Changes

We have recently moved for the 9th time in about 12 years.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks with packing and unpacking, and then for good measure we threw in a dog CCL surgery!

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He leads a rough life. Obviously.

We are loving the new digs and the ocean of cardboard boxes is slowly diminishing.  San Diego doesn’t get winter weather, although you’d not know it based on the winter jackets and Ugg boots in abundance any day that is below 70 degrees. There have been a few overcast and even rainy days that have induced me to make some yummy soups in my fabulous new kitchen. I actually have room for all of my kitchen gadgets and I missed my coffee mug selection more than I had realized!

Internal things have been changing  in addition to our physical location. This post has been sitting in my mind, and the drafts folder, for a couple of months. A few years ago, I  arrogantly posted a meme about exercise being equal to medication for the treatment of mild depression. It was a platitude photo with little concrete research behind it. I regret posting it because I now know better. For years I’ve used exercise as a way to combat depression. And it kind of works – for a while. But it’s not the only way or even the best way to combat depression for many people; myself included. (I’ve also used retail “therapy”, and of course alcohol. What I’ve come to learn is that drinking with depression/anxiety is like pouring kerosene on a fire. It makes everything significantly worse.)

There’s definitely a stigma around the subject of mental health and seeking help – but it shouldn’t be. Knowing this intellectually for other people is one thing. Getting my head around it for myself is another thing all together. My psychiatrist explained a couple of things. “We use what works, until it no longer works.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. “We can often point to life circumstances as reasons as to why we feel what we feel, which is why the average span from onset of symptoms to getting help is 10 years.” Oddly enough, this blew my mind when really it shouldn’t have because I should’ve sought help years ago. When you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they take in your history – a sort of timeline of your life snapshot. I don’t think most people look at life like that, but it was enlightening because patterns emerged of depression, low moods, unexplained or irrational thoughts and behaviors, etc. Laid out in that way, it was not only surprising I didn’t recognize the pattern before, but confirmed the statistic that people just don’t get help – for many reasons.

Depression is more than just being sad. We all get sad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of feelings. But actual clinical depression is much more and can have different causes. It also presents in more ways than simply low mood. Depression can come out as anger and irritability, irrationality, physical aches and pains, fatigue, and restlessness to name a few.

  • Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.

– Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As part of my treatment, I now take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. It was like seeing in black and white and then after a few weeks, the color came back. Technically speaking, more neurotransmitters are firing and working properly in the brain. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I didn’t know how bad I felt because it was normal. That’s what depression does – it’s a slow creeper that you don’t see coming. I was no longer jumping at every little noise. I didn’t feel panicky at the irrational thought spirals about awful things happening to the kids. I wasn’t having panic attacks in a store and feeling like I couldn’t breathe walking with a group of people picking up our kids from school. I wasn’t irrationally irritated by the sound of my kids saying, “Mom…” Having depression and anxiety is exhausting.

I *may* have told my doctor that he would have to pry my medication out of my cold dead hands – I feel like myself for the first time in a long time. He laughed and shared that I wasn’t the first patient to have that reaction. “Medication helps a person with depression let more of their personality shine through.”

I’ve returned to exercising, although not at my previous “running marathons” pace. I’ve missed the endorphins and the mind-clearing adrenaline of a great workout. I will get there again, but there’s less frenzy and anxiety about it now. I’m doing it because moving feels good. I’m walking the dogs because I love them and spending time with them makes me happy. I’m running on the beach because I can and the sand helps cushion my injured ankle/tendons. I’m riding bikes with the kids up insane hills because we can do hard things, it feels amazing, and as Hannah says, “the steep downhills are FUN!”

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I hesitated in sharing this part of my life because it’s not comfortable to need help. Who doesn’t like to feel like they have all their shit together?  Growth and change are rarely easy and often uncomfortable but to not do so would be worse. My hope is that sharing my experience might encourage someone who needs it to seek help. I’m grateful for a handful of friends that were open and brave enough to share their own struggles, which in turn gave me the courage to get help for myself.

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Irony

The daily post prompts of the last three days; Adrift, Unmoored, and Descend all succinctly describe my inner thoughts as of late. Perhaps depressed, anxious and floundering would be more accurate.

Continually vacillating between feeling justified and completely ridiculous by any real world standard; in my head it’s a panicked loop of: upcoming deployment, two great – but challenging – kiddos, single parenting for a year, sell the house, move to an apartment (but how will the dogs adjust?), get out of debt, don’t let the kids see you sad, exercise, eat right, self-care, walk the dogs, cook from scratch, feel crappy for not being grateful and wanting for things that don’t really matter (but matter to me), have a drink, get back on the wagon, mop the floor, keep the house clean because God forbid someone see the real you and how you live, don’t be so hard on the kids, those kids need more discipline, I’m doing it all wrong, I want to exercise, but my body hurts, my feet ache and my shoulders are numb again, feel guilty for not doing any and all of the above. Repeat at full volume and ever-increasing speed.

