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!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Honor, Potential Honor

I am humbled and grateful once again to be honored by Healthline.com for having one of the best depression blogs. Considering how many depression blogs are out there, and they only chose a few, I am proud my tiny little space was recognized for quality of content and for "educating, inspiring, and empowering readers." What more can I say than that? Thank you, Healthline. I appreciate the honor.

Speaking of honors, I have decided to submit an application to the Twin Cities Marathon sponsor, Medtronic, to become one of their Global Champions, and you may be able to help. Medtronic is selecting 10 marathon runners "who use an eligible medical device, or have had a medical procedure or therapy" to their 2017 Medtronic Global Champions Team. They are looking for inspirational stories from runners to share with the world.

To qualify as a Global Champion the Medronic website states, "If you are a runner and have overcome medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, neurological disorders, obesity, or gastrointestinal and urological disorders and have returned to an active life with the help of medical technology or solutions, inspire others and share your story. Apply to be on the 2017 Medtronic Global Champions team."

I couldn't help but notice mental illness was not specifically included in their list. However, Medtronic says of a Global Champion, "With grit and determination, they’re ready to show the world that life with a medical device or procedure won’t stand in their way of pursuing their goals and passions." I think that's me, and I think recovering from my depression relapse via Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation qualifies. (If you'd like to know how you can help, let me know.)

That's right. I think I'm recovering from this unbelievably horrible, despair-filled depression relapse. The TMS really seems to be working. I almost can't believe it. Ten long weeks of hopelessness and misery seems to be abating.

Today my coworkers couldn't stop enthusiastically telling me how different I am today compared to just last week; "like night and day," to quote one of my assistants. Likewise, during a phone call, my psychiatrist's nurse made several comments about how much better I sounded. I kind of wish I had a video recording of what I looked and sounded like these past 10 weeks. Apparently, I've already made a huge recovery. I'm so relieved to be feeling better. Thank God for TMS.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Perhaps?

Maybe I'm being too (cautiously) optimistic too soon, but maybe, perhaps, hopefully, I might be feeling a little bit better. I've had 4 TMS treatments, and up until Friday nothing had changed. But then again I wasn't expecting any miraculous change, as the psychiatrist told me it may take 4-6 weeks of 5-day-per-week treatments before I noticed any improvement, if there was going to be any improvement at all. I think maybe there has been some improvement. And it seemed to happen suddenly Friday afternoon.

It was really quite strange. All of a sudden Friday afternoon I noticed I was feeling more energetic, more positive, and more hopeful. I was lighter, moving at more normal speed (as opposed to the slow motion of the previous several weeks), and processing life a bit quicker. It was like something had shifted. I took note, but I was careful not to get too excited. However, as my friend, Wendy, pointed out, even if the next day again sucked, a few moments of feeling better were worth it. Too true!

As it turned out yesterday was not great, but it wasn't horrible either. I was really fatigued and had very low motivation, but I think my mood was still lighter even though I didn't do much all day. Today I continue to feel a little bit better. Jet and I ran 14 miles this morning. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the city was very quiet, as it often is on holidays, so it was a nice run. I'm glad I didn't have more than 14 miles on the schedule, though. Fourteen was definitely enough. Now I'm just enjoying the sunny day.

I resume my TMS treatments tomorrow afternoon. I certainly feel more enthusiastic about attending my appointments now that I have some evidence the treatments may actually be making a difference. Already. I'm feeling extremely cautiously optimistic. The only possible side effect I've noticed is trouble sleeping. I've been unable to fall asleep when attempting to nap, and it takes me a lot longer to fall asleep at night since I began TMS. But if that's as bad as it gets, no problem. I'll deal with it.

