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, December 28, 2018

13 years

I'm not sure why I got it when so many others didn't. Luck? Willingness? Chemistry? Maybe a bit of all three? I don't know, but I'm happy I got it. I'm thrilled and grateful today to be celebrating 13 years of sobriety. Most of you reading this post have no idea what I was like when I was drinking. Allow me to give you a glimpse.

When I was in the thick of my disease, and that includes years of abstinence, I did not know what gratitude meant. I did not understand the word, and I'm pretty sure I never once uttered it in conversation. Humility was even more foreign to me. I certainly didn't understand the concept. And if I was ever aware of the word, I probably thought it had something to do with humiliation.

I was selfish, self centered, and controlling. I figured it was my responsibility to make sure you knew what you should be doing, whether that was as a colleague, a family member, or a friend. I could be a jerk, but if I was, I was sure it was because you caused me to be a jerk. Rationalization was one concept I did understand. I'm sure I often wasn't a pleasant person to be around, but I had no idea.

Since I knew what was best for me, I didn't come to sobriety willingly. Believing in something greater than myself, listening to suggestions from others, and admitting I was powerless? None of those ideas sounded even remotely right. Like I said, I'm still not sure why I got it. After all, I came to sobriety kicking and screaming.

I kicked and screamed for well over a year, if I remember correctly. I'm so lucky the people attempting to assist me, to listen to me, to share their knowledge with me; I'm so lucky they didn't give up. They continued to share their experience, strength and hope, despite my reservations and probably protestations. But for some reason I continued to come back for more.

I guess that's what was required, though, because at some point something clicked. Maybe I became willing? Maybe I gave up thinking I knew what was best, not only for me but for you, too? Maybe I realized I actually was powerless? At some point, I got it. Something clicked, and I began to change.

Sobriety is about so much more than not drinking. For me, it's about becoming a better person, a kinder, gentler person. It's about learning to trust. It's about living life on life's terms rather than mine. Amazingly, when I gave up trying to control everything, I found a freedom like I'd never known before. It's weird, and strange, and wonderful.

I'm amazed to be sitting here 13 years sober today. I'm humbled, and grateful, and happy. If you're struggling, know it's possible. If you're willing, a better life, not necessarily an easier life, but a better life is there for the taking. After all, if I can get it, anyone can.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Pity or Participate

I admit it. I awoke this morning feeling a little sad, which was unusual, so initially I didn't pay much attention. I've spent many years alone on Christmas day, and it's never been a big deal. I mean I haven't even put up a Christmas tree or decorated for at least 10-12 years. I'm not anti-Christmas. I actually like Christmas a lot, but it's just me and Jet, so decorating seems a bit much. It's Christmas, but it's also just another day for me.

I got up this morning as usual and prepared to go to work. Everything was fine until I pulled out of my driveway. The neighborhood was so quiet. There wasn't another moving vehicle or person in sight. That's when the sadness really set in.

I began thinking about all of the excited activity taking place out of sight in those still and tranquil homes. I began thinking about all of the families who were together this morning, rather than at work or school. The traditional and special meals were likely underway. I knew I wasn't going to be having a traditional or special meal today, and I felt sad, and maybe a bit of self pity, because I wasn't going to be a part of any of it.

The feelings surprised me. After all, this was a normal Christmas day for me. Just yesterday a coworker inquired as to what my plans were for today. I told her I was working, and maybe Jet and I would go for a run, but that's all. She scrunched up her face and gave me a concerned look. I told her not to worry. It was no big deal. And I wasn't lying. So feeling sad and a little pitiful this morning really surprised me.

I entertained the pity for about 10 minutes, reinforced it by noting the empty roads around me, and even got a little tearful. Then I picked up my phone. I woke up one of my close friends. She and her family were soon going to be opening their presents. At first that heightened my sadness. I shared how I was feeling and then made plans to stop in after work. But I was still feeling a bit low, so I made another call.

I left a voicemail for my brother. He lives about an hour away. I knew he was spending the morning with his family. I left a message asking if he wanted to go for a run this afternoon. While awaiting his response, I saw 4 patients, all of whom were cheerful and happy to participate. One long term, very debilitated patient even made a huge leap forward today when she accomplished something she has been working toward since August! I was ecstatic! To top it off, the dietary department fed us (the staff) a free traditional meal. That was unexpected and delicious.

Just as I finished my meal, my brother called and accepted my offer to go for a run. So instead of going to my friend's house after work, I drove to my brother's house, and we went for a long run together. It was a beautiful, crisp day. The roads were almost empty, and we had practically free run of the city. We ran and chatted and wished Merry Christmas to everyone we passed. Before I knew it we had run 9.2 miles. That's the furthest I've run since early September. I may pay for it with sore Achilles tendons tomorrow, but it was worth it to have that quality time with my brother.

