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, June 9, 2019

My fragile brain

Sometimes I wonder if mental illness has made my brain "fragile." It seems I'm unable to handle stress like I used to. Or perhaps I get stressed with less provocation than previously. My brain has been feeling fragile for a couple of weeks, and it's getting exhausting.

Here's the scoop: I've got a couple of things going on right now. One is political. If you've been reading for awhile, you know I don't say a lot about political crap. I used to be very active politically. I grew up in a very politically active family. I then lived in Boston where politics seems to be front and center all of the time. And I was okay with that. I've also been to Washington D.C. to march for more than one cause over the years.

But those years are long past. As I've dealt with this illness, politics (which basically feels like arguing these days) just exhaust me. I still have feelings about things which are important to me. I still vote regularly, but I just don't have the inclination to debate or participate anymore. That is, until now.

The City of Rochester's Park Board has decided, with little to no input from anyone in the community, to destroy the one and only public running track in the city. In its place they are going to create a short, paved oval. The track they are destroying is a 90 year old cinder track which is in a park dedicated to soldiers. It is used daily by countless numbers of people from various walks of life. The reason for the asphalt oval (not regulation track size) is to allow food trucks a place to park for the one festival (7 days long) which takes place in the park every summer. It is ridiculous.

The local running community, of which I am a part, organized an effort to stop the paving of this track. We were encouraged to show up en masse to the park board meeting last Tuesday. I knew I probably shouldn't go, because I feared it would be too much for me, but I went anyway. It was too much for me.

Maddening, frustrating, infuriating; I left the meeting early. I had to. But I haven't been able to let it go. I feel so strongly about this issue, so angry, yet so hopeless to do anything. I've tried and tried to move forward, to allow the feelings to pass, or at least to reduce from a boil to a simmer, but I just can't. And it's driving me crazy. I'm so glad we have people in this community taking the lead on this fight. I don't know how they do it. I've had to pull back, but I wish I could let it go.

So that's going on... Meanwhile, I'm still dealing with post operative complications from my most recent oral surgery. It's coming up on 3 weeks since that horrible experience, and I still have an open sore in my mouth and pain. In fact, on Thursday night I realized the pain had actually localized to one tooth, and that sent my stress level through the roof.

The painful tooth is the last molar on the bottom left. Actually, it's the second to last, but I'm already missing the last molar. That's important, because the painful tooth is a crowned tooth. I had a root canal on that molar 4 or 5 years ago. That's important because it means there's no way to repair the tooth if, as I suspect, the root canal has cracked (as a result of that violent surgical procedure 3 weeks ago). I'm pretty sure I'm about to lose another tooth! And if I do, I'll be unable to chew on the left side of my mouth, as I won't have any molars!

Again, I'm so frustrated and angry! I've called the surgical office at Mayo Clinic multiple times to express my concerns about the open sore and the amount of pain I've continued to have. I've been brushed off each time, reassured that "nothing was wrong." Finally, on Friday morning, after being put off by Mayo once again, I called my dentist. She put me on antibiotics, in the hope that it's just an infection. But after almost 3 days of Penicillin, I'm pretty sure it's a broken crown or root. Unfortunately, I've been through this before, so I'm familiar with the feeling.

I have an appointment with my dentist tomorrow afternoon. And even though I think I know what's going to happen; the tooth will need to be pulled which will set in motion yet another lengthy, expensive and painful implant procedure, I can't seem to quell my feelings of frustration, anger and fear.

These intense emotions, to situations I think I should be able to handle better, make me feel as if my brain is fragile. I don't know if that's the case, and I don't know how to explain what I mean any better than that. Just fragile.

I think it's okay to have intense emotions. But I also think it's healthy to be able to move past the intensity, especially when I take healthy steps (like signing petitions, talking to others, writing) to move forward. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, my brain seems to be stuck on boil. Boiling is exhausting. I'd really like to reduce the intensity to a simmer. Know what I mean?

Monday, June 3, 2019

Living my values

News flash: In the past I could be a jerk. When I was drinking and depression ruled my life, I wasn't always nice. I was self-centered. I was a victim. I was a know-it-all. Sometimes I was an ass. Looking back it makes me cringe. But that was my reality for a few too many years.

Thankfully, I don't act that way anymore. I've done a lot of work, opened my ears and shut my mouth, and learned from people around me; people who have what I want, people I admire for their ability to live life on life's terms. I'm talking about people who are nice when being nice is hard. I'm talking about people who feel empathy for others even when they're dealing with their own shit. I'm talking about people who not only have values but those who act according to the values they profess.

That's the kind of person I strive to be these days. Of course, I'm a work in progress, but I'm definitely not an asshole anymore. Thank God for that! But here's the thing I'm thinking about today. It's easy to be nice, grateful, humorous, empathetic, and professional when things are going well. But do I live up to those values when faced with a challenge?

At this moment of reflection, I confess I fell off the beam recently. I don't feel I handled a stressful situation at work very well. In a nutshell: I had something I value taken away from me, without my consent, and feel I was treated less than honestly and less than fairly by at least one superior. The question of fairness is a tough one for me. In my past life playing the victim was something at which I was well practiced. Unfortunately, I think the it's-not-fair-trigger got the best of me over the past couple of weeks.

I'm not happy with how much angst, consternation, and bitterness this situation engendered. I'm especially not happy I allowed that bitterness and anger to come out sideways. While I didn't say anything inappropriate, I didn't necessarily act nice or professional either. I didn't stomp my feet pound my fists and yell, "it's not fair, it's not fair," but I really wanted to! And that bothered me.

It's been a couple of weeks, and I am still angry, but I'm also now at the point of practicing acceptance. After all, I said what I needed to say, politely and professionally to the appropriate person, but nothing changed. I acted pissed off and less than friendly, and nothing changed. I could keep pushing to the point of being an ass, but the only person that will hurt is me. It's not worth it. I've worked too hard to become the person I'm proud to be. I don't want to throw that away.

I like being the funny coworker, the professional, skilled coworker, the kind coworker. I'm proud of the fact my coworkers like to work with me. That wasn't always the case. Acceptance, therefore, is the only reasonable route to take.

I may not like the situation. I may not think it's fair. But if I can accept it, let go of that which I have no control, and take actions over which I have control, then I won't turn into an asshole. Being an asshole takes a ton of energy! It's simply not worth it. To quote from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, "acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today." Acceptance and living my values are the only things which will bring me the peace and serenity I seek.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

2 hours

Sunday was a gorgeous day to run 13.1 miles. Of course I haven't run 13.1 miles in several years, so I had no idea what to expect. Based on my recent training runs, which have been slow as usual, and my recent 10-mile race experience, where I averaged 9:23 per mile, I figured I'd have a great day if I ran 10-minute mile pace during Sunday's Med-City Half Marathon. So that was the plan. Run 10 minutes per mile and be thrilled with the result.

Well sometimes I'm not too good at following plans. You see, my friend Mike was pacing the 2 hour pace group. His sign said that was around 9:10 per mile. Too fast, I thought, but I lined up with him anyway. I expected to quickly fall off the pace once we got going, but I didn't. That was kind of fun. And I wasn't dying, yet, so that was a bonus. I kept an open mind but didn't put any pressure on myself to keep up.

That laid back attitude came in handy when Mike and his pace group slowly progressed beyond my sight beginning around mile three. By mile 6 I could no longer see his sign bobbing up and down, and I was okay with that. I was still comfortably running way faster than I had expected. I wanted to stay comfortable, so I hung out around that 9:10 to 9:15 pace. I was very happy with how I was feeling at the pace I was running.

At mile 6 we hit a long, fairly steep downhill which lasted almost a mile. After a pit stop (dammit!), I just let the road take me for a ride. I ran that downhill mile at 8:30 pace. From that point on, I was able to keep my legs turning over, as if still on a downhill, and didn't run slower than one 8:54 mile the rest of the race. I passed Mike with a smile around mile 11. My fastest mile was my last, 8:23, and I was still feeling good! That's how a well executed race is supposed to feel! I was so excited; shocked and excited!

1:58:56. That was my official time. I averaged right around 9 minutes per mile, a full minute per mile faster than I thought possible! Never in a million years did I believe I would run a half marathon, at this stage in my training, in under 2 hours. I wasn't sure I'd ever run under two hours again! While it's a far cry from my pre-injury days, when 1:40ish was more my time, it proves (to me) I may have a better chance of regaining my form, and speed, than I thought possible.

I ran with my Defeat the Stigma tank top and had a few conversations about mental illness along the way, so that was a bonus, too. I was very proud to represent those of us with mental illness and proud to be putting the issue out there for "regular folks" to see. Sharing the moment with my brother, who also ran well, was nice, too. It was a beautiful day to run 13.1 miles, and I'm so happy I did!

A friend and I just before the gun went off.

My brother and I at the finish. My smile says it all.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pain

Being in pain is tough. Actually, it sucks! And I'm in pain. I had an oral surgery one month ago to remove some excess bony growth in my mouth, under my tongue, basically the entire floor of my mouth. It hurt, as the surgeon had to slice along my teeth in order to fold back the tissue to get at the bone. Thankfully, I was asleep for the procedure. With pain meds, a lot of ice, salt water rinses, Tylenol and Advil, I got through it. It took about a week for everything to calm down.

On Tuesday I returned to the surgeon's physician assistant for a follow-up. I was concerned, as I had developed a sore below my teeth on the inner surface of the left side of my mouth. Turns out I had reason to be concerned. There was dead bone pushing its way out through the tissue, much like a sliver works its way out through your skin over time. Why was there dead bone?? I don't know. But apparently it was kind of a big deal, as the PA sent me down the road to the surgeon's office right then and there.

