Reaching the Light

Note from Laura: This post was not written by me. It was written by a very close friend of mine, who is going through a hard time. In the interest of supporting her and supporting lessening the stigma surrounding talking about mental health, I’m sharing it here, with her permission, and actually at her request. She is a fellow writer and understands the power you feel in getting things like this off your chest and out into the world, whether spoken or written or drawn or whatever. I absolutely hate what she’s gone through, but I also completely get it. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating. But you don’t have to go through it alone. My friend’s hope – and mine – in sharing this with you is that if you feel this way, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not beyond repair. You can come out the other side stronger and you have many who are willing to help you do so, usually many, many more than you know. Here’s my friend’s story.

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There’s a quote that I’ve always gravitated toward, attributed to the ancient philosopher Plato – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This summer, this quote has been circling around in my head, and I think about it often as I interact with people daily. Because this summer, I have been living this quote.

Three months ago, I experienced a trauma that rocked me to my core and has left me scrambling to pick up the pieces ever since. There were a few minor events in the months leading up to the big one, like small tremors before the big earthquake, that weakened my body’s defenses and made me more susceptible to a chemical depressive episode, and when the big event happened, it was too much for me to handle alone. For the past three months, I have been treated for depression, anxiety, and acute stress as a result of this trauma.

Because of the nature of what happened, I was only able to share what happened with only my immediate family, a few close friends, and my work family. Most people in my daily life had no idea that I was struggling to function at the most basic level. I was fighting a hard battle that they knew nothing about. It’s estimated that one in four Americans will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in their life. Indeed, they fight a hard battle that we often know nothing about.

Depression takes many forms – sometimes contradicting forms – in different people. For me, it slowed my thinking and physical actions, making the most basic chores, like going to the grocery, clearing the dishes, or making a to-do list, overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. I lost a lot of weight. Sometimes people – who didn’t know about the battle I was fighting – would comment on my weight loss, making me angry and more frustrated. Although I didn’t really sleep for almost two months, it took everything I had just to get out of bed in the morning. And oftentimes when I did, I would shower and be so overwhelmed that I would just get right back in bed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this feeling of dread that something horrible was going to happen and be unable to recover from it enough to fall back asleep. The smallest thing during my daily life might trigger a paralyzing flashback.

I found it difficult to be around people who didn’t know what had happened. I think this was because I was worried about seeming distant or quiet around them without them knowing why I was that way. I missed my college roommate’s son’s first birthday party. I didn’t feel up to attending my cousin’s wedding shower. Many times, I had to cancel plans with friends at the last minute because I was having a bad day and couldn’t get off the couch. On my birthday weekend my parents came in town to visit me, but I couldn’t even go to visit with them because I literally couldn’t pull myself off the floor.

I described my depression as feeling like I was in a black hole. It was pitch black, scary, and full of despair. I could see a light far in the distance, but it felt like that light was too far away for me to ever reach. At my absolute lowest, which thankfully only lasted a few days, I felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore. The pain was too great. I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. I would never do anything that would put myself in harm’s way, but a part of me hoped that something happened to me that was beyond my control. I had all these people around me to lift me up and support me, but I felt completely alone.

For a long time, I thought that I must have done something to deserve what happened to me. It isn’t that I thought that I was immune to experiencing pain in my life. I volunteer with refugees, and I am reminded often that bad things happen to good people. I spend time with a family from the Congo who spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania and a Syrian family whose patriarch was blinded in an explosion in Aleppo. I look to these families as inspiration of the resilience of which the human spirit is capable.

I was lucky. I work in healthcare, so I have an above-average understanding of mental health issues. I was able to quickly connect to the resources that I needed to ensure my most speedy recovery. I have an amazing therapist who I see from time to time when I need help effectively dealing with stress in my personal and professional life, and I worked with her and my primary care physician to start an antidepressant that has helped boost my recovery and speed up the process. Weekly, I attend talk therapy sessions, and I always leave them feeling better and more empowered than when I walk in.

I also made sure that the people closest to me knew what I was going through so that they could help me in the ways that I needed, as stubborn and fiercely independent as I am. Relying on others in a time of need is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is easier to withdraw, shut people out, and hide behind depression. It’s easier to try to get better on your own and not be vulnerable. It takes you out of your comfort zone to let people in, to ask for help where you need some. But it speeds up the process tremendously and makes you stronger. I don’t remember a lot from the first month or so. Friends and family would show up with food, giving me one less thing to stress about. Friends were OK with me showing up randomly at their doorsteps crying. They would take me in, give me my favorite snacks, and hold me as I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t speak. My work family helped me lead my meetings and encouraged me to take time off as needed. I owe all of them more than I could ever repay. These few sentences don’t begin to comprehensively list the ways that my loved ones were there for me.

