Sunday, December 30, 2012

One of the best decisions I made in 2012: antidepressants

I wish that eating well, running, and staying busy were enough to keep depression and anxiety at bay for me, but they aren't. Those are all things I've been doing for years, and still - for years - I had this constant, nagging feeling of Something is wrong with me. I planned my own funeral for fun. I wrote depressing entries in my diary. I made friends and lost them, over and over again. Something is wrong with me. I got angry and threw things. I cried while lying on the floor of the bathroom, light off, door locked. I quit things, changed jobs, viewed moving once every year or two as a perfectly logical approach to dealing with social discomfort. Something is wrong with me.

And yet throughout that time, I looked totally functional to most people. I went to school or work. I excelled in classes and in my jobs. I smiled, bantered, was personable. I maintained my relationship with my husband. I had a kid.

Few people outside my immediate family knew how much I was struggling. I didn't know how much I was struggling. Periodic bouts of exhaustion, near-constant irritability, and daily anxiety attacks were, from my perspective, just part of the fabric of my personality. And to a certain degree, one gets used to feeling bad when one has felt that way since her early teens. I had enough coping strategies in place (like working really hard, eating well, running, sleeping, zoning out, distancing myself from others if I might go all Jekyll-and-Hyde on them, etc.) that I got by, for the most part. As the years went on I also became adept at hiding what was really going on.

That's a common theme in mental health: hiding. Which is partly why so many of us who struggle with difficult mental experiences feel so isolated and alone. We don't want to embarrass ourselves, so we compensate by striving to look normal (or better yet, GREAT!); when we do furtively glance over the wall to see if there's anyone else out there, the place looks empty. In reality the mental health landscape is full of people struggling with similar things, all hiding from one another, afraid (often understandably so) to stand up and put it all out there. I think that's slowly changing. Finally.

I started therapy long before I started taking an antidepressant, a strategy that now seems somewhat backwards. Don't get me wrong: therapy has been invaluable in that it's offered a place where I can dig through my life and identify where, how, and why ineffective habits developed. It's given me tools: I've learned how to set boundaries, be nice to myself, combat negative thoughts, handle conflict, and be more assertive. I needed the therapy; it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The problem was, implementing these strategies while dealing with full-on depression and anxiety was like trying to build a life raft while in the active process of drowning. 

Only after I got in touch with a psychiatrist, received a diagnosis (major depression and PTSD), and started on Zoloft (a relatively reliable, long-studied antidepressant used specifically to treat PTSD, among other conditions) did I realize just how long I'd been on the verge of being pulled under permanently. I'd gotten so used to treading water that I didn't know life's not supposed to be a constant day-to-day, year-to-year struggle. I did recognize that the bad times were growing progressively worse. By last January I was having the conversation with my therapist of, "I won't end my life. But I think about it. But I won't do it. But sometimes I want to just not exist," and him saying, "What you're holding onto is an emergency exit option. As long as that door is open, even just a little, you are in danger."

It's hard to describe how different my life is now that I am taking that little white pill every morning. Maybe it looks the same from the outside. I'm still doing what I've always done: working hard, running, putting time and effort into my relationships, challenging myself. But from the inside, it's like Extreme Makeover: Headspace Edition. My anxiety is still there, but I'm mostly able to manage it. I still get depressed, but I recognize the warning signs and know to take action before things get really bad. And all the techniques from therapy? Now I can actually put them into practice on a consistent basis. (Turns out, positive self-talk really works, if you can make yourself do it!)

Sometimes it's hard to remember what it used to be like. I do find myself wondering why I couldn't pull it together, why I made things so hard for myself. But then I'll read an old journal entry or think back to one of my earlier sessions in therapy, and I'll remember that I didn't do this to myself, that I was working as hard as I possibly could to fix my brain. I couldn't save myself no matter how much CBT, EMDR, or western meditation I did. A person with two broken arms might know everything about what it takes to construct a house; she might have all the tools, all the blueprints. But unless her broken arms are set and have a chance to heal, there's no way she's going to be able to actively use her arms to build it.

That's what medicine has done for me: it's put me in a place where my brain can rest long enough to (hopefully) get better. Sometimes I do wonder whether I will ever be able to stop taking Zoloft. Part of me believes it's just a temporary support beam, and that if I can just use this time to reconstruct and galvanize my way of thinking, I'll eventually be able to remove that support. Another part of me worries that if I ever stop, the whole thing will collapse. At any rate, I'm not ready to quit medication just yet. It's working for me; if it's working, why stop? The statistics also give me pause. Depression is one of those things where if you experience it a couple of times, you're likely to experience it again in the future, and it might be worse the next time.

Of course, every person's experiences are unique, and that's certainly true when it comes to antidepressants. I've read that for some people, they don't work; some people have side effects that negate the positive outcomes; other people do well on them for awhile, and then the medication loses its effectiveness. For all I know, Zoloft might lose its oomph for me, too. But for now, I'm just grateful that it's working. It's one of the best - perhaps the best - decision I made this year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Marginally-Homemade Vegan Chocolate Nibbles

I have an issue with vegan energy bars, and it's that most of them (with the exception of Zing bars, which are my absolute favorite but which are expensive and not readily available around here) are date-based. Dates are tasty, but they're also texturally dense and very sweet. When you add to that things like dried cherries, walnuts, and agave, they turn into brick-like sugarbombs.

If I had to pick a favorite - Zing not included - it would be the Pure Bar:

The chocolate one especially. It doesn't really taste like a brownie to me, contrary to what the package says, but the cocoa cuts the sweetness a bit. The cherry cashew is... okay. When I'm desperate for a quick snack in the middle of the day, I'll eat one if it's the only carb-y thing around. 

But still... These things have heft, and once I eat one, I can feel the heft in my stomach. See? Dense, dense, dense:

However, they make a fantastic base for quick and easy chocolate nibbles. All you need is a bar and some dark chocolate. I use Trader Joe's: it melts well, and it's inexpensive:

Cut the bars up into little bite-size pieces...

...and then melt a few of the chocolate bars in the microwave. Heat on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, stirring once every minute.

Then just drizzle the chocolate over the bites. My five-year-old son did this part - his method was to dot each bite with a glob of chocolate. My method is to cover the whole thing (chocolate everywhere!), but I like how his chocolate dribbled over the sides. He did, too: he now fancies himself quite the pastry chef.

So easy, a Kindergartner can do it! (He loves stuff like this.)

I'll keep them in the refrigerator and have them as dessert for the next few days. Two or three bites are enough to make me feel satisfied and chocolate-happy.

This "recipe" makes Sandra Lee's creations look like food worthy of the French Laundry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Most Fantastic Present: The RunnerBox

I love giving gifts but I generally suck at picking them out. This is especially true when it comes to my husband, my parents, and my brother's family. I consistently end up finding stuff that *I* want, but for everyone else, it's a crapshoot. And although I'm loath to give gift cards, sometimes that's the best I can do.

