the personal best marathon that wasn’t

On New Year’s Day, I decided on a goal for 2018. I signed up for the Erie Marathon, and it was going to finally be the personal record that I have wanted since the beginning of my marathon running. I had trained for a 4:30 marathon several times, which fun fact, is pretty damn average. Not for me, though. My best marathon time was 4:40, which I acheived at Steamtown (Scranton, PA), and it was an improvement of about 22 minutes.

Last year, I had come off a pretty decent couple of training cycles: On my 34th birthday, I bested my 50k time by one hour, 45 minutes, and 49 seconds. I ran the entire race with no walking, another big feat for me. In September, (one year ago on Monday), I completed my second Ironman triathlon, and my training allowed me to improve my time by 56 minutes and 52 seconds. I had lost some weight, which helped, and was around 190 pounds at that time. I was set up pretty decently to have a good next year, as long as I kept up my training and eating well.

Unbeknownst to me, however, my brain’s neurotransmitters and genetics had other plans. Much, much different plans. Destructive and dangerous plans.

According to Havard Health Publishing: “Throughout life, different genes turn on and off, so that — in the best case — they make the right proteins at the right time. But if the genes get it wrong, they can alter your biology in a way that results in your mood becoming unstable. In a genetically vulnerable person, any stress (a missed deadline at work or a medical illness, for example) can then push this system off balance.” If you have some time to read, it’s an extremely informative piece.

A lot of people don’t really understand this, which, fair enough. I feel that most humans, by nature, are selfish. They internalize why someone close to them is not feeling 100% joyful at all times. They skip right over the depressed person and go right to themselves – what did I do? What didn’t I do? Why can’t I make X happy? Am I not enough? Meanwhile, it can be just as “simple” as how the depressed person’s brain is handling neurotransmissions (or not handling), with certain genes at that particular time.

Depression is a thief. A sneaky, clever and throrough thief. It can, quite literally, take the life right from you. You may not realize it at first, and sometimes by the time you do understand what’s happening, you’re too far gone to even care. It took a long time for me to realize it. I was riding the bus home from work one day, standing room only as usual, and I was near the rear of the bus standing beside the side rear doors. As the bus was speeding down the parkway, I clearly visualized and contemplated pushing open those doors and jumping out. And even still, I didn’t care enough to seek help. Or maybe, it didn’t occur to me because I didn’t feel like I deserved help.

Another thing depression does is wholly diminish your self-worth. I thought I was a piece of shit. I felt like a piece of shit. I hated myself, and I didn’t want to be aware of what was happening. I didn’t want to feel, or on the occasions where I was feeling, I wanted to drown it. And drown it, I did. Alcohol helped at first – wine was my favorite. After awhile though, one bottle of wine wasn’t enough to make me “feel” better. It made me feel even worse. Due to my mental state, I didn’t see the alcohol as exacerbating the situation though, so I’d just drink some more in the hopes the feelings would disappear.

Zero exercise, garbage food every day, and new work stress on top of my functioning alcoholism added on a good 30 pounds to my 5’7″ frame. In mid-January, I began working from home 4 out of the 5 days per week, and I was assigned a new, complicated client. Since I didn’t have to put on real pants every day, I wasn’t realizing how much weight was piling on because when you work from sweatpants, who cares. I ended up wearing the exact same outfit every “office” day, until my pants became too tight and I had to go buy the next size up.

I had that idea, on January 1 – to sign up for what would be certainly my personal best attempt at the marathon. I wanted to try for a half marathon PR as well, in June on a familiar course. I naïevly assumed that simply paying for a race, booking a hotel room, and telling people I was going to PR was going to solve my alcoholism and not getting off my ass. And truly, I should have known better, but again, who really knows what my brain was doing with what it had to work with at the time?

I made myself training plans and added them to my calendar. I decided I didn’t just want to run a 4:30, I wanted a sub-4:30, so my plan was for 4:27 for a time cushion. As it turns out, you can make ALL kinds of plans, but if you don’t do them, you won’t get better at anything and the time will still pass all the same.

So instead of running, I was lying on the couch. Instead of getting up early to do yoga, I slept in until the very last minute before getting out of bed and walking straight to my desk. Instead of eating mindfully to help reach my weight goals, I ordered pizza, fried fast food garbage, and endless burrito bowls. Instead of cutting down on the alcohol consumption, I acquired a bottle and a half of wine habit per night.

