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, January 31, 2010

Reflections and Rewards

If you read yesterday's post, you probably understand why I always get a bit reflective at this time of year. After suffering years of unrelenting teenage depression, I nearly ended my life. Instead of a successful suicide, I awoke in a hospital 25 years ago today.

I was seventeen years old, and I had planned my ending for weeks. I aced all of my mid-term exams. I played my last basketball game. I gave away important things to important friends and said my goodbyes. Finally, I secured the cocktail of alcohol and allergy meds, which I purposefully chose for it's quiet lethality.

The ER doctors would not let me go, and the ensuing months spent in an adolescent mental health unit were the beginning of the rest of my life. A loving foster home combined with therapy and medication resolved the depression and sent me on my way. Instead of death, I was given a fairly normal life.

So many years went by, and then out of the blue, the beast returned. Life became abnormal again. It's been nine plus years now, and I sometimes wonder how life would be different if this depression hadn't burdened me again.

My life would be different, but there's certainly no guarantee it would be better. So I don't wonder for long. Instead of how different life might be, I choose to reflect on what my life is.

As a result of this illness, I've lost a lot, but I've gained at least as much as I've lost. I've had opportunities to share with others, support others, and develop a resilience I might not otherwise have. I've been rewarded with friendship, readership and gratitude. I've developed a manner of living--a moment to moment existence--which never would have materialized if I hadn't witnessed the edge of life. Sure, life would be different without depression, but perhaps I would have missed some of the rewards of living along the way.

"The view from the edge of life is far more clear than the view from within life."
--from Kitchen Table Wisdom by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

Saturday, January 30, 2010



Twenty-five years ago

it was the end.
and I was so, so relieved.

I can still feel that


Twenty-five years ago

I didn't end.
and yet, I was so relieved.

I can still feel that


...if you consider suicide an option
I get it.
please, call someone.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God and Dog

This was sent to me today. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

living with the ups and downs

The last few days have been interesting. The mornings have been characterized by sadness, tearfulness and hopelessness. For example, after my coffee this morning I laid down on the sofa--heavy and tearful. I didn't want to move. The upcoming day felt overwhelming. There was no reason behind any of it.

Likewise, there seems no reason for the different emotions I've felt in the afternoons. The afternoons have been okay, even good. No sadness, hopelessness nor tears. I'm not talking about major swings in mood, just shifts from one to another. The morning heaviness leaves, and normalcy (whatever that is) sets in. It's weird.

My physical health has been much less weird. In fact, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm in the second week of my triathlon training class. I'm actually finding it enjoyable to have someone else direct my training for awhile. We have workouts 6 days per week. Monday we ran and then swam. Today I did biking and strengthening. I actually feel a bit out of running shape because I'm doing other things on most days. I do feel stronger already. Hopefully the running will come.

I'm off to bed soon. Five o'clock a.m. comes pretty quickly. Here's my gratitude list for the day. I'm grateful to be free of the intrusive thoughts which plagued me over the last few weeks. I'm grateful I enjoy and have the physical ability to run, bike, and swim. I'm grateful to have a sponsee working the AA program. She helps keep me sober. And I'm grateful to have a warm house during these extremely cold days. What's on your gratitude list today? Think about it. Good night.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Things are coming back to normal. I'm feeling better. The thoughts have lessened. Maybe it's the new, temporary medication my psychiatrist prescribed. Maybe the darkness just ran its course. Whatever the reason, I'm feeling better. Thank God!

Perhaps my outing yesterday helped things, too. I crossed something off my bucket list yesterday. I finally attended a live Prairie Home Companion show. I've been a listener for years but had never seen the show before. It was everything I had hoped it would be. My face hurt from smiling so much! Afterward, my friends Bill and Cindy treated me to a very fancy dinner at a restaurant I had never visited before. It was quite a treat--very fine food and an amazing chocolate turtle cake dessert! It was one of the nicest outings I've had in quite awhile. If you've never heard Prairie Home Companion, check it out. It just may cheer you up if you're feeling down.

So I've narrowed down my bucket list. Fortunately, my friend Bill said he'd help me narrow it even further. This summer...skydiving! Anyone else care to join us?

