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!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tallying judgment

Two days ago I met with a woman early in recovery. She was putting herself down left and right for not doing one thing "correctly" or not doing another as she thought she should. She thought being 6 months sober was not worth celebrating, as it was "no big deal." On and on she went, one self recrimination after another. I finally stopped her and pointed out how critical she was being, mostly of herself. She was passing judgments like they were going out of style.

She wasn't the only one. Yesterday I had to stop a patient from judging herself critically, too. This 94-year-old woman thought she should be doing better. Despite her newly fractured hip, she didn't think she should need "so much help." She kept replaying her "stupid fall" over and over again. I gently scolded her and encouraged her to be kinder to herself.

There are multiple definitions of the word judgment, but my favorite, and the one to which I most identify this week is simply, "criticism or censure." In my recovery, from both depression and alcoholism, I've come to understand how dangerous making judgments can be. It's as simple as this. Judgments are toxic to recovery. Unfortunately, understanding the toxicity of judgments doesn't necessarily prevent me from passing them.

I've gotten pretty good, but certainly not perfect, at avoiding judgment of others. When it comes to myself, however, I'm apparently still a little slow. Just last night, less than 24 hours after meeting with my newly sober friend, and less than 8 hours after gently scolding my patient, I was scolded myself. Oops.

While meeting with my sponsor, I was lamenting how poorly I was doing this and that. I wasn't good at this piece of my recovery program, not doing another piece as well as others in recovery. After my sponsor stopped chuckling, she cheerfully pointed out I was doing exactly the same thing for which I had reprimanded both my friend and my patient. I was critically judging myself, comparing my insides to others' outsides, she said. And what good was it doing? Absolutely no good whatsoever.

I've written about judgments here before. They are poison. They only serve to drag me down. I need to knock it off. I work hard to keep my mental health in check. Continuing to criticize myself, no matter how insignificant it may seem, will only undermine my efforts.

It appears it is again time for me to do the same assignment I assigned my friend two days ago. I'm going to carry around an index card tomorrow. Every time I catch myself making any kind of judgment, good or bad, about myself or others, I will tally it on the card. The goal is to raise my awareness. It's the first step toward change.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Well...

Hard to believe it's been a week since my last post. I apologize. I usually don't let so much time pass between posts. The lack of posts reflects the lack of anything interesting going on around here. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other right now. I'm doing what I need to do, working, taking care of Jet, attending my meetings, and exercising. Things are going well. Life is pleasantly boring, and I don't have much to say.

I did see my orthopedic surgeon this week regarding my Achilles recovery. He was pleased with how I was healing. He wants me to continue wearing the walking boot for at least two more weeks, but I'm now allowed to walk gently around my house without the boot. I'm also able to ride my bike or swim free of the boot. My right calf is already only half the size of the left, so I'm happy to begin the process of rebuilding.

I've been exercising the rest of my body as best I can. I'm lifting weights and working on my core at least 2 or 3 days a week. Now that I'm allowed to cycle, I look forward to getting in some good cardio work, too. My mouth appears to be healing from oral surgery. I'd really like it if it was already healed, as it still hurts, and until it's totally healed I worry about things like infection. With my luck over the last several months, it's hard not to worry.

Despite my worry thoughts, my mood is holding steady. I'm pleased to be feeling well. This has been a good, long stretch, not without it's share of challenges, and I'm hopeful I'll continue to feel mentally strong. It's easier to face challenges as they present themselves when my mood is good. It doesn't make for very interesting reading, but sometimes it's nice to have little to say. Carry on, my friends.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Standing Up

I've had a bit of a tough week. Of course, I'm still recovering from my Achilles surgery. And while I'm not having physical pain, just some soreness, being immobilized in a walking boot prevents me from doing the crucial exercise I need to prevent mental pain. I'm doing what I can, but I feel a mental heaviness settling in. I'm a little worried about that.

I am unfortunately not without physical pain. I'm still recovering from my oral surgery and some follow-up orthodontic work, which has been quite painful. Even today, 10 days later, I'm having trouble chewing and very sore all the time. I've come to believe oral pain has got to be one of the worst types of pain. There is really no way to rest your mouth, and you gotta eat(!), which just aggravates the pain over and over again. I'm trying to be patient and hang in there. I know it will eventually get better.

I returned to work this week. I was looking forward to getting out of my house and seeing patients again. I was really looking forward to getting out of myself. Instead, I was met with a pile of paperwork that didn't get done while I was away, as my supervisor didn't find anyone to replace me while I was gone. I spent three days completing overdue documentation on patients I barely knew or in some cases hadn't even seen. It was frustrating.

I was frustrated with my supervisor. Besides the paperwork issue, another situation arose where I felt like I wasn't being treated fairly. In fact, I felt like I was being taken for granted. That's an icky feeling. And it forced me to have a pair of difficult conversations with my supervisor.

I simply had to stand up for myself. Standing up for myself, while necessary, is rarely comfortable. It's almost always challenging. I was already feeling challenged working in a walking boot with a very painful mouth. The last thing I wanted to do was have a difficult sit down with my boss.

I contemplated ignoring the situation, but not addressing it certainly would have resulted in an energy-sucking resentment. I can't afford resentments. They are poisonous to my mental health.

It took me a few days and at least one sleepless night, but I did have a respectful conversation with my supervisor yesterday. We had a good discussion, and I said what I wanted to say. Things were clarified. I'm still not entirely happy with the situation, but I accept it. My acceptance does not require my agreement, but acceptance frees me from resentment and allows me to move on.

