Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 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, June 24, 2017


It's been a rough couple of days here. My back appears to be healing, at least in the area of L4 where the surgery was performed, however I now have increased pain a few vertebrae below L4. It is significant pain, too. It hurts just to the left of approximately S1, the uppermost vertebra of the sacrum. It's been difficult to find a comfortable position, and the pain is waking me several times a night. I called my surgeon's office yesterday. The nurse I spoke with assured me it was likely pain related to my surgery and encouraged me to be more consistent with taking my pain medication. I hope she's correct, but I fear she isn't.

I'm pretty sure this pain is not related to my surgery. I think it's part of the original injury but at a different vertebral level. I complained about this pain a few days prior to my surgery, which is when it first presented itself, and was told it was likely referred pain from my L4 injury. I was hopeful they were correct then, too, but I don't think they are. This pain feels different and acts differently.

Despite my concerns, I did as told yesterday. I took my pain pill every four hours as prescribed. It didn't seem to make a difference. Now it's the weekend, and I hurt. I'm doing what I can to relieve the pain and remain as active as possible, within the limits of my post-operative restrictions, of course. I'm taking my pain med regularly, icing my back, walking half a block, and strengthening my left leg as best I can. I really hope this pain subsides, as my surgical team assures me it will, but I remain dubious. I'm already anticipating I'll be on the phone with them first thing Monday morning. I just hope they listen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


I'm home and recovering from my back surgery. My surgery on Monday went very well. The surgeon was able to remove a larger than expected L4 disc fragment, which had already calcified, without having to cut through the vertebra. So I still have all of my vertebral bone intact. Usually the surgeon needs to cut a small window in the vertebra in order to reach the disc fragment, but my disc fragment had extruded so far laterally, he was able to get at it without having to cut through the bone. I think that's a good thing.

I woke up in the recovery room relieved. I was able to wiggle all my toes. Paralysis, though only a 1% risk, was possible. I was in pain, but the pain was almost all in my back rather than in my left leg, so that was a good thing, too. As I sit here right now, my left leg is pain free and the numbness and tingling I had prior to surgery is almost gone. I'm thrilled.

My strength, too, is returning. My left quads and hip seem to be back to nearly full function. They are less weak than they were prior to surgery. I continue to have foot drop, but I knew the foot drop would likely take several weeks to resolve. I'm hopeful that's the case, and anxious to regain that strength. Foot drop is now the only thing between me and eventually running again.

I have a ton of movement and lifting restrictions for the next 12 weeks. That's going to be tough, but I'm going to do my best to be a good patient. I've already gained 3 pounds, and things that used to be muscular, like my tummy, have gotten soft. As a runner, that's really difficult to deal with. I guess I'll just have to quit looking in the mirror for a few months.

The only exercise I'm allowed right now is taking very short walks multiple times per day. Sounds easy, but so far, it hasn't been. I get really tired and really stiff after walking just half a block. Jet, too, is going a bit nuts. I feel really bad, as there's nothing I can do to relieve his boredom. I can't even take him on my short walks. If he pulled suddenly, I'd be screwed. I guess we're both going to be soft, heavy and stir crazy by the time I heal.

It's going to be a long road, but at least I'm on my way to healing now. I'm moving in the right direction, and there is an end in sight. That's way better than what was happening over the past 4 weeks. I'm grateful for that, and I'm looking forward to eventually getting back to my life. Despite everything, my life is good. And I'm hopeful it will only get better from here.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Surgery scheduled

The saga of my back will continue for another 12+ weeks. I am scheduled for back surgery on Wednesday, June 21st. Recovery and restrictions after surgery will last at least 12 weeks. The surgery will be a minimally invasive procedure to remove the extruded piece of disc currently displacing my L4 nerve root. There are lots of risks, of course, but they each occur 1% or less of the time, and the chance of never regaining my ankle flexion is high if I don't have the surgery. I can't run with foot drop. There is a chance I will not regain my ankle flexion even with the surgery, but surgery is the best option to make me a runner again. I can't imagine my life without running, so the decision was actually pretty simple.

