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, March 26, 2018

Reflecting

I've been traveling a bumpy road the last several days. Every time I think I'm feeling better, my mood dives into the pit, and then I feel better again, maybe even normal, before it dives back downward. It's been frustrating, but overall I think things are looking up. My mood is better than it was last week at this time when I couldn't finish my work day. I worked more than a full day today, so things are improving. I think.

I'm feeling reflective today. It turns out, 15 years ago today I was fired from my physical therapy job. I worked in a hospital outpatient clinic. I loved my job, and I was good at what I did, but I had depression. I was in an inpatient treatment program for my illness when I was "let go."

I learned of my firing via a letter I received 15 years ago today. At the time, I had missed approximately 2 months of work, and the hospital could "no longer hold my position." I pointed out to the hospital human resources staffer that one of our doctors was, at that moment, out for more than 2 months due to illness, and her position was being held. Of course, she had cancer. Enough said.

I didn't realize it at the time, but being fired spurred me to become an open, willing advocate for people with mental illness. I fought to get my job back, and when I didn't, I sued. I won. But I never did get that job back. Instead, I took on a bigger fight.

I began publicly speaking about my illness and about the stigma surrounding it. I've spoken to several church groups, to countless college and high school students, and at many public educational forums. Over the years I've done a radio broadcast, a newspaper interview, and a feature on my local television news. I had the tremendous opportunity to do the Healthination educational videos, and of course, I began this blog. I became something I never planned to be, an advocate, of sorts. It was all done in an effort to educate, reduce stigma, and bring about change. I hope I've made a dent.

So I'm feeling reflective today, 15 years after receiving a shocking, devastating, cowardly letter. It was a letter which began a journey; a journey which is yet to conclude. It's been difficult, and surprising, and exhausting, and rewarding. And if my journey has kept at least one person, receiving treatment for mental illness, from losing their beloved job, it's been worth it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Moods and Migraines

If you've been following along, you know I've not been feeling well. Yesterday I didn't feel well, and I got a migraine. Fun times. My mood has been a little low, a little agitated, and a little impatient with a bit of distracted thrown in. I'm not sure people realize there is more to depression than just feeling low. Before my mood hits rock bottom, I actually go through a range of other emotions.

Before my mood tanks, I often feel like I'm feeling now, distracted and irritable. You can understand why I'm a bit concerned. Anger, frustration, muddled thinking, and severe fatigue are all signs I'm not doing so hot. Lack of motivation, isolation, and resentment often add to the debilitating mix. Depression is so much more than a low mood.

I've definitely been isolating lately. It's hard to go out. When I feel really poor it's actually painful to be seen. It's weird, but if you've been there, you probably know what I mean. I've been doing my best to force myself out the door, with varying degrees of success, lately.

I did make it to a meeting on Saturday, which was a huge accomplishment. I've had to work really hard to get out and exercise. Most days I've done something, though not much. My arthroscopically repaired right knee has been more, rather than less, sore, which is adding to my frustration and lack of motivation. If I were able to run right now, I think I'd be coping and feeling much better.

I am concerned about my right knee. I saw my orthopedic doctor a few days ago. He wants me to be patient, told me he had to do "a lot more in there" than we planned, and then said it could take up to three months to get back to running. So much for a simple procedure and getting back on the road quickly. That was the plan. Apparently my surgeon had to scrape more damaged cartilage than he originally anticipated in order to rid my knee of the bone spur. I'm in for a lot longer recovery, and I'm not happy about that.

Worries about not being able to run again, or run the way I'd like to run, are now crowding my brain. Like I said, I know I'd be coping with my current struggles better if I could hit the road. Maybe I wouldn't be having the struggles at all. Who knows...

One thing I do know, I'm not feeling well. But, hey, at least I don't have a migraine today. I guess that's one positive change.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

4 by 3 Metaphor

Five. That's how many times the cycle instructor had us ride for 4 very hard minutes followed by 3 minutes of recovery last night. That I made it to the class was a monumental effort. But I got there. Then I found out what Mr. Instructor had in store. You'd think I would have hopped off the bike and headed to the door, but I chose to stay. Challenged. I've been feeling so heavy and slow and low lately, what did I have to lose? Even if I just sat there and spun the peddles around, it would have been more than I had done in days.

So I stayed and peddled, and when Mr. Instructor said, "Go," I peddled really hard for 4 minutes. After the first interval I was certain I could maybe do one more, but that would be it. But during that first 3 minute recovery period, I regained my strength, and pondered the potential of finishing up to three. Each successive interval was beyond difficult. Each 3 minute recovery period less and less restorative. I had to recommit myself to start each time my 3 minutes were up. Intervals 4 and 5 stretched my legs and lungs beyond what I thought possible. I took the last interval one minute at a time. Just like I do in a marathon, I thought to myself, I can do anything for 2 more minutes, and then one more minute, and then 30 seconds, and then I finished.

I finished, wrung out and totally whipped, but totally satisfied. I could barely catch my breath, which by that point was quite audible (thank God for loud studio music), but I didn't implode. I knew I'd feel better soon. I'd recover. And recover I did. I accomplished something I doubted I could do.

