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!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ten Depression Blog 2010!

Wow! PsychCentral, one of the most comprehensive mental health sites on the web, has included me in their list of Top Ten Depression Blogs for 2010! Once again, I am honored and humbled by this recognition. I really can't believe it. I dreamt of writing a blog about depression for several years before taking the blind leap and starting this one. I'm now about to complete my third year of writing here. It's been a labor of love, but I never imagined being officially recognized for my work! Thank you, PsychCentral. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FIVE Years.

It's hard to believe. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I realized I couldn't stop. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I couldn't continue living with it. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I couldn't imagine living without it. Today is the day. Five years ago today, all other options had been explored. Today is the day. Five years ago today, all other options had failed. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I finally had enough. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I finally gave up. Today is the day. Five years ago today, I quit drinking. Today... I've been sober five years. Today.

It's hard to believe. When I quit, I didn't think I could do it. In fact, I was hanging on so tightly, so desperately, I have no memory of sobriety days one through three. On December 31st, 2005, I guess I woke up. I remember that day vividly. I couldn't believe I hadn't drank in three, whole days! It was my first taste of relief.

It's hard to believe the relief has continued this long. It hasn't been particularly easy. It hasn't been particularly difficult. It's been what it's been. And that's a gift of my program of recovery. I've learned to live one moment at a time and one day at a time. I've learned to accept life's ups and downs without dwelling on either one. Mood stability has gone hand in hand with my sobriety. It's another gift of working a recovery program in all of my affairs. The relief has expanded to many areas of my life.

Since recovery, I've been more successful in all aspects of my life. They say stick around until the miracle happens. I'm beginning to see the miracles in my life. I now have successful relationships, successful employment, and successful health and well-being. Sobriety has cleared the way for these successes--each a miracle when compared against my life five years ago today.

Life began anew when I set down that last drink. Working my recovery program has changed my life. Once suicide was the only option I could see, but today I lead a life worth living, and that in and of itself is the biggest miracle of all. I am so grateful to be sober today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Alone during the Holidays

Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope you all spent time with people you love. However, as I noted in my last post, I know that's sometimes an issue for those of us with mental illness. For a variety of reasons, we may spend this holiday of all holidays alone. As for me, I had time with friends, but I also spent a lot of time alone.

For me, the last two days were, in many ways, nothing more than normal days. I ran. I biked. I cleaned my house. I went to my AA meeting. I did my laundry. I watched television. I went grocery shopping. I updated Facebook. I listened to NPR. Normal days...

For a variety of reasons, I didn't see family. I didn't open presents. I didn't have a house full of people. Christmas eve, in particular, was a very long day. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little sorry for myself.

After working out, cleaning, doing some laundry, and grocery shopping, there was nothing left to do. My friends were spending time with their family. My family was silent from afar. The special-ness of the day was evident everywhere I went--from the excited families and lovers last minute shopping in Walmart, to the extra cars with far away license plates crowding my street. I began to feel very, very sad.

I got dressed up and went to church that evening. It was a beautiful service, but again, it was impossible not to feel very, very alone. I sat in the back. There was one other woman, apparently alone as well, sitting in my pew. Before me the church was filled with smiling extended families. I was envious. Perhaps it would have been better not to go, yet sitting alone at home wouldn't have felt good either. I left the service feeling a strange combination of celebration and sadness.

I teared up as I got into my car. I could have gone home and really let the sadness overtake me, but I dialed my phone instead. When Cindy answered my voice broke. "Why don't you come over here," she said? And so I did. I collected Puck, put on some sweats, and headed back out the door. For a moment, I had stood on the precipice of the hole, but thankfully I didn't jump in. I'm so glad I made that call.

Yesterday was another normal day until dinner, at which time Puck and I headed out again. Bill and Cindy made a lovely dinner, we chuckled our way through A Christmas Story, and we lounged around listening to Christmas tunes together. A nice, relaxed time was had by all.