The surgeon's resident checked me out and informed me he'd basically have to re-do the procedure on the left side in order to remove an entire ridge of rough, dying bone. Okay. I had no idea what I was getting into! Remember, I was asleep for the initial procedure. This time I was awake. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the procedure was very rough! The number of and amount of Novocaine injections was enough to begin my barely contained panic, and it only got worse from there.

I survived, and left feeling relieved and numb. I wasn't too worried, or maybe I just didn't think about what would happen after the Novocaine wore off. Two hours later I was in agony. I dealt with it as best I could with Tylenol, Advil and ice, but within a few hours I was back on the phone to the PA. I have never in my life requested pain medication, but I couldn't believe how much pain I was in. Not only did the surgically traumatized area hurt, my entire jaw, the left side of my face, and my neck were aching beyond belief. I could feel my heartbeat in my jaw! I was awake during the procedure so I think I tensed the muscles into oblivion! I could barely open my mouth.

Well, the PA politely refused to prescribe pain meds. Instead she prescribed a Lidocaine rinse (which tastes like rubbing alcohol and numbs the tissues for about 30 minutes!) and prescription strength Advil (whoopee!). Since I'm only supposed to rinse with the Lidocaine solution every 3 hours, and since the Advil and Tylenol do absolutely nothing to relieve my pain, I've been in utter agony for 5 days and counting! With the exception of rupturing my L4 disc a couple of years ago, I've never experienced this much pain!

My mouth is now full of canker sores and basically feels like one big open wound. Eating and drinking is a tortuous experience. I can carefully slurp down yogurt or drink protein shakes with the right side of my mouth, but even that is excruciating. I guess this is one way to lose a few pounds. I had to leave work early on Wednesday, took Thursday off, and only worked part of the day yesterday. I can't think. I can't concentrate. My mood is, at best, slightly cranky, as my mouth hurts all the time!

I talked with the PA again yesterday to voice my concerns. She assured me it will get better. Of course it will, but geez is this amount of discomfort really necessary? I'm frustrated, and in pain, and concerned.

I'm scheduled to run a half marathon with my brother tomorrow. I'm not sure how that's going to go. Instead of a fun return to the event, it may be more of an uncomfortable slog. Not exactly what I had hoped or planned for, but I'll do my best. Being in pain sucks. I'm counting the minutes until I find some relief. And I don't think I'll allow anyone to take a scalpel to my mouth ever again!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Spam

I just finished a long day of work on top of a long week of work, more hours than I've worked in months, and I came home to spam. And I'm not talking about the mystery meat, produced in a town just down the road (really), which comes in a can! I'm talking about the stupid comments stupid people attempt to post on this blog. You never see these comments because I moderate them out of existence, but unfortunately I do. They aren't pretty. They are, in fact, stupid.

Maybe I'm overly cranky today. Maybe I worked one hour too many this week. But after reading the comments today, I guess I snapped. I know some of you don't like having to jump through hoops in order to leave a comment, but if you had to read the crap I have to read, you'd understand why I require you to jump. Those hoops at least keep some of the spam from reaching me, but despite the hurdles, some self-serving commentators persist.

These people almost always leave a comment which has little or nothing to do with my post. Their comments are almost always boastful diatribes about what I need to do to cure my depression. If only I'd do this or that I'd feel better, and oh, by the way, here's a link to my website where you may purchase my product or my YouTube channel where you can hear me preach my happiness gospel. It's maddening and stupid.

Apparently there's no cure for stupid. If any of these people actually read just a few paragraphs of this blog, they'd realize they were wasting their time. If they read the introduction to my comments section, they'd know there was no chance of me posting their link. They don't really think I'll actually look into their magical cures or listen to their self-promoting, stupid thoughts, do they?

I'm sorry. I know I'm not solving the problem by posting this, but sometimes this blog is just my selfish venting platform. And today is one of those days. I know I will continue to get stupid comments from stupid people who have only their own interest in mind. They will continue to contribute nothing to any meaningful conversation. And I will continue to delete them.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Social...or not

I don't understand me. My coworkers and few close friends are shocked when I refer to myself as an introvert. With them I'm happy, smiley, funny, confident and energetic. But put me in a group of people, even a group of like-minded people like runners, and I feel totally out of place. I often avoid such groups for that very reason.

But in an effort to expand my horizons, once again, I put my insecurities aside and went to a meet-and-greet with a local running group. These people weren't total strangers. I knew at least 25-30% of them at the get-together Thursday night. This group is extremely popular and from all accounts very fun. They do a ton of things together and also volunteer in the community. I've participated in some of their activities but never as an official group member.

I've stayed away from joining this group for years because drinking is a prominent fixture in many of their social activities. It was a big part of why the group was originally formed. However, in recent years they've expanded to focus more and more on running, training, volunteering, and including families in their events. There's still a lot of drinking, but I like what the group has become, a very tight-knit, supportive, community-centered, and fun group of people.

With all of that in mind, I went to the meet-and-greet event at a local microbrewery. They had a large tent outside and there must have been at least 100 people in attendance. They had games meant to encourage mingling and meeting others, free food, and several drawings for various prizes. The tent was loud, boisterous and filled with laughter. And I felt totally alone and out of place.

It was silly. I was frustrated. I knew many of the runners in the tent, yet I spoke with a total of maybe 5 people the whole evening. The only person to whom I said more than a couple of words also admitted to being an introvert, and I think we kind of clung to each other for much of the evening. If it hadn't been for her, I might not have lasted the 2 hours I did.

In attending this event I had hoped for something new and different, yet what I got was the same old familiar feeling. Discomfort. Loneliness. An outsider looking in. I didn't feel like I belonged. I was certain everybody else was having a totally different experience, one filled with joy, laughter, and connection. That's what I wanted to feel, but it just didn't happen. Again.

For as long as I remember I've felt the same way no matter how familiar the group. I don't understand me. I don't understand how I can think, feel and behave one way with my coworkers and close friends yet totally the opposite anytime I'm in a group. Maybe I'm a part-time introvert? I don't know.

As a result of this experience, I don't feel any closer to officially joining the group, but I haven't given up yet. I plan to attend at least a few of their upcoming group runs, which they hold a few times a week. Hopefully running side by side, even with a stranger, will encourage me be social and help me feel the connection I seek.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Bombshell

I told her I was scared and freaking out. She encouraged me not to freak out. But it's no use. It's been 5 days since she broke the news, and I'm still frightened. I'm still freaking out. My psychiatrist, the only one I've had since this illness began over 18 years ago, is retiring.

She works so hard, and she might be 60 years old now, so I knew this was eventually going to happen. I selfishly hoped it wouldn't happen for a few more years. Unfortunately, I only have a few more months. She's retiring at the end of this year.

I've said it multiple times. I have the best psychiatrist on the planet. We have an excellent working relationship. She knows me better than most, if not all, of my family and friends. She's warm, intelligent, humble and incredibly compassionate. She routinely goes above and beyond for her patients, and I've routinely been the beneficiary of that dedication.

I'm really worried about how I'm going to get along without my doctor. She stuck with me and by me throughout my illness; in the early years when I was unstable and angry, in the midst of my alcoholism when I was self-centered and manipulative, and through multiple depressive episodes when I was hopeless and suicidal. She never shied away from doing what needed to be done. This woman kept me alive.

But Dr. L always went way beyond just keeping me alive. Whether through new medication trials, referral to and collaboration with outside providers, and/or just good ole fashioned talk therapy, Dr. L made sure I got the most out of my life while being least affected by this impossible illness. She worked hard for me and celebrated enthusiastically with me. (She was perhaps my number one cheerleader while I trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal last October.)

I love that she takes pride in my success. She should. She'll never take any credit though. That's not her style. Nevertheless, Dr. L is directly responsible for my health, prosperity, and success. Without her I would not be where I am today. I'll never be able to thank her enough.

Eighteen years. I know I'm lucky. Dr. L's care and support has been extraordinary. I think I'm going to have a very difficult time developing a similar relationship with another doctor. So despite her admonishment not to, I'm freaking out. Still. Sorry, Dr. L.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lazy...and not

Things are weird here. Maybe it's the weather. Sun and 70 one day, snow the next. (I wish I was kidding.) My energy level and productivity have mirrored the weather in some ways. Some days, like yesterday, I get a lot done. Other days, like today, I feel like I accomplish little to nothing.

For example, despite the dreary, cold, constant rain yesterday, I ran intervals on the treadmill, lifted weights, ran some errands, took myself out for a pancake lunch, and went to an appointment. Then I crashed. So all of the household duties on my list didn't get done. I hate that. But at least I felt productive for half the day.

On the other hand, today and Monday I got nothing accomplished other than work. I worked, and then I crashed. Sitting here typing is a big accomplishment. I was on my way to bed after falling asleep in my chair at 6 PM! I'm not a fan of that either. I feel lazy.

I seem to have a consistency issue. I've had some really good productive days recently, like running 8 miles and then cleaning my basement (something I've had on my list of things to do for... oh, I don't know, a year!). But the next day I didn't even come close to being productive, unless you count moving slowly from room to room and then taking a nap as productive, that is. On those days, it's been difficult to move. I've felt lazy while simultaneously feeling like there was nothing I could do to combat the laziness. I'm not sure what that's all about.