The other voice tells me to shut up and just “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and it will be fine. You’re overreacting and overanalyzing. Maybe I am. Or maybe I’m clawing and scratching to get off the mental merry-go-round.

I’m grieving the loss of relationships. I feel like I’m being a bad person and completely relieved at the same time. I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want a relationship with them and I feel like crap for thinking it out loud. They are not entirely to blame, and neither am I. It’s a dysfunctional pattern that’s gone on for so long it seems normal. I chose to step away for self preservation, only now I feel like I’m drowning in the consequence of it. Do I mend fences just to keep the so-called peace or forge ahead into uncharted territory? Feeling scared, sad, liberated, relieved, guilty, nauseous, uncertain, etc.

So where to from here?

I have absolutely no idea. I’m trying to take all this one task at a time and get through to the next thing. It’s raining here and has me feeling a bit melancholy. I’d like to take a nap, but I will walk the dogs.

Dogs make everything better. And snapchat silliness. Such as this:

Dogs and humor for me. What about you? What helps your anxious and or depressed heart and mind get through to a more even keel?

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Not just because of an election season that has left most of us feeling like we’ve been sitting in the spin cycle of a washing machine all wrung out, and not because of another public shooting, or other tragic event.  Just the d-word in general. Depression.

I started writing about my own experiences with depression a couple of years ago and it’s been sitting off to the side ever since:

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed seasons come and go where I was more myself, light-hearted and easy going. There were dips when I made poor choices in relationships, knowing it wasn’t going to lead anywhere good. Job changes, promotions and other events gave cause for the usual ups and downs of life. Overall, I had a hopeful outlook  – and that things would always work out even if I didn’t love the crap out of every single day.

I got married when I was 23. 8 years later I felt the weight of postpartum depression come crashing down on me in the shower as the water rushed over my now-foreign body, the sound of my hollow sobs echoing against the bathroom walls. Would he ever stop crying? Would my nipples ever stop aching? Bleeding? How was I ever going to be a functional person again? It was all so very overwhelming and completely unexpected. No one tells you about this part of bringing a baby home. No one told me there would be a “new normal”. I thought my new normal was insanity and a deep, dark hole that seemed insurmountable.

A few years and another child later, my husband left for what would be in total a 15 month deployment with a couple of weeks off during the holidays. That was a rough couple of years. We didn’t know then that our son would later be diagnosed with HFA (High Functioning Autism) or Asperger’s. We thought he was defiant and strong willed. I felt like a total failure at this parenting thing.

And now, here I sit. In the middle of it again. Our oldest is now 6 and our daughter is 4. Every day seems like such a struggle. They are bigger kids, but they aren’t quite big kids yet, so they are pushing every boundary and testing every limit. They don’t listen like we think they should. Our expectations are often more than they are capable.They fight with each other. Both my husband and I were the youngest of our own families and were much younger than our siblings – so we were basically raised as only children. It seems we don’t know what we are doing, daily. I have a book on my bedside table called Stop Arguing and Start Understanding…but it seems so exhausting to put forth the effort to read it. I’m so tired. I’ve been exercising daily, as I know that it is my tether to sanity. But I’m lonely here. I don’t have many friends yet, and I don’t have the gumption to really put myself out there to meet people. At the end of the day, I often feel like I can barely give enough to my kids and myself I just don’t have anything left over to offer in terms of friendships. I would be a taker and it just would be so much effort.

Yes, I know, I’m worth it, and I matter, and all that. My hope is that this is just a season. I really do. And I want it over. I don’t usually like to rush the time with my kids, but there are a few phases that I would love to just skip over entirely. This would definitely be one of them.

I wrote this in a draft 2 years ago. The kids are older and some things are easier with them. They are more independent and we are moving forward with evaluations for our son. I have peace about the things I was unsettled about before, but there are other things that seem so much the same. I feel it coming again. The heavy blanket that I know is not good, but feels so comforting. It’s deceptive in the way it makes me think I want it. I want the heavy blanket to wrap itself around me. “Sleep…” it whispers. “Don’t fight it…relax…” And rest is what I crave. It always knows what to say.