Again, I’m lucky. I knew exactly what I needed to do – and who I needed to turn to – when I needed help. Most people with depression don’t seek help for years, either because of the stigma attached to mental health issues or because of a lack of knowledge about how to get started. That’s why I am sharing my story, to hopefully create purpose for my pain. If someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress, there is no reason to treat it any differently than if it was kidney infection, a broken arm, or diabetes. Mental health is physical health, and it is time we start treating it as such. By not sharing some of my health issues, I only contribute to that stigma.

I wish I could write this solely in the past tense. I wish that I could say that I am past the depression and everything is perfect now. I’m past the worst of it, and things continue to get better. But it’s not a linear process. Which is particularly frustrating to someone as goal-oriented as I am. It’s frustrating to feel like I’ve reached a milestone, only to slip backwards a moment later. Some days I take a step forward. Some days I take two steps back. Still others I leap 10 steps forward. Ultimately, it takes time, diligence, and trust in the process.

I still struggle to trust happiness. I now realize how quickly it can be taken away, without warning. There are moments when I’m unguardedly happy, and then I realize that I’m happy and instinctively pull back, so that I’m never again blindsided when it is taken away. And then I have to force myself to let myself experience the happiness. But I will get there. I am resilient. This battle will be won.

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Get it right, get it tight

So. The running thing? It’s not really happening anymore. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a little, shall we?

A few months ago I’d hit a bit of a rut at the gym. I had gotten to a point where I dreaded going because it was the same old stuff every time. Walk and run for a bit on the treadmill, do a couple arm and leg machines and go home. Repetition works, right?

But here’s the third reason why I love Planet Fitness.

(First two reasons are 1) because there are only like 5 mirrors in the whole place so I don’t have to watch myself looking gross and 2) because if you act like a douchebag at the gym, they literally RING AN ALARM to call you out in front of everyone and that is my kind of gym.)

OK, so the third reason. They realize that some people don’t make the amount of money required to pay to see a personal trainer on the reg. For example, me. I got expenses. And I like the occasional avocado.

They do this thing where you can meet with the trainer they have on staff, the trainer sets you up with a plan, teaches you all the parts of the plan and then sets you free to spread your little wings and fly. Oh, they check in with you, too. And for those that can make it happen, they also set certain dates to actually spot your workout and stuff.

So, a little while ago (a couple months ago, I guess) I met with a trainer. His name is Antonio because of course it fucking is. And he’s fairly attractive and kind of built and I worried that I might be distracted by his cuteness but then I noticed he had longer fingernails than most girls I know, including me, so that fixed that right up.

And we talked about my goals and what I’d done before and how I really needed to keep the Anxiety Monster quiet and the Depression Monster tamed, so whatever he thought was best I’d do it.

First question? How many days a week can you work out? I said probably 4. He said 5 would be good. But 4 was OK. Cool. Off to a grreeeeeeeat start.

I feel like I’m a good judge of people, and can read them pretty well. And Antonio? I still have not figured him out, y’all.

The first few times we met up he forgot we had set a meeting (perhaps why this service is free?) or forgot my name or both. Oh and looked literally anywhere but at me the whole time he spoke to me. And he also kicked my ass.

He showed me some other options for cardio – better ones than the treadmill I’d gotten so tired of – including the arc trainer, which makes me feel like a cross-country skier and I may or may not be addicted to.

And he took me through what’s called the 30-Minute Circuit at Planet Fitness. 20 steps (machines and literal step exercises), 30 minutes. You use a machine the whole time the light is green, when it turns red you go to the next one and repeat until you’ve done all 20 steps. The first day doing that was rough. Bless him for thinking my poor little jelly arms were strong and putting all the arm machines at 40 pounds for a starting point. And also, fuck that.

Aside: I am writing this after a 30-Minute Circuit Day and the arm machines are my new Everest. And I think I’ve messed up my elbow joints. Or maybe it’s the Bone Islands. Click on that link but don’t look up Bone Island yourself because there’s a 97 percent chance that’s probably the name of one or more porns.

We did a full-body workout day and that was a real treat. Because we used the free weights. And I realized that 5-pound free weights in each hand feel like I’m lifting a car when made to do certain exercises. Oh. Also, that day marked the second time I made Antonio feel awkward because he had to hold my elbows in place for one exercise because my boobs are too big and they pushed my arms further out to the side and I couldn’t make it work on my own. (The first time was when I asked him machines would be best to fix my flat butt.)

Anyway. It has since gotten a lot easier. Antonio knows my name, tells me I’m awesome every time I see him (I’m sure he says that to all his non-paying clients) and usually remembers when we’re supposed to meet now. And I can say I am officially at the point where I can tell a major difference in how I feel. I’m by no means a gym rat these days, but that shit does wonders for people like me with this weird-ass brain chemistry. When I haven’t been able to get to the gym for a few days I mentally feel crappier, not to mention physically. Oh, and there was those times when it did wonders for my self esteem, specifically after a picture of me was posted (not by me) on Facebook, and I got texts from a couple different people commenting on how good they thought I looked.