My husband is one of those people who's hard to buy for because he doesn't want a lot of stuff. That's something I love about him, but it makes gifty holidays a little challenging. Things I do not buy for him:
  • Clothing. No t-shirts, no sweaters, definitely no pants or shoes. I did manage to get him a running jacket he liked last year, but I was very careful to include the gift receipt and was pleasantly surprised when he did not use it.
  • Power tools. I'm much more likely to wield a drill or a hammer than he is.
  • Books. 
  • Anything even remotely related to man-scaping.
Things I know he likes:
  • Peet's Coffee. But at $14+ per pound, I'm hesitant to splurge for it.
  • Gift certificates to running stores and Hammer Nutrition. Useful, but not very creative.
  • Apple products. Too expensive. 
I was at a loss this year until I read a review of The RunnerBox at Yo Momma Runs. The RunnerBox is a subscription that entitles the recipient to a box of running-related goodies every other month. I  knew immediately that my running-addicted husband would love it. Staci of the RunnerBox team mailed the first shipment the day after I placed the order. When I had an issue with PayPal, Staci also got to work on the problem, resolved it within hours, and kept me posted. I had the gift in hand by Christmas Eve; I didn't have to do much in the way of wrapping it because it came with a gift card, a ribbon, and a little gift-topper. I definitely got the sense that these folks care about the quality of the product and customer service.

The box came with lots of goodies, including tea, a reflector, gum, gels, protein powders, and other stuff that my husband is excited to try out:

I plan to steal some of these from him:

I've already stolen this:

This would be perfect for anyone who enjoys running, and particularly for someone who's new to running or training for a race. What great motivation! Plus, who doesn't love the anticipation of waiting for a present in the mail? :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Very Vegan Christmas

Merry Christmas and/or happy holidays, depending on what you celebrate. Regardless, I hope you get to spend this time of year with people you love.

My parents are in town to help celebrate, and yesterday I made a whole vegan spread for dinner. (Today is Day 8 of my 30 Day Vegan Challenge.)

This was super easy. The hardest part was simply cutting the squash in half. Had anyone been watching me try to slice through this thing with a butcher knife, I would have probably given them a heart attack. Thankfully it all worked out.

2. Steamed mustard, turnip, and collard greens with sweet onions, grape tomatoes, and yellow squash:

I didn't use a recipe for this one. I just made it up as I went along. I heated up the onions, then the tomatoes and the squash; this lent some sweetness to the pan. Then I added the greens and steamed it all on low for about 10 minutes or so. It takes a while for these types of leaves to soften up.

3. Roasted beets, carrots, and brussels sprouts:

Another easy one. I coated the brussels sprouts and carrots with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkled in salt and pepper. I did the same to the beets, but separately to minimize getting beet juice everywhere (still happened during the cooking process, though). Then I roasted the mixture at 400F for ~30 minutes.

4. Smashed potatoes:

I peeled the potatoes and cooked them in the microwave until they were soft. Then I squished them up using a potato masher and added Earth Balance spread (not too much, since it tends to be a bit oily) and almond milk (probably between 1 and 1 1/2 cups in total).

Also, I purchased a crusty loaf of bread for everyone else's enjoyment. I heated it up, sliced it, and slathered a piece of it with butter for my son. Kid looked like he was in gluten heaven.

Verdict: I thought it was fantastic; the best thing was feeling full and satisfied, but not stuffed. My mom said she loved it. My husband seemed to enjoy it, especially the potatoes. My dad... Not so much. This was not his idea of a traditional Christmas dinner. Or traditional Christmas anything, given that we do not go to church or attend a Christmas Eve service. I have to be really careful not to let myself fall into the "I never do anything right" thing with them.

But whatever. You come to my house, you get to eat my hippie granola food and do the holidays our way. In the end, I hope they realize that we do have common ground - not in food, not in spiritual beliefs or practices, not in income, but in family and in doing our best for the kids in our family.

Anyway, have a wonderful day! I hope you get to eat, and rest, and share, and get all of the things you need and at least a few of the things you want.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Six; Vegan Days 3-5

1. My family came into town today. One thing that I've noticed since being in therapy, taking antidepressants, and learning how to set boundaries is that I can now handle having my relatives in my home for extended periods of time (and by "extended," I mean six hours or so, tops). This has not always been the case. Used to be that having them here for even half an hour sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, depression, and dissociation. The most important thing for me is not letting them infiltrate my own space: whereas we used to have them stay in our house, we now ask them to stay in a hotel. Although somewhat inconvenient, it works out so much better for everyone.

Confession: as healthy as that all sounds, I was kind of a mess yesterday. When it comes to my family, panic attacks are my autopilot measure.

2. Another confession: while they are in town, we have plenty of libation on hand. Alcohol does serve its purpose at the holidays. I did not learn this in therapy. 

This is one of my favorite inexpensive wines - mostly because it tastes good, but I also do love the label. :-)

3. One of my students from this past semester sent me a hand-written thank you card. My grades have been in for two weeks and she's already received her updated transcript, so it's not like she was doing this to win favors. I have to give her props. Maybe one day I'll make writing personalized thank-you messages a goal; as it is, I'm happy if we manage to get the water bill in the mail.

4. Paper snowflakes: I love them.

5. Today was Day 5 of the 30 Day Vegan Challenge. So far, so good! 

Breakfast: GF granola cereal with almond milk
Snack: Almond milk (!) latte at the new cafe in town... This is the first time I've been to a local place that offers almond milk
Lunch: GF pasta (Trader Joe's brand, which is pretty good) and sauce with an apple on the side
Snack: Orange and a Larabar
Dinner: Sauerkraut with potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms. Sauerkraut: smells stinky, tastes delish, yay for fermented food.

I'm reminded that this whole vegan thing isn't an issue for me as long as I have access to the food I like/need and a way to cook it. I'm not craving meat or dairy so far. In the long run, I think cheese will be the toughest thing: I do love a good stinky cheese.

6. To offset the calorie count: mat Pilates last night (first time doing a bona-fide Pilates class) and an Xtend Barre class today. After two weeks of being away, I'm sore.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Home Again; Vegan Challenge, Days 1 and 2

I'm home, I'm home! I'm so happy to be home. This trip to California felt really long, even though it was similar in length to other trips I've taken. While I did appreciate the opportunity to gather some much-needed data for my dissertation research, and while I definitely appreciated the opportunity to hang out in such a lovely place, it seemed like I was gone for a month, not 12 days.

Overall, it was a good trip. I never felt overly lonely, and I was able to go out, run, and enjoy the fresh air quite often. I also indulged in activities that are more difficult when I'm home with an active five-year-old - namely, eating dinner in bed while watching Sister Wives and Catfish uninterrupted. There's something to be said for that.

But I missed my little man, and my husband, and now that I'm back, our holiday can actually start. 

*  *  *
I'm on Day 3 of the 30 Day Vegan Challenge. So far, so good. Days 1 and 2 involved some creative meal planning using food from the motel's free breakfast (coffee, juice, cereal, granola bars), quick-cook meals from Trader Joe's, and a pomelo that took me approximately 24 minutes to peel (I was feeling ambitious and adventurous with that one; in the end, it tasted okay).

Something I've learned so far: I do not like soy yogurt. At all. Too gluey, and it tastes like... pasty beans. Not my thing. But this heat-and-serve rice noodle soup with edamame crackers was easy and yummy.

The highlight of Day 2 was a stop at the Mariposa Baking Company in San Francisco's Ferry Building. MBC makes entirely gluten-free breads and goodies. It was on the way to the airport, so I got off the BART at Embarcadero, indulged, and then headed to SFO with a full, happy belly.