I think my mood is okay, but I'm certainly more tired and sleepy than usual. Maybe I'm not yet back to 100% following my recent depression relapse. Maybe running a few more miles is robbing me of energy at other times. It doesn't feel like I'm doing too much, but I'm leaving lots of things on my to do list most days of the week. For every burst of energy and productivity, I seem to have double the amount of lethargy. It's frustrating and a little weird.

I hope I even out soon. I'd like to have a more equal distribution of productivity and rest. And I'd prefer my lazy time be a decision rather than feel forced upon me. But hey, if this is my biggest worry right now I guess I'm actually doing fairly well.

I am happy to be working and running and getting things done again. I've come a long way compared to where I was just a couple of months ago. That's a relief, and I'm grateful. Perhaps this is all part of the healing process. It never happens as quickly as I'd like, but maybe I'm getting there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

UnitedHealth Sentencing MI Patients to Death

Read this. UnitedHealth, a medical insurance company based right here in my home state of Minnesota, I'm sorry to say, apparently thinks health insurance parity laws are merely suggestions rather than rules.  UnitedHealth is being sued in a massive class action suit for cutting off benefits for patients with mental illness or substance abuse. Benefits have been cut and appeals denied at the expense of and even resulting in the death of patients. According to a judge quoted in the article, when it came to covering behavioral health, UnitedHealth consistently demonstrated a pattern of putting dollars ahead of patient care. Are we shocked by this? I wish I wasn't.

We all know insurance companies are for-profit businesses, but it seems UnitedHealth is going the extra mile to make money (or at least not lose a dime) on the backs of their beneficiaries with mental illness. Haiden Huskamp, a Harvard Medical School economist quoted in the article highlighted that reality. He said, "A 2008 federal law requires insurers to treat mental health care the same way they treat physical health care. Insurers, though, can find strategies around it, such as not having enough people in-network to provide mental health care or making it hard to get the medications people need." So much for parity.

This is so scary and maddening. UnitedHealth is a huge company insuring 6.1 million people across the United States and in 130 other countries. And it's apparently company policy to cut off mental health benefits. The lawsuit alleges UnitedHealth, after initially covering an acute mental health crisis, routinely failed to provide coverage for any type of follow-up care. As the article notes, this would be like an insurer covering a diabetic emergency but then not covering insulin once the patient returned home. In more than one case, their careless disregard for one of their beneficiaries led to death. People died. People with mental illness died as a result of UnitedHealth cutting off their access to care.

I do hope justice is served for the patients and families UnitedHealth screwed. Perhaps if an example is made of one company, other insurers won't be so quick to look for the parity law loopholes. Of course, no matter the outcome of this case, the lives lost due to UnitedHealth's callousness can never be recompensed. It's sickening. I don't know how these insurance company executives sleep at night.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A holiday run

I love running on holiday mornings, especially the family-focused holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My city is unusually quiet on these mornings, just as it was this morning. And the people I meet are always cheerful. I also get to look in on the lives of many as I pass by homes bustling with family activities. It's a unique perspective, and I love it.

It seems I always feel serene and hopeful after returning from a holiday run. That was certainly true this morning. It was a beautiful morning for a run, slightly overcast with moments of brilliant sun, cool breeze, and barely another soul on the roads and trails. Jet and I set out around 8:30 AM. I wish I could have stayed out for hours and continued my enjoyment.

I settled for 93 minutes of enjoyment. We ran 9.7 miles. It was probably too far, but it was too nice to come back sooner. And too interesting. Within the first mile, I observed an 8 or 9 year old boy all dressed up in cowboy hat, boots, and fake beard hanging out on the sidewalk. I smiled. Some sort of church program?? I don't know, but he was pretty proud of his look.

Families were the order of the day from that moment on. I passed several families outside in their yards, parents with video cameras in hand, little kids racing around picking up hidden (and not so hidden) eggs. Screeches of delight I could hear for blocks, as there were virtually no cars to drown out the fun.

Late in my run I passed two incredibly well dressed children, maybe 8 and 6 years old, getting their photo taken (by 2 equally well dressed adults) on their front steps. The little boy was wearing a 3 piece suit, complete with a pastel green tie. He had his arm around his little sister and could not have been standing any taller. It was cute.

The run was a lovely start to my day. I pampered myself a bit after my run. And I spent most of the afternoon enjoying some really good food with friends. I hadn't spent time with these friends all winter, as they go south when it gets cold, so they wanted to see my Everest photos. We were able to do a slide show on their television. I got to re-live my entire trip (all 393 photos worth) in extra large HD. That was really cool. I'm not sure who enjoyed the slide show more, my friends or me!

I hope those of you who celebrate Easter had a lovely day as well. Holidays can be difficult if you're sick, or alone, or both. Earlier this week I was feeling a little sorry for myself, thinking this was going to be a long, solitary day. I'm grateful for my ability to run and for my friends. Because of each, I had a very nice day instead.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

(not quite) Humming along

I've been meaning to write for 4 or 5 days, but I'm not feeling all that inspirational or interesting right now. I'm getting back into the routines of my life as best I can. Things still aren't as honky dory as they were prior to my recent depression relapse, but I'm functional. I'd like to be feeling 100% better. I'd like to be as free and light as I was just 2 months ago, but I'm not quite there yet.

I'm not quite humming along, but I think I'm moving in the right direction. I'm working close to my normal schedule. Unfortunately, we are really slow right now so I've had to take some extra, unwanted time off. I still get really tired after a full work day, though, so maybe working a little less is still for the best. Regardless, I'm looking forward to resuming my regular schedule.

I'm in the process of resuming my normal exercise schedule and intensity as well. I'm happy and extremely grateful to report I've been able to run 2-4 days per week for the last couple of weeks. I'm super slow, and I'm not running very far, but my Achilles tendons are hanging in there. Every time I run I feel an overwhelming sense of joy, gratitude and relief.

Unfortunately, every run also brings a bit of fear, as I'm constantly waiting for one of my Achilles tendons to flare. I'm running so cautiously I feel like I'm tip-toeing down the road. But so far so good. One thing is for certain, I am not taking being able to run for granted. I'm doing everything in my power to keep my Achilles tendons healthy so I may continue to feel the overwhelming joy, relief and gratitude which only running provides me.

They say we really don't appreciate what we have until it's lost. I can now verify the truth behind that statement. Even though I'm getting back to my routines, I still feel the sting from the losses of my mental wellness, high level of functioning, and running. Of course, I do myself no good staying stuck in the losses. Instead I must continue to diligently put one foot in front of the other, which is what I'm currently trying to do.

One foot at a time, I'm doing my best to move forward and regain my momentum. What was lost certainly hasn't returned as quickly as it disappeared. In fact, it's taking a lot longer than I would like. And the work required isn't always enjoyable. Life could be kinder, easier, or more fair, but it's not. It's not. Nevertheless, getting my life back is, for now, worth the effort. From past experience I know the results will be realized, eventually, if I continue to do the work. I'm trying to be patient.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A little craziness in Minnesota

We're having some fun in Minnesota! It was 70 degrees and sunny on Monday. I raked my yard and re-seeded it during a glorious day Tuesday. Yesterday, however, it was 30 degrees with 45-50 mile per hour winds and a combination of sleet and snow whipping through the air. At 2:00 this morning I awoke to ice pellets battering my windows with lightning and thunder alternately lighting up and rattling my house. Jet was not happy. I had to get up and escort him to his kennel in the basement. Poor guy. He was totally freaked out.

Unfortunately I had to drive home from Minneapolis in the teeth of the storm yesterday. A trip which took less than 90 minutes on clear roads in the morning took over 2 hours during the storm on the way home. It wasn't fun.

The entire route to/from Minneapolis is on a divided highway. The last 35 miles of my route were harrowing. First a car came flying off the northbound lane and whirled through the median before it smashed into a cable and post fence about 10 feet from my vehicle. I was traveling south. If the fence hadn't been there, I would have t-boned that car at 55 miles per hour. That was the warning shot.

Traffic, for good reason, slowed significantly after that. By the time I got home I had passed one jackknifed semi and 14 vehicles, all still with their lights on and occupants inside, facing various directions and buried to various amounts in the median or ditch. Like I said, it was harrowing.

I traveled to Minneapolis yesterday for my consultation with an orthopedic hip specialist. Some of you may recall I re-tore, for the 4th time, the labrum in my right hip in early January. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be examined by this doctor, as he is one of the foremost hip experts in the United States. He's done arthroscopic procedures on the hips of some of the best athletes in the world. Apparently he collected signed jerseys from all of them, too, for they hung on every wall in the complex. Being a sports fan, I enjoyed seeing all of them.

The surgeon gave me some good information. Unfortunately, the labrum is still being pinched between the head of my femur and the hip socket in certain positions (sitting is the worst). The labrum is at least torn, at worst it is no longer repairable. There is also bony overgrowth where the femur and the acetabulum (hip socket) repeatedly bump into one another. Fortunately, he can fix all of the above issues.

Fixing the issues will require another arthroscopic hip surgery, my fourth. Since my last surgery in 2014 the knowledge base and procedure has continued to advance. For example, even if my labrum is no longer repairable, he explained he can actually remove mine and then stitch a cadaver labrum onto my acetabulum. Cool! That's new. I left there feeling confident I was in good hands.

But I'm not going to have the surgery immediately. I may not have it at all. At this time my hip is not causing significant disability, and the doctor confirmed continuing to run, if pain free, is not likely to cause further damage. If I have the surgery I'll have to be non-weightbearing for 4 weeks afterward. I also would not be allowed to run for up to 12 weeks. Since I'm just getting my stride back, I really don't want to put myself back on the shelf for so long.