I want to thank all of you who have been so faithfully following along over the past few months. Your comments have been so kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. I am so very grateful. Thank you. You're readership and interactions with me through this blog have made a huge difference in my life. Huge. It is so helpful to know I am connecting with some of you or even making a difference in somebody's life despite my despair. I really can't explain it well enough. Thank you for reading, and if moved to do so, please keep commenting. You are making a difference, and I appreciate it. Carry on, my friends!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New Treatment

I began a new treatment yesterday. At 2:00 PM, Monday through Friday, for the next 6 weeks, I will be receiving transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). I am hopeful it will bring me some relief.

For those of you unfamiliar, as I was until yesterday, TMS works by placing a magnetic coil against my head. The magnetic coil alternates between active electrical pulses for 4 seconds followed by a 26 second pause for a total of 37 minutes. The pulses feel like being hit by a tiny hammer, quickly and heavily. It's uncomfortable but tolerable.

According to a 2012 study of 300 patients who received 4-6 weeks of TMS treatments, 56% reported at least a 50% improvement in their depression symptoms. Fifty six percent is not as high a percentage as I would like, but it's certainly worth a shot. I can't continue to live the way I'm currently living. This illness, at this rate, will kill me. That's just a fact.

I'm continuing to put one foot in front of the other. After two days of hardly being able to move, I was satisfied to be able to run this afternoon. I've been feeling really agitated, so I ran really hard. It felt good, a different kind of pain for 65 minutes. The physical pain of a hard run makes so much more sense to me than the mental anguish of depression; anguish which wasted no time re-enveloping me within minutes of completing my run this afternoon. That just baffled and demoralized me.

This is a baffling illness. I'm so tired and demoralized and confused. I just want to feel better. I need some relief. Hopefully TMS will be the beginning.

Monday, April 10, 2017

No spunk today

One of the comments on my last post complimented me on my spunk. Not today. Today I'm just tired. I've got no energy for spunk. No energy for fight. No capacity to stand up for myself. I'm done with that. I'm tired. I'm tired of the stress. I'm tired of the judgment--mine and others. I'm tired of the mind numbing internal strife. I'm tired of all of it. I'm feeling so, so done. Yet here I sit...attempting to get ready to go to work, to help my patients...patients who have no idea how numb, lost and dead I am. I'll put on the face. I'll get it done. I have no idea how I'll do it, but I've done it before. So I'll do it again. But I'm tired.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fuming and insulted

I ran a long way yesterday, 18 miles to be exact, and at least the first 10 miles were spent fuming about the latest insulting difference between treatment for my illness, depression, versus treatment for just about any other "physical" illness. Too bad I can't type while I'm running, because I composed a whopper of a post during those first ten miles!

Here's what happened. A few days ago it was suggested, since I'm still not well, that perhaps I should attend an intensive outpatient program for people with mental illness. ECT, hospitalizations, med changes, therapy, mom visit...none of those interventions worked to alleviate my symptoms, so this was now the best idea we had. I quickly, and with contained irritation, declined. You see, I completed this very program several years ago. In fact, I've completed several similar outpatient programs over the past 15 years. And while I've learned a couple of things here and there, the majority of these remedial education groups have been more frustrating than productive.

These groups are intended to teach life skills, coping mechanisms, socialization, etc... There are lectures about how to organize our day, how to manage our time, with included blank time management schedules to fill out, and lists of pleasant activities we could tap into when feeling really low. Interestingly, I've never met anyone in any of these groups who was there to deal with their despair over their diagnosis of MS or cancer.

Perhaps it's a fact that people with MS or cancer know how to manage their time. Perhaps they realize eating a piece of chocolate (one of the items on the pleasant activities list) when feeling low would cure all that ails them. But me, a person with depression, a person who managed time well enough to excel through two post-graduate degrees, who holds down a professional job despite feeling like shit, who owns and maintains a home, and who has trained for and run 28 marathons; clearly my time management skills suck. If I could just fill in that blank time schedule and learn to take a bath or eat some chocolate, all would be well. So simple. How could we have missed it all this time. Why did we even bother with the hospital, or ECT, or medication??