Drool, drool, drool:

Everything was gluten free, of course, but a lot of it was also vegan. For lunch, I ordered the vegan empanadas with a side salad (complete with GF croutons):

PERFECTION. The curry filling consisted of potatoes, tomatoes, and Indian spices:

And... I also splurged on a carton of Penguinos, which are akin to (and probably inspired by) the cream-filled Hostess chocolate cupcakes - but even more moist and delicious. 

*  *  *
Plans for the day include:

-Continuing to lay around in my pajamas
-Going downtown to select our yearly family ornaments (we pick a couple nice ones for Christmas every year)
-Doing laundry. Maybe.
-Resting my knee, which was SUPER sore on the plane yesterday. It felt fine when I did my pre-flight run in Berkeley in the morning, but by the third leg of the flight, it ached a lot.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vegan for 30 days: Day 1 starts tomorrow!

I've been thinking a lot about veganism. It's something I tried this past summer and fall, and for much of that time, I felt really good about not eating animal products. My primary reason for going vegan was sustainability: calorie for calorie, a plant-based diet is better for the environment in that growing crops requires less water, creates less pollution, requires less energy, and supports more people than does raising animals for food.

Veganism didn't stick - but somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't because I couldn't say no to a slab of steak or a grilled cheese sandwich. I like to cook, I like fresh produce, I'm addicted to rice and beans, and I still had my dark chocolate and coffee (which I absolutely refuse to give up, ever). I was fine with giving up animal products. Rather, it was because I started to feel like a giant pain in the ass whenever I ate with people other than my immediate family. Keep in mind that I also follow a gluten free diet, for health reasons (reasons like, I don't like having headaches every day and sinus infections once every month or two, and I do not enjoy stabbing pain in my stomach). So that meant that whenever I went out to eat with friends, or attended a party, it would turn into this big THING. 

Let's go out to for lunch/dinner!

Oh wait. You can't eat gluten. So where can we go? [This alone causes unnecessary drama way more often than I'd like, despite the fact that the vast majority of restaurants/eateries now have GF options of some sort.]

Uhhhhh AND you can't eat meat? Really?

Or cheese? No dairy at all?

...Eggs? NO?

Oh god. That really limits our options.

And that's when this is going on in a major metropolitan area. This doesn't include the issues that unfold when I'm on a field trip and my advisor wants to cook camp food for everyone, every night, or when people invite my family to dinner and want to know what they should cook.

I really DON'T want it to cause drama, and yet it so often does. And I hate - HATE - inconveniencing people. Just the sense that I'm creating problems makes me feel horribly guilty, like I'm draining all the fun and all of the options out of the event. Then it degenerates into me wanting to crawl under a table, covering my ears and rocking back and forth. Really.

So I gave up on veganism, somewhat reluctantly but also with some relief from a social standpoint. I tried to stick to organic dairy products, free range eggs, and meat from farms that supposedly treat animals properly - though of course, depending on the situation and where I was, I didn't always have much control over that.

Then, two days ago, I watched the documentary Vegucated. It wasn't the most engaging documentary about food I've ever seen - it was no Food, Inc. - but it definitely made me reconsider veganism. One thing this movie did that others have not is look at the truth behind labels like "organic" and "free range" and similar terms carefully chosen to make the consumer feel good about her food choices. For example: "free range" doesn't necessarily mean than birds are allowed to freely roam the farm. More like, they're not stuffed into cages but instead have to trip over their cohorts and walk through mounds of poop in giant indoor chicken pens. Those same "free range" facilities may still cut off the beaks of chickens and chop up live male chicks for cat food. Another example: Even cows that are not stuffed with antibiotics may have their babies taken away from them and, if they get sick, are often put down with a bolt to the head.

More than the horrible video footage, I was disgusted by the hypocrisy. Companies KNOW that most consumers aren't aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and they take advantage of that.

I'm not saying that every meat or dairy farmer, or every food purveyor, operates in a hypocritical way. But I don't feel like having to dig for the truth every time I purchase an animal product. So, considering the environmental issues I already mentioned, and the health benefits I haven't touched on, I decided to go back to veganism for 30 days to see how it goes. I took the PETA 30 day challenge. I know that my friends and extended family have their own point of view, and I know I may end up inconveniencing some of them (especially at the holidays!). But this is something I want to try, and I hope the people will try to understand my reasons for it.

30 days starts tomorrow! My breakfast plans include a coconut milk "yogurt" with granola, orange juice, and of course coffee.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Things I love about running: continuity

One thing I love about running is that it keeps me centered when I travel. Running gives me a sense of continuity when everything else - the climate, the food, the atmosphere, the people I'm around - is different from what I experience in my everyday life.  

I've been traveling a lot lately: several days per month on average. The trips are necessary and beneficial from a professional point of view, but they can be difficult because sometimes being away from home makes me feel like I'm losing my connection to myself. My brain starts getting kind of fragmented. The worst case of that occurred during a work trip last June; when I came home, I felt so depressed and out of it that I spent a week in bed. I don't want that to happen again.

Running helps. Wherever I am, I can put on my Asics, head out the door, and physically/mentally feel just as I do when I run at home or anywhere else. I am so grateful for that. I do not know what I'd do on these trips if I weren't a runner.

Here in Berkeley, I ran 6 miles yesterday and 7 miles today. I loved how the damp, drizzly air felt as I breathed it in, and how the bay looked from the hills above the university. I loved how the leaves on some of the maple trees are still a brilliant red. I loved seeing so many people out walking, biking, and running on a weekend morning. Running has been one of my favorite things to do here and a great way to see the city.

 Berkeley Hills

I love the neighborhoods here. I love how the houses are all so unique and how the trees are so grown.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Inadequate words on a tragic day

Today a young man shot and killed 20 elementary school students. Little kids. The same age as my son. Of all the horrible acts of violence that have happened in the last few years, I think this is the one I understand the least. It makes my brain reel. I was doing all sorts of things today, and doing them sufficiently well I guess, but my mind was half somewhere else. 

*   *   *

It was one of those days where, when I looked at someone else walking down the street, and he or she looked back, there was an immediate connection, an understanding, because we were reminded of our common bond as human beings. 

*   *   *

I believe that there's no such thing as "evil." I think that when we label someone else as evil, we do two things: we make them the "other," someone who has little to nothing common with us; and we strip them of a certain level of basic responsibility. After all, the purpose of Evil is... to be evil. "Evil" seems like this force that comes from outside the human realm, something we can't extinguish. But the truth is that normal, everyday people - people like me and like you - can do truly horrible, unspeakable things. They aren't monsters. Their purpose in life was not to create suffering, but those are the acts they chose for whatever reason (abuse in their own life, trauma, mental illness), and in turn they pass on their suffering to others.

I could talk about gun control (I have strong feelings about that) and I could talk about the importance of mental health support (strong feelings about that too), but ultimately, what's wrong here is much deeper than that. 

*   *   *
"If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Defunct pier, Berkeley marina

"No-one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how they figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise you grow up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others so no one will know that you weren't there the day the instructions were passed out.” - Anne Lamott

End of the pier, Berkeley marina

San Francisco Bay

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Daydreaming, Part 2: Adventure

One time, I sailed as a deckhand from England to the Canary Islands on a tall ship. It took about a month, and we had to cross the Bay of Biscay, otherwise known as the "Bay of Sickbay" because of its stomach-lurching effects.