I wish I could say I have completely overhauled my routine and can now get up and go workout before work in the morning all the time like someone who has their shit together, but I like sleep too much. And late bedtimes. But I do go 3-4 times a week every week (haven’t quite made it to 5 yet because yo girl has a vibrant social life).

I don’t say this to get congratulations or anything like that. I am putting this out there solely for accountability. When you post that you’ve been working out and then someone asks you about it out in the world, it’s embarrassing to say “Oh yeah, that’s over.” So this helps me keep at it.

And all the extra dopamine ain’t too bad either.

So, winter sucks.

Bears have it right, y’all. They sleep all winter. I could get down with that. Because winter is the shittiest of all seasons.

This one’s been pretty bad, too. Gray and gloomy outside almost every day, cold AF (I can no longer afford to have a social life due to increasing costs of my electric bill from keeping my house “warm”) and just generally sucky.

For people like me, who already live at kind of a meh-ish level, this time of year can be particularly hard. No sunlight (or not much of it anyway), limited time if any outside because FROSTBITE, and yeah… it’s no bueno.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. Look it up. It’s magnified if you already have other disorders, so that’s fun.

My mood’s been off lately.  I’ve felt cloudy and off and just ehhhh. And there’s no good reason why – besides, ya know, the chemical imbalance. It’s been harder to get up in the mornings, harder to want to do anything but lay in bed or on the couch…

My medicine levels are good. Nothing’s changed there. But I guess I thought when I started feeling better, that would carry over into the winter time and I wouldn’t have to worry about this shit. But that’s depression for ya – never really fixed, no matter how much you think you’ve got it taken care of.

I say this all for a couple of reasons: One is so nobody is offended by how I’ve been as of late – if I’ve been a grump, please don’t take it personally and don’t hate me. The other is for those who aren’t as vocal about all this as I am, who you may not even know are hurting or feeling cloudy or literally aching for just a little bit of sunlight and warmth. Be gentle with us and realize we are doing our best and we’re looking really f-ing forward to spring.

You think I’m sleep? I ain’t sleep.

When I was younger, I could sleep hard. I slept all the time and it was hard to wake me up. I slept through the worst thunderstorms. Also, fun family events. Sometimes outdoors.

Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B: (This one is from the Derby Festival’s Great Balloon Race one year and I obviously was real into it).

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Exhibit C: In the good old days when it was safe to sleep outside on your deck all night because the air conditioner in the house was broken. Ahh, the 90s.

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Then, as I got older, depression made itself more known, and sleep was damn near impossible. Yet it was all I wanted to do. Sleep and I have had a weird relationship, is what I’m saying.

A few months ago, when the doctor and I (mostly the doctor but a little bit I) decided to check all the boxes that made sure nothing else was causing or aiding the depression, a sleep study was brought up.

I’m a known snorer, mouth-breather, drooler (when I’m REAL sleep) and there was that period of a couple years during and after college when I took various items of clothing off in my sleep. So, a study where someone watched me sleep/potentially do all that? Oh yeah. Sign me up. That won’t be weird at all.

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I made the appointment and regretted it immediately.

They mentioned I could have sleep apnea if I had depression and one could be causing the other and also that’s dangerous so if I have it, better to know now so they can treat it and FINE.

I went in for a consultation a month before the actual overnight and Dr. I Forget His Name said “Well, you do have a very small airway.” So that seemed promising. Not.

(Pour a cup of coffee and settle in, friends, this’ll be a long one.)

Fast-forward to last night. The actual study. I was to go overnight at the hospital and be hooked up to machines and someone would watch me sleep and tell me all the crazy shit that happens while I’m out.

I immediately think about the time I sleepwalked at my parents’ house and was standing in front of the dresser in their bedroom with no pants on and SURELY THEY’LL LOCK ME IN THIS ROOM FOR EVERYONE’S SAFETY.

Spoiler alert – they didn’t.

I am told to get to the hospital at 8:30 p.m., which makes me anxious that I’ll be expected to fall asleep at 9 p.m. and that’s not going to happen because if anything, that’s when my pre-sleep ends and I start watching my shows.

I decide to wear what I’m going to sleep in (in the hospital. At home there’s no telling from one night to the next what I’ll wear or not wear to bed…. that sounds sexier than it really is..), which means leggings and a T-shirt, but a V-neck shirt so I don’t feel like I’m choking. This is important to remember later on in our story.

I walk in to the sleep study office and see two other patients getting set up in their rooms and realize I am the youngest here by AT LEAST 45 years. Yay.

Immediately I overhear two very important questions being asked.

1. “Do y’all have cable?”

2. “Are you going to check on me after I take my Ambien?”

It’s important to note here that this is when I’m heading into my “room” and am noticing there’s not a lock on any of the doors.

The TV is on in my room when I get in there and as luck wouldn’t have it, stuck on the channel showing The Bachelor, aka what I’m pretty sure they show on a loop in Hell. The girl who brings me in there tells me the administrator of the study will bring the remote when she comes in.