I'm glad I stood up for myself because I already feel better. Letting go and moving on is crucial for my mental health. As I move through this next week I'm hoping to shed the looming mental heaviness and be freed from more of my physical pain. Those are the goals. One day at a time. One day at a time.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fighter

Perhaps it was a reference in a book written by a man dying from ALS, or perhaps it was the result of sitting at home in pain and/or ill for the better part of a week, or maybe it was seeing Peyton Manning finish off a difficult season with a Super Bowl win; I don't know the exact reason, but I've been thinking a lot this week about what it means to be a fighter.

I've been referred to as a fighter at various points along this journey I call life. But is that true? Am I a fighter? What exactly does that mean? I don't know. Let's look at the record.

I survived a difficult, abuse-riddled childhood which included several stints in foster homes, a prolonged battle with severe depression, a serious suicide attempt, and 90 days in a locked adolescent psych hospital, all while excelling in sports and school. Does that make me a fighter?

I went on to excel in college, athletically and academically, which I fully paid for with academic scholarships and regular part-time employment, but college was no picnic either. College is where my abuse of alcohol began to reveal itself, where I was date raped after accepting a ride home from a fellow athlete after an off campus party, and where I faced cruel bullying after other athletes raised questions about my sexual orientation. Fighter?

I moved far away from home, to the big city of Boston, after college and got my Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology. I worked in that field for five years prior to deciding to change my career and return to my home state in order to pursue my Master's Degree in Physical Therapy. Those 27 months were the most academically challenging of my educational journey, but also the most rewarding, and I got it done.

Life was good. My spouse and I bought our first house, traveled frequently, and developed meaningful relationships with a host of friends. Working full time as a physical therapist was everything I had hoped it would be. I could relax and breathe. But had I gotten to this point because I was a fighter?

It was five years into my career as a physical therapist when the depression returned. Two years and two hospitalizations later, depression began to strip me bare. First I lost my spouse. Shortly thereafter I lost my job, my house, and my financial independence. My life was turned upside down.

Depression continued like a wrecking ball through a crystal shop. I lost friends, my tenuous sobriety, and the ability to care for myself without assistance. For years I bounced from hospitals to treatment programs to adult foster care. Life as I knew it had disintegrated.

I was living an unrecognizable life. Yet despite years of intractable depression, another serious suicide attempt, and some very destructive, dangerous drinking, I somehow landed on my feet. Is that because I was fighting?

It's now 15 years later. I'm sober 10 years. I'm living in my own home, which I somehow managed to purchase in the middle of the chaos, and working part-time. I've restored relationships with family and developed new relationships with supportive friends and treatment professionals. I've felt a new, different sense of peace.

But life is definitely not easy, especially recently. Perhaps that's why I'm wondering about this fighter label. In the past year alone, I faced the worst depression relapse of the past 15 years, which knocked me flat for 3 months, and among other things, severely depleted my financial resources. I have yet to recover anything resembling financial security.

This past year, I also ended a four year relationship. Ironically, during the last weekend I spent with my boyfriend I tore my Achilles tendon. As a result, I have not been able to run since April, 2015. I missed 4 marathons, including New York City, but more importantly, I'm missing a huge piece of my identity.

Health has been a huge challenge over the past year, right up to and including this past week. Besides two hospitalizations for depression, I endured multiple treatments for my Achilles, including surgery finally last Monday. A bout of pneumonia knocked me out of commission shortly after my second hospitalization, and back-to-back-to-back painful oral surgeries, including one just four days ago, have been a huge challenge. Does the fact that I'm still standing make me some kind of fighter?

I'm not feeling like a fighter today. I'm facing an unknown, and very expensive future with both my ankle and my mouth. And after battling an intestinal, flu-like illness over the past two days, I'm feeling worn out. I'm trying hard not to, but I'm beginning to feel like the deck is stacked against me. That's a dangerous feeling. It's a feeling which bumps up against self pity.

I don't like self pity. It's useless. It does me no good whatsoever. But I don't necessarily like the label of "fighter" either. It's a lot to live up to. I end up feeling like a weakling when I feel worn down or worried about the future. I question my strength and mental fortitude. That doesn't do me any good either.

It's actually best if I don't reflect too long or too hard on what I've been through. It's best if I keep my focus forward. The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, states, "We shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it," and "No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others."

Perhaps that's the purpose of this (extremely long) post. I need to remember where I've been, remember what I've fought through to get here, and use it to quell my worries about the future. Use it as a base of strength, rather than a basis for self pity, and allow my past to carry me forward. And if I can help one person along the way, so much the better. Carry on, my friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Surgery complete


I had my right Achilles tendon surgery yesterday. I'm back in my boot, non-weight bearing for the next few days, and then partial weight bearing with my crutches for rest of the week. I'm hoping to return to work next week, still in my boot, but without the crutches. I'll be in the boot for 2-4 weeks. Of course, I'm hoping for two rather than four.

The surgery itself was quite simple. I was a little anxious, but after they numbed up my ankle I didn't feel a thing. I'm feeling very fortunate, as I've had no pain since the procedure. I have nothing to complain about.

Today, if I can get through the pending blizzard descending upon us, I have my orthodontist appointment to get my bottom braces. And Thursday the real pain will begin, as I will have oral surgery to remove my ankylosed right canine tooth. It's a jam-packed week, but I'm hopeful it is the start of better health times to come.



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