In my work as a trainer, I often fill the role of encourager, cheerleader, or simply the friendly instructor who is quick to smile and offer a friendly good morning. Exercise and physical activity has, and will continue to be, my method to maintaining mental health. “We leave all the stuff of life outside those doors,” I tell participants in my group classes. “Turn off the phones. Whatever is needed of us will still be there in 1 hour. Take this time – it’s yours. If you are anything like me, we need this time,” I say. Lately it’s been a struggle to be the encourager. How am I supposed to help others when some days it feels like I can’t even help myself?

Part of it is the season. Part of it is less sunlight. Part of it is – I just don’t know.

And I don’t care.

That’s what scares me.

Depression is the not caring that you don’t even care. I just want to sleep. I want to numb out. I want to drink and stay in that perfect buzzed state where you know you won’t get sick, but have enough that you just don’t give a shit or have to think to deeply about anything.

Sometimes I think those of us that feel things deeply have to go through periods where we numb out for a while to turn it all off. The feeling of everything just gets to be too much.

For me, I wait this out. It passes. I let go of what I can. I take a deep breath and try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

A Dose of Real

Recently over on Single Dad Laughing, author Dan Pearce wrote about what he terms a disease of Perfection. (Please take the time to check it out and read through it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

In the article (that you just read), Dan discusses examples of very real situations, but that we are unable to reveal our true selves for fear of what people around us will think. For a long time, I’ve thought the same thing with regard to Facebook and other social media and wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that when we use social media, we tend to compare our real, messy, uncensored life with the highlighted, glossy, highly edited version of everyone else’s life. This only sets us up for feeling, well, like crap. In Dan’s examples, there are even fatal outcomes in situations when being less than authentic becomes the status quo.

There is always someone out there who is better, more giving, smarter, more fit, less selfish, richer, prettier, stronger, bigger, smaller….whatever adjective you like. Ultimately, there is only one YOU. There is only one Me. If we choose to be someone we are not, if we choose an inauthentic life, even virtually, then we are robbing the world of our voice, our talents and our contribution – whatever those may be. I get that, but it’s still so hard to be our authentic, let-it-all-hang-out selves, isn’t it?

He asks us to take the challenge and add a dose of “real”. So here goes:

I lost 50 lbs in 2011. I have over the last 3 years, gained 35 of it back. I loved the way I felt when I had lost the excess weight. Something changed along the way, however. I still feel pretty darn good most days. I continue to workout, I continue to gain strength, and I can still run half marathons. I still pursue health and fitness. I love moving my body, getting enough sleep, running, and being active with my kids. I care way less what the scale says. I was down to a size 6, now I’m a size 10. I started at a size 16-18. I sometimes feel like I failed because I didn’t maintain that 50 lbs loss, even though I’m in better health than I ever was before my weight loss journey began.

I struggle with depression. Yep. As a person who gravitates to the “light” and the “funny”, I still struggle with it. I’ve even seen a professional to gain tools to deal with it. It sucks. (Which is another reason I am fiercely passionate about healthful food and fitness – it keeps the darkness at bay.)

I am not perfect. We all know this intellectually, but seriously – I am not perfect. I post cute kid pics like most parents, but then there are some days that make me want to tear my hair out. I try to be the best parent I can be. There are days when I am definitely not.

I was fired and was crushed. I was told that my spin class was to be cancelled after only having taught 6 classes. The attendance wasn’t sufficient to continue to offer the class. I love spin, and was just starting to get comfortable. I was fired via email the day before Christmas. It sucked. Last week was the first spin class I have taken since being fired. It felt great to be back.

I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I love to write. I love to teach. I love health and fitness. I’ve done combinations of all three. I do feel that when the kids are both in school full time, my windows of opportunity will be opening a bit wider and am sensing a shift. I don’t know what I want to do, but I’m excited about future possibilities even though the unknown scares me.

This whole post scares me and I do not want to publish it. Which is exactly why I need to.

Here’s to being real.  What’s your dose of reality?

Just Imagine

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There are some days when I just don’t feel like working out.

When the warmth of my comforter feels much more inviting than wrestling a sports bra, slipping on workout clothes, consuming fuel and heading out into what still feels like the middle of the night.

But imagine what I miss when I don’t get up. Just imagine missing out on this sunrise, and the way the colors change right before my eyes.

Imagine missing out on some time alone, so I can be a better mom, wife, and friend.

Missing out on the chance to work this body that has given me so much. Working out is a privilege, an honor, and a way to tell it thank you. Thank you.

Just imagine missing out on the endorphins that keep seasonal depression at bay. My body needs this. Even if sometimes my mind has to be convinced.

Imagine missing out on the gift of meeting new people, growing and learning, even if it’s against my natural hermit tendency.

Just imagine…

I can’t imagine missing this.

So I won’t.