Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

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.



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