It was a really amazing trip - one of the biggest adventures I'll ever have, I'm sure. Things I best remember: drinking hot chocolate on the deck at midnight when I wasn't on watch, the brightness and density of the stars over the pitch black ocean, getting chased down the hall by a misplaced vacuum cleaner during a gale-force storm (one of two we experienced), getting hit so hard by a wave during the middle of the night that the water rushed into my Wellies and soaked everything I was wearing, learning to tie knots and stow rope, climbing up to the top of the main mast (terrifying), the weird things the British cook made us for breakfast and dinner.

It was pretty fantastic. I think I was happy and focused for 99.99% of that trip. Except that one time when the first mate yelled at me for not tying up a tarp as taut as it needed to be. Oh, and the time the cook made us eat hard-boiled eggs wrapped in stuffing and cornflakes. That was weird.

I love what I am doing now because I still get to have adventures. I get to spend time in the middle of nowhere and hike around for days on end. I get to travel. Sometimes I get to see places that I couldn't see as a tourist, simply because my studies give me a kind of "all access pass." I get to eat food cooked over a campfire. Every now and then I do things that don't seem very safe at all, which I both hate and love. Usually, at least one odd and unsettling (but ultimately harmless) thing happens on every adventure, and it makes for a good story later on.

And then I get to come home, be a mom, hang out with my kid and husband, go to school, work out, clean my house, go to the grocery store, fret over the balance in the checking account, and make dinner. All that is an adventure, too.

What are some of the adventurous things you do, either in your everyday life or once in a blue moon? What are the things that make your life awesome, that give you meaning, purpose, memories, adrenaline?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

By the numbers

2: number of scoops of ice cream I ate last night (coffee + effervescent cherry sorbet)

4: number of additional ice cream samples the lady behind the counter "made" me try (dark chocolate peppermint, sweet potato and marshmallow, bourbon maple, and something with beer). I roughed it out and licked those sample spoons clean.

9: miles ran/jogged this weekend

3: fitness class torture-fests I took part in last week

1: completed application submitted

1.5: glasses of wine consumed today

5: clementine oranges going in my lunch bag for tomorrow

3: average number of times I run the dryer before my husband gets annoyed and folds the clothes himself

1: free cup of coffee I'm getting tomorrow by bringing in my empty coffee bag

4: days until my next trip

12: days I'm going to be away from home (booooo)

1: cheap snow globe that was dropped and shattered over the weekend

1000000: bits of smashed snow globe glass

7: gluten-free pancakes eaten by five-year-old this morning

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best news of the week so far

Not related to the best news of the week so far, BUT: I'm feeling better about the marathon. First of all, I FINISHED A MARATHON. So right there I should feel pretty good. Moreover, I felt great for most of it and my pace - for most of it - was consistent. Also, the Space Coast Marathon has fabulous medals.

This is not to say that I am totally pleased with how everything went, but at least now I'm not borderline despondent. I'm already thinking about the next marathon and what I can do to avoid the mistakes I made this time around.

The plan from here:
  • Lots of Xtend Barre for the next couple of weeks. I went to a class tonight and was surprised that I could still plie, given how sore my quads have been (yesterday I could barely walk on anything but a flat surface; I nearly took a header stepping off a curb)
  • Run tomorrow and/or Friday - short runs of ~3-4 miles
  • Sunday: Longer run of 6ish miles
  • Next week: start ramping into post-marathon training
  • End of December/beginning of January: start training for next marathon (likely one at the end of March)
Does anyone know of a good training plan for after a marathon? I want to give myself time to recover from the 26.2, but I also want to maintain my fitness level. In particular, I want to be able to continue doing long runs that are between 10 and 16 miles.

*  *  *  *

Best news of the week so far: I found out that my town offers a shuttle to and from the city. I tried it out yesterday, and it felt like heaven! Comfy seats on a tour-type bus, CNN on the bus televisions, electrical outlets for plugging in my computer, and the best thing: I didn't have to deal with the traffic. I just sat there in my plush chair, drank my coffee, and started a report I've been meaning to get to. The ride back in the evening was much the same.

Commuting has been an enormous stressor for me. Traffic around here is truly awful. I've lived in the Bay area, which is notorious for its traffic, but I honestly think it's worse here. At least twice a week I end up stuck behind an accident, usually involving one person rear-ending another right in the middle of the highway. Even without accidents, there's the normal rush hour slowdown and the folks who insist on going 20 miles under the speed limit in the middle lanes. Aside from the focus, grit, and patience it takes to deal with driving, the other thing that wears me out about commuting is that it is a daily two-hour time sink. I try to use the drive as a time to plan out my day and listen to music, but there are so many other things I'd rather be doing with those hours. At least on the bus, I'd have time to get a few things done, read some books, catch up with the news...

The price of the commuter bus is a little steep at $4 one way. I think the way to really take advantage of this would be to buy a ticket packet, which is offered at a discount, and ride the shuttle on a regular basis. In the long term, I'm pretty sure we'd save money on gas, car repairs, and parking. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Marathon: I'm going to need time to work through it

The Space Coast Marathon was yesterday. We finished in 4:42 and some change. The first 21 miles went really well; we ran between a 10 and 10:30 pace, hydrated properly, ate a few gels, and cheered on the faster runners who had already looped back around (it is an out-and-back course). RF and I wore matching shirts and shorts, and everyone kept calling us "the twins," which was kind of fun/funny - especially since I am about 30 pounds heavier than she is, and 7 years older.

Between miles 21 and 22, I hit the wall. It happened so quickly and suddenly that I truly did not see it coming. One second I felt fine. The next, it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My legs felt like concrete and my brain shut down. I did not want people to cheer me on. I did not want RF's encouragement. I wanted to be invisible so that I could fight my way through the last few miles entirely on my own. At one point a well-meaning spectator yelled at us to go faster and it was all I could do not to turn and scream "FUCK YOU" while flipping her off.

A weird thing happened with RF around mile 23 or 24. She was clearly feeling totally fine, and her chipper comments to me and to the other runners were wearing on me. I knew I was holding her back and I felt horribly horribly guilty about it. So in addition to the mental challenge of simply continuing, there was also this overpowering sense that I was failing her. I asked her to please run on ahead, and I meant it. It would have made me feel better - less guilty and more focused. In no way was I testing her loyalty. She refused. A few minutes later I asked her again, and she turned and snapped at me, saying that I was trying to make her feel bad.

At that point it was all I could do not to cry. I also hyperventilated a few times - literally could not breathe, and had to pull to the side and put my head between my knees.

In the end, the physical pain was manageable, but the mental/emotional confusion was nearly intolerable. Truth is, I cried at the finish line, cried in the shower, took a break from crying to eat lunch, and then cried for two straight hours in the car. And it wasn't crying out of relief or crying because the race was hard (which it was)... It felt more like the kind of crying that taps into old sadness.