Aside: I do not get embarrassed easily, but I get secondhand embarrassment for people a lot, and for that reason, The Bachelor/Bachelorette is my nightmare.

Here’s my setup:

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Mmmm, comfy. And those wires? Yeah, they all go ON YOU.

Another kind of aside: I guess when you’re finally actually asleep, they can get a decent idea of what they’re looking for in these sleep studies, but they’re stacking the odds against you up until that point. You’re in a weird room, with weird noises, an uncomfortable bed, worried that the old lady across the hall on Ambien’s gonna wander in about 3 a.m. and they’re just gonna let it happen because it’s a study and you can’t get involved because that skews the results.

Oh and here’s the video camera they use to watch you the entire time. (This was when I was still in Bachelor Hell).

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I wait for the girl administering the study to come in and do whatever she’s gotta do, all the while having an inner conflict about whether or not I should take my bra off to sleep. On the one hand, it’s much more comfortable to sleep without the girls in Boob Jail and I know I’m not going to be getting much in the way of comfort during this thing. On the other hand, someone’s watching me sleep and has to wake me up in the morning and well, sometimes those things have a mind of their own.

I decide to keep it on. Better safe than sorry.

Before she hooks me up on all the machines, Lauren (my sleep study administrator) explains to me what they’ll be looking for while I sleep, which is mainly if I stop breathing or not. And if so, for how long. And also how many times that happens in an hour. Aka Sleep Apnea, which I do not want to have for a multitude of reasons I’ll get into in a minute.

She says if I’ve stopped breathing enough times by 2 a.m. for them to be concerned (15 or more), she’ll come in then and put the mask on me. So right now, we need to test to see which one I would like to use, should I win this contest I do not even want to be participating in.

The first option is a no-go for me, as it seems like the equivalent of sticking the end of a vacuum against your face, if the vacuum had tiny nostril-sized pieces and you weren’t allowed to open your mouth.

The second option is a little better, because it covers your nose like the happy gas distributor at the dentist, but I still don’t want to have to wear it if I can help it.

Especially because with it all strapped to my head and the tube hanging off of it that hooks to the machine, I look and feel like this:

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I let Lauren know I’m hoping never to have to put one of those on again for the following reasons:

– I oddly feel like I can’t breathe when the air is being forced in and out of my nose and I can’t open my mouth.

– I don’t like sleeping with things on my face.

– I’m thinking of the possibility of a future sleepover with a gentleman caller and having to pull that bad boy out when it’s time to go to sleep. Read my blogs about my dating life. I need all the help I can get in this area, apparently, and this contraption will not do me any favors in that department.

I choose the second option, should I need it, and then the process begins.

Step 1: A strap around my abdomen and a strap that goes right where they have those backpack straps that nobody uses unless they’re hiking. Guess the bra isn’t coming off, even if I change my mind.

Step 2: Vigorous pumice-stoning of my scalp, neck and back. You know what’s really good for dry winter skin on someone that has eczema? Vigorous pumice-stoning, or as my new friend Lauren calls it “exfoliating.” I’m honestly surprised I didn’t a) bleed or b) start a fire.

Step 3: Vaseline/glue-like mix on all the electrodes or whatever that are then placed all over my head and neck and two spots on my back. Oh and two spots on my legs that have also been rubbed raw with the pumice stone just to see what those do in the night.

Step 4: Microphone on the neck to listen to you snore. Taped directly onto your vocal chord. Basically. Oh and then all the wires are tightened up around your neck so really my decision to wear a V-neck because I didn’t want to feel like I was choking all night is laughable now. While Lauren attaches all this crap to me, we talk about Scientology, because I managed to get the channel changed to A&E (which is showing the Leah Remini show), thanks to the remote being located. ((PLOT TWIST, THE REMOTE WAS IN THE NIGHTSTAND THE WHOLE TIME.))

Step 5: They attach a pulse-reader thing to your index finger that is also hooked to wires that are plugged into God knows what, and if you have to go to the bathroom at this point, well, tough shit, because you are now 85 percent robot.

When you’re ready to go to sleep or 11 p.m. (whichever comes first), the administrator comes back in and basically attaches you to the wall. The wires are all plugged into this thing mounted next to the bed and there’s this little speaker right by your head she’s gonna use to communicate until morning. Sweet dreams!

Yeah. OK. Um, there you are, laying in this strange bed in a strange room covered in literally all the wires in the world, knowing that someone’s watching you. You’re worried you won’t fall asleep at all, or it’ll take forever, or you’ll drool and short out a wire, or you’ll fart and she’ll see/hear it, or you’ll stop breathing a million times so she’ll have to come put the face mask on you and…

VERY RELAXING. MUCH SCIENCE. THIS SHOULD GO SWIMMINGLY.

I could feel all the things. And rolling over was hilarious. I felt like the love child of Darth Vader and Sleeping Beauty.

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No amount of Snapchat filters could help.

