to the city.

Last night was also the first night I slept on a mattress in a warm bed since early October. It was wonderful! Toilets, toilet paper I don't have to supply myself, hot and cold running water... these are a few of the things I will never take for granted again.

And clean air! While the air was pristine in the mountains, it is thick with exhaust, dust, and who knows what else here in Kathmandu! I have been using my asthma inhaler every four hours like clockwork, and it's still difficult to breathe. I'm really looking forward to getting out of the city and on my way home.

I go to the airport in 6 hours for a middle of the night flight to begin my journey home. I'm actually really surprised at how incredibly home sick I am. I can't wait to get back to Jet and my normal, boring little routine.

This was a difficult trip, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The trekking itself was, of course, challenging. It required that I dig to a deep, rarely visited level more often than not. The lack of infrastructure made every detail, like securing a guesthouse room each night or a timely flight when needed, impossible to count on or even predict. And the physical conditions; 24-hour cold, high altitude, lack of running water, no toilets, did I mention the cold(?) wore on me. Regardless, I accomplished my goal.

I'm so thrilled to have set foot on the soil of Everest Basecamp. That's been a dream for more years than I can count. And I'm proud of myself for overcoming all of the challenges and obstacles this trek laid in my path. I stepped over, around, and through each one of them, accomplishing some things I never imagined myself  accomplishing.

Everest Base Camp, October 21, 2018
This was a more difficult experience than that which I had expected, but I've come out the other side a better human being, hopefully, because of it. That sounds cliche, but in this case, I believe it's true.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Headed downhill

Last night I slept below 15,000 feet for the first time in at least a week, and I felt like I was in an oxygen tent! On the way up I got anxious and could barely breathe above 14,000 feet! What a difference a week makes.

Unfortunately, I also had one of my toughest days yesterday. I woke up with a sore throat and cough. My chest was congested. And the first order of business yesterday was to climb up 17,600 foot Renjo La Pass. It was a climb that just wouldn't end! It took 3 hours and 47 minutes of climbing to reach the top, and I felt so poorly I was actually getting scared. As promised the 360 degree view of the Everest range was spectacular, but I didn't even get a picture. I needed to get lower quickly, so that's what I did.

Picture from top of Renjo La Pass, taken by my guide, of the entire Everest range.
The difficulty was just getting started, however, as we still had 3-4 hours of trekking before we would reach the next village. In total, we went 10.4 miles in close to 8 hours. I felt so poorly, I even let my guide carry my pack when he offered. It was a tough day.

I'm fortunate my doctor prescribed a just-in-case antibiotic for just such an occasion. She had mentioned that more treks are interrupted or discontinued due to respiratory illness rather than anything else. I'm glad she knew that. I began taking the antibiotic last night, and I already feel better.

We only hiked about 3 hours today, and it will be mostly downhill from here. I had my first shower in at least 2 weeks this afternoon, quite a treat even though my host's definition of hot differs quite a bit from mine! And at this point I'm contemplating whether I will wash or simply throw away every garment I've repeatedly worn on this excursion! Trekking is amazing, but it is not at all luxurious!

That's all for now folks. Hopefully the next time you hear from me I won't be sitting inside a mountain guesthouse wearing two down jackets, two layers of thermal pants, and a hat, all the while freezing my one exposed finger, which I needed to type this post!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Basecamp

I made it to Everest Base Camp. In the past 3 days I've also climbed up and over an 18,000 foot mountain pass and summited Mount Kalapthar, around 18,400 feet. I never imagined I'd be able to do any of these things, and each was extremely difficult, to say the least, but I did them.

View on the way up to Kong Ma La Pass

Top of Kong Ma La Pass, 18,016 feet.

The "trail" down from the top of Kong Ma La Pass. You can see it, right, a trail? Me, either. This was fairly typical hiking when going up and over passes, challenging to say the least.
What I came to do! Everest Base Camp, October 21, 2018
Defeat the Stigma of Mental Illness, Everest Base Camp, October 21, 2018
Summit of Mount Kalapatthar, which faces Mount Everest, October 22, 2018

Exhausted at summit of Mount Kalapatthar

Summit of Mount Kalapatthar, with Mount Everest and Nuptse Mountains in background
Basecamp was a dream come true. I cried tears of joy when I arrived. I have two more high passes to conquer and a visit to a beautiful high altitude lake before heading back, but the highest altitudes and climbs have already been accomplished.

Rough day with anxiety and fatigue today, but hope to feel better tomorrow. The anxiety meds have made a huge difference, and I tried to go without this morning. Might have been a mistake. I won't make it again. Onward and upward.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Anxiety

I'm on my bucket list trip to Everest base camp, and I am battling a fight within my brain. My anxiety, something with which I don't often struggle, is almost out of control. It's already harder to breathe up here, but I think that shortness of breath is triggering for me. It's why I can't swim, even though I'm a very good swimmer, in lakes where the water is over my head. That feeling of breathlessness (with no escape route) triggers more breathlessness! And then (now) I get in full panic mode. It's so, so uncomfortable!

So even though I climbed from 14,000 feet to 16,487 feet and back just this morning, I'm now sitting here at only 14,000 feet panicking. I can't breathe.

Don't get me wrong, I panicked on the early part of the climb, too. Even shed a few tears, but I stuck with it, took it slow, got my breathing into a rhythm, and felt great at the summit. I figured that accomplishment would quell the anxiety, but apparently it hasn't.