But let me tell you the real problem I had with the most recent intensive outpatient program I attended. Instead of a room full of patients with depression, I was surrounded by all sorts of interesting characters, which is not to say I didn't learn from them. For example, I learned more than I cared to know about the best times and places to "score" after each group. I was usually the only sober person in the room. I was puzzled and saddened by the woman who seemed to have a different, fresh, self-inflicted flesh wound everyday, which she made no attempt at hiding. And worst of all, at every opportunity they had, I was forced to listen to snickering "patients" bragging about how they escaped jail or work release simply by attending this group. Yup, I learned a lot, none of it therapeutic.

When I couldn't stand it any longer, I pulled the instructors aside and explained what I was seeing and hearing every time they left the room. I told them I was very uncomfortable with the snickering and bragging. That discussion ended with me being dismissed from the group, as the instructors decided I was inappropriately focused on others rather then on myself. I was the problem. Fine. See you later.

I am a professional, functional, athletic, sober woman with a major mental illness. I have treatment resistant, severe depression. Why, when we run out of ideas we hoped would work, is the next step to send me to a remedial education group? I'm not saying there is no place for groups like this, but at the risk of sounding like a snob, groups like this are not appropriate for everyone. And they are certainly not appropriate just because nothing else has worked.

When the tumor doesn't shrink, or the MS doesn't abate, the next step is never to send the patient to time management training! It's not the cancer patient's fault the tumor didn't shrink. It's not the patient's fault the MS continues to progress. And it's not my fault I still feel like shit! I have depression. Even if I go take a bath with a box full of chocolates, I bet I'll still have depression. It's an illness. Let's deal with it like the illness it is. Please!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Isolation hurts

I've mentioned it more than once. You guys routinely mention it, especially recently. So I guess it's time to talk more about it. It is isolation. Depression. It is so isolating. No matter how open I am about my illness, depression leaves me feeling detached, alone, and different. Whether at home alone, sitting in a room full of patients and coworkers, or participating in a busy, friendly outing or get together, I feel isolated. Isolation is painful.

Unfortunately, my isolation is only increasing with each passing day. The longer this depression episode continues, the more painfully detached I feel. Here's the thing. People, by nature, want to help. But people, by nature, also expect (consciously or unconsciously) to get something positive from their efforts. Despite all of the words of wisdom, the encouragement, and the hugs I've received from friends and professionals, I've had very little positive to offer them in return. I can't tell them I'm better, which I'm sure is frustrating.

If it's frustrating for me, it's got to be frustrating for them. As a result I find myself wanting to reach out to others less and less. The longer this depression episode lasts, the less I want to talk and the less I think my friends, family and even professionals want to hear. It's human nature. When they don't see any changes from their efforts, listening to my woes must become more tiresome and more burdensome. What else can they do? We've done it all. Despite hospitalizations, med changes, ECT treatments, and talk therapy, I continue to feel so, so low it's hard to imagine continuing forward.

This morning the painful isolation really got to me. I had to leave work before I even signed in. I began crying on my drive to the office. I stopped at a friend's house within blocks of my facility. I cried, we talked, and I attempted to pull myself together. Ten minutes later my friend sent me on my way and I soon walked into my office. I was 30 minutes late and feeling fragile, but I thought I could do it. I was wrong. Feeling like an idiot and totally overwhelmed, I sat in my office in despair with tears rolling down my cheeks. My assistant was kind enough to find my supervisor, and with her permission I left.

After a few hours home in bed, I returned to work this afternoon. There were simply too many patients who needed to be seen for me to miss an entire day. Somehow I made it through four hours of patient care. Now I'm home again feeling exhausted and alone. Nothing else has been accomplished today, but nobody wants to hear that. It is what it is. I'd like to sleep a long, dark, quiet sleep. It seems there's nothing else to do. At least I'm out of ideas. I'm tired. I'm alone. And I don't want to talk about it anymore. I just want it, depression, to go away.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

No pancake breakfasts

I'm hesitant to write this post. I don't want to be a complainer. I don't want people to see me as ungrateful or selfish. But there is a reality out there that's moved to the forefront of my mind recently, and I feel the need to talk about it, to educate. I will speak only from my own experience, but unfortunately, I believe my experience is not unusual.

