Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 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!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

If my 2012 retrospective looked at only the first month and the last month of the year, one might conclude I had a pretty crappy year. In January I was hospitalized for 3 weeks with unrelenting, debilitating depression, which was only relieved after a full series of ECT treatments. That was challenging. In December I lost my soul mate, my loyal companion for the past 13 years, my dog, Puck. And since then I've been struggling to regain my unaccompanied footing. It's been hard. Yes, the opening and closing months of 2012 could have been better.

Despite those early and late traumas, however, 2012 wasn't all bad. In between I spent many wonderful hours with family, friends and Puck. Puck and I slowly transitioned from running together to daily walks together, time which I initially found boring but gradually learned to cherish. It was our special time. My mood remained relatively stable, with the exception of one late summer dip, and I was even able to decrease one med and totally eliminate another from my regimen. I ran injury free for the entire year, which began just 3 months after significant knee surgery. And I completed five marathons, including Boston, for the second consecutive year. Over the course of 2012, I managed to stay sober for one more year, find a new job which I enjoy, and resume a relationship with a special man. Hmmm...like I said, 2012 wasn't all that bad.

Entering 2013 I have high hopes that my mood will remain stable, my relationship will expand and grow, my running will be injury free, satisfying and joyful, my work will be prosperous and fulfilling, and my relationships with friends and family will be simple and loving. I'm aiming high in 2013.

What are your hopes for the new year? Let me be the first to propose a toast to good mental health for all of us. Be safe. Be happy. Be resilient. Happy New Year, my friends.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Seven Years

It's a big day today. Not only is it my nephew's 7th birthday, it is also the day, seven years ago, when I took my last drink. I am seven years sober today. I don't remember that last drink. There was nothing special about it. It was not monumental, but thankfully it was my last. Apparently, I had finally had enough.

Despite the notability of the day, there was nothing monumental about today either. It was just another day. In fact, I only thought about my sobriety anniversary a couple of times. And perhaps that is just the way it should be, for living sober is just the way it is today. I no longer struggle with sobriety. As long as I keep working my recovery program, hopefully that will continue to be the case.

Seven years ago the case was different. Getting sober was quite a struggle. I don't take my recovery for granted. I know that I am only one unchecked thought and one sip away from my next drunk. I know people who try and try but cannot seem to get this gift. I know people who have died before the miracle happened, and getting sober is a miracle. I don't know why I got it when others didn't. Thankfully, I did get it. I am very grateful to be sober today. Seven years...wow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas...

As I sit here alone on Christmas morning, it is quiet, sunny and cold outside. The sky is brilliant blue. I am sitting in front of my living room window, the typical spot in which I compose all of my posts. And while not a creature is stirring upon my street, I imagine the houses of my neighbors are teaming with excited revelry. My house is quiet. I am sipping my coffee, listening to NPR, and thinking.

I am trying not to focus on waking up alone. I am trying to avoid thinking about Puck's absence, picturing his smiling face and wagging tail instead. There have been no tears yet, but I am making a concerted effort not to be sad. It's been a long, long time, at least 13 years, since I awoke in an empty house, alone, on Christmas day.

Perhaps I am feeling sorry for myself. After all, it looks like there was some revelry here. There are still empty gift bags lying on the floor, the remnants of opening gifts two days ago with D, before he returned to his home. I don't know why, but I haven't bothered to pick them up and put them away yet.

I had a lovely weekend with D. We were particularly close. He was impressed with how I was handling Puck's death. I was happy to have his strong arms wrapped around me. We celebrated my birthday with a quiet, happy dinner with best friends, Bill and Cindy, on Saturday night. We were the only people in the restaurant, the food was fantastic, and we lingered in conversation for a long, long time. I felt surrounded by love.

Earlier in the day, D and I ran 6 miles together, and I ran another 9 Sunday evening after he left. I set out to run 4, but I couldn't bare to come home, so on running I went. Yesterday was supposed to be busy, but I only worked 3 hours, as the nursing home was locked down with the flu, and I had the rest of the day to myself. After napping for 3 hours, what else was there to do, I donned my running clothes again, and ran a chilly 5-miler as the sun sank. That helped.

