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!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

14 today

I don't remember my last drink. I don't recall one moment where I thought, "This is going to be my last drink." In fact, after being sober for a bit, I wasn't even sure on which date that last drink took place. As near as I could figure it was December 28, 2005, (give or take) so that's the date I went with. Fourteen years ago today I took what would be my last drink.

I'm sober. But more importantly, I'm in recovery. I'm in recovery "from a seemingly hopeless state of the mind and body." That state is alcoholism. I'm an alcoholic. I will always be an alcoholic, but without continued work on my mind and body there is absolutely no guarantee I will always be in recovery.

Recovery is actually different than being sober. Anyone can get sober. I did it a bunch of times. I stopped drinking for days, weeks, months, and even years in the past. I was sober a lot. It's easy to stop. The key to recovery is to stay stopped. That's the piece I never understood despite years of accumulated "sober" time.

It takes willpower to stop drinking. It takes a willingness to change to recover. It also takes acceptance, humility, honesty, and guts. Every time I stopped drinking I had the opportunity to recover, but I never took it. I thought removing the alcohol was enough. Funny thing was, removing the alcohol did nothing to change my personality, and I was miserable.

Eventually it became a conundrum. I was miserable when I drank. I was miserable when I didn't. It wasn't until December 28th, 2005, that I accepted the possibility I might need to change something more than the alcohol. I might need to change me. I didn't leap into this thing with enthusiasm, not by a long shot! But I was so tired of feeling miserable and confused, I finally became willing to look at other possibilities.

At that time I was fortunate to be connected to two people whose lives I admired. I wanted what they had; connection, security, serenity, laughter, and love. They weren't constantly thinking about the alcohol they weren't drinking. In fact, they didn't seem to think about alcohol at all! And they were fun! The more time I spent with them the more willing I became. I became willing to ask for help, to listen, to humble myself, and to learn. Those two people played an instrumental role in my first steps toward recovery.

That was 14 years ago. A lot has changed since then. More people than I can count have contributed to my recovery. The only constant over the last 14 years has been me. And how I look and act today is unrecognizable when compared to how I looked and acted prior to December, 2005. Thank God!

I like who I am today. Recovery taught me to be a better daughter, friend, sister, coworker, therapist and patient. I owe who I am today to the program I was taught and to the actions I took in order to recover. I will be forever grateful to the people who guided me, cared for me, and cheered for me over the past 14 years. I proved countless times I couldn't stay sober on my own. But together, we did what I couldn't do alone. That, my friends, is a priceless gift. God willing, I've no plans to let it go.

Fourteen years... damn. So amazed. So grateful.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Solo Christmas

It's Christmas Eve. I'm home alone tonight. I'll be home alone again tomorrow. It's okay. But it's not great. I'd almost rather be working tomorrow, Christmas day, as it would allow me to be around people I enjoy during a time when nearly everyone feels upbeat and cheerful. I have tomorrow off though, and I'm not yet sure what I'll do. Whatever it is, I'll be an entity of one doing it.

Being alone on Christmas is not new. I don't have a spouse. I don't have children. My 3 brothers all have their own families with whom they share the day, and my mother is in Florida. I've likely spent the large majority of my Christmases alone over the last 20 years. So this is not new. I'm used to it. I don't let it bother me. That being said, for whatever reason, I'm feeling the solitude a bit more this year.

Perhaps the solitude is more noticeable because I'm not that far removed from my last depression episode. I was hospitalized earlier this month, so I'm still gingerly moving forward. I don't think I totally trust I'm out of the woods yet. Maybe I'm feeling more alone because I'm not training. I have no goal race on the horizon, and truth be told, I haven't done any exercise in at least 8 days! That month long respiratory illness, followed so closely by another month of depression, knocked me flat. I can't seem to get going again.

In years past I've loved going for a long run on Christmas morning. I've loved running miles through a silent city imagining the joy and chaos behind each window and door. But running has felt so heavy and slow lately, even if I do get out there tomorrow the run likely won't be long. Three miles is probably my max these days, and that's disheartening, too. So I'm not looking forward to my Christmas morning run right now. Nevertheless, I should probably do my best. I think skipping it will only intensify feeling alone.

I know Christmas is a difficult holiday for many people, and especially for those of us with mental illness. Perhaps it's because so many people with mental illness battle it alone. I don't know. I've always kind of taken pride in the fact I wasn't bothered by being alone over the holiday. Weird, I know. But this year is apparently different. I guess it doesn't matter the reason.

I'm trying to do what I can to combat the solitude. I went to a lovely Christmas Eve service tonight complete with all the traditional carols including the candlelit Silent Night finale. It was beautiful. I'm glad I went, but I wish I could have shared it with someone. I was among hundreds of people, but I was still alone.

Tomorrow is Christmas day, and I won't be totally alone. I do have Jet, and he doesn't care what day it is! After a cup of coffee and a snuggle, I hope to fetch the dog leash and the running shoes so Jet and I may begin our Christmas day in our traditional way. I can't let the miles, or lack thereof, deter me. I just need to get out the door. If I accomplish that, I think the rest of the day will be a whole lot brighter.