I'm proud of what I did today. I could have wallowed in self pity, but I didn't. Instead of wallowing, I participated. My day was resurrected by participating fully in everything I did today, whether that was as a physical therapist, a happy diner, a runner, or a sister. I had a good day. I'm happy tonight to be sitting here alone, typing, with Jet by my side. Life is good. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Running update

I celebrated another birthday this week. My goal for my 51st year is to actually run a race again. I ran my last race the day before I turned 49. So it's now officially been more than two years since I last raced. Two years! I can't believe it. It's been a long, long time, and I'm not sure an end to the drought is in sight.

With that in mind, I ventured out on my second run this week. I've run 2 to 5 miles, 2 or 3 times per week for the last 6 weeks. My Achilles tendons, both of them, have been sore, so 3 weeks ago I began running in a new shoe, the Nike Vaporfly 4%, in hopes I might avoid further injury. The Vaporfly 4% shoes are the super high tech running shoes which were created for the Nike Breaking 2 project.

The new shoes were ridiculously expensive, but they really are super-cushioned and energy-returning, just as advertised. Almost immediately I was running faster with the same or less effort. It's not that I'm focused on speed right now, but running the same pace with less energy expenditure feels great. Unfortunately, my Achilles soreness has not abated.

As I sit here right now I fear I will not get a chance for a third run this week, as both of my Achilles tendons are hurting. So while I'm thrilled with my run today, a very comfortable and easy 5.6 miles, I'm frustrated beyond belief with this chronic Achilles soreness. My legs and my lungs are clearly ready to increase training volume, but I dare not. The last thing I need is another Achilles tear.

I'm doing everything I can to avoid further injury. I'm running less and advancing mileage slowly. I've got the new, high tech shoes. I'm foam rolling my calves after every run and often on the days in between, too. I'm using heat and/or ice on an almost daily basis. I'm strengthening my calves, and I'm stretching, even though I already have excellent ankle range of motion. I don't know what else I can do. I can't figure it out. There seems to be nothing left to fix.

My plan, therefore, is to continue forward slowly. I'll keep doing what I'm doing, take days off as needed, and pray for the best possible outcome. I'm longing to be the runner I used to be. I'm yearning to feel the grace and freedom, in my body and soul, of floating along effortlessly, enjoying a beautiful day, with Jet running by my side. It's been a long time since I've experienced that. I know it's possible. I just have to get there. Somehow I will. I have to believe that.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Psych Nurses

I'm thinking about psych nurses today. They are a unique bunch. I have been very fortunate. I have been a patient of some of the best mental health nurses around. Whether inpatient or outpatient, psych nurses have special skills, and several have had a lasting impact on my life.

Vicky, my psychiatrist's primary nurse, is one nurse who has had a tremendous impact on the quality of my life. She is retiring this week. Her absence will be a huge loss to my doctor and her entire outpatient department, but I am dreading her departure. My psychiatrist has other nurses, and they are also very good, but when I struggle, when my depression has me flat on the couch contemplating life, it's Vicky with whom I want to connect. For 18 years, my entire illness, Vicky has been available and integral.

As everyone knows, outpatient nurses are gatekeepers for their docs, whether it's a psychiatrist or an orthopedic surgeon. And I'm sure that's how I initially connected with Vicky, as a gatekeeper, when what I really wanted was to speak to my psychiatrist. But Vicky has special skills. She's gone above and beyond the gatekeeper role throughout our interconnected time. Over the last 8-10 years, I've frequently called Vicky, not as a conduit to my psychiatrist, but as a trusted confidant and counselor.

I've called Vicky to talk to, well, Vicky. I've spoken to Vicky from my car, my couch, and my bed. I've reached out to Vicky while out on a run, while hiking in a state park, and even while trekking in the Himalayas. It hasn't mattered whether she was at her desk or not. I've called Vicky at all hours of the day and night. I've left lengthy, desperate messages on her voicemail because sometimes I just needed to talk. Even if she wasn't there, I found comfort speaking out loud to Vicky. And she always, always called me back.

The thing about Vicky is she never freaked out. Over the years we developed a trusting relationship. Besides my psychiatrist, Vicky was the only person I trusted with some of my darkest, scariest thoughts. She always listened without judgment. She wasn't afraid to ask direct questions, and she always made sure I was safe. Vicky knew when to offer support and let me be. But she also knew when more assessment and/or hospitalization was needed. She was a conduit to my doctor, but she was so much more than that.