It was Christmas, and ultimately, I spent my time with the family I love, the family who knows me best, and the family with whom I can most be myself. That was my Christmas. I hope you, too, found your family over these past two days. I hope you did what you needed to do to keep yourself safe and healthy. Happy Holidays, my friends.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The darkness of winter

Darkness is settling in and it's only 4:30 PM. The winter solstice has passed, and the days are actually getting longer, but obviously that's not noticeable yet. The street lights are just beginning to flicker. It's winter.

Fortunately, we have many feet of snow on the ground, and it keeps the blackness at bay. The reflective white snow lightens the night. Thankfully. But it's still winter, and it's still dark for more hours than not.

So far, I'm handling the darkness okay. I do have a SAD light, but I've not felt the need to use it very often yet. I seem to have more trouble in January. January is a long, dark month around here--oh, and cold, too. How could I forget to mention the cold?

Running in the darkness is difficult for me. The sun doesn't come up very early. It's cold outside. And now we've got the snow! I actually haven't run outside since The Dallas Marathon, and it's been because of the snow! There's been nowhere to run. The roads are barely clear. Some sidewalks and trails remain buried. And I want to do more than slog slowly along. So I've been running under the bright lights of the gym and on the solid footing of the treadmill for the last two weeks. At first it really sucked, but gradually I think I'm getting used to it. At least it's not dark! 

Tomorrow, I've almost got no choice. I'm going to do my long run, and I'm going to have to begin amongst the darkness to get it done. Seventeen miles. I don't think I can do that indoors. It's just too much. I'm hoping for a bright sunrise, clear pathways and mild temperatures! What do you think? Asking too much? I'm being optimistic--and I've got my headlight ready!

I know this can be a tough time of year for many of us, especially those with depression. The darkness and the stress of the holidays are universal, but perhaps we're more acutely aware or affected. Perhaps we've been separated from our family and friends because of our illness. Loneliness seems to intensify during the holiday season. Whatever your reason, if this is a difficult time of year for you, please hang in there. The stress will abate. The darkness will pass. Be patient. Wait for the light. It will be here soon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A lovely party

I had a lovely dinner party for my birthday yesterday. I gathered with 7 other friends at a local restaurant. It was really nice to get dressed up and go out. I don't get to do that very often. The food and the conversation were good. We laughed a lot, took a few pictures, and marveled at me making it to my undisclosed age!

My friend Cindy pointed out that it was only two short years ago when I was on disability--unable to work because of this illness. It was only 3.5 years ago when I was last hospitalized--unable to care for myself because of this disease. And it wasn't quite 5 years ago when I was self-medicating with alcohol--daily. Yet there I was last night, sitting with 7 sober, healthy, fun friends. Who would have guessed? Certainly not me.

We did have a lot of fun. I ate a huge steak. I deserved it after slaving away on the treadmill yesterday! I ran 14 miles at the gym, 8.5 miles on the treadmill and 5.5 miles on the 1/10 mile track. Here's how it went: 3 miles on the little track, 6 miles on the treadmill, 2 miles on the track, 2.5 miles on the treadmill, and finally 0.5 miles on the track. I can't imagine doing all of those miles exclusively on the treadmill or the track! It was horrendous enough having to do them all indoors. Splitting up the miles helped a little with the boredom, and I think it helped a lot with recovery. I'm much less sore today than I was last week after I did 10 miles on the treadmill. I'm sure the steak helped, too!

Today's been a day of rest and relaxation. I went to church this morning. Like I mentioned before, I'm sampling a new place. I like it, but I swear I'm the youngest one in the pews! Wow! Don't younger people, and I mean people younger than 70, go to church anymore? After church, Puck and I went for a long walk. It was a beautiful, sunny, clear day. Unfortunately, it was also quite cold! I let Puck off leash for a while, and he romped around in the deep snow. So cute... By the time we made our way home, napping was the only thing on the agenda, and that's what we did. Like I said, it's been a day of rest.