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One bonus to this process, however, was when I got cold, I could ask that she adjust the temperature and also bring me another blanket and/or pillow. So I did take advantage of that. You don’t get that at home. At least not at my house.

After what seemed like 10 hours, I guess I finally fell asleep. And I guess I slept OK for a while, but it felt like 3 minutes, and then she was asking me to try and sleep on my back.

Though it isn’t evident in any of the photos you’ve seen so far in this post, I’m a side sleeper. Doesn’t matter which side, but side.

Y’all I tried to fall asleep on my back for an hour. Didn’t work. And then I utilized the speaker next to my head and asked if I could please just lay on my side for God’s sake. This was at 4 a.m. They were coming to wake me up/the study was ending at 6.

I fell back asleep for what felt like 5 minutes and then I heard the omnipresent voice of Lauren telling me it was 6:24, she’d let me sleep in, and she was coming in to “set me free.” Literally.

I don’t normally wake up at that time, so I was still pretty groggy when she came in. You know what wakes you right the fuck up though? Tape being pulled off your skin that she rubbed a layer off of the night before. More effective than coffee, goddang.

I had to fill out a survey basically about how shitty I slept compared to normal nights at home and then I was free to go. I should have added at the bottom how I believe the least they can give us in the morning for this torture is a damn doughnut.

After they removed all of the electrodes from my head I had a real nice case of Sex Hair, and I was silently thanking myself for bringing a hoodie – which I used to hide said bird’s nest hair as I Walk of Shamed it out to my car.

Good news: No sleep apnea. Other results within a couple weeks.

Better news: My depression’s still just because of those run-of-the-mill wonky brain chemicals.

Best news: No future as a Batman villain.

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Hallelujah.

I did it all for the banana. And the Thanksgiving sides.

The night before, I got nervous.

The morning of, I got real nervous.

I think I went to the bathroom 11 times.

And then I was nervous about being nervous because nervous poops.

This is my life, y’all.

I wore my new running leggings. I congratulated myself for choosing the long-sleeve shirt because it was cold as hell. I got my free shirt. And my number.

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My friend Jennifer decided the night before to run the race as well, and she was giving me a pep talk. My cousin Anna – my running buddy – got there and we found our places in line. After one more bathroom trip.

I saw a few more friends lining up and silently cursed at/judged the people who were running before we had to run – you know, those people who will do the course before, just because, or will do a few laps around the parking lot to get warmed up. I was praying I’d just finish before the people with the strollers and the old man with the ski pole.

And then we started.

It felt good, at first. And I told myself I’d run as far as I could, then walk, and then run, and it was OK if I walked some, people do that in races.

I made it further than I thought I would before the cold outside air (this is where my training being indoors became an issue) literally took my breath away. I stopped to walk and told Anna to keep going.

“Save yourself!” I said. “I’m gonna screw up your time so badly.”

But she refused to leave. And I love her so much for that.

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I walked until I’d caught my breath. Then I ran again. And that’s how we did it – walk, run, walk, run, walk, run. My achilles was pulling, I was a full-on mouth breather and I needed Chapstick. I kept apologizing to Anna.

She assured me she did not care about her time, she was doing this with me, start to finish. On our walking breaks we looked at/smiled at/talked about all the dogs running with their owners.

She made note of our distance for me with a smile and kept me going. I saw one of my athletes halfway through and when he and his dad smiled at me and said “Hey Coach!” that was a boost of energy I needed then.

I tried not to look at the time on my Fitbit, reminding myself that this was the first one I’d done in years, the first one I’d actually “TRAINED” for, and any time would be acceptable, because I was doing it.

And when I saw the home stretch, I told myself, and then Anna, that I was going to run the rest of the way, even if I wanted to stop. So I did. Not far from the finish line I saw Jennifer, cheering me on and taking a picture (I was hoping I didn’t look like I felt – which was cold and a little achy). And I kept running through to the finish.

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My time was under an hour (which is really all I wanted for my first one). And I finished way ahead of the old man with the ski pole. And I immediately felt like crying because I’d actually done it. It didn’t look like I thought it would, but I’d done it.

I’d gotten 10,000 steps in for the day, done 3.1 miles, and was still going to make it home in time for the Dog Show. Oh, and all the food.

I could not have done it without Anna that day. She kept me going, never made me feel bad about stopping to walk, and was by my side from start to finish.

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I smiled like a goofball because I was so damn proud of myself. I’d set a goal and completed it. And I wasn’t lying on the side of the road in the fetal position (which I’d wanted to do last time I ran a 5K).

I got my banana, posed for some pictures, and smiled all the way back to my car. Later that morning, I looked up other 5Ks in the upcoming months.

2016 was the year I conquered Couch to 5K, and it changed everything.

2017 will be the year I am a RUNNER.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

I do not judge those people who fill the gym on the first few days of January. Yes, it’s harder to find a spot and you may have to wait a minute for the machine you want, but good on them for making a change. And I hope it’s a change that sticks. For all of them. Except that one girl who was on the leg press way too long the other day. Rude.