I've taken to leaving the radio or television on while I'm out running or doing errands. It makes coming home a bit easier when there is noise in the house. College football tempted me to sit in solitude after my run last night, but instead I gathered myself for a Christmas Eve candlelight service at a local congregation. I was concerned about attending alone, but I felt the need to be closer to God, and I went anyway. As expected, I cried as we sang Silent Night with candles aglow, but the tears were brief, and in the end, I felt peace.

I know Puck is up there, at the right hand of God, bouncing and wagging his tail. I instructed God to let that tennis ball fly, and in Puck, he would never find a finer, more loyal friend. I asked God to take care of my boy until we meet again.

Merry Christmas, friends. Though we may never meet, I am humbled by the opportunity to spend this day with each of you. Thank you for your support. As I walk this journey with you by my side, I know I am never truly alone. I am grateful for that. Peace be with you on this special day.

Friday, December 21, 2012

One week


It's hard to believe it's been one week since Puck died. The hole in my heart still feels gaping and raw. I can't get used to my quiet house. Everything I did for the first time without him was difficult this week. Even doing the laundry was sad. I couldn't hear him padding about above my head, as I loaded the washing machine in the basement. And when I began cleaning my house, including vacuuming my floor, yesterday, I thought I might collapse in despair. I couldn't stop crying.

I cleaned because my house needed it, and because D is coming this weekend. I was able to work through the pain and get it done, although it took most of the day. I put some of Puck's things away, but I've left others out. His presence is still here even though most of his hair has been swept away. It will be really strange when I finally run out of little bundles of black hair to pick up. I'm sure there are still a few hiding around here right now.

It's been a strange week at work. It was alternately difficult and relieving. Sometimes it was a nice distraction. At other times I wanted the people around me to quit going about their lives as if nothing had happened! Couldn't they see how much pain I was in? Fortunately, those egocentric thoughts were somewhat rare. Actually, my co-workers have been very supportive and kind. Everyone knew Puck was my family.

Life is moving forward, even though I'd like to reverse time and erase what happened. I talk to my boy a lot. It's habit, and it's helpful. I am awaiting the arrival of his ashes, and I'm in contact with someone who hand makes memorial boxes in which to place them. I received the paw print from the vet clinic a couple of days ago. Actually, I received it on my birthday. I recognize every bump, crevice and crease. I think I even know which paw they used. I was surprised by that. But I guess 13 years does lend itself to intimate knowledge of a loved one. I miss you, Buddy. I love you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A not so Happy Birthday

It's my birthday today. I am 45 years old. It's hard to believe. I remember when I thought 35 was old! I'd go back to 35 in a heartbeat, but only if I could have the life skills and knowledge I have today with me. Otherwise, forget about it! Those were some tough early years of depression and drinking.

Today I am smarter, sober, and living with this devastating illness. Up until a couple of days ago, I would have said life is good. But today, life still feels heavy and sad. My house is so empty, and I feel so alone on this birthday. I miss Puck so much.

Typically, I'd have slid out of bed a couple of hours ago to a wagging tail and a smiling, expectant face. How could I not smile? Today, my radio blared the NPR news for over an hour before I could finally throw off the covers to face the day. It wasn't until several minutes later that I even remembered it was my birthday. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

I've already been on Facebook, where the birthday wishes with their shiny words and exclamation points almost feel cruel. These are the same Facebook friends who comforted me with beautiful thoughts and prayers just a couple days ago. I know they mean well, and I'm glad for their kind wishes for a good day, but the hurt is still too big. A good day, a happy day, feels very far away.

I lit a candle for Puck last night. There are a few pet loss web sites out there, and through them I learned of a worldwide, Monday night candle lighting ceremony for lost pets. At the designated time, I lit my candle for Puck. I caressed the lock of hair I had cut from his tail before he died. I talked to my boy. I cried. Did it help? I don't know. But I think I'll do it again next week, anyway.