Hard to believe it's almost Christmas. It's a bit of a non-holiday for me. My family does not get together. We don't exchange gifts. I don't send out cards or bake cookies. It makes for a stress free holiday for me, but it makes me wish I had a family of my own to create the stress, too. Oh well, I'll do my long run and then likely spend some time with friends. I guess those friends are my family now, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm so grateful for my wonderful friends.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Birthday (tomorrow) to Me!

It's almost my birthday. Another year gone by, another number added to my age... I'm not really thrilled about it. I'm not too fond of this aging thing. I think it reminds me, again, of my lost decade. I have all the thoughts about not being where I wanted to be at this point in my life. All of those depression resentments resurface. And each advancing year feels like I have less and less time to get where I already thought I'd be. I'm trying to let tomorrow be a special day, but all of this garbage successfully sneaks in, too.

I'm attacking the garbage, and trying to make a special day, by throwing myself a little dinner party with a bunch of sober friends. So far I've got 10 on the guest list. I don't think I've had 10 people in one place to celebrate me since I graduated from high school! We're going to a slightly fancy local restaurant with nice atmosphere. I'm really looking forward to it!

I think I'll bring my newly purchased birthday present to dinner tomorrow night. I bought myself a new digital camera this afternoon. I had a couple of Best Buy gift cards, so old I couldn't remember when I got them, so I bought myself a Sony Cybershot. It's half the size of my current digital camera, which is exactly what I wanted. I'm excited to try it out.

New toys, old friends...I'm going to have a good day. Happy Birthday to me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Doing too well?

Someone with significant depression told me today that they couldn't relate to my blog because I was doing too well. That made me sad. I'm still sad about it. And I must confess, it is something I've worried about recently. What do I do?

I started this blog to support people with depression and to educate others about depression. When I started this blog I wasn't doing all that well. I was occasionally well, but my depression was ever present. As the years passed, the balance shifted. Now I'm well more often than not. My episodes into the black hole continue, but they are shorter-lived and less frequent. Make no mistake, I'm thrilled about that. It's what I wanted. It's what I worked hard to achieve. And while I'm certain I can still use this blog to educate, can I offer support when those in the black hole can't relate?

I'm sad that those I intend to assist cannot relate to my story, but I understand. I remember being there. I know the only books about depression I ever read are the ones that tell it like it is--the ones that explore the depths, describe their experiences within the black hole, and detail the darkness. I get it. It makes me sad that some can't draw inspiration from where I'm at now, but I totally get it.

Those of you who've been around awhile know I've explored, described and detailed those dark experiences in this blog, but many of those posts are long in the past. One would have to search to find them, but they are here. My hope is writing about how I'm doing now, which is well more often than not, would inspire and/or give hope to some sufferers. But again, I understand how it may have the opposite effect as well. I've been there!

I'm not sure what to do about this. Recently, I contemplated discontinuing my blog for this very reason, but I got a lot of feedback to keep going. I want to help. I want to be a safe haven for fellow sufferers of this illness. I'm sad this person isn't reading, but I'm not sure there's anything I can do.

Realistically, I know I can't be everything for everyone. Realistically, this blog helps me as much or more than it helps you. I don't think it's a coincidence that three years after starting here, I'm doing very well. I thought again today about discontinuing my writing, but I'm going to continue. Many of you have told me I'm making a difference, and I appreciate that feedback. Thank you. I hope I can continue to provide something for someone.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A blizzard!

We're having a beautiful blizzard today! The snow is fluffy and deep. It's a perfect day to hunker down in pajamas, sip some warm cocoa, and then take a long nap, which is what I plan to do as soon as I finish my laundry. Unfortunately, I guess this beautiful snow is to be followed by near record low temperatures. I'm not so fond of those.

I had intended to do my long run outside this morning, but the depth of the snow meant I couldn't keep a decent pace. So I headed to the gym and galloped on the treadmill for 90+ minutes. Yuck. My effort always feels greater when I run on the treadmill. And my legs were tired today. I'm sure I'm still feeling the effects of the marathon.

