Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 19 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, March 29, 2020

Reaching into the dark

Two nights ago I barely made it through the night. I wish that was an understatement. It's not. I couldn't sleep. Couldn't even get tired. And my brain was as dark as it's been in a very long time. It was dark. So dark.

I reached out as best I could. I wrote a long email to a friend sometime in the middle of the night. I called the same and another friend in the wee hours of the morning and left voicemail messages. I'm glad they didn't answer. I had no desire to awaken either of them at 3 or 4 AM. Finally I did something I hate. I called a crisis line.

I don't know why I called a crisis line. First of all I'm a writer much more than a talker, especially at times like that. Secondly, I'm barely able to talk to the 2 or 3 people I most trust when I feel so low. I don't know why I expected I'd be willing or able to talk to a total stranger. As soon as the polite young woman answered I regretted my decision. But that's how desperate things were. Despite all of my reasons not to, I called. The conversation was short and superficial, but I guess it kept me around a few minutes longer.

Something is wrong with my brain. That probably sounds strange to those of you who don't have this nasty illness, but unfortunately probably makes perfect sense to those of you who do. I don't always feel like something is wrong with my brain. But right now something is wrong with my brain.

My brain, my hip, my body, my soul...something is wrong. I'm doing my best to put one foot in front of the other, but the combination of super slow recovery from hip surgery, coronavirus isolation, and the inability to do the things I would normally be doing to cope (like work or even going for a walk) have been an almost lethal combination of circumstances for me.

I'm sorry. This is not an upbeat, enlightening or even very well written post. I generally try to give you something a bit more here, but I don't have anything else. This is the reality I'm currently living with, but I'm still living. And that's all I've got today.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Dichotomy

I want to say something...but I don't know that anything I say makes a difference. That's one of the problems with this illness. No matter what I say, I can't make you get it. I've been writing about depression for over 10 years, and I still don't think I can make it make sense. If you know me and/or you don't have depression, I really doubt you can comprehend what depression does to my body and my brain.

Here's the thing. In my everyday life, I am a normal person. I have wonderful relationships with friends, coworkers, and patients. I'm polite and kind even when nobody is looking. Okay, I do get frustrated with slow drivers in the left lane, but we all have our gripes, right? I'm a good employee. I manage my money. I take care of my body. I do things I enjoy. And I generally make well thought out decisions. I live my life, manage the ups and downs, and do my best to be a decent human being. I'm normal.

Depression steals normal. But that's too easy. It's so much more complicated and secretive than that. Depression steals my life in ways so disruptive, yet subtle; so illogical, yet calculated. Sometimes it sneaks up from behind, attacks with a vengeance, and leaves me flailing violently and blind. But at other times it slowly seeps; slimy, secretive and unseen, gumming up neural pathways, dulling my senses and corrupting my thoughts. But even that's too easy.

I can't explain how it feels not to feel. It's like walking through the world cloaked in cheesecloth. Every touch, every sound, every sight...nothing is sharp. Nothing is clear. Everything is muted.

I'm getting frustrated trying to write this. My "normal" brain is not working. It's overwhelmed with both lethargy and noise. Obscene, obscure, distorted thoughts continuously collide inside my skull. Unending noise crashing about. Yet unending lethargy paralyzing me.

I can't say anything more.

The dichotomy of my normal state versus my depression state... It makes me nuts. It makes me feel crazy. It makes me want to disappear because I know you can't get it. Even if you try to, want to, love me, and support me... you can't understand. I guess I should be happy about that.

But the isolation is killing me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I needed this today

Good for an aching heart.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

the gym is closed

Ever have that feeling you're standing on the precipice, maybe a cliff or a bridge or metaphorical despair? You're standing there knowing it would only take one small nudge to knock you off balance. One small bump and you'd be set free from your perch. Free falling into an abyss--the very abyss you were just contemplating--with uncertainty, yet not fear. Not fear. Maybe even relief? Ever have that feeling?

I've had a few days on that perch. There's been a lot of contemplating going on. A lot of consternation, distress, questioning and fatigue. The isolation brought about by the coronavirus has been intense. My only salvation to the isolation has been my gym. For a couple of hours almost every day I've been able to mingle among other human beings while working to strengthen my hip. That was it.

At 5:00 PM today my gym is closing. Seems like such a little thing. After all I can do almost all of my hip exercises at home--alone. Maybe it is a little thing, a little nudge, but it feels like a full-on block in the back. There's no bracing oneself for that. I'm officially flailing.

