Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 18 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, January 13, 2019

Gratitude is possible

Let me say this, I'm grateful I am grateful. Gratitude is a relatively new concept for me. Prior to getting sober 13 years ago, I really had no idea what it meant to be grateful. If I throw out those first 2-3 years of sobriety, when I was still trying to figure things out, it means I've only practiced gratitude for the last 10 years or so. That's not even a quarter of my life!

Fortunately, I did figure some things out. And fortunately, gratitude became a part of my life. It feels good to be grateful. Awareness of the blessings in my life carries me through a slew of difficulties. When I'm having a crappy day, practicing gratitude gives me a chance to collect myself. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, or scared, reminding myself of that for which I am grateful dampens the emotional intensity. And when I'm being smothered by the hopelessness of depression, making a gratitude list allows me to catch my breath, to move forward, and to continue the fight.

A recent blog post by Therese Borchard has me thinking about gratitude. In her excellent post, Therese quotes from the book, What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker. Apparently, Dr. Baker believes one can't be grateful and experience fear or dread (hmmm...depression symptoms?) simultaneously. What?? Therese points out that has not been her experience. It's not been my experience either.

Even in my darkest times, I have not lost sight of the good in my life. Due to depression's blunting effects, the good may have seemed distant or have been difficult to fully experience, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it. According to Dr. Baker, that practice should have, in essence, cured my depression. He argues, "During active appreciation the threatening messages from your amygdala and the anxious instincts of your brain stem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex." I'd like to see the randomized, controlled, clinical data backing up that statement!

I have to say, I was unfamiliar with Dr. Baker's work, or perhaps more accurately, his thoughts. Therese's post sent me on a little Google expedition, and I was reminded exactly why I was unfamiliar with his work. He is the author of the type of book, the oversimplified self help testimonial, of which I generally detest. You know the book: if you just think this way, take these steps, or wear this color you'll be happy, beautiful, rich, and illness free! Oh, and don't forget the abs of steel and fabulous sex... But I digress...

Yes, Dr. Baker has some good thoughts, but to suggest that feeling grateful will block negative feelings and lead to happiness is just wrong. Am I a failure because I still have depression despite practicing gratitude? If I just practiced harder, would I achieve happiness? So I don't really need this medicine? It's a dangerous message to a person struggling with mental illness, especially to the person who already believes the mis-education and stigma, in other words, the person who would be picking up this type of book.

I agree, being aware of and practicing gratitude is a useful tool, no matter what ails you. It certainly has helped me. But I don't think gratitude cuts off negative thoughts and emotions. It doesn't need to exist in a vacuum. And I certainly don't think it guarantees happiness.

I'm here to tell you, despite feeling grateful for the blessings in my life, I still have depression. It is possible to experience the negative thoughts and emotions of depression while simultaneously feeling appreciation. Oh,and I'm not a failure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A disturbing story

The title of the article says it all, "To get mental health help for a child, desperate parents relinquish custody." It is a disturbing, horrific story of a family and their adopted son. Daniel went from a normal child to a boy who "began to show signs of serious mental illness that eventually manifested in violent outbursts and nearly a dozen psychiatric hospitalizations, starting at age 10." Despite private insurance and Medicaid coverage, it seems nobody was willing to pay for Daniel's recommended treatment--"institutional services that cost at least $100,000 a year."

Daniel's parents had no choice but to relinquish custody of their son in order for him to receive the care he needed. By giving up their custody rights, and turning Daniel back over to foster care, "the child welfare agency would be obligated to pay for the services." But it wasn't as simple as that, Daniel's parents had to go through hell first (my opinion).

According to the article after Daniel's 11th hospitalization in two years, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services stepped in. They gave Daniel's parents an ultimatum, "[They] basically said, 'If you bring him home, we're going to charge you with child endangerment for failure to protect your other kids, and if you leave him at the hospital, we'll charge you with neglect.' " What kind of choice is that?

This story is so disturbing. It graphically highlights how differently we treat those diagnosed with mental illness. Is there any chance a parent of a child with cancer, or diabetes, or muscular dystrophy would have to face the decision these parents had to face? I don't think so. This child was sick. Everybody knew he was sick. But treat him for his illness? Nope. Costs too much. Ridiculous.

Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. Daniel got treated, remained connected to his parents, and now leads a stable, productive life. I'm amazed it turned out that way, and I'd venture to guess this family's happy ending is not the norm. I urge you to read the full article. It's a multi-faceted issue. And I'd love to know what you think.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Here's to another good year

I'm a bit sad 2018 is behind me. I had a pretty good year. Sure, I'd like to be back running and racing, but other than that, 2018 was quite kind. My year was filled with activities and adventures. Looking back over my 2018 blog posts, I see lots of photos, smiles, and gratitude. Fortunately, 2018 was very unlike 2017. In 2017 my blog posts were filled with pain, angst, and only 2 photos; two photos in an entire year of blog posts! Yup, I'll take another 2018 over a 2017 anytime.

Of course the best news of 2018 was what didn't show up in any of my posts. For the first year in a lot of years I didn't have to write about one hospitalization for depression. Not one. Since my Ketamine infusions, which were completed in early October, 2017, I have been free of a significant depression relapse. Wow. I'll have to do some research. That may be my longest span without hospitalization in the 18 years I've been battling this illness.

I don't know what else to say. That discovery, no hospitalizations, has me feeling thoughtful, and dare I say it, hopeful. What if that was it? Wouldn't that be amazing? It would. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing that, so I'll try to stay in today. Today, I'm feeling well. I'm feeling thankful to be feeling well and to have had a pretty good year. Here's hoping 2019 treats me as well as 2018 did.