Overcoming pain, discomfort, and doubt seems like an exceptional metaphor for my depression. Like every 4 minute interval, each one more challenging than the last, I'm reminded my depression symptoms are temporary, too. I don't have a nice little console counting down the minutes of each depression episode like I did on the bike, but in the past my depression symptoms have always passed.

I don't feel good right now. I'm tired, distracted, low and slow. I doubt my ability to make it through. But then again, I made it through those incredibly difficult intervals last night, so maybe, just maybe I'll be able to hang on through this.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Invisible

Perhaps this post is related to my last post. I wrote about two professional athletes who revealed their struggles with mental illness. Unlike their cases, however, all of my coworkers and friends know I have depression. I feel it's important to put my illness out there alongside other stigma-free, socially acceptable illnesses. I appreciate coworkers questions and support when depression relapses take me out of work or put me in the hospital. Unfortunately, for my occasional day to day struggles, I'm still invisible. This became painfully obvious to me over the past couple of days.

I didn't want to go to work yesterday or today. Not only did I not want to go, getting there felt nearly impossible. For 3 days, getting anywhere has been impossible. But I showed up and worked. I struggled through minute by minute. I was distracted and inefficient and distant, but I did my job. It sucked. And nobody knew.

Unlike the occasional cold, or flu, or squabble with a spouse, moments where commiseration with coworkers is expected, feeling low, distracted, or cranky due to depression doesn't feel the same. I don't think my coworkers want to know those nitty-gritty details. What's more, I don't think I want them to know how often I feel very, very off. Once a week or once a month, it's too much. And what are they supposed to say? Everyone can relate to feeling crappy due to a cold, but feeling detached due to depression...not so much.

So I guess it is my choice to remain invisible during these short, difficult stints, but that doesn't make it any easier. Besides feeling distracted and detached, which made my interactions with my patients quite challenging and paperwork nearly impossible, I felt heavy and tired and weak yesterday. I wasn't creative. I wasn't lighthearted. I wasn't patient. These are qualities on which I pride myself. The day was a slow slog which lasted forever, and I didn't feel good about my performance.

Perhaps it would have been nice if my coworkers had known I wasn't feeling well, but then again maybe I would have felt too vulnerable. It's hard to say. I guess I chose acting stoic and professional over feeling vulnerable, but that wasn't simple. It was hard. And I felt invisible. And invisible hurts.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Overwhelmingly postive

In recent weeks, two professional basketball players opened up about their struggles with mental illness. One player revealed he suffers from an anxiety disorder, one which led to a panic attack which hospitalized him in the midst of a game. The other player detailed some of the gory details of his depression, details like struggling to get out of bed and/or spending most of the day in bed without energy to face the day.

While I don't have an anxiety disorder, I certainly related to the player with depression. And like many across the sports world, I applaud these players for letting this piece of their overall health come to light. Each player, after all, stated the response he's gotten to his revelation has been overwhelmingly positive. How nice for them.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very pleased these two players have come out of the proverbial closet. Shedding any light on mental illness is extremely important, especially when the light is revealed by men of tremendous privilege, adoration, skill and wealth. Maybe these two instances will wake people up to the fact that anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can get sick.

Wouldn't it be nice if those of us without multi-million dollar contracts got the same loving, hero-worshiping treatment when we revealed our own mental struggles? Wouldn't it be great if us working stiffs also had access to on demand services, top notch medication management, and employer accommodations? Twitter feeds filled with congratulations for our bravery, rather than avoidance of our weakness, would also be welcome. Wouldn't that be nice?

One day... Maybe one day when each of us reveals we, too, have a mental illness, our revelation won't require anxious hand wringing, carefully worded downplaying of the seriousness of our condition, loss of financial security, and uncomfortable social isolation. Wouldn't that be nice? I pray the recent professional player revelations will push the door open to such "overwhelmingly positive" acceptance just a bit further. Every little bit helps.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fear inducing thoughts

I've written about this here in the past, and I don't really want to write about it again, but it's happening so here I go. I've been having negative, scary thoughts again. This happens to me from time to time. I've asked my psychiatrist about it, and she tells me it's just one of the symptoms of my depression. That doesn't really appease me, but I guess it's one more thing I'll have to accept.

Acceptance doesn't mean I have to like them, though, does it? I don't like them at all. Random thoughts of horrible things happening to Jet (my dog), or my friends, or even my doctor? I don't understand it. They are scary, and detailed, and sometimes quite vivid. At times I am able to recognize the thought immediately and distract myself. But sometimes I find myself immersed in one before I realize what's going on. Before I can extract myself and the scary feelings the thought provokes. That's when I get a bit distressed.

What concerns me most is I'm feeling well right now. My mood is generally good. I can understand struggling with negative thoughts when my mood sucks, but that's not the case right now. So I don't get it. It doesn't make sense. Why do these thoughts crop up, and why now? They make me feel off kilter and scared. Does anyone else experience thoughts like this? If so, I'd love to hear what you think.



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