Friday, January 22, 2010

I don't want to write this

I guess I should have expected it. Wacky thinking for more than one week couldn't lead to anything but. I should have expected it's arrival. Maybe I wished for a different outcome, but no. It's setting in. It's here. Hopelessness.

Hopeless. I hate the word. I hate the feeling. Yet here I sit ready for work with tears in my eyes feeling heavier and heavier. Maybe the stupid car, which is really no big deal, was the straw that broke through and released it. Maybe the thinking finally wore me out. I fought it and fought it, but eventually...well, maybe I've reached my limit. No matter the cause. I'm feeling heavy. I'm feeling hopeless.

Another foe in this wide world of mental treachery, I will fight it, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No more car analogies

You see the previous post? That's the last time I'll use a car analogy to describe my mood. Tonight my car died. Really. You can't make this stuff up! I feel like this is piling on a bit. Enough already! God? Anyone? I know, I know. Acceptance is the answer. Okay. I accept it, but I don't like it. No more car analogies.

On to the rest of the story. I'm still struggling with some intrusive thoughts. Despite that, I've been able to continue working, exercising, and attending meetings. It feels robotic at times, but I'm doing what I need to do regardless of this damn illness.

I started the triathlon class on Monday. We swam on Tuesday, ran and did mega-strengthening Wednesday, and rode the bike today. Tomorrow is another strength day, but that's all. Mondays and Wednesdays are the big, tough days. We workout together from 5:30-7:00 AM. And our instructor really worked us out this week!

I kind of liked the tough workout though. It reminded me of my college sports days. Showing up, being told what to do, and then working my butt off brought back memories. Plus, there was a nice simplicity to it. I didn't have to think. I just followed orders. I appreciated that, especially this week.

Well, I'm off to bed. Sleeping is about the only thing that quiets my brain, so I've been doing a lot more of it. Not such a bad thing, really...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Speed bump

I was cruising along so fine and so fast, and then BAM! Now I'm missing my axle. Not sure how it happened. I certainly didn't see that speed bump ahead. Apparently it was there, in the road, waiting to take me apart. If I had seen it, I would have slowed down, maybe even stopped. I certainly would have made my way around it. Instead, I'm sitting here with a broken axle, unable to move forward and unsure what it is I should do next.
I've called my mechanics--all of them! It's nice to talk to them, to e-mail back and forth, even to visit. They're very supportive, but ultimately they're powerless to fix it. They don't stock axles. They've each got parts--pieces I might use to mend it. They've got directions and suggestions, but ultimately the axle is mine to rebuild. I'm the only mechanic with the tools. I've got to get through this myself.

And isn't that how it is? We all have outside input, support and directions. The parts are out there, but the tools are ours alone. Nobody else can pick them up and put us back together again. For that, we must rely on ourselves.

I'm looking through my tools. I'm sorting through the parts my mechanics have generously laid at my feet. It seems more confusing when taken by surprise, as I was with this speed bump, but I have to have faith it will all come together again. No matter the difficulty or confusion, I must take up my tools and rebuild. With a little time and perseverance, I pray for reassembly. For it is only a reassembled axle which will support my journey ahead.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

scary thoughts

this is hard for me to write about.
sometimes my brain feels other than my own.
scary, intrusive thoughts crowd in,
and squeeze out any rational thoughts
which previously occupied the space.

i don't like to admit it.
i don't like when they come.
they are another symptom of my illness.
they are not welcome, yet they are here.
i can't say much else.
it feels too demeaning to admit.
i want my brain to be under my control,
but it feels out of my control
when the thoughts barge in.

this is hard for me to write about.
so that's all i'm going to say.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This patient was special

His name was Stanley, just like my friend who passed away almost one year ago. I'm not sure of the meaning behind that, but it's interesting. He was 85 years old, a minister for 35 years, a husband, a father of five, and a patient of mine. He was a very special man.

Stanley died in the early hours of yesterday morning. I'm sad. As I've told you before, Stanley and I shared a special connection. He was the most humble, serene, and peaceful man I had ever met. Gratitude and compassion emanated from him. He was what I strive to be, and I was drawn to him.