Y’all that was me not so long ago – me trying out the gym and doing my best to begin a habit that hopefully would last. I made a resolution and stuck/am sticking with it. Just did it early, because as my dad always says, early is on time, but on time is late. I know that doesn’t really apply here but it could. Use your imagination and vast knowledge of metaphors.

When you last heard from me, I was at the beginning of the Couch to 5K running program. I was terrified because I had started (and stopped it) about 6 times previously. However, this time, I had the added benefit of extra energy via finally being on the right medication dosage, so it got less and less daunting the farther I got.

And wouldn’t ya know it, I FINISHED THE DAMN THING.

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BOOYAH.

And I ran farther than I thought I could.

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And even got FASTER. Slightly. Some weeks.

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WHAT THE HELL??!?!

To insure I wouldn’t quit this time, a few weeks in I registered for a 5K. My awesome cousin (who had just completed her first half marathon) said she’d do it with me. And so did my best friend (until she fell off her deck and messed up her ankle, but she’s promised me we’ll do one together soon). So there was no backing down. I don’t like to waste money, I was now accountable to two other people, and I was actually (GASP) enjoying my three days a week running on the treadmill at Planet Fitness.

Aside: I realize it may have been more helpful for me (for the 5K anyway) to do my training outdoors. Here’s why I didn’t.

– My schedule didn’t allow for it before dark.

– Nobody that could run with me was on the same schedule so I would have been doing it alone.

– Lone joggers get kidnapped a lot.

– Lone joggers also find dead bodies a lot.

– At least half of my neighborhood is pretty sketch.

– I wanted to learn how to breathe while running first because that was my struggle the last 8 times.

And week by week, I ran farther. Sometimes faster. Sometimes I had to stop in the middle of it to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I was counting down the seconds until I was done. Sometimes I didn’t realize how long I’d been running until the voice prompt told me to stop.

Running, for me, is the ONLY time my brain is completely calm. I guess since my feet are racing my mind cannot. I felt really good. I also felt pain in parts of my body I did not realize could hurt so bad. Namely – my achilles and my IT bands.

There were a handful of days I felt like this as I stepped off the treadmill.

walk

Also this.

leg-day

And little by little, I conquered the program. I got more and more confident about how I’d do the day of the 5K – conveniently the morning of Thanksgiving because ALL THE FOOD.

But that’s a story for another time. Next time.

Like riding a bike

David Sedaris has this great story about getting a Fitbit and basically how his OCD is mainly what keeps pushing him to not only hit his step goal but blow it out of the water completely. Give it a read after you’re done with this.

I got a Fitbit last Christmas. I’d been having trouble with my motivation since getting back to the world of the employed and needed something to keep me accountable when it came to working out – in the summer I’d been fine because, well, summer, and I think knowing I could go any time of day I wanted made it easier. I fit everything else in around the gym, rather than the gym in around everything else.

I wore it a lot, at first. And then quickly realized how sedentary my life was.

And then we went to Denver and walked literally everywhere. Like, such as, up a mountain. And down and back up Red Rocks Amphitheater. NBD.

That was the first time I hit the recommended step goal for the day. 10,000. Hit it every day we were there. And felt super healthy.

And then I came home, took it off for a shower one day and promptly forgot about it for a few months.

WHOOPS.

I mentioned in one of my recent posts that the past several months have been weird because I’ve kinda plateaued on my depression and anxiety meds. The dosage I had been on for years was no longer cutting it, so we were movin’ on up – in addition to doing some other testing to make sure that all it was was those unbalanced brain chemicals and nothing else.

So. Update.

I had some blood tests, they all came back normal. I’m scheduled for a sleep study – because my sleeping has been all fucked up – sometime in December, I think.

I started my new medicine dosage about 3 weeks ago, and… you guys.

I put my Fitbit back on.. so there’s that.

And then I started, for the 1931049th time, Couch to 5K/attempting running three times a week. Because I actually want to. I want to go to the gym. I want to go take a walk instead of immediately crawl into bed after work. I want to go to the Walking Bridge during lunchtime…

Note about the title of this post – riding a bike after you haven’t in a while is not that easy. Ashley and I did it in London after many years of non-biking and we almost fell at least 5 times each. And accidentally trespassed at least 3 because we couldn’t get control of the things. So yeah, that’s what running/medicating feels like for me. You get back to it and it’s weird at first – you get some good stories out of it – and then it becomes alright again.

Running’s still hard AF for me, don’t get me wrong. Because boobs and breathing, basically. But I’m keeping at it. And signing up for a 5K ASAP – looking at one Thanksgiving Day morning, in fact. I’m looking at getting some new shoes because my current ones are old and my achilles hurts after wearing them a while on my runs.

Aside – that may not be from the shoe, it may be from a fall I had on Oaks Night because I was drunk in a maxi dress. But to be fair, I look hot in that maxi dress and have also tripped in it a number of times sober. I was on crutches and in a knee brace for a couple weeks after, and I think that may have a little to do with the pain too.

