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!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fighter

Perhaps it was a reference in a book written by a man dying from ALS, or perhaps it was the result of sitting at home in pain and/or ill for the better part of a week, or maybe it was seeing Peyton Manning finish off a difficult season with a Super Bowl win; I don't know the exact reason, but I've been thinking a lot this week about what it means to be a fighter.

I've been referred to as a fighter at various points along this journey I call life. But is that true? Am I a fighter? What exactly does that mean? I don't know. Let's look at the record.

I survived a difficult, abuse-riddled childhood which included several stints in foster homes, a prolonged battle with severe depression, a serious suicide attempt, and 90 days in a locked adolescent psych hospital, all while excelling in sports and school. Does that make me a fighter?

I went on to excel in college, athletically and academically, which I fully paid for with academic scholarships and regular part-time employment, but college was no picnic either. College is where my abuse of alcohol began to reveal itself, where I was date raped after accepting a ride home from a fellow athlete after an off campus party, and where I faced cruel bullying after other athletes raised questions about my sexual orientation. Fighter?

I moved far away from home, to the big city of Boston, after college and got my Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology. I worked in that field for five years prior to deciding to change my career and return to my home state in order to pursue my Master's Degree in Physical Therapy. Those 27 months were the most academically challenging of my educational journey, but also the most rewarding, and I got it done.

Life was good. My spouse and I bought our first house, traveled frequently, and developed meaningful relationships with a host of friends. Working full time as a physical therapist was everything I had hoped it would be. I could relax and breathe. But had I gotten to this point because I was a fighter?

It was five years into my career as a physical therapist when the depression returned. Two years and two hospitalizations later, depression began to strip me bare. First I lost my spouse. Shortly thereafter I lost my job, my house, and my financial independence. My life was turned upside down.

Depression continued like a wrecking ball through a crystal shop. I lost friends, my tenuous sobriety, and the ability to care for myself without assistance. For years I bounced from hospitals to treatment programs to adult foster care. Life as I knew it had disintegrated.

I was living an unrecognizable life. Yet despite years of intractable depression, another serious suicide attempt, and some very destructive, dangerous drinking, I somehow landed on my feet. Is that because I was fighting?

It's now 15 years later. I'm sober 10 years. I'm living in my own home, which I somehow managed to purchase in the middle of the chaos, and working part-time. I've restored relationships with family and developed new relationships with supportive friends and treatment professionals. I've felt a new, different sense of peace.

But life is definitely not easy, especially recently. Perhaps that's why I'm wondering about this fighter label. In the past year alone, I faced the worst depression relapse of the past 15 years, which knocked me flat for 3 months, and among other things, severely depleted my financial resources. I have yet to recover anything resembling financial security.

This past year, I also ended a four year relationship. Ironically, during the last weekend I spent with my boyfriend I tore my Achilles tendon. As a result, I have not been able to run since April, 2015. I missed 4 marathons, including New York City, but more importantly, I'm missing a huge piece of my identity.

Health has been a huge challenge over the past year, right up to and including this past week. Besides two hospitalizations for depression, I endured multiple treatments for my Achilles, including surgery finally last Monday. A bout of pneumonia knocked me out of commission shortly after my second hospitalization, and back-to-back-to-back painful oral surgeries, including one just four days ago, have been a huge challenge. Does the fact that I'm still standing make me some kind of fighter?

I'm not feeling like a fighter today. I'm facing an unknown, and very expensive future with both my ankle and my mouth. And after battling an intestinal, flu-like illness over the past two days, I'm feeling worn out. I'm trying hard not to, but I'm beginning to feel like the deck is stacked against me. That's a dangerous feeling. It's a feeling which bumps up against self pity.

I don't like self pity. It's useless. It does me no good whatsoever. But I don't necessarily like the label of "fighter" either. It's a lot to live up to. I end up feeling like a weakling when I feel worn down or worried about the future. I question my strength and mental fortitude. That doesn't do me any good either.

It's actually best if I don't reflect too long or too hard on what I've been through. It's best if I keep my focus forward. The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, states, "We shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it," and "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others."

Perhaps that's the purpose of this (extremely long) post. I need to remember where I've been, remember what I've fought through to get here, and use it to quell my worries about the future. Use it as a base of strength, rather than a basis for self pity, and allow my past to carry me forward. And if I can help one person along the way, so much the better. Carry on, my friends.

8 comments:

paullamb said...

I've never liked labels. I certainly don't give myself any. ("Let other people call you a writer/runner/whatever. In the meantime, just write/run/whatever.")
The only thing I can try to be is whoever I am, with all of my talents and faults, fears and hopes. Sounds as though you are doing the same.

Nathalie Webb said...

Etta, I read with great interest your long post. I am so sorry you have been through so much trauma in your life and all your achievements are extra special in such extremely difficult circumstances. You are indeed an inspiration to many of us who struggle so much with depression.

Nathalie Webb said...

Etta I hope you are bearing up. I just want to say your reflections on self pity have done me good. I am feeling quite sorry for myself for health reasons both physical, ankle and teeth problems and low mood and I agree with your comments. Self pity is unhelpful and I know there are others who have far greater challenges. I will attempt to change my perspective.

Julie Gathman said...

I agree with Nathalie, above. Thank you for writing about your life. It is helpful to know these things about someone.

I have recently received a windfall, and I would like to share with you...where could I mail a small check? It would just be a token... you have done a lot of writing here, and people are benefiting.

Please let me know where I can mail the item (I assume you can see my email address, if not, let me know that and I will give it to you.)

etta said...

Thank you all for your comments on this post. I so appreciate your thoughts and support.

@ Julie: Thank you. I actually cannot see your email address. There is a donate button at the top of my blog, or if you'd like, send me a comment with your email address and I won't publish your comment. Congratulations on your windfall!

Rachel T. said...

Hi there! I'm really glad to have stumbled upon your blog. I too, am a runner and was recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I am 32. For 32 years, I've never felt anything like this. I can tell you the day and time when I noticed it. 10/25/2015 around 9 am, when I woke up. I have no reason to feel this way, which then makes me even more upset. If you don't mind me asking (you can email me @ rayac1221@yahoo.com), why were you hospitalized? Did you check yourself in? Anyway, I thank you for being so brave and open about mental health. It's sad that some people are still so ashamed to talk about it.

etta said...

@ Rachel: Welcome to my humble blog. I've been hospitalized for depression multiple times. I always go voluntarily, of course, just as I would go voluntarily if I needed care for any other medical illness, such as cancer, diabetes, or MS. If you click on the "hospital" link in the right hand column of this blog, you can read all about many of those hospitalizations.

Rachel T. said...

Okay, I will. I hope you don't have to go there again for that, or any other reason. It seems like you're doing pretty good!



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