I'm anxious, of course, about the surgery. I'm trying to keep the negative thoughts at bay. The thoughts of waking up in even more pain or paralyzed are the worst, but I push them aside, as I must, or I wouldn't be able to move. Even with no surgical complications, it will likely be a long time before I find out if I'll be able to run again. It's going to be a long road of re-strengthening what is now a very weak left leg. I've already lost so much.

Thinking about what I've lost, and what could have been saved if my MRI had been read correctly, and if I had been listened to by my inpatient treatment providers; it's of no use to me now. I sent a letter to the radiologist explaining the negative trickle down effect his erroneous reading has had on me and my care. I honestly answered all of the questions on the hospital satisfaction survey I received. I don't expect an apology. I don't need one. I did what I could. Now I have to work on letting go of my resentments. Now I have to face and deal with what I can control in today alone. So that's what I'm trying to do. Let go. Move forward. And pray for the best outcome possible.

UPDATE: Surgery moved up to Monday, June 19th. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Spine Consult

It's hard to believe I've been dealing with this painful back injury for three solid weeks now. I'm beginning my fourth week without work tomorrow. I've been humbled by friends and coworkers who have mowed my lawn and arrived at my door with groceries and gift cards for gas. I'm so grateful for their generosity. I'll have to use my savings to pay the bills for as long as I can, but not having to worry about gas and groceries makes my life incredibly less stressful. At least I can go about my day to day activities without worrying about how much money is in my wallet.

I'm hoping for a quicker resolution to my back injury after seeing a spine specialist on Friday. During her exam there was no denying my pain, left leg weakness, loss of sensation, and loss of reflexes. She referred me to a surgeon. I see him this Wednesday.

Surgery is the likely option now, as my symptoms have continued to worsen. If the surgeon agrees, I'm going to push for surgery before the end of the week. Each passing day brings greater and greater apprehension for me. I can hardly control the worry thoughts. The longer this goes, and the weaker my leg gets, the less likely I am to have a full recovery after surgery.

A full recovery would mean the return of all of my leg strength. At this point it's possible that won't happen, even after they surgically relieve the pressure on my L4 nerve root. If I don't regain my leg strength, I would either not be able to run as I wish, or not be able to run at all. That thought scares me out of my mind. If I had the choice I would rather lose my home than lose the ability to run. A roof over my head can be replaced. The peace, serenity, joy, and drive I get from running can't.

That pretty much says it all. I'm scared, really scared, and anxious to get this thing fixed. I'm dealing with the pain. I'm doing my best to combat the inevitable progression of the weakness. And I'm continuing to attend to my responsibilities as well as I can. I'll let you know how it all goes. And if you're into prayers, I'm take them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Patient advocate

I discovered one thing as a result of my recent back injury. If I didn't advocate, and advocate strongly, for myself, nobody else would have, and my care would suffer. I don't want to get into all the specifics here. I already delineated how inaccurate my hospital discharge summary and MRI reports were in a previous post. Unfortunately, most of my follow-up appointments were preceded by the treatment providers reading those inaccurate reports. I ended up one step in the hole prior to the provider even saying hello. They approached me thinking they already knew my story, and in a few cases actually tried to make my symptoms match what they read rather than looking at me objectively. I felt very fortunate to be a physical therapist, as I knew what the treatment provider should have been looking at. As a result, I had to advocate, and advocate strongly, for myself.

The trick to being my own advocate, I'm learning, is gentle, factual, and very politically correct pressure. I spent the weekend reviewing my available records (thank God for online medical records), and composing written messages to 3 different providers. As a result I got one specialist appointment moved up a week, got some paperwork I needed for my employer completed, and had one procedure considered which was previously deemed unnecessary. Oh, and prior to the weekend, through a series of messages and phone calls, I got my MRI report amended so it now accurately describes my injury. It was an exhausting, tense process, but it was worth it.