Instead of surgery I'm going to begin working on some hip specific exercises the doctor recommended. I'm also going to continue to work my way back into running shape. My Achilles tendons did not significantly flare up after my 10-mile race on Sunday. I actually ran again Tuesday and today, so I'm feeling encouraged.

Even if I do elect surgery in the future, a likely scenario in order to avoid further degeneration and pain, I'd like to be as strong as possible going into it. If I'm strong going into surgery I'll have the best chance for 100% recovery coming out of it. Of course if running increases my pain, or if I develop new or worsening symptoms, the surgery choice will be made for me. But like I said, I feel confident I'm in good hands.

As for the crazy weather, well I'm not sure whose hands are manipulating that! I'm not worried, though. If things continue as they've been, it should be 70 degrees again in a couple of days. Carry on, my friends.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Me--Tougher than I thought

Today was a breakthrough day. No, my mood isn't suddenly 100% better, but something pretty great occurred nonetheless. I ran a race! It was my first race in 2 years and 4 months. That's the longest I've gone without racing in my lifetime of running, which means that's the longest I've gone without running a race in the last 34 years!

I had no business running a race today. It was a race I signed up for months ago because my younger brother was running. He's just returning to racing after many years away from running, so we thought it would be fun to run it together. (And by together, I mean we drove there together, hung out together, and took a few photos together. We raced separately, as he's much faster than I.) But while his training has been going very well, you all know I haven't been "training" at all.

Between my dodgy Achilles tendons and my recent severe bout of depression, which carried with it muscle loss and weight gain, I've barely run at all over the last 3 months. The most I've run, very slowly, was 4 miles early last week. Other than that I've only done some run/walks a few times, like 6 total, over the last 6 weeks. That's it. I had no business running a 10-Mile race today.

I ran anyway. The opportunity to spend time with my brother at a running event was something I didn't want to pass up, so last night I decided to participate. My brother was a very good high school runner. He finished 3rd in his age group at Grandma's Marathon when he was just 17 or 18 years old. He's just getting back into running, and it's fun to see him excited about it again. He's way smarter than I, but with my running experience, this is an area in which I can actually help him. That's fun for me, too.

My brother set his sights on 7 minute miles. I figured if I was able to manage 11-12 minutes per mile, with a combination of walking and running, it would be a banner day. For comparison, I used to run 10 mile races under 8 minutes per mile. I also promised myself I would step off the course if my Achilles tendons became painful. And with that, we were off.

Ten miles later, my brother was disappointed with his 7:30 pace. He finished in 1:15, which for a 49-year-old who hasn't run a race in years is pretty great. I was shocked and excited to cross the finish line in 1:34, an overall pace of 9:22 per mile! What??

Actually, my shock and surprise began very early in the race. I set out slowly, testing my legs, lungs and especially Achilles. My right Achilles was a little sore early on, but no worse than any other day, and the pain actually subsided by the middle of the race. I went through the early miles around 9:30 pace, felt great, and decided to forgo walking at every mile marker as I had planned.

Figuring I'd end up walking later as I fatigued, I initially just walked through each aid station while I got my water and Gatorade. Well, there were aid stations every other mile, and I never walked at any other time. My legs got tired, but I couldn't believe how good I felt, so I just kept going. I ran the second half of the race faster than the first and finished really strong on the 50-yard-line of the Minnesota Gophers football stadium. I could not have been more thrilled! I guess I'm tougher than I thought.

But here's the coolest thing. As I approached the finish line, with my image larger than life on the stadium Jumbotron, the announcer dude announced my name followed by, "She's beating depression one step at a time." It was awesome! Apparently I had noted that on my registration form, but I had totally forgotten that fact, so it was a surprising, goose bump experience! It was very cool.

I'm so grateful the announcer picked me out of the crowd. He had no idea how big that moment, finishing a race, was for me. He had no idea how many injuries I had battled over the past 2 years and 4 months. And he certainly had no idea the hell I had just been through with depression. I wish I could have located him in that stadium in order to give him a hug.

It was a surprising, wonderful day. I had no inkling I would be able to perform as I did and feel great doing it! I may end up paying for this with sore legs and Achilles tendons, but it was totally worth it. I'm proud of myself for taking the chance to run. I'm pleased I didn't push too hard but didn't settle for less than I was capable of either. This race gives me hope for the future. I like hope. I'm going to try to hang on to that feeling for a while.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Results

I'm normal. All of my blood tests, which I wrote about in my last post, normalized over the course of a week. So while there is no explanation as to why my blood test results were abnormal to begin with, and still no explanation as to why I ended up in the ER after a hypotensive episode following a light workout, I'm relieved I'm apparently okay.

I'm glad everything came back normal, but I'm still not feeling 100% physically or mentally. I guess I"m not certain there is nothing going on inside my body. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm fairly in tune with my body, and something just doesn't feel right. So while the test results are reassuring, I'm not without concern.

I'm working hard to get back to my pre-hospitalization activity level, but it's been slow going. I'm anxious to get back to running. My Achilles tendons are improved. My right one is still giving me some trouble, but it hasn't kept me off the road. I've done 3 or 4 run/walk workouts over the past couple of weeks, including today. I'm incredibly heavy and slow, but I'm trying to be patient.

I'm trying to be patient with my mood, too. Like my right Achilles tendon, it's improved but still giving me some trouble. I'm back working about half of my normal schedule. It's great to be back at work. Even though it's tiring, I think it's helpful. It's nice to get out of myself and help others again.

Unfortunately, today I noticed a slight downturn in my mood again. It's so strange. I can't describe exactly how I feel, and it's so subtle I find it odd I even noticed the change, but I noticed nonetheless. I'm a bit low, subdued, dispassionate and flat. I'm concerned but hopeful it's just a dip in an otherwise upward trend. I wish there was a blood test for depression which could reassure me of that.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Concerned about health

The good news? I'm feeling better. I had my sixth, and hopefully last, Ketamine infusion a few days ago. My mood has improved. I'm not back to normal yet, but I'm relieved and grateful to be feeling better. I'm hoping things continue to slowly improve.

I'm getting back to some of my normal activities. I returned to work. I worked a few hours on Monday and Wednesday, and it went well. It was so nice to be interacting with patients again, and the reception I received from the staff was quite humbling, too. Actually, it was humbling and unexpected.

I'm not trying to be modest, but I really was surprised so many staff were happy to see me, just as I was surprised by their gift of flowers and kind words on a card when I was hospitalized. I guess I don't see myself as part of the bigger picture in my facility. After all I spend 99% of my time within the confines of the physical therapy room. Sure I interact with the rest of the staff, but I didn't know they felt anything more than neutral about me. Like I said, I was humbled by the welcome I received upon my return.

I've been attempting to return to my exercise routine, too. Unfortunately, that's where the bad news comes in. I'm continuing to experience fatigue beyond the level of what I would expect for the amount of exercise I'm doing. It's been frustrating. I go through this every time I recover from a severe depression episode, but that doesn't help me feel any more patient with the process.

I find it especially difficult to be patient because exercise hasn't been feeling good. In my entire history exercise has always been my number one tool for feeling better. But exercise over the past couple of weeks only made me feel worse. I'm getting more concerned about my physical health.

My visit to my doctor this morning did nothing to quell those fears. We reviewed what happened last Friday when I ended up in the ER. Like the ER doctor, she was concerned about my blood test results. We reviewed them together. Not only were my platelets low, my hematocrit was low, several blood cell counts were low, and she pointed out my body did not seem to be producing red blood cells. I also had a low grade fever this morning. That was a new development.

I appreciated the doctor's thorough exam and consultation. Fortunately, her physical exam did not reveal anything abnormal. She ordered new, more complete blood work, and I'm awaiting the results right now. She was concerned about my bleeding risk, secondary to the low platelets, so she discouraged me from exercising for awhile. And I'm going to monitor my temperature for the next several days.

That exercise recommendation is going to be tough to follow. I already feel heavy, slow and fatigued. Exercising even less is going to be easy physically, but it's going to be a mental challenge. Like I said, exercise has always made me feel better, and sitting around has never made me feel better, so I'm going to have to find a compromise, I guess.

I return for a follow-up doctor visit next week. Until then, I guess I'll walk, rather than ride or run, and await the results of my blood work. I'm feeling anxious about all of this. I'm used to being concerned about my mental health, and I have too much experience with injuries, but I have little experience dealing with generalized, and still unknown, physical ailments. It's scary. I don't like it. But I'll deal with it. I hope the docs figure out what's going on soon.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

First the brain, now the body

No. I wouldn't say I'm better. My depression symptoms continue. I feel low, isolated, and hopeless most of the time. It doesn't matter that I have lots of friends, coworkers and professionals who care, the nature of this illness is to negate all evidence to the contrary. I know that. I'm trying to fight it, but so far I've had little success.

I have had glimpses of feeling lighter and more hopeful, but they don't seem to last. I'm trying to do what I can, but my brain is still so addled with negative, hopeless thinking, it's difficult to keep moving forward. But I'm trying.

Yesterday I actually made it to the gym for a light workout. I did some spinning on the bike for 15 minutes, rested about 5 minutes while trying to decide whether to stay or go, and then I performed 20 minutes of light to moderate (mostly light) strength/cardio training. I was pretty tired afterward, which I attributed to depression, so I sat down to rest and text a friend. That's when it happened.