I hope you all have a very happy day tomorrow. Be gentle with yourself if you're struggling for any reason. That's what I'm going to try to do. We'll see how it goes. Merry Christmas!

Addendum: It's Christmas morning, and Jet and I just returned from a lovely run. It was a balmy 34 degrees when we began. We ran through several quiet neighborhoods and along a path into the woods. In a city of 110,000 people we passed more people and dogs than we did vehicles.

I didn't look at my watch and let my body guide the distance and pace. Strangely, on our way home it began raining! It doesn't rain in Minnesota in December, and even stranger, before it stopped raining the sun came out. It warmed our backs the entire way home.

Jet and I ran just under 6 miles in a bit under 60 minutes. I'm so happy I got out the door. As I have every year, I thoroughly enjoyed my traditional Christmas morning run. It filled me with serenity and peace. I'm going to hang onto those feelings as long as I can. And now I believe I will enjoy a well deserved Christmas morning nap. Merry Christmas, my friends!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Another year older

It's my birthday. I'm another year older. Wiser? I'm not so sure about that. It's been a tough year. And it's been a good year. I take the good with the bad, but if I'm honest, I admit I'm hopeful my 52nd year will be a bit kinder than my 51st.

Two bouts with severe depression took a lot of my energy this year. The episode in late Winter lasted several months and required multiple interventions. Medication changes, a 3 week hospital stay, and 5 or 6 Ketamine infusions finally helped get me back on my feet. During this time I lost months of employment, unpaid time which required several months to repair. More importantly, the severity of this episode left me traumatized. I worried I wouldn't be able to survive another.

After recovering things did get better. I reconnected with family and friends, took a couple of brief but fun vacations, and began a successful return to running. Beginning in late Spring, I slowly made my way back into my former running life. I was thrilled to be running injury free for the first time in two and a half years.

My first race back in late May was slow but gratifying. My second race, also a half marathon and just 4 weeks after the first, was considerably faster. That was very exciting. By mid-summer I was finally, officially, training for my 29th marathon, the first one since December 17, 2016.

Marathon training was more difficult than in the past, but in my third half marathon of the season I again significantly improved. I won some pretty medals, and I gained the confidence required to get to the marathon starting line. Unfortunately, just as all my effort was about to be poured out over 26.2 miles, I once again was thrown a curve. I got sick.

Missing the Twin Cities Marathon in early October and battling a tough respiratory illness for the rest of the month certainly contributed to my second battle with depression. More med changes, a brief hospitalization and a gifted vacation seemed to put me on the mend. That was a relief.

I'm thankful this most recent episode was arrested quicker than the episode in February/March, but I think the trauma I experienced after the earlier episode made this one an even bigger beast. I'm grateful to be feeling better, working again, and getting stuff done.

I enjoyed my birthday today with some of my favorite people, including my patients and coworkers. Tonight I had dinner with good friends, and now I'm hanging out at home with Jet. It was a good day. I'm not terribly thrilled to be older, but I'm looking forward with hope, and that's something I couldn't say just two weeks ago.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Meds Cure as Well

If you read my last post, you might think the only things required to arrest a bout of severe depression are some sunshine, a bit of exercise, and time with good friends. In fact, for several days after I wrote that post, something didn't sit right. I thought, "This seems odd. What else is going on here?" I mean, if it was as easy as sunshine, exercise and friends, I wouldn't have depression! Of course there was more to it than that. I just conveniently forgot.

I was so pleased and relieved to be feeling better when I returned from Austin, it seems I had a brain cramp. I forgot my doctor had changed my medications 3-4 weeks ago. Hmmm... How long does it typically take for psych medication to prove itself useful? About 3-4 weeks. Apparently there was more going on than just sunshine, exercise and friends.

Around the time I went to the hospital, my doctor and I decided to increase one of my meds and add another. I already took a handful of medications, so I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but I agreed. I was desperate. Once again, my doctor was right. The changes she recommended, I believe, are definitely making a difference. I'm glad.

Well, I'm glad, and I'm not so glad. That sounds utterly ridiculous, I know. Maybe conflicted is better than not-so-glad. Let me explain. I know I'd be dead if I didn't take psych medication. I'd also be dead if I never went to the psych hospital. But I hate going to the hospital, even though when I go it helps 100% of the time. I don't hate taking medication, but I don't love having to rely on them either, even though they also help most of the time. So I'm conflicted about adding more medication to my regime.

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with a stranger about depression. She knew nothing about me when she stated, "Well, I don't believe in people taking meds for depression." In an attempt to educate, I responded by saying taking meds for depression is no different than taking meds for diabetes. She cavalierly retorted, "I know. I have depression. I don't need meds to help me feel better." I was polite but quickly extricated myself from the conversation. If I hadn't, I might have angrily screamed, "Well goody for you! Aren't you lucky!"