I'm relieved. I'm really glad I took the initiative to be my own advocate. I'm glad I have knowledge of the human body and of neurological testing. And I'm grateful I have just enough communication skills to effectively communicate with each provider, presenting my case without offending or angering any of them. (Interestingly, this is exactly the kind of energy and impetus I do not have during a depression relapse.) I feel like my treatment plan is now thorough and heading in the right direction.

As a patient, I rely on my caregivers to be skilled, thorough, and nonjudgmental. I feel for patients who do not have access to some of the knowledge and resources I had during this process. How do they assure effective treatment for themselves? As a healthcare provider, I'm frustrated by the presumptions, incomplete examinations, and mistakes I experienced throughout this process. I understand how some of that happens, but it happened entirely too often during my hospitalization and follow-up appointments. That is disheartening.

I guess the lesson is we all have to be patient advocates. We have to be patient patients yet be unafraid to speak up, gently but decisively, when we feel more needs to be done. If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will? Lesson learned.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Pain is exhausting

I wish I had something more positive to write about today, but unfortunately I'm still in pain. There has been no resolution to my back issues. My left leg remains so weak I am unable to walk without increased pain and a significant limp. I am using crutches for any distance beyond my kitchen to living room. I am on pain medications, which as a sober person makes me quite nervous, but they are necessary for the pain I am experiencing. I continue to have difficulty finding positions which are comfortable, and even if I find one, it only remains comfortable for a short time. Sleep occurs a couple of hours at a time, and I am generally exhausted. Pain, it turns out, is exhausting.

My life has not only been interrupted, it's been entirely halted. I can't work. I can't run. I can hardly get dressed. Movement is painful. Not moving is painful. I'm confined to my home 23 hours a day. I need help with most of my household chores, but so far I've resisted asking. I hate asking for help, but I know I'm eventually going to have to relent. One of my coworkers did mow my lawn a few days ago, which was a relief. I was grateful he offered. Jet is bored and restless, as he also went from running 40 miles per week to zero, but there's not a thing I can do about it. I feel unproductive and useless.

Needless to say, my mood is getting worse and worse. I'm trying hard to stay hopeful, but with each passing day I feel that hope slipping away. I'm certainly worried this issue is going to lead to a depression relapse, but I haven't given up fighting yet. I'm working with my employer to find something I can do to help out, even if just for an hour or two. I'm beginning physical therapy today. And I've walked on the Alter-G (gravity-eliminating) treadmill, at only 40% of my body weight and for only 20-25 minutes, twice in the last several days. It wasn't much, but at least I got to move. I've fought through a lot over the past couple of years. I guess this is just one more battle I have to conquer. I'm scared, anxious and incredulous, but I'm still fighting.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Disappointment and Anger

I'm home from the hospital. My back is only slightly better. I now have numbness, tingling and weakness in my left leg, which necessitates walking with a cane around the house and crutches for anything of any distance. I am now two days away from missing my marathon, and more importantly, 3 days from missing skydiving with my brother, niece and nephew--an outing which was my idea and which I arranged. I'm so disappointed I don't even think I'll be able to go watch them jump. I can run more marathons, but missing my niece, nephew and brother's first skydive is an opportunity I'll never have again. That fact has had me in tears more than once today.

My last day in the hospital was quite challenging. Throughout the day it became very clear I was being treated differently based on my mental health diagnoses. I had concerns about going home as nothing had been resolved, but I was being treated like I was attention seeking. My practical concerns and physical complaints were dismissed. I had a nurse practitioner argue with me over my MRI results, results she insisted were benign but according to a specialist I had just seen actually were far from benign. And as I was leaving, members of my inpatient treatment team flat out refused to write up a referral for outpatient physical therapy. No reason. They stated I had to get a referral from my primary doctor instead, which is bullshit. I get patients everyday from Mayo Clinic who are referred to me by their inpatient doctors and providers. What benefit she got out of refusing to write up a referral I can't imagine.