I do have an as needed anxiety med with me, but I worry about taking that, too. Not sure it's totally okay at high altitude. Unfortunately, I've had to take it, and fortunately it does help after awhile.

I'm frustrated to be feeling this way. I knew this trip would be physically challenging. I guess I never contemplated or expected this mental battle. It's all I can do not to turn around and go home. I'm going to keep forging ahead and hope I can overcome some of this anxiety. If not, I've got a long way to go. Any words of encouragement gladly accepted.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trekking

I'm on day 5, I think, of my trek. Currently around 14,000 feet. The actual trekking has been challenging but wonderful. I've seen Everest the last 2 days. Still several days away from basecamp, though. I'll try to post some photos, but internet is sketchy at best now. I've had some challenges with anxiety outside of trekking time. Not happy about that but forging ahead. I'll update as I'm able.

Yaks transporting goods along trekking paths

Amazing waterfall. One of many.

Donkeys transporting goods crossing one of the many suspension bridges along the route.

This suspension bridge was at least 1/4 mile above the raging river below. It was amazing!

First view of Mount Everest (on left)

If not on the backs of donkeys or yaks, human porters are the amazing transporters of goods throughout the Himalayas. These guys routinely passed me carrying hundreds of pounds of goods on their backs.

Typical guesthouse room. No heat. Little to no electricity. No running water. I got really good at wearing my next day's clothing to bed, as it was just too damn cold to get dressed in the mornings!

Ama Dablam dominated the landscape early in my trek.

Me. And mountains, go figure...

My first summit. Although even at close to 17,000 feet, this officially is only a HILL in the Himalayas--Nagarjun Hill, to be exact.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Kathmandu

This post may be short and sweet, as I am attempting to type it on my cellphone. Interesting to say the least, but here goes.

I arrived in Kathmandu Thursday in the middle of the night (it's Saturday morning here now-- neat trick, huh? This post published a day before I wrote it. ) My trip here was entirely uneventful, which was pretty amazing considering I took 3 flights over 30 hours. Unfortunately, my ride from the airport failed to show up. An AM/PM mistake I learned later. However, the situation was quickly resolved, and I was on my way.

Kathmandu is about as chaotic a place as I have ever experienced. It's fascinating, a total culture shock as compared to my bucolic life, which I never thought of as bucolic until now! I would not survive such a lifestyle, but it's been interesting to experience.

Drivers and pedestrians approach from every direction. It's amazing nobody gets run over. Honking horns are constant!

Normal electrical pole in Kathmandu. Yikes!
The people here are wonderful; polite, accommodating, and friendly. I met my trekking guide yesterday. He is from the Sherpa culture, and his parents still live in the Himalayan village where he was born. I'm looking forward to learning from him.

My trek was supposed to begin yesterday with a local flight to Lukla, elevation 9500 feet, where we were to begin hiking. Unfortunately, as is routinely the case, after waiting thru 7+ hours of delays--in an obscenely packed and chaotic domestic terminal--our flight was canceled due to poor weather in Lukla. The process will be repeated today.  I'm praying our flight takes off as planned.

Chaos at Kathmandu domestic terminal with everyone awaiting flights to Lukla
These days in Kathmandu have left me quite anxious, to the point where it's been a struggle to soothe myself. I'm really hoping/expecting getting my boots on the ground will bring about more of the physical and spiritual experience for which I planned.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ready or not

Nepal is on the horizon. I'm excited, anxious, and ready to go. I'm not looking forward to the actual travel there and back, but I'm prepared to take it in stride and roll with whatever comes my way. Eventually, I will get there. I'll do my best to embrace the journey.

Preparation for this bucket list trip has been a bit complex and challenging. Trekking through the Himalayas followed by riding an elephant in the jungle meant I needed a lot of different gear, so packing required maximum thought and planning. In fact, the first time I packed last Sunday, it took me 6.5 hours! I'm now almost completely packed. In addition, the house sitters, dog sitter, lawn care guy, and transportation friends have all been set up. Everything is taken care of. Finally.

I'm not sure what to expect once I land in Kathmandu. I mean, I know the schedule of each day, but I've never traveled to this part of the world before. I've been to several foreign countries, but Nepal will be the least westernized among them. I'm really looking forward to soaking in the various cultures, Kathmandu city versus Sherpa villages versus jungle inhabitants, which I will experience.

I'm not sure how often I will have a chance to post here once I'm trekking, but I will do my best to keep you updated. At the very least, know there will be a boat load of pictures on the way. Until then, carry on, my friends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Best(?) Blog... Wow.

Heartfelt gratitude and appreciation today to Dan Brown of My Therapy App. He wrote to me earlier this week to inform me My Therapy App has selected my little blog as the "Best Depression Blog for Life." I was shocked and completely humbled. He posted his top ten blogs in ten different categories on his site today. I am grateful for the recognition, glad to know some people find solace and hope in my words, and I admit, surprised to be noticed.

I've been writing this blog for over a decade. Sometimes, especially when I'm doing well, I wonder if I'm making a difference, if anything I write is helpful. This honor won't totally take those worries from me, but it inspires me to keep writing despite my intermittent reservations. Thanks, Dan. Thanks for letting me know I've made a difference in at least one person's life.



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