Flailing, yet stuck. What an interesting dichotomy. I know there are things I can do to help myself. I tried yesterday to take a trip north with Jet. With great effort I got us packed and ready to go, but we didn't even make it 2 miles before I turned back. Even if I could have mustered the energy for the 3.5 hour drive, I couldn't imagine being able to socialize once I arrived. It was too much.

Socializing takes energy. That's why the gym was ideal. I could nod, say hello, and answer questions about my hip rehab. I could be social without expectation or pretense. Socializing with family and friends requires so much more than that.

I have friends. I love them, but I don't want to talk to them right now. It's too difficult. I can fake smile, get through a cup of coffee, and then leave feeling even worse. Or the other option, I could be honest about how I'm feeling, and leave feeling a burden. It must be terribly exhausting to be my friend. Full of energy, I am, for a month, or six, but inevitably there's the crash landing filled with doom and gloom. I'm tired of being that friend. And it's too invalidating and exhausting to pretend I'm not that friend.

I wish they hadn't closed my gym. My perch is shrinking. Because of my hip, I already couldn't do most of the things which usually help my mood, and now because of the coronavirus I'm unable to do the remaining few which, until today, were available options. Standing on the precipice... Sure wish I could enjoy the view.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Isolation is NOT good for my brain

My brain has been up to some old tricks lately. Lots of random thoughts, one after another, with little or no defining line between them. I'm having trouble focusing. I'm tired, and even when I'm not tired I want to sleep. My brain needs the break. I can't tell where my mood is at. I wouldn't say I'm low. Rather I'd say I'm disjointed, detached and uneasy. I wish my brain would shut up. I don't like where this is going, that is if it's going anywhere at all.

Last night I attempted to combat the chaos in my head by going to a meeting. I went but when I arrived the room was dark. Apparently the nursing facility which hosts our meeting is not currently allowing any visitors. I felt lost. I looked for another meeting and discovered there was one scheduled in a church basement a mile away. Once again, however, the room was dark. I must have missed the memo. Like the nursing home, the church had a sign on the door cancelling all activities due to the Coronavirus. Even Sunday services were cancelled! I left feeling lost all over again.

This Coronavirus is not helping my brain. Not only am I unable to go anywhere, I can't even watch my favorite distracting programs, i.e. sports, on television! Everything is cancelled! I'm either stuck at home with little to distract me, or I could drive around the block a few times--alone. Those are my options. There doesn't even seem to be a place where I can just go sit. I think that would help. I've got to get out of my head!

My brain, unfortunately, is taking full advantage of this public and private isolation. And that's not a good thing. My depression brain is bombarding me with the typical paranoia, pessimism, and doom. Inside my skull the shit is flying purposelessly in every direction and landing with a splat, and a splat, and a splat. It's random, messy chaos in there, and I don't know what to do to make it stop.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Offended

So this just happened. As I was perusing Facebook I came across a post from a former coworker of mine. It was a picture of Jim Carrey with this quote, "I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don't exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren't giving yourself a fighting chance." I can agree with that.

My former coworker, who happens to be a very active Christian, added the following thoughts to the post prior to sharing it, "Amen. 100%! Let's use what we now know to be beneficial to the fullest!" I'm not exactly sure what she means by that statement, but I took offense.

I took offense because I felt the post--the combination of Jim Carrey's quote and her attached thoughts--was implying that I (and you) could control or even avoid depression if I (and you) only did all of the things of which Jim Carrey spoke. Who knew?? If only I was a better person and lived a healthier lifestyle I wouldn't have depression! So simple! (I hope you read that with the intended dripping sarcasm.)

I don't usually engage in controversy or say negative things on Facebook. In fact, I hardly comment at all. It's just not worth my energy. But I was so offended I had to comment on this post. I wrote, "And if you exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, and surround yourself with support, you can still have depression. Just as you can still have diabetes or cancer. It's an illness not a character or lifestyle defect."

I was especially offended and angered by her post because this woman worked with me! She knows me! She knows someone who has been hospitalized for depression despite living a healthy lifestyle and surrounding myself with support. I'm healthier than most people half my age! Depression doesn't give a shit! She wouldn't have considered posting that comment, or her 2 cents, if the topic had been cancer! Never! Why did she feel it was okay to post this about depression?

What does that mean? "Amen. 100%! Let's use what we now know to be beneficial to the fullest!" What does that even mean? It sure sounds like she's implying that somehow I am the reason for my illness. Or is her comment a swipe against using medication for my illness? Because if I just lived better I wouldn't need medication because I wouldn't have depression? I don't know her reasons for posting this. Who is this post aimed at? Who is it helping? Clearly she believes what she shared, but I don't think she would have posted similar thoughts or statements about cancer.