Shockingly, none of these things helped me get into PR marathon shape. It barely got me out of bed. I was in a haze of sadness. I had at this point met with my primary care physician for antidepressants, and was taking bupropion (Wellbutrin) which for me, caused a happy side effect of curbing my appetite. However, I felt like eating, so I did, and that side effect didn’t help me. It unfortunately came with another side effect of severe tinnitus (ear-ringing), which increased to the point where I truly felt like I was going insane and I ceased the medication full-stop. Obviously you aren’t supposed to alter the way you take prescribed medication unless your physician instructs you to do so, and for good reason. I couldn’t get an appointment for a week so those seven days off medication was an extremely dark time. I contemplated suicide multiple times. Every time I saw a knife I imagined how you were supposed to slice your wrists – was it across, or down? I imagined finding a gun and walking off somewhere and dispatching myself. Being home alone all day didn’t help matters, with no one there to stop me. I didn’t think anyone would miss me, so these were all very real scenario in my head.

Fortunately, I never acted on my thoughts, and eventually I was able to see a psychiatrist for more in-depth evaluation and medication recommendations. We worked through many dosage changes and it seems we’ve reached an effective one. Unfortunately, I lost most of this year to this episode. The year that I was supposed to run my best marathon. The first year in my new house with my wife. By the time I got to a place where I could function, it was too late for my marathon. I sadly made the decision to DNS (did not start).

I keep getting emails from the race director, because tomorrow is race day. And while I remembered to cancel my hotel reservation, I neglected to remove it from the calendar on my phone, so it popped up today. Add on the fact that this weekend last year was my successful Ironman – it’s been hard to see the memories that pop up. I haven’t run since April, but maybe tomorrow being race day, I should ceremonially give it a shot.

It can only go up from here, right?

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sleep just to dream her

So, I am cautiously optimistic that my psychiatrist has figured out the proper medication and dosage to control my depression, or rather, keep my depression from controlling me. And I think that I have figured out (relearned, more like) that self-care and routine help me immensely in my daily battles. For example: eating well. It’s such a simple thing, really, but for someone with depression, it can be damn near impossible. It’s something that I would imagine many people don’t even consider in their everyday lives – they can just do it without thinking.

I’ve managed to start and keep myself on track since July 30. This entails, for me, being essentially militant with what I consume. I keep track using the MyFitnessPal app. Logging what I eat helps me stay within my daily calorie goals, and this in turn is helping with weight loss. I’ve read disputing information on how long it acutally takes to form a habit, but in my case, this is a habit that is currently firmly in place.

I haven’t been working out yet, and though I know it will help me as well to reach my goals, I told my psychiatrist that I felt like it was too much all at once to attempt. You see, I am very all or nothing. Moderation, by definition, seems so simple. For me, it’s incredibly difficult. So honestly, I felt a sense of pride when I recognized that if I attempted to do ALL THE THINGS all at once, like a strict diet (i.e., not consuming all the bottles of wine and pizzas) plus a training plan, I was most likely setting myself up for failure. My psyciatrist smiled as I explained this to her, and agreed that my approach was wise and very self-aware.

However, I am still unfortunately plagued with insomnia. I’ve been having the best of intentions to get out of bed early, when my wife leaves for work, in order to exercise prior to starting my own workday (from home). This has yet to occur because I’m always zombified and desperate for more sleep. There are three dogs that sleep in the bedroom at night, and it becomes a cacophony of raucous snoring, panting, and licking.

I have never been a person to fall asleep with a tv on, because my brain focuses on the sounds rather than tuning out and relaxing. The snoring etc. is worse, because not only does my brain focus on it, it fully engages and is just waiting for the next loud snuffle. This in turn triggers frustrated adrenaline, causing my mind to race.

I wish I could say this is always the dogs’ fault, but it isn’t. They say it takes the average person 7 minutes to fall asleep. I WISH. Even if the dogs aren’t conducting the worst symphony ever, my mind will not shut off. My head just feels full. My psychiatrist prescribed a benzodiazepine, and my primary care physician prescribed a seratonin antagonist & reuptake inhibitor… neither of which seem to work. Benedryl, Advil PM, melatonin – no success. I bought Valerian root but have yet to try it.

Sleep is so important to overall health, especially for someone with depression, therefore it’s just so incredibly frustrating to not be able to fall asleep. My psychiatrist recommended I look into an online program called SHUTi, so I did and it’s like $150. I’m considering it, because it would be great to not take medications that don’t work anyway, but the cost is weighing on me. I’m coming to grips with the fact that my health is worth the cost, but… yeah. Maybe next payday.

Something else that is interesting – when my wife leaves for work in the morning and I manage to drift back to sleep, I seem to have the most bizarre, vivid dreams. I researched this a bit and found that vivid dreams actually tire one out, because it is not considered a restful portion of sleep. To add to this, depressed people dream more intensely and for longer periods because the brain is having to deal with an overload of arousals caused by excessive worrying.

I know what I need to do: I need to begin forcing myself out of bed early. This will keep me from having unrestful sleep full of bizarre dreams that confuse me, and in turn will tire me out earlier in the evening, prompting a reasonable bedtime. As it is with all things, this is easier said than done. Wish me luck, reader, and please send sleepy vibes my way.

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