As I told my psychologist yesterday, I'd give anything, and everything, to have just one more day with my boy. One more walk. One more tail wag. One more smile. One more moment to kiss him, caress him, and hold him tight. I love you, Buddy. I wish you were here for the beginning of my 45th year. Together, we would have a very happy birthday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Depths of Despair

My heart is broken today. I am overwhelmed with grief. My beloved Puck is no longer here by my side. No longer do I hear his nails click, click, clicking across the hardwood floors. His repositioning groans are absent. And his heavy sighs have disappeared. I dropped something on the floor and immediately expected his quizzical look off to my left, but it wasn't there. There are empty beds in every room, and lonely toys and balls strewn across the living room floor. I hesitate to vacuum for fear of losing every trace of his physical presence. I knew this time would eventually come, but it came so suddenly, and this is the hardest thing, by far, I've ever had to endure.

Puck developed internal, abdominal hemorrhaging around 8:00 PM Thursday night. I rushed him to the emergency vet clinic when it became clear to me that something was wrong. He was using every muscle he had just to breathe, and he couldn't stand up. The emergency vet found bloody fluid in his abdominal cavity. She surmised he had a malignant tumor which had ruptured. Apparently, this is quite common in older labs and retrievers.

There was a possibility it was an isolated incident, and the bleeding would stop, and he would fully recover. Surgery was an option, too. But where there is one tumor, there are often several, she said, and it would only be a matter of time before another one ruptured. Even with surgery, his life expectancy would likely have been only 3-6 months. It was too little reward, I thought, for the pain I would have had to put him through.

He stabilized enough in the emergency clinic that I was able to take him home. We laid on the bed together. My friend Cindy also spent the night. He didn't sleep, and by the middle of the night, it became clear he wasn't improving. It was at that point that I made the most difficult decision I've ever had to make. It was time to let him go.

I snuggled with him and tried to make him comfortable for the rest of the night. Cindy drove us to the vet yesterday morning, and we began the process of saying goodbye. Cindy and I stayed with him through the end. It was impossible. Even my vet cried. Everybody loved Puck.

I know today he's in a better place. I have to believe he's running free in some unbelievably magical place, without pain and with pure abandon, just the way he did in his earlier years. I have to hold on to the possibility that we will meet again. I have to, or the pain is simply too much to bear. My heart is broken. I'm overwhelmed with grief. I'm trying my best to walk through it with dignity and grace. I'm sure that's how Puck would've wanted it. I love you and miss you, Buddy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Puck: My most beautiful Boy

My most beautiful boy. My companion for the last 13 years. My running partner. My friend. Died today. I don't know how I'll get through life without him, but I'll try my best to approach each day with anticipation and a smile. Just like he did. Prayers are appreciated.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 Years

I passed a dubious anniversary recently. Maybe some of you noticed. In the introduction to my blog, where it used to say eleven years, it now says twelve. It's now been 12 years in which I've been suffering from, fighting against, surviving despite, and living with depression. Twelve years...

This life-altering journey began in November, 2000. The depth of my illness, alcoholic drinking, and ECT have robbed me of much of my memory of the last 12 years, especially those early years. Maybe that's for the best. Memories can be a double-edged sword. But while I don't remember many details of this battle, I do vividly remember the person I was prior to this long journey. And while I'd like to retrieve a lot of pre-illness things, which I lost along the way, I do not miss that lost person.

This illness stole much from me, but I'd rather not focus on that today. Depression also gave me an opportunity to grow. It challenged my perseverance, my toughness, and my character. It taught me acceptance and humility. It changed me from a self-centered, controlling, stressed, know-it-all to a more open, get-along person who has come to know some serenity and peace. Today I can see beyond the boundaries of me and put myself in an other's shoes. I've grown. I'm grateful for that.

Don't misunderstand me. Depression is not something I'd wish on my worst enemy. The stigma alone is more than most can bear. This illness debilitates bodies, clouds minds, and steals souls. It is a challenge nobody deserves. I hate it.

These last twelve years were full of challenges which felt too overwhelming to overcome. But overcome I did. My survival was often ugly and usually painful. Depression took me to the edge of life more than once. But I'm still here. Stronger. Kinder. Better. On this dubious anniversary, at least I can celebrate that.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finished

It wasn't my best day today, but it wasn't my worst either. I had hopes going into today's Dallas Marathon of perhaps bettering my time from The Twin Cities Marathon in October, but it was not meant to be.