About 10 minutes after sitting down I had another episode from the "you-can't-make-this-shit-up" file. Suddenly my pulse rate shot up. My heart felt like it was beating irregularly. I got dizzy and lightheaded. My legs felt heavy and weak. I started breathing heavily, and my hands went numb. I barely made it to the front desk to let them know I wasn't feeling well.

The staff got me into a chair, checked my blood pressure (a bit low), monitored my pulse and breathing (still high and heavy), and when I just about passed out they called an ambulance. I was so embarrassed. I hadn't done much of a workout, and I had been resting for at least 10 minutes when this all began. It wasn't anxiety. It was just weird.

Long story short, I developed a significant headache on the way to the emergency room. Blood tests revealed my platelets were low and had dropped significantly as compared to a blood test performed just 3 weeks ago. The combination of headache and low platelets led to concern about bleeding in my brain, but two CT scans were normal. So they gave me fluids and pain meds, monitored me for 5 hours(!), during which time my symptoms slowly improved, and then they let me go home.

The doctors didn't really have an explanation for what happened. They were concerned about the platelet count, especially the fact that it had dropped so significantly so rapidly, and suggested I follow up with my regular doctor in a week. Other than that there were few clues as to what may have caused such an uncomfortable episode. My blood sugar was a bit low but not so low as to cause the significant symptoms I had. I wasn't dehydrated. I had eaten and drank everything as usual that morning. There was no change to my routine, medication, etc... No obvious explanation.

So now I'm off kilter mentally and physically. I still have a low grade headache. I still feel the heaviness of depression. And now I'm afraid to challenge myself physically. It's tough enough getting active after a bout of severe depression without the added worry of my body physically rebelling, too! I don't know what to think or do now. I feel low, isolated, hopeless...and now stuck. I'm not sure what to do next.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Broken

He says, "But we grow stronger when we break." As broken as I am right now, I'm not so sure about that. I hope he's right.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Frustrated at 65%

I'm back home. I left the hospital yesterday. I had a total of 4 Ketamine infusions over the course of my 17 days there. Seventeen days and 4 infusions later, I'd say I'm at about 65% of my baseline. That's a lot of time and effort for 65%. That's a lot of missed life for 65%. I'm frustrated.

Yes, I'm happy I'm no longer at minus 65%, but I know I could have gotten more out of this hospitalization than I did, and that's frustrating. The problem was not with the unit (which was comfortable and safe), the nursing staff (who were absolutely incredible as usual) or even the programming (though I've been through it multiple times). Each of those things contributed to improving my mood, but they could only take it so far. I needed more intervention than that.

Unfortunately, the intervention which was decided upon, the reason I went to the hospital at all, Ketamine, was carried out in an unplanned, fly-by-the-seat-of-our pants method. The problem was my inpatient MD. He knows me well from previous hospitalizations, but I guess we just aren't a good fit. He seems to have me packed tightly in a box from which I cannot escape.

No matter how hard I try, no matter the objective proof to the contrary, this MD just can't imagine me as anything but a baseline sad, suicidal, dysthymic, moderately functional, friend-less, solitary being. And that did nothing to improve our relationship with each other or of his treatment plan for me.

His bias against, or lack of complete knowledge of Ketamine was also transparent from day one. During my previous treatment with Ketamine (different doctor and during a clinical trial) I received 3 doses of Ketamine in the first 7 days and then one dose per week for 4 weeks. The total of 7 infusions, with those first 3 every other day, worked like a miracle. It worked for 18 months! Yet there was no attempt made to follow that plan this time. There was no plan at all.

From day one, inpatient MD scheduled one infusion at a time, and since Mayo Clinic only does one infusion per day (yes, you read that correctly), by the time he decided to schedule another infusion, the schedule was already full for the week. Luckily, there were some cancellations in there, but the haphazard timing didn't do me any favors, in my humble opinion. Not only, perhaps, was the varying schedule not clinically as impactful as it could have been, but the randomness of it was also incredibly stressful.

MD rounds were difficult and anxiety provoking. I never knew what was going to happen next. For example, when I gave the MD feedback that I wasn't feeling better after an infusion he suggested we should stop the infusions because they obviously weren't working. Yet, when I gave him feedback that my mood improved following an infusion, he suggested we stop the infusions because I was better. This happened after every single infusion. There was no commitment to a plan. There was no plan, period, and the constant threat of pulling the plug on Ketamine, with no alternative plan suggested, left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

I expended an awful lot of energy advocating for myself, which was stressful and exhausting. I felt like I was always on the defensive during MD rounds. This did nothing to change Mr. MD's perception of me as some sort of difficult patient whose self reports he didn't appear to trust. The more I advocated, the more it seemed to reinforce his opinion of me in that box. It was like a boxing match where I had no chance of even landing a blow. Nothing I said or did mattered. And there still was no plan!

Fortunately, the two doctors with whom I had contact over the weekends helped immensely. For example, inpatient MD felt we should stop the infusions after I sobbed through the second one because, he told me, obviously the infusions were making me worse rather than better. That statement led to a lot more sobbing, as it crushed any hope I had of getting better. It terrified me. And when I asked what we would do if we quit Ketamine, inpatient MD offered no plan. Turns out, it was an inaccurate statement, but I didn't know that until 24 hours later.

Twenty four hours later the weekend MD explained the various responses a patient may have during and after a Ketamine infusion, something which had not been explained previously. He noted sobbing through one infusion did not mean it was a failure. He told me in light of the fact I had been tearful prior to the second infusion it made perfect sense to him that the Ketamine might have caused me to sob during the infusion. Nothing to worry about, he said. It did not mean the Ketamine wasn't going to work.

The second weekend MD, with whom I met yesterday, entered my room with a big smile and said, "There's one of my favorite distance runners in Rochester." Even though I had no recollection of him, he knew who I was from sharing the roads and races with me over the years. He even remembered me running with my previous lab, Puck. He didn't have to be convinced, he knew I was a fully functioning, happy human being outside of the hospital. That made all the difference in the world.

I'm happy to be home. But I'm also a little concerned to be home, as I don't know what to expect. I'd certainly like to be feeling better than 65 percent. My worst fear is my mood will slide again. Actually, my worst fear is my mood will slide so far as to render me hospitalizable again. But I don't feel I can go back there.

Feeling like the hospital isn't a great option is daunting. It puts pressure on me to continue pushing through, regardless of how I feel. But I can't go back there and continue to do battle with a doctor who I don't believe believes in me. I can't take more time away from my life without a definitive plan to get me back to baseline.

Baseline: happy with the life I've built, grateful, active and energetic, loving and kind, generous, reliable, competent, fun, sometimes downright silly, 100% functional, and with many supportive friends and coworkers. That's who I am. That's who I want to be again.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Scary Stuff

Here's one symptom not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose depression, total blackout. In speaking with friends and coworkers I've become aware that I remember little to nothing from approximately February 20th through my first inpatient day on February 28th. I've been reconstructing things based on their accounts and by reviewing my texts, e-mails, and blog posts. It's pretty frightening.

For example, it was frightening to be told by a coworker that she came to visit one evening. "Remember," she said, "you wrote a blog post about it." Really? I checked. Sure enough, there was a blog post about my coworker coming to visit and giving me a hug. I don't remember that.

Worse, in that same blog post I wrote about going for a drive in the dark. Nothing. I don't remember that at all. I wonder where I went, how long I was gone, or if I even locked my house? Who knows, maybe I didn't even shut the door! Going for a drive, completely sober of course, and having no recollection of it really scares me. How does that happen?

I still don't know how it happened. So I'm trying to piece together the last week of February, 2019, so I at least have an idea of what occurred. One thing is certain, I went downhill fast! That scares me, too.

There's unfortunately another thing which has become quite clear. During the last week of February I scared the crap out of my friends and coworkers. That makes me sad. Every single person who has talked to me in the last 14 days talked about how frightened they were. I hated hearing that. They tried everything, it seems, to get me into the hospital earlier, but I wouldn't go. I'm sorry about that.

It seems things got so messy and so ugly so fast I was just lost. I hate that I scared people. I hate that they were worried they would wake up to hear I was dead. As I reconstruct what happened, I get it. I should have been scared, too. I wasn't, I guess, but now I feel sick to have worried them so much.

This episode was, and kind of still is, a very scary dive into depression. It was fast, and aggressive, and obviously too much for my brain. I couldn't even form memories! It's still mostly a blur. My broken brain seems to have taken a rocket ship into the black hole over a period of 7 or 8 days. I was sick.

When I'm not well, at times like this, my friend Wendy always says, "I hate your sick brain!" Me, too, Wendy. Me, too. I'm sorry my sick brain and I frightened people.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The trigger question

The answer, of course, is nothing. Wait, make that nothing! How many of you know where I'm going with this? If you have depression I bet you're all over it. The question is, "What triggered it?" And by "it" the well-intentioned friend, relative, stranger on a train with whom you are speaking of course means your depression. What triggered your depression?

I get it. Depression sounds a lot like depressed. So let's review. Depressed is a feeling. Depression is an illness. Or let's put it another way. Depression is an illness. Depressed is a feeling. Asking a person with depression what caused their relapse is invalidating. It demonstrates misunderstanding. It implies blame and fault. Nobody is at fault for having depression.

Like I said, I get it. It's a fair bet that everyone on the planet knows what it feels like to feel depressed. And feelings, being the fickle things they are, often have a reason behind them, a trigger. Boyfriend breaks up with me, dog dies, dessert splats on the floor; I might feel depressed, and with good reason! Feeling depressed is normal.