I’m about to hit 10,000 steps in a day for the first time since that Denver trip – and upping the medicine dosage – and while I won’t be necessarily going to the extremes Sedaris did, it and the running/gym visits have become slightly addicting so I think I’ll keep it up.

Wherein I was an angry elf for a lil bit

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There are a LOT of fun side effects to having anxiety and depression simultaneously.
1. That thing where your legs almost never stop moving when you’re sitting still – If this helped my running at all, I’d be at a marathon level right now instead of 5K.
2. All of the thoughts all of the time. They really ramp up right about midnight.
3. Feeling like you just want to sleep, but also feeling guilty about doing that because you could/should be doing something productive. And then worrying that you would be judged for just wanting to sleep and not get anything done.
4. Random, unexplainable agitation and ANGER.

The anger, man. My God. That came out of fucking nowhere. It’s a recent development, by the way, so that’s fun.

I guess it was about a month ago that it started? Literally no idea what set me off. But all of the sudden, I was mad. I was grumpy. All. The. Time.

And, let’s be honest, my face can’t really hide any emotion. So here I was, annoyed at just about everything everyone was saying or doing and completely unable to hide it. Also, completely unable to explain why I was getting so annoyed. So that’s fun.

Aside: Despite the fact that I have a serious life-long case of Resting Bitch Face, I am really not mad that often. Especially now that I don’t work in the newspaper business/for the devil incarnate anymore.

Thank God for regularly scheduled maintenance with the therapist that came up at just the right time. Sometimes I really understand Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” because I feel like if she was just on call constantly for me to run things by, I’d be so much better off.

And that, my friends, is why I am in therapy. Ha.

But for real – my appointment couldn’t have been timed better. I was damn near breaking point (though what that would have looked like, I honestly don’t know) when I went to see her.

Luckily, she understood what I was talking about (because duh, she always does) and assured me that I wasn’t going crazy(er). She said that sometimes this happens with this illness, because it’s fun and unpredictable like that. And also, since I’ve been on the medicine at the same dosage for about 6 or 7 years now, I’ve probably built up a tolerance, and it’s no longer working the way it should.

FUN!

She also asked some questions about if some certain things bothered me she knew were going on in my life and wouldn’t ya know it, they were! I hadn’t told anyone I was feeling that way about those situations (purposefully keeping it vague here to not hurt feelings) yet she read my damn mind and figured me out. That’s why I pay her the big bucks.

Anyway. The end result of that therapy session was the (probably due to placebo effect) feeling that I was already doing better. I wasn’t getting more crazy, I just needed the chemicals adjusted again. She made me promise to talk to my doctor about upping my dosage and we’d see where we were when I saw her next.

Not long after the appointment with her, I made one with my GP, who, as it turns out, is on double the amount of Prozac I am, so she totally got it. And she was worried about me.

When you go to your physician’s office requesting anti-depressant related things, they give you a mental health checklist of sorts.

It says things like:
“I have no interest in things that used to interest me.”
“I am tired a lot of the time.”
“I have trouble sleeping.”
“I can’t concentrate.”
“I feel angry/agitated/overwhelmed a lot of the time.”
And so on and so on.

You rank it 0 to 3 with 0 being “Not a problem” and 3 being “LITERALLY ALWAYS.” They aren’t really concerned if you stay at 9 or below. I got a 16.

So. Here’s where we are. I’ve been bumped up to a higher dosage of Prozac for a couple months. I’ve got labs scheduled to look at my blood and my chemicals and make sure depression is the only thing effing me up. I have a sleep study coming at some point in the near future and a plan to check back in with all my doctors after a little bit.

I do feel better having a plan, and I’ll let you know how it all works out.

And I already feel a lot less angry. I guess I just had to tell someone I was pissed. Who knew.

If only depression was that easy.

#tbt, a little early

I cannot believe it’s been a year. I cannot believe how much has changed in that year.

365 days ago, I walked away from a steady paycheck, health insurance and a chance to go to the Derby for free every year (ha), because none of those things were worth me staying in a job I hated.

363 days ago, I became partially employed at what is now my awesome, wonderful, fun full-time job.

You all have heard me talk about that day and that job and what it was doing to me psychologically. For those that haven’t – here’s the post I wrote not long after I left:  On hold.

Today, I went to lunch with five close girl friends, none of whom I would have met (possibly, who really knows though?) were it not for that job I hated. Only one of the six of us still works there, and even she’s a week away from leaving.

As we caught up on our lives and jobs and everything that’s happened since we previously got together, I just kind of sat there and took it all in.

I’ve been bitter about my previous job. Obviously. And, I believe, rightfully so, because of some of the things I went through. But it was never and will never be a total loss of those four years of my life. I got some of the best friends I could ever want from that place (partially because of shared trauma) and all of them are worth every bit of the shit I endured. I cannot imagine my life without them.

One year later. And where am I?