I'm going to stop now because I'm actually shaking a bit. I just don't know how we are ever going to get across to the world that depression is an illness of the brain. It needs to be treated as we treat any other illness of any other organ. And as an illness it should carry no moral judgment. If a person with whom I worked side by side, who has seen me train, and eat, and act silly, and be fun, and have meaningful relationships can't grasp that fact, who can? Who will?

Monday, March 2, 2020

May we discuss suicide?

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile, but I knew it would take a lot of energy, and I just haven't had it. I also knew it would take a long time and prolonged sitting, which hasn't been doable since my hip surgery. But it's time to give it a try. 

Here's the question. Is it okay to have a discussion about suicide? Is it possible, especially as someone whose depression has tried to take my life more than once, to have a frank discussion about suicide without panicking those around me? And is there anyone out there willing to have that discussion anyway? I've broached the subject with my doctor and at least one friend, but not to the depth I've wanted. I guess this post is my attempt to get the discussion going even if it's not face to face.

I began thinking about suicide more objectively during my last severe depression relapse. I began wondering, when is it okay for someone with a chronic mental illness to decide to take their life? Is it ever okay?

In November, as my psychiatrist was endeavoring to admit me to the hospital, I repeatedly said something to the effect of, "It's my life. It should be my choice. I should have the right to make this decision." She, of course, informed me she felt that was my depression talking and sent me off to the hospital. In that moment she was correct. It was my depression talking. But this question, the right to die on one's own terms, has been on my mind ever since.

It's interesting. As soon as this question niggled my mind, I began seeing the issue everywhere I turned. First I came across the movie, The Bridge. The Bridge is a documentary about the Golden Gate Bridge and follows the stories of several people who decided to jump.

This documentary drew me in. In graphic, painful detail I watched with compassion and empathy as one suffering person after another stood at the edge and contemplated their last moments. I viscerally understood their desperation in those moments. I could feel the depth of their pain and hopelessness. I've been there. It was so familiar. I got it.

Unfortunately, many of the survivors who were interviewed didn't seem to get it. They didn't get it! Despite warning signs, statements, and downright knowledge that their loved one was suffering and contemplating suicide, many survivors were cavalier, cold, and detached afterward. I heard dismissive statements downplaying the depth of their loved one's suffering. I heard blaming statements. Consistently, the thing I didn't hear was a sense of empathy. It was frustrating and maddening. And I didn't understand.

Shortly after viewing The Bridge I came across this graphic. It was shared on Instagram by The Depression Project.


Wow. How true is this graphic? Take a moment. The "Suicidal" side of the graphic is what I saw and heard in the documentary, The Bridge. It is what I often see and hear in healthcare professionals; yes, even mental health professionals. And certainly this is what I frequently see and hear among the general population.

I experienced "No one believes they'll ever do it" when I attempted suicide at 17, despite the fact I had told multiple people of my desperation and intention. The most troubling truth I see in this graphic, however, is "Everyone feels irritated." I don't understand that. Besides sharing it, I'm not sure how to change the reality of this graphic. It is a powerful illustration. Ironic that I came upon it while still digesting my feelings about The Bridge.

The niggling didn't stop at this graphic, though. Recently I came across an article in Outside Magazine which also dealt with suicide. It was an article about a couple who lived in remote Alaska. He was an artist. She had MS. They had been married for years and were considered by all who knew them to be soulmates. She didn't want to live through the ravages of MS. He didn't want to live without her. They put their affairs in order, left their home, and died together somewhere in the wilderness. It was exactly how they wanted to end their time on earth, and they believed they were headed to a higher spiritual realm together.

As with most Outside Magazine articles, this one was thorough and interesting and made me think. I found myself feeling supportive of their decision. I respected how thoroughly contemplated and planned their decision seemed to be. They left nothing to be managed in their wake. They believed they were headed to a better place where they would be content, together, forever. Of course, I didn't personally know this couple. If it were one of my family members or close friends, would I feel the same support? If the circumstances were equal, I think so. But I'll likely never know.

I believe it is the right of any person with a chronic condition to end his/her life. If the pain or debility is such that life is no longer worth living, I believe we as humans have the right to die. We have a right to choose. That is what I believe.

But here's the question. Is it ever okay for a person with chronic depression to decide to commit suicide? If they are unable to live a life worth living, if they are unable to participate in the quality of life they desire, if their illness is treatment resistant and they've tried everything, and if they can't deal with the pain of another relapse, is is okay? Is it more okay if the decision is made outside of a severe depressive episode? Is it understandable? Forgivable? Is it their right, ever? That is my question.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Discouraged

One step forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back... I'm writing this from a nearly supine position, which is pretty challenging, because I've had a setback in my right hip recovery. I'm experiencing increased pinching-type pain in my right groin. Standing in a fully erect position is nearly impossible, and sitting is uncomfortable and worsens my symptoms. I'm discouraged.