I can't say I feel particularly good about the marathon. I know we went out to fast; had we reined it in more, I would have had more gas in the tank at the end. So I feel bad that I did not follow common running sense. I know my friend was capable of a faster time, and the way she kept checking her watch made me think she wanted to do more than finish. I don't really understand what happened to me mentally at the end; it was much worse than the soreness in my legs. And I feel bad for not having a more positive feeling about this run. Why can't I have a sense of accomplishment? Why do I have to be so negative?

My outlook might change in the next few days, and I'm going to give it time. Right now my brain is just worn out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This marathon brought to you by NEON

The marathon is on Sunday.

It's Wednesday night. 

This tapering is making me crazy!

I wish I could run it tomorrow - not because I want to get it over with but because I am just so darn excited about this thing. I may not feel that way at mile 22, of course, but I'm pumped about the challenge. Plus, I really want to run. It's weird to go from doing weeks of 40-50 miles to weeks of ~10-15 miles.

This is the Space Coast Marathon, so RF and I have decided to go with a neon theme. Because, you know. Space = aliens. Aliens = neon. Or something. For whatever reason, the neon seems entirely appropriate.

My running outfit is all planned out:

Neon yellow socks.
Bright pink sleeves for the first few miles when it's cold (this thing starts at 6:15 a.m.! I'm going to freeze.)
Neon yellow and pink shirt, which we plan to decorate with neon pink duct tape.
Neon headband.
Neon fingernail polish.

Oh, and shorts. They're not shown here, but not because I plan on running pantless. They're pretty understated and nondescript compared to everything else. I wish I could do more of a costume-type thing, but I've never tried that before, even for a short run. So that'll have to wait until I'm more marathon-savvy.

Now that that's all planned out, I can go back to watching Honey Boo Boo and twiddling my thumbs.


Is it normal to feel like a Chihuahua on crack three days out from a marathon? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Depression, etc.: How important is a diagnosis?

At my second therapy session three-ish years ago - right after Therapy Guy finished my intake questionnaire - I asked him what was wrong with me. I wanted a diagnosis. I'd already done my research and had narrowed down the possibilities, so I was quite prepared to handle whatever answer he gave.

"There is nothing wrong with you," he responded. 

Except that answer.

It pissed me off. A lot. How did he know? Had he lived inside my head for the past two decades? Nope. I knew something was not right. He simply didn't know me well enough. Because if he did, he would surely see that there was something very, very, very wrong.

Now that I am familiar with him and his compassionate, kind nature, I know that what he didn't mean was, You're making all this up. You're just some thirtysomething suburbanite with too much time on her hands, and you don't need to be here. Instead, what he meant was, You are perfectly fine and worthy just as you are - you just don't believe it yet. You may be struggling but you can make your life better. 

For a long time, he would give some version of the "There's nothing wrong with you" statement every time I asked him what my problem was. Even when I brought in journal entries that made me sound insane. Even when I cut myself. Even when I called him really late at night from two time zones away, crying into his voicemail. He always insisted that I was an acceptable person, deserving of concern and care, and that there was nothing innately wrong or bad about me.

Therapy Guy is not a big fan of the psychiatric diagnostic manual. He views it as a collection of symptoms ("experiences," he calls them) packaged in a variety of convenient ways. Patients in the mental health system are typically labeled with one of these "experience packages," even though everyone's set of experiences is unique, and even though the labels are often given for the primary purpose of appeasing insurance providers. That is why Therapy Guy doesn't deal with insurance companies, and why he treats the individual, not a diagnosis. I see what he means: looking at the diagnostic manual, I could probably give myself a whole slew of labels, and yet none of them would really fit exactly what I deal with.

On the other hand, his reluctance to offer a diagnosis has always bothered me a little, and when I finally did receive one from my psychiatrist early this year, it was kind of a relief. I deal with symptoms of depression. I deal with symptoms of PTSD. And while that doesn't mean I equate them with who I am or the change I am capable of, yes, it's really nice to have a framework of reference from which to work. (I now realize that Therapy Guy was already working within that general framework, so it's not as if I was totally off track in terms of trying to get better.) My psychiatrist's choice of antidepressant - Zoloft - was based on research indicating that it is effective for PTSD. That's why she picked it as a starting point for me. Pharmaceutically, it gave us a place to begin.

Moreover, it's nice to feel that I am not alone. When I hear someone say that they struggle with depression or PTSD, I know that even though our experiences aren't exactly the same, we share some common ground. I can relate to the challenge. It's comforting. The label - while limiting in some ways, and inadequate - creates a sense of community, and for people like me who often feel isolated and different, that sense of community is meaningful to me.

The important thing to realize about mental health diagnoses (as with many physical health diagnoses) is that they aren't necessarily permanent. Mental health is a fluid thing, and our personal choices play a big role in it. Most psychiatric conditions are treatable. Doesn't mean treatment is easy, but it's possible. So even though I was diagnosed with PTSD in February, I may not always have PTSD (there are many, many excellent treatments for PTSD; with enough time and support, people do recover). And even though I may have a genetic predisposition to depression, I may be able - with help and vigilance - to avoid the worst relapses. 

As Therapy Guy likes to say, People have an immense capacity for change.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Re-establishing the gluten-free habit

I got glutened this past weekend during a camping trip for a class that I'm teaching. Or rather, I glutened myself, which is a much more accurate way of putting it. And I have felt unwell ever since.

We were in a rural area with few food options. We made a delicious, GF (gluten free) camp meal the night we arrived, but I'd forgotten to bring lunch or any truly substantial snacks for the next day. We got up early and drove from stop to stop, and I quickly felt my stomach begin to gnaw on itself. I had an apple handy, and a Larabar, but these were no match for the bottomless, insatiable pit that is my stomach.

By lunchtime I was beginning to feel dizzy and cranky. I could feel the hangriness coming on. So when we stopped at McDonald's (don't ask, not my choice but the only restaurant option where we were), I threw caution to the wind and ordered a snack wrap, fries, and a soda.

Thing is, I've started to wonder recently just how intolerant I actually am to gluten. I've never been officially tested for Celiac disease. After three years of following a GF lifestyle, I've been thinking that perhaps I made the whole thing up just to ride along on the now-crowded GF bandwagon. And I decided to test that hypothesis at a notoriously unhealthy fast food joint... while hundreds of miles from home... during a trip where I was responsible for driving and relaying information to 20 students.

Did I mention that I washed down my lunch with a pack of peanut M&Ms?

Clearly it wasn't just the gluten - McD's is probably tough on even the hardiest stomachs - but I now recall WHY I went GF in the first place. Part of it is the whole bathroom situation. It's partly the really odd, inappropriate gurgling sounds reverberating throughout my belly. Part of it is the fatigue. But another big part - the part I'd completely forgotten - is the feeling that my abdomen is swollen. It's like my insides are sore and inflamed. It's unnerving, and it can last for several days.

I haven't been eating all that well for about a month now. Training for a marathon means that I am hungry all the time, and I've been traveling a lot, which means that I've relied fairly heavily on high-sodium restaurant food and "healthy" snacks from gas stations and airport kiosks. Seeing friends whom I haven't seen in a long time at conferences means that occasionally I've consumed more alcohol than I normally would. So even without the gluten, my digestive system has been suffering. This was just the final blow.

But I'm back on the GF track now, and I'm going to be very careful - especially in these weeks before the marathon - to eat what I know my body likes. Also, I'm going to have to be more diligent about preparing myself for situations where healthy food options might not be readily at hand.