As far as my MRI, I learned there are many ways to interpret an MRI depending on which slides you look at, and only the real specialists understand how to properly read them. After my MRI, the initial radiologist read it as "benign." Then it was read as "basically benign" with a small disc bulge at L5 (that's the fifth lumbar vertebra) by the physical medicine doctor, but since my numbness, tingling, weakness, and reflex changes all corresponded to an injury at L4, that didn't really make any sense. Nevertheless, he ordered an epidural injection to L5. I was game for anything that might help but frustrated the images did not match my symptoms, and nobody seemed to care.

Fortunately, when I arrived later in the neuroradiology department for my injection, the neuroradiology consultant correctly read my MRI as having a large "disc extrusion" at the level of L4 (picture a really full zit popping at full force and squirting its contents into the space where the L4 nerve root exits the spinal canal) and a smaller "disc protrusion" (a full zit which has not yet popped) at L5. She showed me the pictures. The extrusion and protrusion were clear as day, and more importantly, both findings were fully supported and corroborated by my physical symptoms.

The fabulous neuroradiologist attempted 3 times to inject corticosteroid medication into my L4 space, but she couldn't get the injections to work, so she attempted an injection at L5, which did work. My pain lessened (an L5 symptom), but my leg numbness, tingling and weakness (which are all correlated with L4) has, as expected, gotten worse.

It's been a rough couple of days. My mood has certainly taken a big hit. And I'm still fuming at the way I was treated as my inpatient doctors found less and less evidence, at least in their eyes, of anything actually being physically wrong. (Therefore, it must just be the mentally ill chick seeking attention and making things up, right?) Last but not least, my discharge summary doesn't open with a statement about my excruciating pain, which was the reason I was hospitalized. Instead it highlights my mental health diagnoses, first and foremost, before eventually mentioning I had acute back pain. Recurrent depression belongs in my past medical history, for sure, but it had nothing to do with my back pain, and it certainly did not need to be highlighted in the first sentence of my discharge summary.

The stigma of mental illness follows us everywhere. Anyone who thinks it doesn't impact our care for a variety of conditions is either clueless or blind. It's stigma! It sucks! And it really pisses me off!

Monday, May 22, 2017


Well...file this one under, "You're not going to believe this." Or, "You've got to be kidding me!" I am in the hospital. No, not that hospital. I am on a medical floor of my local hospital. The pulled muscle I wrote about in my last post developed into something much bigger and not better a couple of nights ago.

Just after midnight Sunday morning, I awoke from sleeping due to a small coughing fit. Since the coughing hurt my back, in the area of the pulled muscle, I tried to brace myself. Unfortunately, when I coughed just a few seconds later I felt immediate and tremendous pain in my left low back. The pain was so intense I collapsed on my bed and cried out in agony. I laid there barely breathing for several minutes as my back seared with pain.

Since I live alone, I got scared. I was in so much pain I wasn't sure I would be able to get out of bed and retrieve my phone in the next room. Eventually, with Herculean effort, I did get out of bed. I grabbed my phone, an ice pack and 2 Aleve, but I barely made it back to my bed. I was nauseous and sweating and lightheaded. That's when I got really scared. I almost passed out. No matter what I did or how I positioned myself, the pain was unrelenting.

I hated to do it, but I began dialing friends. The first three did not answer. Finally my friend, Joan, wearily said hello. Long story short, she brought me to the emergency room where I stood, sat and laid down in agony for hours while they tried one pain med after another. Multiple doses of Valium, Toradol, Tylenol, and Oxycodone were useless. I couldn't move without getting nauseous and lightheaded. When 2 doses of Fentanyl, the med of last resort, didn't help, they had to admit me to the hospital.

So I've been here for almost 48 hours, and things have not improved much. I'm being medicated around the clock, and that has at least allowed me to uncomfortably lie in bed. I've slept a few hours here and there, but changing positions is excruciating, and walking is nearly impossible. I took my first steps with a walker about an hour ago. I made it 10 feet. That was discouraging to say the least.