Within the last six months, a colleague of mine was diagnosed with cancer. She is a full time, fully benefited employee who is now back at work after missing a few months for successful treatment. While she was out one of our coworkers began an online crowdfunding campaign in order to decrease the burden of her medical bills and living expenses. It was a wonderful, compassionate gesture, which was embraced by all.

Forty four thousand, nine hundred two dollars and fifty five cents. That's $44,902.55. I'm fortunate. I pay a lot of money every month, over $600.00 to be exact, for insurance to cover most of my medical bills and prescription costs. So this bill sitting in front of me for $44,902.55, which is just for my hospital stays, it does not address any MD charges or the cost of ECT treatments, will largely be covered by my insurance. I'm grateful and relieved. Unfortunately, my relief is short lived, as I currently have no idea how I will continue to pay for the very insurance premiums which will cover that hospital bill.

I have depression. Because I have depression, I am unable to tolerate working full time. Because I work part time, I am not eligible for benefits like health insurance, paid time off, or health savings accounts. I missed 14 days of work without pay while I was ill. I've worked fewer than 40% of my hours for 10 days since. Since February 13th, I've received just under $300.00 in pay. I have a few dollars in savings, but the stress of spending my savings on a daily basis to cover my mortgage, health insurance premiums, vehicle payment, utility bills and groceries has been overwhelming and frightening.

Despite being open about my illness with friends and coworkers, I don't think the financial burden of this illness has crossed anybody's mind. I'm not asking for money. I'm just pointing out yet another naive and unfortunate difference in how mental illness is perceived. Those around us seem to immediately understand how financially stressful a major illness can be, and they move to help. Perhaps those same people don't realize depression is a major illness, too?

I used to say the difference between mental illness and other illnesses was pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. In my neck of the woods, that's how families, friends and coworkers used to raise funds to assist the sick people in their lives. I guess the difference now is in online crowdfunding campaigns.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Working, running, coughing

It's hard to believe it's been a week since I last wrote here. Sorry about that. It's been an up and down week, disappointing at times and encouraging at others. Unfortunately my mood has not changed much. That's been tough, challenging, and disappointing. To make matters more complicated, I've been sick with a flu-like, upper respiratory illness for the last 4 days, and it's really knocked me flat at times. Nevertheless I have been a bit more active over the past week. That has been encouraging.

I'm getting back into work. I've worked every other day for around 3 hours. Today, I was actually busy for 5.5 hours, which is the most I've worked since getting discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks ago. The low mood combined with the respiratory illness made working that long a little more difficult than I would have liked. That was frustrating, but I think I would have handled it better if I hadn't been sick, too. I'm definitely not back into full form yet, but it is nice to be working a few hours again.

I've also been running a few more miles recently, although I did miss a couple of days entirely due to my illness. I shortened my long run from the scheduled 16 miles to 12 miles on Sunday, but even 12 was probably a couple of miles too far. I took Monday off to recover and came back Tuesday with a surprisingly good 9 miler. I planned to run today, but the combination of longer than planned work hours, cruddy lungs, and rain convinced me to nap instead. I sure hope to get past this upper respiratory illness soon. It was tough enough motivating to run when just combating my low mood. I really didn't need another obstacle.

Like I said, I'm disappointed my mood is still quite low. My mom has been here with me for two weeks, but she's on her way home tomorrow. It's been nice having her here, but I am looking forward to having my tiny house back to myself. My mom has cooked up a storm and filled my freezer with good food while she's been here. I'm not sure what to expect from my mood once she leaves. I do know one thing, though, I won't have to worry about cooking. I'm grateful my mom was willing and able to come stay with me. Hopefully, I'll continue to feel and function better and better after she leaves.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Validation vs Invalidation

Perhaps I'm being too sensitive. Perhaps I'm reading too much into innocuous words and statements. I don't know. You tell me. Over the last couple of weeks I've had doctors, nurses, therapists, friends and coworkers ask questions of me which I have found offensive and invalidating. Each time I responded kindly in the moment, but the questions stuck with me and later led to negative feelings. I found myself mulling them over and wondering, "Would that question have been posed if I had breast cancer?" And I think the answer is no.

