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, September 14, 2014

Fortune at the End of the Road

There is a popular song right now with a line I find particularly poignant. In February Seven, The Avett Brothers sing, "There's no fortune at the end of a road that has no end." That line is the reason I am sitting up, now, in the middle of the night composing this post.

I ran 20 miles yesterday. I ran for three hours and three minutes. How was I able to do that when feeling so low? I was able to do it because there was an end to the road.

Running long distances, like 20 miles or a marathon, can be quite uncomfortable, often painful, and always a ton of work. But I can do it because there's a fortune at the end of the road. I can endure the pain and discomfort because I know I will feel better in a matter of hours or minutes.

With my depression, the road, for the past 13+ years, has had no end. I've had multiple relapses, treatments, and hospitalizations. I've always known each relapse was going to be temporary, and that often helped me endure. But this time, my thinking has been different. I have been focused on the relapses rather than the recoveries. I've been negatively focused on the endless road, and there is no fortune at the end of a road without an end.

I think I set myself up for failure when I left the hospital last December. I really felt like I had turned a corner. That relapse was so painful, so difficult, so debilitating, and yet I survived. I know I didn't expect to feel so low again so soon. I figured I must have earned at least a few years worth of relapse-free illness. To be so low again, within months, not years, of getting well has really taken a toll on my thinking.

My doctor and I talked a lot about my thinking and how it may contribute to my depression the other day. Actually, as is the case when I'm feeling very low, she did most of the talking. I sat there feeling scolded for thinking negatively, though I know that was not her intent. I think her point was just what I said. During this relapse, my thinking has gotten pretty negative.

This is a subject about which I am particularly sensitive. In fact, I've done an entire post on negative thinking actually being a symptom, not a cause, of depression. But the stigma out there among many "normies" is simple, change our thinking, think happier thoughts, and our depression will be relieved. It's not that simple, but that doesn't mean it's not entirely true.

When feeling well, I work on thinking positively, on not sweating small things, and on being compassionate and humble. The combination of years of cognitive therapy and twelve step work have led me to a simpler, happier life. This simpler life has been due to a change in my approach to the world, which is to say a change in my thinking. For example, gratitude was a foreign concept to me years ago. Now gratitude and humility are a huge part of my life and my being.

However, over the past couple of weeks gratitude has been thrown out the window. I haven't been holding onto what's good in my life. Instead, I've seen only gloom and doom on the horizon. Even if this relapse is going to be temporary, as it certainly will be, instead of recovery I have been focused on the endless road of relapses ahead.

Reflecting on my recent thoughts highlights that focus. I couldn't believe I was going through another relapse. I couldn't imagine I deserved to feel so low again. Why me? Why again? Why now? Suicide felt like the only option, as I knew (actually a thought) I couldn't go through the depths of despair all over again, and I knew (thought) that this relapse would only be followed by another, and another, and another. No matter the work I have done. What was the point? These negative thoughts certainly have not, as my doctor pointed out, helped me get through this relapse, and may, in fact, be prolonging it instead.

The solution is simple, which is not to say easy. I've got to work on my thinking. I've got to refocus my energy. I've got to focus on the fortune at the end of this road, this temporary road I am currently on. I've got to endure the discomfort and the pain. After all, it may only be hours, even minutes, until this road ends. I can't predict the path ahead. I don't know anything for sure. I can only live, and run, in today.


Irene said...

Ran 20 miles after that sad post I'd last read ! Certainly shows I don't know what happens next.

Couldn't be happier for you.

Anonymous said...

You've nailed it!

I too say to myself I "know" this is coming and I "know" this won't work. And you've put it so simply - what we're telling ourselves is only our thoughts. It's only predetermined insofar as that's how we're setting ourselves up!

Love this!

Liza x

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Oh, I hear you, Etta. I, too, get frustrated with the whole "just think positive" movement. But, I have to admit, it does NOT help me to think the negative thoughts. And focusing on turning those negative thoughts around to reflect positively is good practice for me. And yes, thoughts are just thoughts. They are not facts just because we're thinking them.

I read something today that helped me: we have so many thoughts that come through no intent of our own. It's more like we're being thought than we're thinking. (Hope that makes some sense. I'm not explaining it very well.)

Take care and I'm thinking about you.

Anonymous said...

If you can work on a positive thinking while you are down, kudos to you, Eta, this could clearly be a powerful tool - I must admit I can not trick myself into thinking differently, I can not just "think happier thoughts", but I can only do "happier activities" that help me think happier thoughts.
I am surprised, however, that you do not try to analyze what makes you more susceptible to relapses, what makes you stronger and what weaker. I asked you this a long long time ago, and you responded that you do not ask yourself why you get cold or why people have this or that disease. This surprised me, because I think it could be helpful. If a person tends to get cold in early springs, or coinciding with a lack of sleep, or stress at work, or walking around with wet hair - then something could be done about it. If you are weaker if you have to many/few contacts with certain people, if you run too much/little, if you work too much/little, if you do not see your BF for a long time or you see him too frequently - could not this be a powerful tool, too?
Anyway, wishing you all the best, not judging your approach at all, unfortunately, I am not one of the "normies" either...

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Etta, just stopping by to say I hope you are better. I've been thinking about you and praying.