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!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Disappointment and Anger

I'm home from the hospital. My back is only slightly better. I now have numbness, tingling and weakness in my left leg, which necessitates walking with a cane around the house and crutches for anything of any distance. I am now two days away from missing my marathon, and more importantly, 3 days from missing skydiving with my brother, niece and nephew--an outing which was my idea and which I arranged. I'm so disappointed I don't even think I'll be able to go watch them jump. I can run more marathons, but missing my niece, nephew and brother's first skydive is an opportunity I'll never have again. That fact has had me in tears more than once today.

My last day in the hospital was quite challenging. Throughout the day it became very clear I was being treated differently based on my mental health diagnoses. I had concerns about going home as nothing had been resolved, but I was being treated like I was attention seeking. My practical concerns and physical complaints were dismissed. I had a nurse practitioner argue with me over my MRI results, results she insisted were benign but according to a specialist I had just seen actually were far from benign. And as I was leaving, members of my inpatient treatment team flat out refused to write up a referral for outpatient physical therapy. No reason. They stated I had to get a referral from my primary doctor instead, which is bullshit. I get patients everyday from Mayo Clinic who are referred to me by their inpatient doctors and providers. What benefit she got out of refusing to write up a referral I can't imagine.

As far as my MRI, I learned there are many ways to interpret an MRI depending on which slides you look at, and only the real specialists understand how to properly read them. After my MRI, the initial radiologist read it as "benign." Then it was read as "basically benign" with a small disc bulge at L5 (that's the fifth lumbar vertebra) by the physical medicine doctor, but since my numbness, tingling, weakness, and reflex changes all corresponded to an injury at L4, that didn't really make any sense. Nevertheless, he ordered an epidural injection to L5. I was game for anything that might help but frustrated the images did not match my symptoms, and nobody seemed to care.

Fortunately, when I arrived later in the neuroradiology department for my injection, the neuroradiology consultant correctly read my MRI as having a large "disc extrusion" at the level of L4 (picture a really full zit popping at full force and squirting its contents into the space where the L4 nerve root exits the spinal canal) and a smaller "disc protrusion" (a full zit which has not yet popped) at L5. She showed me the pictures. The extrusion and protrusion were clear as day, and more importantly, both findings were fully supported and corroborated by my physical symptoms.

The fabulous neuroradiologist attempted 3 times to inject corticosteroid medication into my L4 space, but she couldn't get the injections to work, so she attempted an injection at L5, which did work. My pain lessened (an L5 symptom), but my leg numbness, tingling and weakness (which are all correlated with L4) has, as expected, gotten worse.

It's been a rough couple of days. My mood has certainly taken a big hit. And I'm still fuming at the way I was treated as my inpatient doctors found less and less evidence, at least in their eyes, of anything actually being physically wrong. (Therefore, it must just be the mentally ill chick seeking attention and making things up, right?) Last but not least, my discharge summary doesn't open with a statement about my excruciating pain, which was the reason I was hospitalized. Instead it highlights my mental health diagnoses, first and foremost, before eventually mentioning I had acute back pain. Recurrent depression belongs in my past medical history, for sure, but it had nothing to do with my back pain, and it certainly did not need to be highlighted in the first sentence of my discharge summary.

The stigma of mental illness follows us everywhere. Anyone who thinks it doesn't impact our care for a variety of conditions is either clueless or blind. It's stigma! It sucks! And it really pisses me off!

Monday, May 22, 2017


Well...file this one under, "You're not going to believe this." Or, "You've got to be kidding me!" I am in the hospital. No, not that hospital. I am on a medical floor of my local hospital. The pulled muscle I wrote about in my last post developed into something much bigger and not better a couple of nights ago.

Just after midnight Sunday morning, I awoke from sleeping due to a small coughing fit. Since the coughing hurt my back, in the area of the pulled muscle, I tried to brace myself. Unfortunately, when I coughed just a few seconds later I felt immediate and tremendous pain in my left low back. The pain was so intense I collapsed on my bed and cried out in agony. I laid there barely breathing for several minutes as my back seared with pain.

Since I live alone, I got scared. I was in so much pain I wasn't sure I would be able to get out of bed and retrieve my phone in the next room. Eventually, with Herculean effort, I did get out of bed. I grabbed my phone, an ice pack and 2 Aleve, but I barely made it back to my bed. I was nauseous and sweating and lightheaded. That's when I got really scared. I almost passed out. No matter what I did or how I positioned myself, the pain was unrelenting.