*  *  *  *  *
Tonight my son and I made brownies for his school's bake sale tomorrow. They're gluten free, dairy free, and oil free, and based on the little nibble I had, they're pretty darn good. I hope they sell.

*  *  *  *  *
The marathon is a week from Sunday! I'm so excited. As the event approaches, I'm sure I'll also feel a bit nervous. But mainly I am looking forward to being in Florida with my family and tackling this challenge with my friend.

Monday, November 12, 2012

So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain

Today I saw my therapist for the first time in several weeks. His wife just had a baby, so he's been taking a paternity leave.

Two years ago, a year ago, even six months ago, his absence would have been very difficult for me to cope with. The inability to reach him by phone, to set up an emergency appointment, would have made me feel panicked and abandoned.

(I know that might sound weird to some of you. All I can tell you is that when you have grown up feeling like you can't really depend on or trust anyone because they will eventually screw you over, and when you have so many relational hangups that are so ingrained in you that for the longest time you don't even realize they are there, when someone trustworthy and parental finally does come along and sticks with you, the bond is very strong. And age does not matter.)

But this time, I just felt happy for him. I was so busy with running, working, traveling, parenting, having fun with friends and my husband, and - dare I say it? - thoroughly enjoying my life that when my therapist finally did call me back to set up a new appointment, I didn't get around to calling him back for nearly a week. I was just in my zone, and I wasn't in a hurry to see him again. As it was, I felt like I had little to discuss.

Fast forward to my session with him today. We talked about recent goings-on, how being nice to myself by "talking" to myself in a positive way is actually working, about how even though circumstances haven't really changed (including the common presence of difficult emotions), my way of handling them has. I have worked very hard to change the way I treat myself, to be more self-aware, and to give myself space and encouragement. What I've recently realized is that little by little, I have established an internal "new normal." 

These are all very good things, but I ended up crying quite a bit during the session . I don't quite understand why, but I think part of it is the sense that this very difficult part of my journey is coming to an end. And although this journey to deal with the past and rewire old behavioral patterns has been hard, it has also been intensely profound. One amazing thing about it is the bond I have developed with my therapist. It is a deep and meaningful relationship, as is any relationship in which individuals overcome an exceptionally difficult challenge together. 

But I don't need my therapist the way I used to. Even if I do feel depressed again, even if difficult situations arise (as they surely will), I am simply less dependent on him now, and that likely won't change even if circumstances should nosedive. It's a good thing, but it makes me feel sad, too, because it means that our paths are starting to diverge.

It's not just about him. It's also about the hard things I have realized, the difficult memories I've had to look full in the face, the struggle to take responsibility for my own life now. I'm not the same as I used to be. And even though I like my life now, I guess there is some sadness in realizing that there are certain things I am moving on from.

This post sounds sappier than I intended it to be. I heard this song on the way home and was struck by how it mirrors the mood in my head right now:

Two Fingers - Jake Bugg

"So I kiss goodbye to every little ounce of pain
Light a cigarette and wish the world away
I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay
So I hold two fingers up to yesterday
Light a cigarette and smoke it all away
I got out, I got out, I'm alive and I'm here to stay

There's a story for every corner of this place
Running so hard you got out but your knees got grazed
I'm an old dog but I learned some new tricks yeah"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reasons to Run: Breaking Down Barriers

Running has done so much for me - physically, mentally, even spiritually, depending on your definition of spirituality. It's helped me get, and stay, in reasonably good shape. It's been a lifeline when I'm depressed; sometimes it's the only thing that gets me up and on my feet. And it's connected me to a larger community, an inclusive, welcoming community with common values and objectives. It's made me feel less alone.

One goal I have for this blog (assuming I don't fall of the blogging wagon again) is to share the "gospel of running," so to speak. ;-) That may sound a little silly, but I think running is one of many potential catalysts for personal change and growth; it's also one that happens to be relatively inexpensive and doesn't require much equipment. I realize that not everyone wants to run, and that other people use other activities - yoga, climbing, religion, therapy, etc. - as catalysts for change. But it's worth touting running as an option.

One reason I love running is because it breaks down so many internal and external barriers, allowing people to be more real and vulnerable with themselves and one another, and more accepting of differences. For instance:

1) In running, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, country of origin, political beliefs, etc. do not matter. They just don't. None of these factors have anything to do with the act of running. Running bypasses, if not destroys, superficial barriers that seem to cause so many problems in our world and that blind us to our common human experiences.

2) In running, weight and appearance do not matter. When I started running, I was embarrassed to run on city streets because I felt fat and thought people were laughing at me. Granted, it is possible that someone may have made fun of me - but certainly no other runner has ever taunted me. That is simply not the running way. True runners respect and encourage other runners - regardless of how they look or what their pace is - simply because they are challenging themselves. As for bystanders who make fun of a runner's appearance? ...Well, they're the ones just standing there, or sitting in their cars in morning traffic. Who are they to cast judgment?

If you're afraid to start running because you're worried about how you look, try to find a place where you feel at least a little safe from the eyes of others, like a quiet park. Better yet, migrate to where the experienced, dedicated runners work out, like a local track, because even if they're in better shape, there's at least a 99.9% chance that they're going to support you and respect you just for getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other.

3) In running, people understand that everybody poops! Run for a while and you will quickly discover that the usual societal taboos regarding bodily functions don't really apply in the running world. Pooping, passing gas, puking, intestinal distress, figuring out where to pee when there's no bathroom available - these are all topics that runners tend to discuss with enthusiasm. Most runners have their fair share of stories involving said topics, and most runners don't blink twice when their running buddies have issues with bodily functions during races or training runs. It goes with the territory. Run for a while and you are sure to encounter a situation where you regret last night's dinner or have to duck behind a tree.

Poop levels the playing field. Again, it's about shared human experiences.

4) In running, pace does not matter. Well, it does matter a little in that if you run with other people, you have to figure out a way to accommodate different speeds. Either you have to split up (which is fine - you're still running together in spirit), or someone has to run faster while someone else runs more slowly (also fine, as modifying your pace will offer an additional challenge to the workout). But generally speaking, runners recognize that it's about the personal challenge. For some, moving from a 10-minute-per-mile pace to a 9-minute pace is a huge accomplishment; for others, running 20 miles at a 9-minute pace is a relaxing run. The important thing is that people meet their own personal goals and, if they so choose, set their own personal records.

5) In running, there's not much room for faking it. Especially if you're pushing yourself. When you run, you're breathing harder, you're focusing on how your body feels and on how far (or how long) you've been running, and there's less room for worrying about what other people think of you. And that is a really good thing, especially when you run with other people. As I've mentioned before, I've had a tough time making and keeping friends because I'm very self-conscious. But with the people I run with, I have little choice but to be myself - even when that means I'm frustrated or tired or grouchy. They see me when I'm not at my best, and that vulnerability provides more fertile ground for these relationships to develop.