Depression is not normal. Just as cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes are not normal. The commonality of each of these is illness. Illness is not a normal state of being. Illness is the result of abnormal functioning of something in the body. In the case of Type 1 diabetes the pancreas is the culprit. In the case of depression, the abnormally functioning organ happens to be the brain.

Because illness is the result of abnormal functioning, we generally intervene with some sort of medical treatment. Those interventions, be they radiation or medication, usually combined with behavioral changes (i.e. different diet, more exercise) allow afflicted persons to live comfortable, well-adjusted, productive lives for long periods of time, sometimes years.

Unfortunately, despite the best medical interventions and the healthiest of lifestyles, sometimes cancer returns, MS causes blindness, RA leads to irreversible joint deterioration, and diabetes gets nearly impossible to control. There is a worsening, a relapse, of abnormal functioning--of illness.

Unlike worsening depression, however, I have yet to hear someone wonder aloud what triggered somebody's cancer relapse. It would be ridiculous! Everybody knows a person can be doing everything right, yet the cancer returns. It's a given. It's understood. We may not like it, but it's understood.

Depression, despite being an illness of the brain, gets no such complimentary treatment. I was doing everything "right;" taking all my medications as prescribed, seeing my doctors as scheduled, going to my recovery meetings as usual, maintaining my sobriety, exercising as able, eating right and sleeping well. But just like that nasty cancer, my illness, depression, returned. I had a relapse.

Depression does not require a trigger. Yes, it may be triggered, but the reality is usually different. Like any other illness, depression, especially treatment resistant depression like mine, reoccurs without provocation.

Asking a person with depression what caused their relapse is invalidating. It demonstrates misunderstanding. It implies blame and fault, two things one would never consider implying to an MS patient.

I am not at fault for my current state of being. I did not cause it. I am not a bad person, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have a serious, persistent, deadly illness. I do my best to keep it under control and live a life worth living. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, it reappears for no reason whatsoever. Unfortunately, that's what some illnesses do.

I am not depressed. I have depression.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tough days

I've had a couple of very tough days since my first Ketamine infusion Tuesday afternoon. Prior to the infusion and for awhile after the infusion, my mood was improving and I had more energy. Unfortunately, over the course of one hour Tuesday evening my world went dark again. Since that time, and especially today, I've felt nothing but heavy, slow, low and discouraged.

Today I felt like I was being swallowed by a nebulous, slow-moving black mass. It never stopped advancing, and I couldn't get away. I was too heavy. It was actually difficult to physically move. My brain was slow, too. Any thought or action took all of my effort and took place at a snail's pace. I spent much of the day in bed. Anything more was just too much.

As I laid there, unable to sleep yet unable to do anything differently, I hoped I would just slowly stop breathing. I felt like I was barely breathing anyway, so it didn't seem too far to go. It certainly would have been much less painful. But of course I didn't stop breathing. Instead I asked my nurse to sit with me for a bit, something at which I do not thrive, asking for help, that is. It was comforting somehow to have another person in the room. She was the right person for the task, and I was grateful for her support.

I guess that's why I'm here, for those moments or hours or days when my will to continue gets pummeled and negated by my depression symptoms. I'd much rather be the pummel-er than the pummel-ee, but that just wasn't the case today. Hopefully, tomorrow brings something new and different. It won't take much for it to be better than today.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The epiphany

I don't often share links to other material on this blog, but I've got one for you today. And I want to share it because it is the reason I composed my previous post, a space holder. Yesterday I was sitting in a morning group about gratitude, which the group leader began with a TED Talk, this TED Talk to be exact. Take a moment to watch it.

I was happy, because I instantly recognized the TED Talk she had chosen. I had already seen it and enjoyed it several times. But I hadn't seen it recently. Within minutes, I was surprised by tears welling up in my eyes. Soon, they were running down my cheeks. And by the time the older man began to speak in the middle of the video I had to leave the room. I was sobbing.

I don't have access to my computer in the mornings. I came back to my room, sobbing, words spinning in my head, sadness enveloping me. I began composing my blog post in my head, but that wasn't helping, so I finally broke down and picked up a pen and paper! (What??) Words flew onto the page almost faster than I could write. The piece, a space holder, was finished in less than 5 minutes.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but this was a monumental moment for me. Backstory: I experience gratitude as the greatest gift of my life. That may sound like I'm overstating things, but I've thought long and hard about this. Gratitude gives my life meaning. It's a gift with which I never even shared a continent until 13-14 years ago. Most of my life was devoid of the concept. Gratitude is the greatest gift of my life. I make it a priority to practice gratitude every single day.

So here's the thing, those beautiful, unbelievable, amazing, time lapsed photos at the beginning of the video stirred nothing within me. Nothing. The words, especially those of the older man, which I had previously found so soothing and profound only deepened my grief, as they were, in that moment, barren of any emotional connection or meaning. Here was gratitude personified, and I felt nothing, no connection whatsoever.

I realized I was disconnected and dead inside. That realization was excruciatingly painful; way worse than anything this universe might otherwise have thrown at me. And it was that disconnection and death which depression not only represented, but created! Clarity! That's why I hurt! That's why I could barely move! That's why I felt hopeless! That's why I wanted to die. I had lost my compass, my touchstone, my meaning; the pillar of who I wanted to be, who I strove to be, had been desecrated and destroyed.

Depression was the vandal which desecrated my soul, sucked out my life and left only a shell in its wake. I was purposeless, empty, and doing nothing more than taking up a space. That, my friends, is a feeling I wish never to share.

The rest of the story: In the aftermath of yesterday's moment, I found some fight. Rather than further raping my soul, depression took a bit of a punch. I got a little angry. I don't like to be violated, desecrated and destroyed. So I landed a blow, albeit not so powerful but a blow nonetheless, and I went looking for gratitude today. I still feel tired, hopeless and empty. I'm not cured. But that painful moment stirred something in me. I'm grateful for that.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

.....................a space holder......................


depression is not about feeling sad,
it's about feeling nothing at all. 
vacant,
devoid of all appreciation, enjoyment, love,
and worst of all--
of gratitude.

without gratitude there is no reason to be.

there is no experiencing of an experience,
it's just black and white.
there is nothing between the lines, 
no meaning to the motions,
no colors to the landscape.

without gratitude
there is no living in this life.
I am simply a space holder,
an empty vesicle without purpose--

Why bother?

if I can't feel gratitude 
life is not living, 
it's a series of disconnected motions
going nowhere
meaning nothing.

the realization that depression steals my gratitude makes me sad.
depression doesn't make me sad. 
I am sad because I cannot
feel
see
smell
taste
or touch
the wonder with which I am surrounded.
a smile
an interaction
a word
a movement.
there is no meaning behind any of it
if I cannot feel gratitude.

the cruelty of depression is not sadness.
sadness is, at least, a feeling.
the cruelty of depression is the dearth of feelings.
it is the vacuum which is my soul.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Inpatient

I think I got here yesterday. It's difficult to keep track of the days when one melds with the next and the next and the next. My brain is befuddled. My energy nonexistent. Yes, it must have been yesterday because I slept almost all day today. Even when I wanted to, I couldn't stay awake. This depression is wiping me out.

So here I am again. Inpatient psych. There's not much more to say than that. I guess it's where I need to be, but it still sucks having to be here. I'd much rather be sitting in my living room, in my recliner, Jet curled up at my feet, watching M*A*S*H reruns. Unfortunately, my brain wasn't allowing such simplicity. I might have been staring at the television, but my broken brain was focused on death instead.

The current, tentative plan is to begin another trial of Ketamine infusions. Unfortunately the earliest start date won't be until next Tuesday. Ugh...it's going to be a long weekend. But those of you who've been following along for awhile know that Ketamine was miraculous during my last significant depression relapse, (18 months ago!) so I'll wait.

Unlike my last treatment, however, I will not be enrolled in a clinical trial this time around. In other words, I'll be paying out of pocket for the entire treatment. Ketamine isn't covered by insurance. (Note to insurance companies: If 7 drug infusions over the period of 5 weeks kept someone with severe, persistent, treatment resistant depression out of the very expensive hospital and allowed that person to be a contributing member of society for 18 months, how is it less expensive for you NOT to pay for the medication??) Just wondering.

No worries, though, I will pay what I need to pay to get my life back. Even though my brain tells me differently, getting my life back is worth it. I'm worth it. I like my life. I have a good life, a few friends, fabulous coworkers, a couple dollars in my pocket, a job I love, an adorable dog, and many adventures yet to conquer. Depression is a foe I wish upon nobody. I pray it's a foe I can beat back, make that pummel into submission, at least one more time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A simple hug

It may come as a surprise to anyone reading this post that I sometimes have a very difficult time reaching out for help.

Today was an incredibly difficult day. This morning I had an MD appointment for my back, an appointment which normally would have taken a few minutes. But in the vast expanse of the Mayo Clinic, it took much longer than that. You see, I could barely move, and it had nothing to do with my back pain either. It was fatigue and lethargy plain and simple. I barely had the energy to move from one end of the Mayo building to the other. Three times I had to stop, sit, and rest. Three times. I felt 81 rather than 51 years old. It was frustrating and mind boggling.

Unfortunately, my mind was boggled throughout the day. My brain was filled with creative, deadly, violent contemplations. I was hanging on for dear life today, both wanting to follow through with the destructive thoughts while simultaneously holding myself tightly against those same compelling urges.