I'm trying to be patient, but this development is deflating. It makes me anxious. The pain originally developed last week. My PT generously worked me into her schedule and did some uncomfortable but amazing work. I felt better for 3 days.

Today I'm feeling worse. I'm feeling more pain than I did last week. I'm supposed to be working my way off my crutches, but that's now on hold. I'm supposed to be doing increased range of motion and strengthening exercises, also now on hold. I'm frustrated and scared.

I see my PT again in a couple of days. I'm hoping she can work her magic and get me moving forward rather than back. Even if she fixes me, however, I'm still going to be worried. It's getting scary to move, scary to sit too long, scary to walk. I fear more pain, i.e. less healing, with every movement. I hate that. I feel like I should be much further along by now, but I am trying to be patient. Really, I am.

Really...

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The value of friends

How many friends do you have? And I'm not talking about Facebook. I'm talking about face-to-face, actual relationship friends. I count three. I have three close friends.

Of those 3 friends I think 2 would also list me as a close friend. The third friend has so many other friends I'm not sure I would make the top three. Nevertheless, I count her as a close friend of mine. Like the other two, my third friend is always there when I need her. We can go months without talking yet pick up right where we left off. There is a mutual respect and understanding between each of my friends and I, with no judgement and few expectations. I value each of them, and they each bring different beauty to my life.

Why am I thinking about friendship this morning? Well I just I read a very interesting interview with a scientist, a scientist who studies friendship. Who knew? The scientist and author, Lydia Denworth, just published a book detailing the results of her research. I'm feeling a sense of relief after reading about her findings because I typically feel friendship is just one more area where I fail.

Perhaps like a few of you, I have some persistent feelings of not measuring up when it comes to relationships. I often wonder if I'd have more friends if I didn't have severe and persistent depression. I'm guilty of comparing myself to others. Those comparisons invariably lead me to determine that having (only) 3 friends is a weakness. It's bad, and it's indicative of my unworthiness.

This assumption of unworthiness is further reinforced by the fact that I'm single. I'm old and single. I've been single most of my life. Would that be different if depression wasn't stalking my every move? Well you can guess my answer to that question. After all, my longest, most intimate and stable relationship ended after I was diagnosed with depression. Proof!

I don't think I'm detailing unusual thoughts and feelings here, especially among those of us with depression. Depression is certainly not a selling point when it comes to relationships. And depression clouds our thinking when it comes to our self worth. Hell, it flat out lies! So feeling less-than is routine for most of us, regardless of whether it's true or not.

Among its many lies depression convinces me I should have more friends, closer friends, friends banging down my door, blah, blah, blah... But it's not true! And now there is research to support that fact. Ms. Denworth would say I'm actually doing okay in the friendship arena. According to her research having (only) 3 close friends is, dare I say it, normal!

Per her research, "On average, people have only four very close relationships, and very few people can sustain more than six." More importantly, Ms. Denworth notes the many proven health benefits of having close friendships. There are benefits to many aspects of our physical health, not just our mental health. She has some interesting observations about social media and middle school, too. (Ugh! Middle school--wouldn't do that again for a million bucks!) I encourage you to check out her research if, like me, you think you don't measure up. Maybe, just maybe, depression is lying to you, too.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Long days

I apologize. I don't have much to say. My days are incredibly long and dull as I recover from my labral reconstruction. I'm struggling to keep my mood in check. I go to the gym almost daily even though I'm still very limited on what I am allowed to do. At least it gets me out of the house and around other people for a bit. Unfortunately, as was the case today, sometimes being around other people without ever saying a word, or having a word said to me, is more isolating than staying at home. That's tough. It's great to have (only) a couple of very close friends, but right now I wish I had just a couple more.

I did get some good news this week. After several lab tests, some x-rays, and a couple of MRIs, I met with the neurologist who told me everything looked good. There was nothing of concern in any of the studies and her hands-on evaluation revealed no issues. As she pointed out, we may never know why I had sudden onset foot drop, numbness and tingling in my right leg after my surgery, but there is no scary underlying disease or condition. That was what I expected, but it was relieving to hear it confirmed.

And that's about it. I'm off to ice my hip and binge watch yet another series about the mafia on Amazon Prime. Yes, I find the history of the mob fascinating. I've also watched almost everything available on the topics of  Mt. Everest, running, and Antarctica. If I don't get on my feet soon I may have to develop other interests! That's all for now. Carry on, my friends.



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