I'm happy for Vicky. She deserves a most fulfilling, happy retirement. Selfishly, however, I wish Vicky wasn't retiring. I'm sure I'll notice her absence when I next visit my doctor, as Vicky and I typically shared a smile and a laugh. I'm worried about life without Vicky in my corner. I'm not sure how I'll handle it when/if I have a significant depression relapse in the future. It will be different. I will miss Vicky. I'm sure of that.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How to Help Those with Depression

I have a friend who is struggling with her depression right now. It's different for me to be on this side of the scene. Usually I'm the one in need. Her struggle has me thinking about what I appreciate when I'm not doing well. I have the advantage of understanding her illness and needs from the inside. But for those on the outside looking in, I think supporting someone with a mental illness is not as intuitive as supporting a friend or family member with, for example, cancer or MS. Here are a few ways you may be able to help your loved one with depression.

First of all, get past the stigma of mental illness and remember it is an illness, no different nor any less debilitating than other, more publicly acceptable illnesses. Depression is not a weakness. It is not caused by thinking negative thoughts or not socializing enough. (Those are actually symptoms, not causes of depression.) Depression is caused by biological, chemical processes gone awry, just as is the case for cancer, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis.

Likewise, depression is not cured by being "more positive" or by "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps." Charging forward as if nothing is wrong doesn't work either. Depression often requires intervention. It may be treated with hospitalization, medication, counseling, ECT, and/or a variety of newer interventions including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or Ketamine. And if, like me, your loved one has treatment resistant depression, it may require multiple interventions, similar to other chronic illnesses.

With that in mind, I urge people to treat a loved one with depression just as they would treat a loved one with any other debilitating illness. If hospitalized, send your friend or family member a card, some flowers, or a balloon bouquet. Support him or her with words of encouragement. And visit! You don't have to know what to say. You don't have to say anything. Sometimes it's just nice to be in the presence of somebody who cares.

If a loved one is unable to work because of depression, they likely are unable to take care of the house, the yard, the car, or the children/pets, too. Again, just as you would for a person with another debilitating condition, offer to help out. When I'm sick, it's difficult to do anything around my house, but cooking especially suffers. I appreciate offers to get groceries or to cook a meal. Walk my dog, mow the yard or shovel the snow. Depression saps my energy and makes even little things feel overwhelming. Offer to do something practical. It will make a big difference.

However, if helping with chores is not your forte, at the very least keep in touch. Depression is an isolating illness. Isolation is a symptom of the illness, but it is also an unfortunate result of having a poorly understood, stigmatized condition. Friends and family, perhaps out of shame, or I think often it is simply a result of not knowing what to say or do; friends and family sometimes disappear. It's happened to me. And based on past comments on this blog, it has routinely happened to others, too. Even if you don't know what to say or do, even if you're uncomfortable and don't understand what's going on, don't leave your loved one on an island. Don't disappear.

Stay present, but don't expect you have to fix our depression. We don't expect that, and frankly trying to fix me only makes me feel worse. When I don't feel well, it is not helpful if someone tries to commiserate. I end up feeling more isolated and misunderstood. You see, all of us have felt depressed. Feeling depressed is part of the human condition, which is why people (without depression) think they can fix it in others. But feeling depressed is not depression. Depressed is a feeling. Depression is an illness. 

There is so much more to depression than feeling sad or low. From thinking to concentration to movement to bathing and sleeping, depression affects it all. It is a life altering, sometimes life threatening, debilitating condition. Let your friend know you're available. Assure your family member that although you may not understand their struggle, you're willing to assist, to listen, or simply to sit. Be there. That's enough. Fixing is not required.

I plan to be present for my friend. I don't yet know exactly what she needs or where she needs help, but I'll do my best to be available. And that may be all she needs, simply to know somebody is available. For me, when I don't feel well, it's often just that simple.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Boston Overnight

I'm sitting here processing my whirlwind overnight trip to Boston. I was invited to participate in a blogger advisory board meeting by the pharmaceutical company, Alkermes.  I left at 6:00 AM Thursday morning and walked back through my door at 12:20 AM this morning. I spent just 27 hours in Boston. I felt like a real business person!

I really enjoyed being back in Boston. I had barely arrived at my hotel before I changed into my running gear and was on my way to run around the Charles River. It was my favorite place to run when I lived in Boston many years ago. I planned to continue my gradual mileage build up, running a bit, walking a bit, for about 3 miles. But I was so happy and energized by running again on the old, familiar paths, I ran almost 5 miles with very few walking breaks. And even then I had to force myself to return to the hotel! The good news is I didn't suffer any obvious deleterious effects. Despite pushing it a bit, I seem to have recovered well.

Here's a quick tour of my run. So many memories...
Just past mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. I remember running under here in 2014, the year after the bombings.

The Hatch Band Shell on The Charles River Esplanade. More than once I watched The Boston Pops perform live on the 4th of July as fireworks lit up the sky over the Charles River. I also saw Ray Charles perform here once, totally by accident, as I was out for a run when I ran into thousands of people enjoying his free concert in the park. I stopped and enjoyed it, too.