I may have started too fast. I think that may be what I find when I look at my mile splits later. By mile 8, I was laboring, but I often have bad patches between miles 8 and 10 in a marathon, so that wasn't totally unexpected. I slowed my pace a bit, and tried to rest. I began the self-talk at that point in time, too. Just get to mile 10, and then, just get to mile 13, and then 16, 19, and 20. That's what I told myself.

I began walking up a long hill just after mile 19. That hill did not level off until after mile 21. I ran some of it and walked some of it. Between miles 21 and 22 I tried to run the whole way, and I think I did. I got a tiny second wind. I ran more than I  walked all the way up to mile 24, but at that point my legs just quit. I lost a lot of time over those last 2.2 miles. It was a struggle. I was very happy to cross that finish line!

I finished in a respectable 3:52:40. Like I said, it wasn't my best nor my worst race. Twin Cities was much more enjoyable. This one was a lot of work! I'm pleased to have just completed my 20th career marathon. That is something of which I am proud, especially as 10 of those 20 have been completed in just the past two years. I think I'll enjoy a little easy running for awhile. Of course, I'm already looking at the calendar toward my next marathon challenge!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ready, I think

I'm packed and ready to go to Dallas tomorrow. I've decided not to bring my computer with me, so it may be a few days before my next update. I'm looking forward to getting into Dallas, settling into the hotel, shopping at the expo, picking up my number, and then finding a good place to eat. Eating quality carbohydrates and resting will be my focus for the next couple of days. I'm anxious to get to the starting line. As usual with the marathon, it's difficult to know what type of performance to expect. I think I'm still in fairly good shape, so I'm hoping for the best. I'm flying back home after the marathon Sunday evening, and I'll be back at work Monday morning. I'll post all about it as soon as I have the chance. Until then...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Five days and counting

I just finished a busy day of running, working, errands, a meeting, walking Puck, and packing. I've got two more busy days ahead of me before my plane leaves for Dallas on Friday. The Dallas Marathon is Sunday morning. I'm now experiencing the preparatory anxiety and excitement I routinely get in the days before a marathon. It's all part of the process. And I like it!

Things continue to go well. Actually, considering I discontinued one of my medications a few weeks ago, with my doctors reluctant permission, things are going extremely well. My mood is good, but even better, I've noticed I'm much less fatigued than I've been in, well, years! I still take a nap just about every day, but my naps are shorter, and if I miss my nap, I don't suffer nearly as much. It's nice. It's really nice.

D and I are also doing well, I think. We haven't seen each other since my last visit to his home in early November, but we talk frequently and text each other daily. Last night, D dropped a bit of a bombshell on me when he asked me to accompany him to The Caribbean next month. Wow! We have no definitive plans yet. He's "researching it." I'm pretty excited, but I'm remaining cautious in case it doesn't happen. It would be wonderful to spend 4 or 5 days together on a beach far from home. I'll let you know how things develop.

That's it for today. I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunities I have in life today. I'm grateful to be feeling well. I'm grateful for fulfilling work. I'm grateful to be running well. And I'm really grateful for the support of friends, professionals, the recovery community, and those of you reading this blog.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Life's little moments

Yesterday morning our occupational therapist entered the office and immediately began blaring, "The Old Gray Mare" from her i-pod speakers. We all laughed, as just a few days before she and one of our very elderly patients were singing the chorus to that song as they worked together. It was the only way our OT could keep the patient on task. We use whatever techniques necessary to get our patients to work with us sometimes.

Later in the morning, while the OT was working with the same patient, she played, "The Old Gray Mare" for her. We all, including our very elderly patient, began singing along. Before we knew it, our typically wheelchair-bound patient stood up and began shaking her hips while she sang. It was beautiful! That was the most activity we had seen from this patient in quite awhile. It was great fun!

Today I was half-heartedly cursing the OT for playing that song, as it was stuck in my head for my entire ten mile run! But actually I didn't mind the repetitive tune, because every time I heard the song in my head I saw our patient standing up, shaking her hips, and singing out loud. It was, for me, a ten mile smile. Pay attention to life's little moments, my friends. They are precious.



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