It was a dilemma. And the dilemma was made worse because I only  halfheartedly wanted to fight the suicidal urges. Now what was I supposed to do?

What I decided to do was an impromptu load of laundry, went for a drive to nowhere in the dark, and made a few phone calls. I was lucky. My physical therapy assistant was actually in town, just a few blocks away. It was incredibly difficult for me to ask her to come sit with me, but I did. And she did.

I had little energy or humor for any kind of discussion, but she sat with me, nonetheless. And when she left, we exchanged a hug. A hug. It was such a simple act yet it brought tears to my eyes. Never underestimate your power to comfort a friend, my friends. It surprised me, but I guess I needed that hug.

Take a chance. Surprise someone in your life, today, too. You just might make a bigger difference than you think.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The disintegration of my brain

I missed work Friday because my brain was sick. I missed work Saturday because my brain was sick. We had a blizzard Saturday night into Sunday morning. There were at least 12-16 inches of snow in my driveway, and my snowblower belt broke...again. The snowblower repair man felt guilty, as he had just replaced the belt, so he came over and fixed it again.

Unfortunately, the repairman's truck got stuck in my driveway, and as I assisted in digging him out, I injured my back, my left lumbar spine, with the same knock-me-to-my-knees pain I experienced 18 months ago when my L4 disc exploded. I had no choice but to finish clearing the snow, but once I came into the house, the extent of my injury became quite clear. It's more than 24 hours later, and I can barely move.

In the meantime, my mood and my thinking have been disintegrating before my eyes. Violent thoughts, self-inflicted violent thoughts, have been overwhelming. These thoughts are distressing, disturbing, and crazy-making. I feel "less than" every time I have them. I don't understand where they come from. I don't understand why they are so detailed and visual. And I especially don't understand why they are so compelling.

Admitting to these thoughts here is especially anxiety producing, as some of my friends and coworkers occasionally check in on this blog. I don't want to be the crazy one. I don't want to frighten people. I don't want to lose the confidence of my patients or my coworkers. But I'm trying to be honest in hopes one of you may identify, too. You are not alone. And if you are not alone, I hope I'm not alone either.

This thinking symptom of depression is not something most people understand, in my humble opinion. The fucked up thinking, for me the violent fucked up thinking, is yet another disturbing, distressing, unsettling symptom of a disturbing, distressing, unsettling illness. Depression is an illness which removes me from my life. Telling somebody my mood is low is a little more PC than telling them I wish to slice my neck from stem to stern. Let's see how many people hang around after that revelation! Yet that's my revelation for this evening. If you can relate, I'm sorry. But if you can relate, I bet you're not alone. Let's hang in there together, my friends.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Crash

I've got friends calling. They want me to go to the hospital. Actually, they want to take me to the hospital. That's how fast it happened. Between Wednesday evening and Friday morning I went from feeling "a little off" to barely being able to move. I don't understand that. Consumed so quickly it makes my head spin, I don't understand that.

I made it to work yesterday morning, but by the time I got there it was clear I wouldn't be functional, so I turned around and drove the 30 minutes back home. I'm supposed to be working today. I'm not. I feel so tired, foggy, and heavy. It takes energy to move from the sofa to the kitchen. It takes energy to answer the phone. It takes energy to form words. The only thing that feels possible is lying flat on my back.

My thinking sucks. My resolve to push through my vile stream of consciousness sucks. My goals are out the window. I'm in this weird suspended state of inertia. I'm doing what I can, although now that I look at myself, maybe I'm not. It appears I haven't changed clothes in at least 24 hours. I guess I slept like this. Oh well. No harm in that.

As far as the hospital. I don't want to go there. It would be nice if I could just check myself in for a tune-up, get some things straightened out, and get back home. But that's not what happens in a psych unit. Perhaps if I had MS, or diabetes, or even the flu, that's how it would work. The doctors would wonder what they could do to help resolve my issue. They'd likely suggest med changes, even if temporarily, and make sure I received a bit of TLC.

In the psych unit, however, there would be lengthy discussions about what I've been doing wrong. Why is it I'm back there? There would be a referral to an occupational therapist to instruct me in how to create a daily schedule, because that's clearly what's lacking. I'm not following a daily schedule, so my depression is back. Relaxation, sleep hygiene (I love that term!), recreation therapy, and showering regularly would also be examined. In other words, I must not be taking care of myself correctly, or I wouldn't be suffering depression symptoms.

The difference between MD rounds on a medical floor versus MD rounds on a psych floor can be summed up like this: Medical doctor rounds; how can we help you? Let's order some tests and see what's going on. Psych doctor rounds; what happened? Why are you here? What weren't you doing?

I know how to keep a schedule. I actually keep one, and it's a schedule which includes work, exercise, recovery meetings, chores, errands, socialization and relaxation. Yet I'm still looking up from under a pile of shit.

Depression, despite my best efforts, is right this minute smothering me. And I'm not being smothered because I didn't perform my last set of heel raises yesterday. I'm suffocating because I have an illness. Yes, I probably need some help right now, but shaming me for my less-than-perfect (though pretty-damn-near-perfect) adherence to my daily schedule, is not the help I need.

Help is okay, even if it's hard for me to accept. But I hope I can avoid the hospital. What would be more helpful? Maybe just sit with me. Read a book or watch TV. Maybe just tell me you care. Maybe assure me this too shall pass. It always has. Maybe you know I'm stronger than I think. Remind me of that. And if all else fails, say a prayer. That's help I can appreciate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Stepping in it

I didn't mean to do it, but I stepped into the middle of something at work today. In an effort to assist a coworker, thinking only of helping the coworker, I inadvertently created an issue which went all the way to the top brass of my facility. In deference to the coworker and other staff at my facility I don't want to say too much about the specific situation, but I'm going to try to process my thoughts anyway.

Basically, in doing what I did, I created something bigger than I anticipated. It never crossed my mind that what happened would happen, and perhaps that's what I'm most concerned about. I didn't think things through.

To be clear, I don't think I did anything wrong. I was concerned about another staff person, and based on my observations and a bit of clinical data, I rendered an opinion about what should be done. And what I thought should be done was quite simple. Problem solved, or so I thought.

My opinion started a ball rolling, which is what I had hoped for, but the ball didn't stop. That's the part I didn't anticipate. The ball knocked through one person after another, as if they were bowling pins, and didn't come to rest until it reached the director of the facility. The director of the facility then questioned whether I was qualified to form the opinion I formed. She wasn't happy. She didn't say she wasn't happy, but I'm not a dope. She wasn't happy.

My simple fix wasn't as black and white as I thought. My opinion created work for others, and my opinion went against the opinions of other staff people who are more directly involved with the person I was concerned about. There were many layers to the issue, and I feel I should have anticipated those layers prior to the director visiting me in my office. But I didn't, and as soon as the director left my office I began to panic and second guess myself. I've yet to stop.

I'm still worried. I don't like making waves, especially if I have no business getting in the pool! Did I do the right thing? Did I have any business rendering an opinion? Was this an issue in which I needed to get involved? I'm still not sure. My gut feeling isn't good.

It's a difficult situation, and I don't like that I stepped into the middle of it without thinking through the ramifications of my involvement. I didn't intend to create extra work for anyone else in the facility, and I didn't intend to devalue or discredit anyone by rendering a different opinion, but perhaps I should have anticipated the potential of both consequences prior to sticking my nose into the mix.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Slipping?

I sent a note to my doctor yesterday. I'm a little bit worried. Something feels off. I'm not quite right, hence the note to my doc. Nothing to do but wait and see, really, but I just wanted her to know. Over the last several days, I've periodically had that sickening feeling I sometimes get prior to a depression episode. I hope it's just a little dip, or even better, nothing at all.

It's been awhile since I've had that sickening feeling. It scares me, but I'm trying not to focus on it. I'm trying to feel it and let it pass. I can't control whether depression descends or not. I can only control what I'm doing to keep it at bay. So I'll keep taking my meds, working, exercising, going to meetings, and seeing my doctor. That's where my focus needs to be. Worrying won't help. Acting will. I have to remember that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Feeling frustrated

It's been a week. I sat down at this computer several times over the last 7 days to write a new post, but I just didn't have anything I wanted to say. I'm still not sure I do. I apologize. My life, most of the time, is not terribly exciting.

Unfortunately, the only "excitement" I have to report is negative. I'm so sick and tired of writing about my aches and pains. In fact, perhaps due to a severe case of denial, or more likely due to unreasonable hope that what I knew happened would magically repair itself, I haven't written about this injury even though it happened in early January. I just didn't want it to be true.

I'm afraid it's true. Even before the MRI confirmed it, I knew it was true. I re-tore my right hip labrum. It's the same hip in which I've had 3 previous arthroscopic labral repair surgeries. I knew it the moment it happened, but I prayed I was wrong. I wasn't wrong.

The labrum is a thin ring of cartilage surrounding the acetabulum (hip socket) which helps cushion the hip joint, and more importantly, it helps hold the head of the femur securely within the socket.


The front or superior part of the labrum, as shown in the picture above, gets pinched in certain positions in certain people. I'm one of those people. I originally injured it in PT school in the mid to late 90's. I didn't know I injured it at the time, but when all the sitting I did in PT school became quite painful, I knew something was wrong.

In the late 90's nobody in the United States knew about labral tears. In fact, after a series of tests showed nothing (or at least nothing they recognized as an issue) Mayo Clinic Sports Med docs referred me to psychiatry because they were certain the pain I was experiencing was in my head. This was long before my depression began, and I really let the resident making the psychiatry recommendation have it as I stormed out of her office! I knew something wasn't right, and I knew I wasn't faking. Boy I was angry!

