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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the genesis of my diagnoses

As a child I would use my allowance to buy candy. I intended to have it for a period of time, but I would always end up eating it all at once. I would try to make it last, but I seemed incapable of stopping. Thus began my disordered relationship with food.

Growing up, I spent lots of time in my room, alone, reading and re-reading the same books, over and over. I would lie on my stomach, with the book propped up against the pillow. Hidden behind the pillow would be a pile of freezer pops and a pair of scissors. I would bolt to the basement freezer, grab a strip of the colorful, artificially flavored pops, and shove them into the waistband of my shorts to hide them under my shirt in case my family saw me. I would flee up the two sets of stairs, back to the safety of my room, to gorge myself in secret. If my brother or parents were to come into my room, it would appear that I was simply enjoying a single freezer pop, with a dozen empty wrappers safely hidden away.

My first memory of depression is from when I was in my early teens. I don’t remember a lot of what was going on in my life, but I remember an immense sadness that was more than just simple teenage angst. I spent endless nights crying myself to sleep without knowing why. I was extremely introverted, painfully shy, unable to focus in school with poor grades to show for it. Looking back, I am not sure how my mother, a nurse, did not make the connection that I had attention deficit disorder.

I was in my late teens when I first remember having issues with skin pulling, i.e. dermatillomania. I had always had trouble leaving scabs alone. Something was there, on my skin, and it was a strange sense of satisfaction to pull it off. I began destroying my thumbs, primarily, pulling the skin away from the sides of the nails, to the point of drawing blood. I am still this way, and it’s often times compulsive and uncontrollable. It becomes worse when my anxiety flares. I have learned what the “good” bandages are, and which ones will start coming off right away. At times, covering my fingers is the only way to keep myself from pulling.

At 20, I became involved in what turned out to be a controlling, manipulative relationship. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was happening. My insecurities, disorders, and naiveté were preyed upon, exploited, and used to make me feel worthless. It happened over a decade of time, so again, very subtle. Even when I started running marathons and lost weight, I was told, verbatim, that “it’s good to be hungry” and that there was nothing wrong with fasting. At my lowest weight, I would come home from running 20 miles, and was told that I should eat something “light” so that I wouldn’t undo all the running I just did.

It’s taken a lot for me to get where I am these days, despite the disadvantages I’ve been handed in life. I’m coming out of a severe episode of depression, finally seeing the light at the end of a ten month long tunnel of darkness. I’m using all the tools I can to get control of the things that have been controlling me for so long.

It’s really quite delightful and refreshing to be on this side of my life.

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