I'm still glowing from the marathon, too. I'm going to hang onto that glow for as long as it will carry me. Why not, right? I'm glowing so brightly I can't wait to do it again! Austin can't get here soon enough. I just hope I can do most of my training outside.

Life is running along quite smoothly, and I like that. Days like these make depression feel like a distant memory. I like that, too. It's funny, because I've been discussing my depression a lot lately. Whether it's been reconnecting with old friends, meeting new people, or just ending up in discussions about mental illness, my depression has been a hot topic. I find it hard to impress upon people how debilitating depression is when I'm feeling so well, but I'll take that dilemma over feeling like crap any day of the week! Wouldn't you?

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.--Epictetus

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dallas Marathon Recap

I'm still glowing, albeit quite stiffly, post marathon. Here's the story.

The weather forecast called for temps in the 30's at the start, with sunshine and mid-50's predicted for most of the race. Based on that, my friend Kate and I both went with tank-tops, shorts, arm warmers, and gloves. Unfortunately, there was a 10-15 mph wind, and thin clouds kept the sun from warming the air. It was cold! Huddling at the start, I knew I was in trouble. My teeth were chattering, my arms, hands and legs were freezing, and I couldn't get warm no matter how much I jumped around. I enviously gawked at all of the runners around me who had remembered extra, throw-away layers or garbage bags to block the wind and retain their body heat.

Fortunately, after standing there freezing for 30 minutes, a woman in front of me began to remove one of her long-sleeve shirts. She was about to toss it aside when I desperately stopped her. She graciously gave me the shirt, and I couldn't put it on quickly enough. Ahhh... I was still freezing, but I was immediately relieved.

I ended up wearing that throw-away shirt for the entire race, as I never did totally warm up. The cold wind just wouldn't allow it. Without that shirt, I doubt I would have finished this marathon. I likely would have dropped out due to hypothermia. The shirt is now in my laundry, and I figure I'll use it as throw-away garb at my next marathon. It's obviously got some good ju-ju! (If the woman who lent me the pale yellow, hi-tech, long sleeve, Austin race shirt is reading this...THANK YOU!)

With 27,000 runners, the waiting time at the start was significant. Like I said, I stood in my starting corral for at least 30-45 minutes. Once running, it was slow going due to the crowds. My first mile was my slowest, but things thinned out fairly early. The race wound through downtown and some Dallas neighborhoods (with some of the largest homes I've ever seen) before heading out to White Rock Lake (and even bigger homes). The lake would have been the highlight if it had been warmer, but instead we were exposed to the cold wind for 5-7 miles. I was happy to get back into the city.

From the beginning, I felt good. That's atypical for me, as I'm usually very slow to warm up. I typically have several miles of feeling like the pace is too fast. But this time, I was running fast and feeling good. I actually forced myself to slow down through miles 6-8, as I let my worry about the quick pace get the best of me. In retrospect, I wish I had had more of a plan going into the race, but I really didn't know what to expect. By mile nine, despite my best efforts, I had sped up again. This time, I decided to just go with it. I'm so glad I did.

I went through the half in 1:49:30. It was then that I realized I was on sub 3:40 pace. Again my brain was nudging worry in my way, but I tried to avoid it. It wasn't until after the halfway point, and after I reeled off 5-6 sub 8:20 miles, that qualifying for New York even entered my mind. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in such a position.

After exiting the lake, we hit a few long, but not-too-steep, hills around miles 21-23. I had heard it was all downhill to the finish from there. I could hear the 3:40 pace team behind me. I still felt good, so I went. My last 6 miles were the fastest by far. I averaged 8:11 per mile over the last quarter of the race. Otherwise, my best quarter was an 8:17 average. I was passing people left and right, and I felt like I was flying. It was hard. It hurt. But it was so doable, I couldn't believe it.

According to the race website, I passed 137 people, men and women, in the last quarter of the race, while only 4 people passed me. What a cool stat! I went through mile 24 in 3:20. I thought then that I had New York licked. After all, I was running 8 minute pace, and I had 18 minutes to get to the finish. Unfortunately, we re-combined with the finishing half-marathoners with about 1.5 miles left to go. Suddenly the road was clogged with thousands of walkers and joggers.