From his obituary: ...he was instrumental in securing a grant that was first in the nation for a migrant school. He was also active in AA work. He always enjoyed the youth of the church and took them on many camping trips. After Stan retired, he held part-time jobs in the fields of youth and alcohol rehabilitation, and did “Fifth Step” work, among other things.

No wonder I was drawn to him. It sounds like we had more in common than I knew. Stanley had told me about his fifth step work with recovering alcoholics, but a lot of ministers do fifth steps. He never disclosed whether or not he was a member of AA. It seems he may have been. He certainly lived his life according to the principles I now hold dear. I will not soon forget the example he set.

Thank you, God, for allowing Stanley's path to intersect with mine. I am grateful for the opportunity to know him. He was a very special man.

Rest in peace, Stanley. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Why is change so uncomfortable? What is it that makes us so resistant to it?

We have a new employee at work, and today was the last day of work for the therapist she is replacing. I like the departing therapist a lot. I really enjoy working with her. We have similar viewpoints, similar lifestyles, similar work ethics. I don't want her to leave. What we have now works. Yet, she's moving on to something new. I can't change that.

The new therapist will probably be fine. She seems quite competent, friendly and hard-working. The patients seem to like her. I don't dislike her. She's just different. New. A change. I welcomed her to the staff, but I was guarded. I could have been more open and welcoming. Why is that?

What makes me resistant to the new and different? I'll miss working with my friend, but perhaps our new therapist will become a friend, too. Maybe I'll even learn something new and different from her! But I still wish things didn't have to change.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's gotta be the swimming!

Well, I took the leap! I signed up for a new class at my gym. It's called "Why Not Tri," and it's meant to prepare me, and 24 others, for our first triathlon. The class runs every Monday and Wednesday from 5:30-7:00 AM. I believe we will also have a training schedule to follow the other days of the week. It's a big time commitment. The class runs from next week through mid-April. Our last class is an indoor triathlon! I'm pretty anxious about this, but I was anxious about my 40-days-of-yoga class last year, too. And that turned out to be an amazing experience! Hopefully this class will also be great.

Just as I did for the yoga class, I have to do a body composition pre-test and post-test for this class. Today was my pre-test, and boy did I get surprised! I was shocked to learn that I have 17.1% body fat. That puts me in the ultra lean category, yet I am at one of my heaviest weights ever. I don't look ultra lean. My clothes don't fit like I'm ultra lean. I'm not sure if I should trust this test even though it is Mayo Clinic high tech equipment!

Since I was surprised by the result, last year I was at 18.8% before and 18.2% after the yoga class, I asked the fitness professional about it. He wondered if I had recently lost weight. No. Or had I been lifting a lot of weights? No. He didn't have any more ideas. We were stumped.

Of course I've been thinking about it off and on throughout the day, and I've decided it's got to be the swimming! The swimming must have increased my lean muscle mass, and decreased my percentage of body fat. (No wonder I feel like I'm sinking in the pool!) What else could it be?

It's weird. I'm not sure how to feel. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to be lean. On the other hand, I don't feel lean, and I am, in fact, heavier than I've ever been. I feel that heaviness when running--it makes me work harder and slows me down. So I'm not sure what to do with this information. I'm not sure how to feel. It's weird.

It will be interesting to see how I change after following a triathlon training program. I'm looking forward, with trepidation, to finding out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Finally a run

Yippee! I went for a run today! It's bitter cold here, so I had to do it indoors on the treadmill (or as my friend Renee calls it, the dreadmill). I wasn't sure how it would go, as my lungs still felt clogged. It was really busy at my gym. I almost used that as an excuse to walk out, but I stayed and ran instead.

Surprisingly, it went well. I ran almost 5 miles at a pretty good clip. My legs were certainly well-rested, so no lingering pains there. And my lungs felt okay. In fact, I think the run helped clear them out a bit. I did some light lifting afterward. I feel pleasantly tired now. I hadn't ran since Christmas day! That was a long time ago!

On the job front, it looks like I will be staying with my current employer a while longer. I didn't get the local job for which I had applied a couple weeks ago. They went with someone with whom they had a previous relationship, and that made sense. I would have done the same thing.