6) Running breaks down mental barriers and perceived limitations. This is one of my favorite things about running. When I started, I thought I couldn't run for 10 minutes without stopping. Then one day I did. I thought I couldn't run for 30 minutes without stopping. After a while, I could. I was sure I wouldn't be able to run a marathon. It was a struggle, but I crossed that finish line. Running gives me an opportunity to surpass my own expectations for myself, and that in turn gives me hope/confidence that maybe, just maybe, I can surpass my own expectations in other areas of my life. In this way, it's helped me see that I am capable of change and growth, even when I feel stuck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Running as a way to mitigate depression and anxiety?

I've been away - not at the loony bin (though sometimes it's certainly a distinct possibility), but at a professional conference. Actually, wait. This professional conference IS like a loony bin, except that few of the people there actually recognize they have issues and the majority of them don't see psychiatrists. Same issues, less recognition. Always interesting.

Anyway, so first I was preparing for this conference (in the form of putting together a talk, which took a ridiculous amount of time and which put a spotlight on my poor graphic design/PowerPoint skills), and then I was at the conference, and then I was drinking and eating and giving my talk and reuiniting with people I hadn't seen in a while. And drinking more. 

Very little running was involved, unfortunately. I mean, I DID run, but they were relatively short workouts on the hotel treadmill. I should have run 18 miles on Sunday and it just didn't happen. Good thing I am in taper mode, since the marathon is in only 2.5 weeks away. I'm thinking of doing 18 miles this Sunday even though I suppose Hal Higdon would not approve. But would it really pose that much of a problem? I have two weeks after that to rest.

Speaking of running...

The last conference I went to was last June, and for whatever reason, it left me reeling and depressed. I don't know whether it was the stress of traveling, dealing with huge crowds of people, being away from my family, or what, but all of a sudden I went from feeling really stable (for the previous 4-5 months) to hitting bottom again. The situation was not good. At one point I wondered whether I might need to check myself into a hospital. The trigger seemed to be this academic conference experience. Thus, I was concerned that this very recent conference - which involved just as many people, almost as much traveling, and a strong dose of stress - might send me reeling down the same path.

Thankfully, it did not. I've been trying to figure out what the difference was between now and last June.

Things that are the same: I'm still taking an antidepressant, same dose. I'm still seeing my therapist every other week or so (actually less these days). Actually, if anything, the summer conference should have been less stressful: I wasn't teaching any classes at that point. I had to present at both meetings.

So what is different? The only major difference is that I'm now training for a marathon and attending butt-kicking barre classes on a regular basis. So could the extra exercise be at the root of this newfound stability (relatively speaking)? In a way, it seems counterintuitive. Marathon training itself takes a lot of dedication and a certain amount of sacrifice. It cuts into work time, family time, and rest time. Then add to that the barre workouts - if I do them 4 times a week, that's another 6 hours where I'm not really attending to my responsibilities. And yes, on a day-to-day basis, it does feel like a lot. I do feel the strain.

On the other hand, my immersion in these activities means that:
(1) I have more energy during the day and I sleep better at night.
(2) I have less time to worry/stress, because when I'm working out I'm very focused on the task at hand.
(3) I'm forced to make transitions more quickly. For instance, even if my mind WANTS to stay in work mode all evening, when I get to barre class, it simply can't. There's not enough energy for that.
(4) I have a better social life. I'm opening up more to RF, getting to know her friends, and starting to get to know the people at Xtend Barre.

Ultimately, I keep myself so occupied that I do not leave as much room for ruminating, worrying, planning, obsessing. I think that's a big part of it. Maybe I've been underestimating the positive long-term effects of exercise on my mental state. Maybe it's kind of like the antidepressants themselves: one pill here and there won't make much long-term difference; you have to take them every day if you want them to work, and they don't work right away. If you miss a day, it won't hurt you much so long as you get back on track the following day. Perhaps the influence of exercise on the brain is similar: the long-term consistency is key.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Embracing the Mom Jeans

Tonight, after years of deluding myself into thinking that I can make low-rise jeans work, I finally gave up and bought what I suppose some people would call "Mom Jeans."

Yes. I did. Because I just can't deal with the muffin top anymore. More than that, I can't deal with the possibility of anyone else asking me whether I am pregnant. (As it turns out, that question really bothered me. I didn't think so at the time, but not a day has gone by since that I haven't looked at myself more critically in the mirror.)

I can't remember when it was that low-rise jeans became the go-to jean fit (seven years ago? More?) but let's face the fact that a good portion of the population, in shape or otherwise, can't really make these work. At least, not if they're buying cheap, mass-produced department-store brands like I do.

Here's the thing. I'm in the best shape ever, for me. I feel strong. I can see muscles in my arms now, and muscles in my legs that I didn't know existed before I started marathon training and ballet/Pilates. In Xtend Barre class, I can plie, releve, and squeeze a ball between my upper thighs multiple times without thinking twice about it (three months ago, that move almost made me collapse in a sweaty, shaking heap). Plank, times two? No problem. 20 mile run? Not easy, sort of painful, but I can do it.

Yet I have hips. I have stomach flab. I have extra skin that will never go away unless I get plastic surgery, which I would never do because even if I HAD the money, which I do not, I'd much rather pay for a fancy tropical vacation than go under a knife. No question.

But do I really want my I'll-never-leave-you muffin top doing all the representing? No thank you.

I hesitated to try on the dreaded "mom jeans," and even when I had them on I was sort of cringing at first... But then I looked in the dressing room mirror and was like, HEY! Look at that! I can work this cut. No fleshy waterfall, no pseudo-baby bump. No sucking in my gut. Butt looks fine. Do I sort of look like I belong in a JC Penny ad? Kind of. But I'd rather my muffin top can hang out behind the zipper instead of over my waistband.

Also, Public Service Announcement: be warned that walking into the women's wear section of Target this fall/winter is like walking back into 1989-1992. I SWEAR I wore some of the exact same bulky/long sweaters in 7th grade.

Exhibit A

Sweater skirt

I also saw sweater pants, but I can't find them on the Target website. Sad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


My birthday's tomorrow. I will be 34. I'm cool with that, and I'm starting to understand what people mean when they say that your 30s are in many ways (not every way) "better" than your 20s.

Tomorrow I will be 34, and I will have more gray hair, cellulite, and spider veins than ever before. I will still have my pizza-dough stomach and my tiger-stripe stretch marks. I will still be in school. I will still be struggling to help maintain a savings account. I will still not know how to ski. My child will still be saying "Mommy? Mommy? Mommy. MOMMMMY. Mommy. Mommy (ad infinitum)" just as he is right now as I type this.

Tomorrow I will be 34, and I will be in the best physical shape of my life so far. I have more resources than I've ever had for coping with difficult emotions and my sometimes-erratic brain. I have more self-awareness than I did at this time last year. My life hasn't changed much since then, but I have a greater appreciation for my life. Same situations, same circumstances, different outlook.

I bought myself two birthday presents:

1) Fancy (for me) shampoo and conditioner

2) This book, which I am really enjoying so far and hope will be helpful: The Mindful Way Through Depression... Because at some point, it would be nice to stop taking Zoloft (though I'm not counting on it).

Tomorrow should be really low-key. I'm doing an early-morning 8-mile run with RF, taking some treats in to share with my class, and maybe grabbing some takeout with my family.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Difficult long runs and depression: How to keep going

What I have learned through marathon training so far is that running long distances is a true mind/body experience. As in, at a certain point both your mind and body (especially the legs) are screaming at you to STOP THIS NONSENSE IT IS INSANE. Then you have to somehow find the one small part of you (the David to your Goliath) that is willing to ignore both of them and carry on in the hope that at some point it will get better.