In a much better place. If you’d have told me on this day last year how good things would be a year away? I’d have been skeptical. Because I am was a pessimist.

Not anymore.

A lot can happen in a year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come in the next 365 days.

The Hardest Thing

For the past year, I’ve started and stopped writing this post. Couldn’t bring myself to do it, say it, whatever…

It’s not that I wasn’t constantly thinking about it because I was. I am. All the time.

Around this time a year ago, I made a hard choice. I said goodbye to Charlie, the first dog that was just mine, the first roommate in the first house that was just mine. And it broke my damn heart.

Charlie and I had a rough start. Correction – Charlie had a rough start. A really rough one. Before he even got to me. Me, the one who so badly wanted to fix him, make him better, give him a good life.

He came to me in September 2014. When I heard about him and saw his face I thought: “This is it. This is my dog.” I knew he had anxiety, knew he had some fear, but thought I could love him enough to make him better.

So I tried to. God I tried. I didn’t make him sleep in the crate he was petrified of because he’d been obviously locked in there constantly and was fearful of it. I was gentle with him in how I treated and talked to him, trying to make up for the way he cowered after he’d done something he knew was bad because before me, he’d gotten hit.

Aside – Anyone who hurts any animal is a fucking coward and awful human being and deserves to have the same abuse they inflict on an animal done to them. End of aside.

We took classes. He improved so much and learned and did so well by the end of the two months of classes he won the “Most Improved” Award.

But there were times it was still hard. Times he’d tear things up because he was terrified, no matter how sweetly or calmly I talked to him or dealt with him.

Early on someone said it wouldn’t mean I was a horrible person if I gave up on him. He had a lot of problems, more than I could fix on my own – with my schedule and income and my own worsening depression and anxiety.

I remember a night I sat on the floor of my kitchen, crying as Charlie licked the tears off my face and tried to climb in my lap to comfort me. I buried my head in his neck, sobbing, and said “I’m not going to give up on you.”

And I never did. I tried so hard with him. I did all I could possibly do to make my home better for him, my schedule better for him, life better for him. All the while my own life was a mess – I HATED (yes, all caps) my job. I wasn’t happy. And as unfair as it all was to me, it was even more unfair to him. He deserved better.

In the week or so around my birthday last year, I’d come to the end of a particularly rough stretch of time with him. He’d been tearing things up through the house which were getting more expensive to replace. He was having to be left alone longer and longer because I worked for a tyrant who didn’t care about anyone’s time or life but her own. I called my parents and cried and they reassured me over and over that there were places I could contact about Charlie that would get him exactly what he needed and insure that he was in good hands.

So I called GRRAND. They’re an amazing organization that takes in dogs that need new homes and doesn’t let them go to those new homes until they are sure it’s the best thing for them. In the meantime, they live in a foster home, with someone dedicated to working with them and loving them and taking care of them. I told them Charlie’s story and through tears all the reasons (in my opinion only) I felt like I’d failed him. They said they’d take him in within the week.

It was shit timing. My parents were out of town, my sisters were unavailable as well … I almost had to take and drop him off on my own, the thought of which terrified me even more because I would likely have been a blubbering mess stuck in their parking lot for two days because I was crying too hard to drive. Luckily, my friend Katherine, who had been through something similar with a pet recently, was able to go with me. And for that I will always be grateful to her.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried that hard – and all of the other times were funerals of loved ones. And even as people kept telling me over and over that I was doing the right thing and what was best for him, it still hurt like hell. In my eyes, I had failed him. I couldn’t fix him. I couldn’t help him enough. I said my goodbyes and my sorrys and over and over that I loved him so much. And after a while, I left.

So it’s been a year. I think about him all the time. I wonder how he’s doing and have actually recently heard. I feel like I’m at a much better place in life now – mentally/emotionally, financially… to have a pet again. I applied, through GRRAND, to potentially give a home to another dog sometime (hopefully) in the near future. In one of the phone calls with them, I’ve found out that Charlie is headed to Wisconsin, to a family that will be working with him more on his anxiety and fearfulness, which has apparently not improved much in the year he’s been in the current foster home.

When I was unemployed for a while last summer, I stupidly thought I’d made a mistake and given him up too early. But then I realized at the time I was barely able to buy groceries for myself, even though I had all the time in the world for him now, I still couldn’t provide what was needed.

It’s taken this whole year to come to terms with the fact that I did do the right thing. That no matter how much it hurt to let him go, it was what I needed to do. Loving him wouldn’t fix his issues. I couldn’t do it alone, and I didn’t have the resources available for what he needed and will continue to need as he grows up and hopefully gets better. Deciding to let him go was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, but ultimately for both of us, the right one. I hate that it came to that, but I love that I had the time I did with him.

I miss his goofy face and personality all the time…

I hope he ends up with a family who can give him everything he needs to get better and live a long, happy life. I’m sad it isn’t with me, but I’m glad we’re part of each other’s story.

Love and miss you, Charlie Buddy.