I am surprisingly okay with the result. Initially, I reeeaaaly wanted this job, and I fretted about it for at least four days. Then, realizing how anxious I was making myself, I did something remarkable. I turned the result over to my higher power--just like my AA program teaches me! Their decision, after all, was totally out of my control. So I relaxed and gave it away, and it worked! I'm okay. Remarkable.

I have faith now that most things happen for a reason. Before AA, I would have spit on you for suggesting such a thing! Really. But I've seen it and experienced it myself, when disappointments have turned into fortunes. Perhaps my higher power wants me to stay at my nursing home so I can be with my patient (see previous post) while he dies. Maybe there's something there for me to learn. Maybe I'll never know the reason. That's okay, too. I'm supposed to be where I'm supposed to be, I guess.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back in the swing of things...mostly.

I returned to work yesterday. Finally. The patient I was worried about was still there. He was weak and in a bit more pain, but he smiled a wide smile when I walked in. We held hands and chatted for a few minutes. He's a very peaceful, serene, and humble man. I think that's why I feel so connected to him. He's mastered what it is I'm striving to master--serenity and humility. He is what I strive to be. I will not soon forget him once he's gone.

It was nice to see all of my patients again. I felt so out of touch with where they were at in their rehabilitation. Some had progressed amazingly. Others had slid backwards slightly. I had a lot of paperwork to catch up on, which was probably a good thing as it decreased my caseload for the day. I think I'd have been really tired if I'd had to see my usual number of patients. All in all, it was good to be back.

Speaking of work, I still haven't heard about the job for which I interviewed on Christmas Eve. That's probably not a good sign. I think they are hoping to get a less experienced applicant whom they wouldn't have to pay as much. That's the feeling I'm getting anyway. Out of my control now, but I do wish they would at least call.

My lungs are definitely feeling better. I'm still short of breath with activity, though, so exercise has not been at the top of my list. At least I've been eating better. I set up some new goals for exercise and eating. One of the goals is to stop snacking after 8:00 PM. I've been doing a lot of late night munching lately. I think being more aware of what I'm eating, and when, will help me a lot. It's helped already by giving me back a sense of control. I'll let you know how it goes.

That's all I've got for now. Have a great day! Here's one of favorite quotes to send you on your way: We make a life by what we get. We make a living by what we give. --Winston Churchill

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Still feeling poorly

I've now missed a week and a half of work due to this pneumonia. I thought I'd go back yesterday, but after showering and getting ready, I was having a hard time breathing and feeling lightheaded. I called my doctor, and she asked me to come in.

Turns out I still had a slight fever, and I wasn't getting oxygen into my lower lungs. We took a chest x-ray, which was essentially normal, but my oxygen saturation (the amount of oxygen in my blood) was only 92-94%. I'm normally at 99-100 percent. My doctor had me do a nebulizer treatment and added another antibiotic to the one I'm already taking. The nebulizer opened up my lungs, although it made me even more lightheaded, and I was able to breathe a lot better within a few hours.

I feel guilty about missing so much work. I am the only PT at my rural facility, and it's challenging for my boss to find a substitute when I'm gone. I'm also concerned because I have a patient who is dying. He's a very special man who has grabbed a piece of my heart. I want to spend some time with him before he dies. I'd be very sad if he passed before I could make it back to work. I'm planning to return to work tomorrow. I really hope I feel well enough to do so.

Besides work, my life is suffering because of this damn pneumonia! It's been so cold that I haven't dared walk outside with Puck--both for his sake and mine. I know my lungs couldn't handle it, and I'm not sure about Puck's feet, either.

My inability to exercise has caused my weight to shoot upward. I'm now heavier than I've ever been, again. It was only one month ago that I was shedding pounds. UGH! It's going to take a lot of work to regain my fitness and my shape.

My house has also suffered. It is a mess. I'm going to try to work on that problem today. I was able to do a couple loads of laundry yesterday. That helped a little bit. Hopefully, I'll find enough energy to do a little cleaning between naps today. I know I'll feel better if my house is in order.