Within just the last couple of days, after I detailed how severe this recent depression episode has been, how isolated and detached I've been feeling, and how extremely low my mood has been, a few of the immediate comments were, "Are you working?" "Are you running?" "What fun things are you doing for yourself?" The implication, I believe, is clear. Are these people not implying that I'd feel better if I was working, running, getting out of the house, doing something fun, etc...? In other words, my low mood is at least partly my own doing.

Am I wrong to find these questions and comments offensive and invalidating? I don't think the people who posed these questions did so to overtly blame me for my symptoms, but I do think these types of statements are another manifestation of the stigma surrounding mental illness. The inability to work, exercise, socialize or find fun in normal activities aren't seen as symptoms of my illness but rather as character defects. If I just did this, that, or the other, I'd feel better. But not being able to do this, that, or the other is the result of my illness, not the cause of it!

If I told you I was having low energy, found it difficult to get out of my house, and/or wasn't socializing because of my breast cancer symptoms, would you ask the same questions? I don't think so. I think the more immediate response would be something along the lines of, "I'm sorry things are so hard right now," or "I wish you felt better," and/or "What can I do to help?" These comments and questions validate the person's experience rather than question it or try to fix it.

This severe and lengthy depression episode has me feeling tired and battle weary, so perhaps I'm being too sensitive. But I've felt invalidated over and over again, even by professionals who should know better, during the past couple of weeks. If curing depression was as simple as getting out of the house and going for a run, I certainly wouldn't struggle with depression! I don't think people realize how invalidating these comments and questions are. Am I right?

If I am right, I'm not sure what to do about it. I usually don't have the awareness or energy in the moment to politely educate the offending person. And educating someone after the fact is rarely helpful or effective. But I'm tired of feeling as if I'm somehow to blame for what's happening to me. Depression is to blame, and I don't have depression because I'm lazy, or antisocial, or uneducated. My brain is sick. That's why I have depression. I'm no different than the person with a sick pancreas who has diabetes. We both have biological, treatable illnesses. Why can't people get that?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Despair

I'm still struggling. My mood remains very low. I attended my 12-step meeting yesterday morning, but I ended up feeling alone in a crowd. I hate that feeling. It's so painful. I began to cry and couldn't stop, so I left early. Sitting in my vehicle after I left I cried for a long, long time. I felt utter despair.

That despair was just a continuation of the despair I communicated to my friend, Wendy, via text message, as I laid in bed late the previous night. In that message, I communicated feeling as if I was in solitary confinement. Depression, I think, creates this feeling of alone-ness. Whether lying alone in bed or sitting in the midst of a room full of boisterous people, the isolation I feel right now is excruciating.

Utter despair combined with utter isolation, it's easy to see how depression can kill. Suicide is not a topic I broach very often in this blog. It's not an option. Yet it's easy, at times like these, to contemplate the meaning behind this pain and isolation. I admit, in my despair my brain gravitates toward thoughts of life and death. And I believe I have a greater understanding of why some with depression find it difficult, in the midst of this despair, to justify staying alive.

This is a cruel illness. I know I've gained perspective and opportunity as a result of battling depression, but at this moment in time, it's pretty tough to feel anything but cruelty and despair. I'm doing my best, dear readers, to hang on tight, to put one foot in front of the other, and to take the next right action. It would be easier to stop, but forward is the only way to go.

Moving forward is difficult, and I wish the path was clearer, but I guess this is my path right now. I don't have to like it, and I don't, but I'll keep doing my best to walk through it. It will get better. It always does. It feels impossible, but I have to remember that.



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