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!

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.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Gratitude is possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A disturbing story

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Here's to another good year

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

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

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



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