I was angered by her blanket statement condemning anti-depressant medication. In reality, maybe I was a bit jealous. If I had mild depression, I might not "believe" in taking meds, either. But I don't have mild depression. I have severe, treatment-resistant, stubborn, overbearing, evil, debilitating depression which repeatedly attempts to take my life! So, while I'm grateful the medication changes (in addition to the sunshine, exercise and friendship) fought off the evil beast, I can't help but feel a bit conflicted about increasing the pills in my already overflowing handful.

Bottom line? Conflicted or not, I'm grateful to be feeling better. I'll continue to do whatever is necessary to move forward on this path. Functioning and feeling well, regardless of how I got here, is much preferable to debilitated and feeling hopeless.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Vacation cures all

I'm back in the cold after thriving for one week in the sunshine and warmth of Austin,Texas. The time spent with my friends seems to have been the cure for what ailed me. My mood is much improved. The sunshine, warmth, laughter and friendship was just what I needed. Seeing the newest and greatest running gear was helpful, too.

I attended 3 full days of The Running Event, the largest retailer event in the country for specialty running stores. Basically, companies participating in this event try to woo shoe store owners to carry their product, and they go to great lengths to convince owners (my friends) of this. There were probably 500 different companies set up in the convention center, from tiny start-ups to the largest shoe and apparel companies, like Brooks, Hoka, and UnderArmor. I got to see, try, and frequently even keep the latest technology in running shoes, apparel, socks, outerwear, and nutrition. Yes, it was heavenly.

The highlight of my week came when I got to meet and chat with two running pros, Des Linden and Jared Ward. Des is sponsored by Brooks, so she spent a few hours mingling with customers in the Brooks booth. Jared did the same with his sponsor, Saucony. While I spent more time chatting with Jared, 6th place at the Rio Olympics, I was absolutely thrilled to meet two-time Olympian and Boston Marathon Champion, Des Linden! She won the 2018 Boston Marathon! I have followed her career for years, so meeting her was special.

Des Linden!
Jared Ward
Austin, itself, was special as well. It's a unique city with lots to do, but I was most enamored with the weather. It was sunny and in the 70's the entire week. The sky was a brilliant blue every single day, and the warmth of the sun felt so good. It was so nice, I was motivated to go for a run. Actually, I ran 3 times! I couldn't resist the opportunity to spend as much time outside as possible. I explored the University of Texas campus during one run. Everything is huge! During my next two runs I enjoyed the beautiful path which winds along the shores of Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River. It was very motivating to be surrounded by tons of runners and cyclists. Running felt slow and at times heavy, but I was happy to be moving, nonetheless.

View from the path around Lady Bird Lake
I'm so grateful to my friends, Mary and Jim. I am humbled by their generosity and kindness. They thought I'd enjoy and benefit from this trip, and they were right. I'm feeling so much better today than last Sunday. Amazing that one week of friendship, warmth, and sunshine could make such a big difference. But it did. I have no way to thank them enough, but I hope they know how much I appreciated our time together.

Jim and Mary under a really cool tree
I returned to my life today. I go back to work tomorrow. I'm hoping my mood will hold under the stress of returning to work, remodeling and repainting much of my home, and the basic, everyday tasks of life. I'm celebrating every moment of feeling better, but I must confess I'm also waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's hard not to do that, but I'm doing my best to stay focused on feeling well instead. Forward I go.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Gifted a trip

I'm one lucky woman. I have some great friends. They own a running shoe store in Duluth, Minnesota, which is quite convenient for a shoe lover like me! But that's beside the point. My friend, Mary, contacted me last week and invited me to join them on a business trip to Austin, Texas. She thought I could use some sunshine. Fortunately my employer agreed. Sunshine here I come.

If you've been following the weather you might know Minnesota got hit by a massive blizzard this weekend. I live in southern Minnesota and only got freezing rain and sleet, but Mary had to dig out from under 20 inches of snow! We will be leaving it all behind tomorrow. I hear it's sunny and 70 in Austin.

I've been to Austin. I ran the marathon there several years ago. It's a very cool city. I'm looking forward to going back, feeling some warmth, soaking in some sunshine, and taking in all that Austin has to offer. We will be attending a huge shoe retailer show...more shoes, yeah! But we'll be playing, too. I'm really looking forward to getting away and spending time with two people I enjoy.

My mood is still fair to poor. In fact, even though I was preparing for something I'm looking forward to, it took maximum energy for me to pack for this trip. My resilience is low. So today, when I've been battling a migraine, my mood has dropped further. It hasn't helped that I've been unable to exercise for at least 6 days. That's a really long time for me. Motivation is gone. I'm hoping Austin sunshine will help me get back on track.

So I'm off. I'll let you know how things go. Thank you all for your continued comments and support over the last few weeks. This continues to be a very tough time, and I appreciate your kind words, wishes and prayers. Thanks.