Fortunately, a few years later, in my first year as a physical therapist, I attended a hip continuing education course. The instructor was from Belgium. He began describing my symptoms! My boss and I stared at each other in disbelief. I learned right then and there what my problem was. At that time, while surgeons all over Europe were performing arthroscopic labral repairs, only 2 surgeons in the United States were doing the procedure. Thankfully, one of those surgeons was only 90 minutes away from me.

Well, Dr. Palmer, the surgeon who performed my previous 3 procedures, has retired. His office referred me to another orthopedic surgeon, who (fortunately and unfortunately) is one of the premier orthopedic surgeons in the state of Minnesota. Over the past month I've been jumping through a bunch of hoops in order to get "offered" an appointment. Apparently I made the cut. I'll be seeing Dr. Larson in April. 

Until then it's kind of business as usual for me. I can run with a labral tear without discomfort or much risk of further injury. My Achilles tendons are currently preventing running, and any kind of squatting, jumping (which is how I re-tore it) and sometimes even biking are not great for my hip. Sitting is actually the most uncomfortable thing to do. Nevertheless, I'll continue to do what I can to maintain my fitness.

I'm tired of hurting. I'm hoping Dr. Larson will see something he can repair, but even if he can, it's another set back for me. After my last procedure in 2014, I was non-weight bearing on crutches for 4 weeks. I'm frustrated. I've got no choice but to address the issue and keep moving forward. At some point, the tide has to turn. At some point, I'll be a runner again. I have to keep believing that.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

To run or not to run

I'm happy to report Jet and I made it through the recent Polar Vortex. It was 20-30 degrees below zero here for the better part of 3 days. It got so cold I had to put socks on Jet's feet every time he went out to pee. If he was out longer than 30 seconds without the socks, he barely made it back into the house due to his frozen feet. With the socks he at least had time to pee!

Despite the cold, I was able to get out to run 3 times this week, including yesterday when the temperature rebounded to almost 40 degrees! I didn't run at all last week, as I focused instead on the heel drop exercises I had begun for my sore Achilles tendons. I'm in the midst of a 12 week, 180 repetitions per day, heel drop program, which is supposed to essentially cure Achilles tendinopathy in about 75% of cases. (It's called the Alfredson's heel drop program if you're interested.)

I figured I wasn't supposed to run while doing the Alfredson program, but I couldn't find any evidence to support that assumption one way or the other. I didn't run at all last week. My Achilles tendons felt better by early this week, so, being a runner, I decided it was time to give running another try.

My first two runs this week went very well. I ran 6 miles each time, and my Achilles tendons didn't scream at me every step, as they had during the previous few weeks of running. I was encouraged. Unfortunately, after running 7 miles yesterday my Achilles tendons are very sore today.

I know, I probably wasn't supposed to run, but every run lately has felt wonderful! Maybe it's because I've been unable to run for so long that I'm now grateful for every step, every breath of fresh air, every foot fall crunching on the snow. I've thoroughly enjoyed being out there putting on the miles again.

I'm hopeful I'll be able to get back to pain free running and training again. But at this point I'd probably be smart to take another week or two off and continue working on my heel drops. I pray the tendinopathy resolves. But I also know, being a runner, I'll likely keep pushing the limits despite knowing better. The internal battle will continue. What can I say? I'm a runner.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Suicide

When I was a junior in high school, 17 years old to be exact, I attempted to end my life. January 30th, 1985, was supposed to be the last day of my life. I had a plan. I carried out my plan, step by step, over the course of several weeks preceding January 30th. I was serious. But I lived.

Here I am, 34 years later, remembering those moments, that day, that moment. I was not the person one would have expected to attempt suicide. I was still a straight A student and athlete, but the depression which began at age 15 had worn me down. I no longer felt I could fight. So I made a plan and carried it out.

Fortunately, I failed. Life hasn't always been easy, but it's been good. I've had many, many wonderful experiences, seen many beautiful things, and interacted with many lovely people. But don't worry, this isn't an anti-suicide-smile-and-your-world-will-be-blissful speech. Of all people, I know that's not the case.

Sometimes life sucks. I know. My life hasn't been blissful for long stretches of time. In the last 18 years, since my depression returned, my life has intermittently been far from easy, or pretty, or hopeful. My severe depression episodes usually incite a return of significant suicidal thoughts. I'm not immune.

In fact, since I've attempted suicide in the past, research indicates I'm more likely to make another attempt and to die by suicide. According to The World Health Organization, "by far the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt." I know that. It scares me sometimes.

So I get it. But as I look back on this day 34 years ago, I can honestly say I'm glad I failed. I'm glad I didn't put my mom, brothers or friends through the pain my suicide would have caused. I'm glad I lived to experience all the learning, running, travel, relationships, and even pets I wouldn't have experienced had my life ended that day. January 30th, 1985 was a very bleak, desperate day, but I'm grateful it wasn't my last.

One day at a time, my friends. If life feels overwhelming, desperate or bleak, just make it through today. If you are feeling suicidal, and especially if you have a plan, please get help now. Keep fighting. Please. 1-800-273-8255

Thursday, January 24, 2019

To whine or not to whine

I was talking to my doctor this morning. She's a few years older than I, and like me, she also played college sports. We were ironically chuckling about all of my physical ailments. I've got bad Achilles tendons, a repeatedly torn and surgically repaired right hip labrum, an arthritic right knee, a sore right thumb and wrist, and left shoulder rotator cuff impingement. And those are only the current aches and pains! We were chuckling as we recounted how, as young people, we heard older adults complain about their aches and pains and cavalierly thought that would never happen to us. Well it's happening. I guess I'm not immune.

I left her office still chuckling and began thinking about this blog post. I made a plan to write about my failing joints. But when I sat down to write I recalled another topic of discussion. In addition to chuckling about my aches and pains, we also happily reflected on how well I've been feeling. Gee, that seems like a more appropriate topic for this blog.

You see, it's not just that I'm feeling well, it's how long I've been feeling well. I know I just mentioned this in a recent post, but it's so cool, I'm going to say it again. Since my Ketamine infusions, which ended in early October, 2017, I have not had a significant depression relapse. I had a few blips in 2018 but nothing significant, and over the past several months I've felt better and better. I feel like pinching myself sometimes.

It's wonderfully strange for me to be free of a depression episode for this long. Other than the Ketamine, I've not done anything special or different over the last 15 months. Instead I've continued to do what I've always done; take my medications, see my doctor and therapist, exercise, attend my meetings and stay sober, work, and socialize once in awhile with a few friends. So it must be the Ketamine? There's really no way to know. I guess I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.

Yes, I wish my body wasn't physically hurting in so many places, but it's way more fun to reflect on how mentally well I'm feeling than it is to whine about my aches and pains. I may choose to whine next time, but today I'm celebrating instead. I'm happy. I feel good. I'm happy I feel good. At least one area of my body is not aching!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

She would have been 50

I don't always remember this day, but I've been thinking about her a lot lately. And with good reason, I guess, as today would have been her 50th birthday. But she's not here. She hasn't been here for 36 years. Isn't it strange? I miss her, yet I have no idea who she would have been had she not been killed at age 14.

I was 15. My step sister was 14. Pam left the house in a breeze to go ride her bike with her friend, Paula. It was before dinner. I didn't even say goodbye. I don't even think I was in the kitchen as she flew out the door, but I heard her go. My step-mother was beginning to prepare our meal. A very short time later, before my step-mother had even turned on the stove, I heard the phone ring, my step-mother hurriedly yelling to my father, and both of them flying out the door.

This was long before the days of cell phones. I don't remember how we learned that Pam had been hit by a truck, but we knew, and we knew it was serious. My older brother got our neighbor, one of my favorite teachers, to come to the house. I guess he thought we needed an adult present, as there were five of us between the ages of 4 and 16 left at home.

Our neighbor tried to continue making the dinner my step-mother had started. I called my boyfriend and retreated to the bedroom I shared with Pam. After my boyfriend arrived, dropped off by his parents, we laid together silently on the bed.

At some point the phone rang again. I don't remember if I answered it or not, but I'll never forget my father's words from the other end of the line. Tearfully, he said, "She's not going to make it, honey." Pam was brain dead. She would have turned 50 today.

Pam and I were only sisters for a little over 3 years. Neither of us had had a sister before. She had one brother, only 4 years old when she died. I had 3 brothers of my own. We moved into my step mother's house, which despite being built for a family of four, then housed eight. I moved not only into Pam's bedroom, but into her bed, too! 

Needless to say, things were a bit awkward at first, but sharing a bed with someone lends itself to finding common ground. We became very close. I remember our long talks at night. I remember us clinging silently to each other as our parents, in the room next door, fought hard many times. We had our own friends, our own lives, but at home we played catch in the yard for hours, had long discussions, gave each other back rubs, and basically stuck together.

Pam died just a few days into her Freshman year. My life changed the day she died. Even 36 years later, I can still feel the pain, chaos and confusion of that time. But today, I'm happy I am remembering her, and us, and our time as sisters.

Fifty years old... Would she be married, have kids? Where would she be living? What would she be doing? I wonder. But there is one thing I don't have to wonder about. I know this, Pam and I would be celebrating her birthday together today. In those three short years together we laid the foundation of a lifetime relationship. It's unfortunate we never had the opportunity to live it. Happy Birthday, Pam.



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