That's the other thing I've learned: you can be feeling completely trashed at mile 16, yet by mile 18 you'll feel like you're flitting weightlessly along on puffy clouds and rainbows. It doesn't seem possible, and yet it happens sometimes - that complete, rapid shift to feeling 100 times better than you did just a few minutes prior. Of course, sometimes it doesn't happen, but with the help of gels, water, mini goals (run to the mailbox... now run to the telephone pole...), and your running buddy, you get through it anyway.

Basically it's taken me approximately two months of marathon training to learn with respect to physical endurance what it's taken 2.5 years of therapy to learn with respect to dealing with depression/mental endurance: you keep moving forward knowing that it is going to get better. You don't know when - be it a mile down the road or 24 miles down the road - but at some point it won't be so hard. You just keep going. It sucks, you keep going. You puke, you keep going. You think bitter, evil thoughts about the drivers who don't understand crosswalk signals, but you keep going.

A difficult long run and depression are obviously not the same thing. If I had to choose between horrible, painful, 20-mile daily runs and daily depression, I would choose the running. No question. And while I *might* wish those horrible running workouts on my worst enemy under the right circumstances, I wouldn't wish depression on anyone. Ever. Because depression is like being in the solitary confinement ward of hell.

But. Sometimes now when I get depressed - and it does happen, frustratingly enough, even with the antidepressants and the running and the decent diet and 6-8 hours of sleep every night and the therapy - I try to treat my mind the way I treat it when I am struggling during a run. Which is basically to ignore the protests while giving it as much meager encouragement and positivity as I can muster, and by trying to distract it.*

It's not that simple, really, or at least it doesn't feel simple when things get bad. But I think this approach - ignoring the negative, saying nice things to myself (even when I protest), clinging to the belief that it won't always be so hard - is helping. I'm not saying it makes me feel good. Honestly, it doesn't. Depression is a deep pit. It's not like you can just launch into a standing jump and hop out of it. But treating depression like a difficult yet surmountable obstacle - as opposed to an insurmountable and permanent fate over which I have absolutely no control or any way to deal with - helps get me through, which at certain points is all I can ask of myself.

“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don't believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it's good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” - Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Four (I couldn't think of a fifth)

1. I would like a vacation. Something involving skiing, a beach (not sure it's possible to have both, but that's what I'd like), a massage (or several), good but unpretentious food, sleeping in under a light down comforter, and no work. This will not happen unless a fairy godmother or Oprah ("YOU get a car and YOU get a car and YOU get a car...!") steps in.

2. I'm feeling low. Hopefully it's because a) I'm tired from the long run this past weekend, b) I have PMS, and/or c) I've been too busy for my own good, and not because depression is sneaking its way back in. I'm keeping my guard up, just in case. I suspect some of it has to do with the shorter days. I LOVE summer, when daylight lasts past 8 p.m. I feel suffocated when it gets dark at 5 or 6 p.m.

3. Did I mention that I would like a vacation?

Oprah? Can you hear me?

(Anyone else with me on this?)

4. Ever since I started doing Xtend Barre, I find myself releve-ing and plie-ing when no-one is looking. And pointing my toes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wind, rain, hills... 20 miles

20 miles, done.

It was not an easy run for either RF or myself. We started off on an exceedingly hilly road and followed it for the first 11 miles. At mile 4 or 5, we hit a hill that seemed to go on forever, and I really struggled. I kept moving forward, but very slowly, and my mind kind of shut down. I couldn't manage to put together coherent thoughts, except a Little-Engine-That-Could type mantra: Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. This first half of the run was more beautiful, but although I did take note of the gorgeous red, yellow, and orange leaves, I didn't enjoy it much. It was a slog. Plus, my knee started to ache somewhere in there; I worried that it might not hold up.

At mile 11, we stopped to have a snack that my husband had cached for us. Amazing: a little extra water, a little Gatorade, an energy bar, some stretching, and I was like new. In fact, from there on out I felt a whooooole lot better. Not to say the second half was easy. It wasn't. But I found a groove and stayed in it for most of the rest of the way. It helped that we a) walked up a couple of the bigger remaining hills (honestly, I think I walk up hills more quickly than I run them - I go into speedwalker mode) and b) took a bathroom break. Plus, I promised myself that at mile 16 or 17 I could consume my beloved Espresso Hammer Gel. For whatever reason, it tasted absolutely divine, even though anything else would have likely made me puke.

At mile 17.5 or so I started breaking up the run into mini-goals: run to that sign, now run to that electric pole, now run to the stoplight. Mentally, it worked wonders.

During the last mile the wind picked up to 20-25 mph, and we were running directly into it. We felt like we were standing still. That part was tough.

It was good, I think, to have such a tough run and get through it anyway. That way, even if parts of the marathon are rough, we'll know we're capable of pushing through.

*  *  *
Near home, RF joked that "we shall overcome," and suddenly I was swooped back in time to elementary school when we sang that song at nearly every assembly and holiday concert. I remembered all the words and hummed it all the way back. I'd forgotten how much I love that song. And in a way, it was appropriate for our morning. :-)

*  *  *
Got home, iced my knee, ate apple crumble, ate a burrito, ate some chips, drank a lot of fluids, ate some more. Showed my son how to use Q-Tips to spread glue onto paper; ended up with a giant mess on the kitchen table. Showed my son how to make pancakes and roasted potatoes for dinner; ended up with a giant mess on the counter. ;-) I'm surprised at how much energy I had this afternoon. If anything, I had MORE energy than I usually do on days when I do not run.

I love running.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


This week has gone by ridiculously, ridiculously fast.

Workout rundown:

Sunday - 18 miler (see previous post)

Monday - Day off

Tuesday - 5 miles in the morning, Xtend Barre in evening

Wednesday - Unintentional day off

Thursday - 5 miles in the morning, Xtend Barre in evening (kicked my butt)

Planned workouts:

Friday: 3-4 miles

Saturday: 4 miles

Sunday: 20 miles (!!!) - Yup, going to go for it. My legs feel fine.

In other news, I have been incredibly flaky/forgetful lately, which I didn't quite understand until I took a mental step back to assess what I've been doing. There's just so much going on. Usually I am on the go from the moment I wake up (~5:15 a.m.) to the time I go to bed.

Examples of recent flakiness:

-Forgot psychiatry appointment. For the second time. She was not amused.
-Forgot to put away lab equipment that really needed to be put away promptly. Luckily, we were able to resuscitate it.
-Scheduled birthday party the night before my husband's 7 a.m. marathon (the one that is 2.5 hours away...)
-Forgot to submit various important emails/pieces of paperwork
-Forgot about office hours

I try hard to be conscientious and meet my obligations, but my brain appears to have reached full capacity here. What space I have, I devote to the most important stuff - family, interesting research and teaching, running. Not so much to the things that at this point seem kind of irritating and in the way. Like my meetings with my psychiatrist, who is a nice woman with meager therapy skills and who I just wish would give me my prescription without me having to come in once a month even when I feel completely fine.

Clearly I need to make more lists or something. Except then I would lose them, so really, what is the point.