I made my way through the crowds as fast as my rapidly tightening legs would allow. With just a few hundred yards to the finish, I looked at my watch and realized in horror that I had less than 30 seconds to get to the promised land! Sprinting and dodging people, I gave it everything I had. Passing under the finish arch, I stopped my watch. 3:38:06.

I'm so proud of my accomplishment. I ran a personal best. My previous best was run more than 8 years ago, and I hadn't come close to it since! Yet those 6 seconds leave a bitter taste in my mouth. On the other hand, now I know what to expect from myself. With The Austin Marathon just 2.5 months away, I've got another chance to run fast. And this time, I'll go in with a plan--a plan that will not include panic if I'm running fast.

Here are my splits, for those of you who like such stats: 8:47, 8:21, 8:16, 8:20, 8:12, 8:29, 8:29, 8:28, 8:17, 8:07, 8:07, 8:19, 8:20, 8:18, 8:23, 8:17, 8:10, 8:18, 8:22, 8:15, 8:27, 8:33, 8:08, 8:00, 8:02, 7:58, 7:35. (My sprint to the line was at 6:30 pace!) Overall, I finished 10th out of 271 women in my age group, and in the top 100 of over 1700 female finishers. That, too, is pretty cool. I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity and this experience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Personal Best!!

I ran a 3:38:06!
That's an unbelievable personal best! I wasn't expecting that.

Unfortunately, despite sprinting for the finish line, I missed qualifying for The New York City Marathon by 6 measly seconds.

But I did run a personal best!
I'm shocked.
I'm grateful.
I'm happy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

In Dallas

After an uneventful flight, I arrived in Dallas. I'd never been to Texas before. So far it looks a lot like Minnesota except it's sunny and 70 degrees! It was below 10 degrees when I left home this morning. The sun and warmth feels really good. Thankfully, it won't be this sunny and warm on Sunday, though. The forecast calls for lows in the 30's and a high of 55 degrees. Perfect!

After I pick up my number at the expo tomorrow morning, I'm hoping to see the Historic West End. It's only a couple of miles from where I'm staying. The area includes the spot where JFK was assassinated. I'd like to see more than that, but staying off my feet is more important.

I actually wish the race was tomorrow. I'm anxious to get going. This will be the largest marathon I've ever run. I think there are something like 22,000 runners! Yikes! It will be interesting to be among that many moving people. I'll let you know what happens. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's cold and dark outside.

Our first very cold day today. According to my car's temp readout, I don't think it ever reached 20 degrees. At least the sun was out. That was nice. But now it's dark outside. I don't like the early darkness at all. It's getting more and more difficult for me as I age, I think. It's especially tough on my mood. I don't want to go outside when it's like this, which means I don't get as much exercise or even fresh air. And that's also tough on my mood. I feel like going to bed, and it's only 6:30 PM!

I can't go to bed, though, as I need to ride a little yet tonight. I was going to go to the gym, but again, it's tough for me to go out in this weather. I guess I'll pull my stationary bike in front of the television and ride at home for awhile. I usually like tapering for my marathons, but I'm feeling restless and anxious this time. Hopefully getting on the bike will help.

It's hard to believe I'll be in Dallas on Friday. The marathon is Sunday. I feel ready. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to run the race hard or just for fun. I think I will probably race it. My training went well, and I feel like I'm in good shape. I don't think I ran enough miles to run a personal best or anything, but it would be fun to re-qualify for Boston. I'd have to finish under 3:50 to do that.

A few thoughts before I sign off: Did anyone notice that Major League Baseball's American League and National League MVPs both had mental illness and/or substance abuse histories? ESPN talking about depression and alcoholism... That was refreshing!

Did anyone else notice that Dorothy Hamill is now doing TV commercials to raise money, as a cancer survivor, for cancer? I wonder why she never did that, as a depression survivor, for mental illness? Too bad.

The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.--Author unknown