I hated to do it, but I began dialing friends. The first three did not answer. Finally my friend, Joan, wearily said hello. Long story short, she brought me to the emergency room where I stood, sat and laid down in agony for hours while they tried one pain med after another. Multiple doses of Valium, Toradol, Tylenol, and Oxycodone were useless. I couldn't move without getting nauseous and lightheaded. When 2 doses of Fentanyl, the med of last resort, didn't help, they had to admit me to the hospital.

So I've been here for almost 48 hours, and things have not improved much. I'm being medicated around the clock, and that has at least allowed me to uncomfortably lie in bed. I've slept a few hours here and there, but changing positions is excruciating, and walking is nearly impossible. I took my first steps with a walker about an hour ago. I made it 10 feet. That was discouraging to say the least.

I'm currently awaiting an MRI, but that likely won't be done until tomorrow afternoon. Apparently it's a very popular machine. The docs are thinking I may have injured my L5 disc. I actually kind of hope they're right, because at least we'd then have a plan, an epidural injection of corticosteroid to stifle the inflammation. Until then I'll be stuck here in my hospital bed getting more and more restless.

I'm so discouraged. Obviously this means running a marathon in 6 days and jumping out of an airplane with my niece and nephew 7 days from now are out of the question. After all that training and planning... And I was so looking forward to getting back to my regular work schedule now that I'm finished with TMS treatments, but no, instead I'm sitting here earning nothing again. Who gets severely injured coughing in bed?? Unbelievable. I'm so disappointed. Prayers appreciated.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Under the weather

It's been raining for 7 hours. Seven hours. It's cold, wet and gray outside. Unfortunately, it's not much better inside. I'm still feeling under the weather. The virus which began with a sore throat last Sunday has now settled in my chest. I've been trying to rest and take care of myself, but I can't seem to shake the fatigue. With my next marathon only 8 days away, I'm concerned.

In addition to the virus, I had major oral surgery on Thursday. After 3 years my braces are finally off, and I had implant surgery for two missing teeth, the right canine and an upper left molar, about 48 hours ago. I'm not in a lot of pain, but my face is quite swollen. The doc told me to lay low, so that's what I've been doing. Laying low, however, is not great for my mood.

In addition to the virus and the surgery, I also managed to pull a muscle in my back earlier this week. Of the three issues, my back is actually causing the most difficulty. It hurts like hell, and I can hardly move without aggravating it. Dressing, laundry, and even putting on my shoes are painful and challenging. So I'm moving very little.

Fatigue, lying low, and forced rest combined with cold, wet, gray weather, has me feeling a bit off. Worry thoughts have been madly swirling in my head all week. I'm a little anxious about having just finished my last TMS treatment. I'm worried about feeling sore, swollen, and congested one week before a marathon. And I'm concerned about this lingering fatigue affecting everything from my running to my work to my mood.

It's hard not to be worried and scared coming off such a horrendous depression relapse, but I've got to do better. I'm not helping myself by being anxious and impatient. I've got to get out of my head and work on my patience. Everything I'm experiencing is temporary. The congestion will resolve, the swelling will subside, the muscle will heal, and the weather, for sure, will change. It will all happen in its time. I have to remember that. I get in trouble when I want it all to happen right now. Trying to control things I can't control is not good for my mood either. For the rest of today, I think I'll work on acceptance and letting go.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's complicated

It must be nice. If I didn't have depression, feeling physically ill wouldn't be scary. If I didn't have depression, my sore throat, body aches and malaise would be simple. I'd sleep in, lie around in my pajamas, eat some chicken soup, take a couple of Tylenol, and practice my best napping skills. And that is what I did today, but because I have depression, it wasn't that simple. Simple would have been nice.

Unfortunately, depression seems to complicate everything, even physical illness. I'm sick. But rather than simply taking care of my illness, I spent the day worrying about my mental health. I couldn't stop questioning whether my fatigue and malaise were the result of my physical illness, or if they were the first signs of another depression relapse setting in. I found myself analyzing every little symptom. Over and over again, is this a cold, or is it depression? It was a long, uncomfortable day.

The bottom line is I don't like feeling tired, achy and slow. It's too familiar. And it's too close. The fact that I'm feeling tired, achy and slow during my final week of TMS treatments is also an unfortunate coincidence. That fact only heightens my anxiety and my analysis.

Of course all of my analyzing and questioning was for naught today. I still feel sick, and I'm still uncomfortable with feeling sick. I'm still worried feeling ill, if it isn't a sign of something bigger already on the horizon, may actually trigger something more menacing. It's scary. I don't want to go back there.

Regardless of what I want, I'm not going to change the outcome by worrying and/or analyzing every symptom. This illness is what it is, and it will be what it will be. I do know that. It's just that simple.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Strong, Free

I am strong. I am free. That's my new running mantra. I came up with it 3 weeks ago during my first 20-mile training run. That's right, I said first. I used "I am strong, I am free" again during my second and final 20-mile training run a few days ago. And tonight, during a very strong, very free tempo run, I used it again, and I ran fast!