The famous Citgo sign, from the other side of the river in Cambridge, where I used to live.
The famous Citgo sign right in front of my hotel, which happens to be mile 25 of The Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, a runner can see this sign for miles before arriving here, but it feels so great to finally run underneath it!

Boston University building where I spent many hours working on my first graduate degree.
And of course, Fenway Park. This was taken behind the "green monster," the right field fence. Spent a few hours here, too.
I had a wonderful, memory-filled run Thursday afternoon, followed by an energizing walk after dinner late Thursday night. The city was alive and buzzing with activity. I miss that sometimes. It was nice to be back in that environment for a bit.

As for the meeting I was honored to attend, it was a wonderful learning experience. I was joined by 5 other bloggers from around the country. I enjoyed meeting other writers who, like me, share a passion for supporting people with and educating people about depression and mental illness. I only wish I could have spent more time getting to know each of them. But the whirlwind trip didn't allow that this time. Nevertheless, I'm so grateful for the opportunity I was given to share time with this group. 

And now... back to my laundry.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Letting go

I'm wondering if it's just me. When something disconcerting, difficult, or downright traumatic happens to me, I seem to have difficulty getting it out of my brain. It's troubling because I end up rehashing and re-living the experience, whether it's just hurtful words or scary situations, I have difficulty letting it go. I'll give you a couple of recent examples.

While I was in the midst of my trip in the Himalayas a good friend lashed out at me via text message. She blasted me with almost delusional falsehoods and damning words, at one point calling me pathetic. I was stunned, angry, sad, and hurt. Now I knew, intellectually, her words were a symptom of something going on with her and not really about me, but that didn't erase the shock or pain.

After exchanging just a couple of replies in my defense, it became clear I was not going to change her perspective, so I blocked her and tried to move on. But I couldn't. I couldn't get her words or the unfairness of her attack out of my mind. Even though I didn't want to think about it, even though I wasn't trying to think about it, even while moving forward and enjoying my adventure, I couldn't let it go. Her words rattled in my brain and the hurt she effected weighed heavy in my heart. For days...

Another example occurred a couple of days ago. While we were out enjoying a beautiful, snowy walk, Jet was attacked by a much larger, aggressive dog. Jet was healing at my left side on a 4 foot leash. We were on a public path in a local park. The other dog was unleashed, playing with his owner in the front yard of their home. As soon as the dog saw Jet, it took off. It ran at least 50 yards, full throttle, and was on top of Jet within seconds.

I yelled and frantically began pulling at the aggressive dog. Joined by the dog's owner, we struggled for what felt like an eternity to get her dog off of Jet. At one point I pulled him off by his collar, but he wriggled out of the collar and was instantly back on top of Jet. He had Jet's neck in his mouth and was pushing him to the ground. I thought he was going to kill my dog. Finally, his owner got her dog around the chest and pulled him off while I pulled Jet up the path. It was incredibly scary and awful!

What occurred next only made it more awful. I screamed at the owner something about the local leash law, at which point she said, "Your dog was being just as aggressive." More cussing and screaming in defense of Jet occurred. At some point she ridiculously asserted that her dog was just coming over to "say hi." There was no apology, no hint of taking any responsibility for not controlling her dog, which is against the law in this city. Instead, she seemed to blame Jet for being attacked.

If she had at least taken some responsibility, perhaps I wouldn't have called the police. But she didn't, so I called the police as soon as we got home. (Jet was, thankfully, physically unharmed as far as I could tell.) The officer took my report and stated he would issue a citation to the owner. I don't know if that will do anything to change her behavior in the future, but I felt like I needed to do something.

Unfortunately, the visit with the officer did not end my anger, fear, and anguish. I am still re-living the attack and all of those feelings. I envy my dog, as I'm sure he's long forgotten what happened. I, on the other hand, can't seem to get it out of my head. It's been almost two days, but it's still foremost in my brain, and that's very disconcerting. I can't seem to let it go.

I know about acceptance and letting go. I've put time and effort into acceptance and letting go as part of my recovery from alcoholism. I know the importance of each skill for maintaining my mental health and stability. Unfortunately, it seems I've lost whatever skills I'd previously gained. Traumatic events seem to haunt me, whether they are hurtful words or frightening events.

I'd like to be able to let things go more easily. I don't expect I won't be hurt or scared by these emotionally charged events, but I wish the feelings didn't hang around so long. I'd like to discontinue re-living the circumstances which create the feelings. I expend precious energy and fuel stress and  consternation when I continually rehash and replay. I'd love to hear how you deal with emotionally charged situations. Are you able to let go? Or do you also struggle? I'm looking for answers and relief.