The bottom line? Don't get pneumonia! Seriously, I do feel better today. I hope I am finally on the mend. I'd really like to get my life back!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mental illness and addiction

I received my four year medallion at my home AA meeting this morning. Getting my medallion is always a great moment to reflect on what's happened over the past year. When I accepted my medallion, I mentioned Ben, the young man I mentored for two years and who graduated this past June; the support of my friends and sponsors, the lessons I've learned from sponsees, and this blog. Without sobriety, I noted, I wouldn't have been able to mentor anyone, I wouldn't have had close friends, sponsors or sponsees with whom to share my life, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to maintain this blog.

Afterward, it was this blog that seemed to create the most buzz within the room. When I brought it up, I noted that my blog was about mental illness--specifically depression--and that like many, I am an alcoholic who also has mental illness.

If you've been following along, you know I've written about mental illness and addiction before. Unfortunately, too often I was prompted to write after an AA'er made an irresponsible or negative comment about mental illness. Here are a few of my favorite examples: "Well if you just worked the steps better, you wouldn't have depression," or "All psychiatrists are idiots," or "If you're in recovery, you shouldn't take any anti-depressants." Thankfully, I didn't hear anything remotely resembling any of those comments today! In fact, something very strange happened. People started respectfully discussing mental illness among alcoholics!

To say I was pleasantly surprised by this development is an understatement! I was shocked. At least 10 people asked me for my blog address. Another 5 or 6 members confided that they, too, had a mental illness and/or took medication, and they thanked me for bringing it up. But perhaps most remarkable was when one of our long-term, male members (who gave me permission to write this) spoke directly about his own recent struggles. It seems he's been having some anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and general mental discomfort of late. He talked about calling his doctor, taking meds, and his plan to see a therapist for the first time in his life. After the meeting, he appeared to receive nothing but support from many of the men and women in the room.

I was honored and impressed with my AA group today. It wasn't that long ago when I felt the sting of stigma within this crowd. One member told me to stop talking about my depression, as it had nothing to do with recovery, she said. Imagine that member telling a cancer sufferer that her cancer was not relevant to her recovery! Today things were different. Rather than stigma, I experienced respect and support. I felt hope. Perhaps by not being silent the door today was opened. Perhaps by ignoring the ignorance, others felt comfortable not only to share but to support.

It was a big day, a dramatic day, for this mentally ill recovering alcoholic. I hope my AA group will continue to honor all struggles among our diverse lot. The door, it seems, is now ajar. Be open and honest about your struggles, my friends, you just never know what may happen. Perhaps you, too, will experience a great moment where support triumphs over stigma.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Not diggin' the pneumonia

The doctor thought I'd feel significantly better by now. Hmmmm... I wouldn't say significantly better. I am a little better, but I'm a little stir crazy, too. I've been inside doing nothing about 90% of the time. I have ventured out a bit. In fact, yesterday I was just going nuts so I went to the pool for a bit. I swam and kicked for about 20 minutes. I could only swim two laps before I needed to rest. So I had a lot of rest breaks with brief periods of activity. Nevertheless, it was just what I needed! My body needed to move.

Afterward, I needed to sleep. The swimming helped me nap more soundly. I'm sleeping, or trying to sleep at least three times a day. There's not much else I can do. I get tired going up and down the stairs for crying out loud!

This morning, I ventured out to an AA meeting and then to the gym to lift some weights. I tried to do a ten minute warm-up on the elliptical machine, but I just ended up hacking uncontrollably. Lifting weights didn't seem to bother me, so that was nice. More napping followed.

I thought all of this rest and sleep would have me feeling better by now. I'm a little concerned with my slow progress. I have too much time on my hands, and my thinking is starting to stink. I'm worried about my lost fitness. I'm concerned about my weight, which is steadily creeping upward. (The combination of holiday treats and inactivity is not great!) I'm scared my mood won't hold up for long. As you can see, too much time on my hands leads to too much thinking and worrying.

I know I need to be patient and deal only with the things I can control. I'm trying to remind myself of that. I'm trying to accept where I'm at and trust it will get better in time. At least that's what my therapist would tell me to do... But I'm frustrated and concerned. I'd like to feel better, now. Unrealistic, I know. So I guess I'll keep working on accepting where I'm at now, doing what I can now, and worrying less about where things will be tomorrow.