I am strong. That's self-explanatory. I am free. That's the more important, meaningful half of my mantra. During that first 20-miler I was so thrilled to be running and feeling good, I felt free; free from worry, free from despair, free from fatigue, and free from depression! It was a magical run, a run I couldn't have predicted or completed just a few short weeks earlier.

I had another great 20-miler this past Sunday. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I didn't run the entire week prior. I was resting my sore Achilles, which had flared up again. During the week I got my miles in on my ElliptiGo and bike. Running the second 20-miler was really important to me, though. I felt like I needed to do it in order to build confidence for my upcoming marathons. Again, I was thrilled with the result; a good, solid, not too difficult 20 mile training run. Freedom, once again.

My confidence continues to build. Tonight I ran 6.2 miles at 7:55 pace. That's a good 20 seconds per mile faster than I ran the same workout 4 weeks ago! And it's likely faster than I've run that distance in years! I used my mantra. I felt strong, and I definitely felt free. My mood continues to be good, but the confidence I gain from running these key workouts without too much difficulty is priceless. Running well reinforces that I'm doing well.

I'm so grateful to be feeling free; free to work, free to socialize, free to run, and free to take care of my responsibilities. I begin my final week of TMS treatments on Monday. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about what may happen when the treatments stop, but I'm doing my best to stay in today. I've strung together a nice, long string of good days free of depression. At times I still can't believe it. It was a long way back. I'm trusting the good runs and the good days will continue.

I am strong. And I am free.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

(Not) Unique

It never fails to amaze me. I'm not unique.You'd think I would have learned that by now. I mean I've been writing this blog since 2008. Apparently I'm slow. Nevertheless, after reading your comments in the days following my last post I again discovered I am not unique.

I really was surprised. I thought my feeling of detachment was novel, but it turned out it was only novel for me. Many of you had felt it, too. Thanks for sharing your comments and letting me know.

Over the last 9 years, that's been one of the main benefits of authoring this blog, re-discovering I'm not unique. Depression is such an isolating illness. It pulls me inside out. I disappear into a shell of myself when overwhelmed with its debilitating effects. I feel totally alone, and isolation definitely nurtures that feeling of uniqueness.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for others with this damn illness, my experiences are not so different from your experiences. You get it. You can relate. Having others understand and relate to what I'm feeling and describing is quite comforting. Even though it constantly surprises me, it's always a good surprise. Thank you.

I'm so fortunate to have this space where I can be surprised when feeling dark and alone. Your comments comforted and carried me many times over these last few months. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with me. Sometimes it's good not to be unique.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A look back

As a result of ECT, or perhaps just due to the severity of this depression relapse, I recently discovered I had little recollection of what happened over the past few months. I couldn't answer the frequently posed question, "How did it start?" Fortunately, I have a blog. So I took a look back the other day. Don't worry, this is not going to be a post summarizing in gory detail my recent misery and despair. But it was interesting for me to rediscover how this relapse began and progressed.

It was interesting and strange, actually. I discovered I felt really good, even grateful, just a few days prior to my first post indicating something was wrong. This relapse seemingly began overnight. And the decent into hell was complete within just a few days. Those two things in and of themselves were strange. How does that happen?? But what was more strange was my reaction, or shall I say my lack of reaction, to my own words. It was odd.

I had 10 weeks of posts filled with increasingly desperate hopelessness and despair. The words were sometimes horrifyingly descriptive of an agonizing trek through depression, yet as I read them I felt very oddly detached. The words were just words. I wasn't feeling them at all. That seemed really weird and abnormal. Usually, when I read something with feeling, even something I wrote years ago, I sort of re-experience what my words were attempting to convey. But this time, nothing. And I mean nothing. I may as well have been reading The Declaration of Independence.

Now I'm not necessarily complaining. Perhaps my brain was protecting me. Perhaps it was saving me from re-living any of this hellish episode. But that possibility doesn't make it any less strange. I felt, and still feel, so detached (already) from what just happened. So detached I'm getting frustrated trying to put it into words. I was reading the words in my posts as an outsider looking into a life of which I could not relate. Isn't that weird?

Ironically, the only post that struck me just a bit was the poem I wrote entitled, "Just words." Like every other post I reviewed, I had forgotten I wrote that poem. And if I do say so myself, when I reread it I liked it. (I may even re-post it.) Now is there some meaning behind that irony? Perhaps, but I don't know what it is. Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with all of this, so I'll stop now. I was just really intrigued by feeling so detached from my own words detailing my own very recent past. And I don't really understand why.