I'm currently awaiting an MRI, but that likely won't be done until tomorrow afternoon. Apparently it's a very popular machine. The docs are thinking I may have injured my L5 disc. I actually kind of hope they're right, because at least we'd then have a plan, an epidural injection of corticosteroid to stifle the inflammation. Until then I'll be stuck here in my hospital bed getting more and more restless.

I'm so discouraged. Obviously this means running a marathon in 6 days and jumping out of an airplane with my niece and nephew 7 days from now are out of the question. After all that training and planning... And I was so looking forward to getting back to my regular work schedule now that I'm finished with TMS treatments, but no, instead I'm sitting here earning nothing again. Who gets severely injured coughing in bed?? Unbelievable. I'm so disappointed. Prayers appreciated.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Under the weather

It's been raining for 7 hours. Seven hours. It's cold, wet and gray outside. Unfortunately, it's not much better inside. I'm still feeling under the weather. The virus which began with a sore throat last Sunday has now settled in my chest. I've been trying to rest and take care of myself, but I can't seem to shake the fatigue. With my next marathon only 8 days away, I'm concerned.

In addition to the virus, I had major oral surgery on Thursday. After 3 years my braces are finally off, and I had implant surgery for two missing teeth, the right canine and an upper left molar, about 48 hours ago. I'm not in a lot of pain, but my face is quite swollen. The doc told me to lay low, so that's what I've been doing. Laying low, however, is not great for my mood.

In addition to the virus and the surgery, I also managed to pull a muscle in my back earlier this week. Of the three issues, my back is actually causing the most difficulty. It hurts like hell, and I can hardly move without aggravating it. Dressing, laundry, and even putting on my shoes are painful and challenging. So I'm moving very little.

Fatigue, lying low, and forced rest combined with cold, wet, gray weather, has me feeling a bit off. Worry thoughts have been madly swirling in my head all week. I'm a little anxious about having just finished my last TMS treatment. I'm worried about feeling sore, swollen, and congested one week before a marathon. And I'm concerned about this lingering fatigue affecting everything from my running to my work to my mood.

It's hard not to be worried and scared coming off such a horrendous depression relapse, but I've got to do better. I'm not helping myself by being anxious and impatient. I've got to get out of my head and work on my patience. Everything I'm experiencing is temporary. The congestion will resolve, the swelling will subside, the muscle will heal, and the weather, for sure, will change. It will all happen in its time. I have to remember that. I get in trouble when I want it all to happen right now. Trying to control things I can't control is not good for my mood either. For the rest of today, I think I'll work on acceptance and letting go.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's complicated

It must be nice. If I didn't have depression, feeling physically ill wouldn't be scary. If I didn't have depression, my sore throat, body aches and malaise would be simple. I'd sleep in, lie around in my pajamas, eat some chicken soup, take a couple of Tylenol, and practice my best napping skills. And that is what I did today, but because I have depression, it wasn't that simple. Simple would have been nice.

Unfortunately, depression seems to complicate everything, even physical illness. I'm sick. But rather than simply taking care of my illness, I spent the day worrying about my mental health. I couldn't stop questioning whether my fatigue and malaise were the result of my physical illness, or if they were the first signs of another depression relapse setting in. I found myself analyzing every little symptom. Over and over again, is this a cold, or is it depression? It was a long, uncomfortable day.

The bottom line is I don't like feeling tired, achy and slow. It's too familiar. And it's too close. The fact that I'm feeling tired, achy and slow during my final week of TMS treatments is also an unfortunate coincidence. That fact only heightens my anxiety and my analysis.

Of course all of my analyzing and questioning was for naught today. I still feel sick, and I'm still uncomfortable with feeling sick. I'm still worried feeling ill, if it isn't a sign of something bigger already on the horizon, may actually trigger something more menacing. It's scary. I don't want to go back there.

Regardless of what I want, I'm not going to change the outcome by worrying and/or analyzing every symptom. This illness is what it is, and it will be what it will be. I do know that. It's just that simple.