06 March 2013
Depression and Running: My Drug of Choice
It's been a pretty gnarly week over at our house this week. Nothing in particular has happened. It just feels like everything is wrong and hopeless and bad and dark and...wrong.
There is a part of my brain that KNOWS none of that is true. But it is a very small, quiet part that can't quite seem to override the more grizzly parts that take over every once in a while.
I think I have struggled with depression for almost my whole life. I believe it is genetic and that I was blessed with this Debbie Downer DNA from both of my parents. But my parents never really labeled what it was. Like ever. Maybe they were in denial of their own condition. Maybe they didn't want to acknowledge their daughter's distress because that only gave fuel to the fire. There was never talk of medical conditions or mental health or doctors or drugs. It was, "You just need to pray harder, Evelyn. Rely on the Spirit and the gospel. You need to overcome the 'natural man'. Just BE happy. Just do it." They were trying to help. They just weren't.
My weight didn't help either.
I remember my mom telling me once that she noticed I started really gaining weight in the 4th grade. And that was also the year that school stopped being so easy for me. And that was also the year that I began to really care about food. She said I would get upset about food, like if she told me I couldn't eat something, I would get mad or sad.
I would sneak food. My parents didn't buy junk food or take us out to eat very often. We hardly ever had pop. Delivery pizza and root beer was a treat. We ate lots of homegrown vegetables and very little meat. So I would creep into the laundry room where our food storage was, find the bags of chocolate chips, and hide them in my room.
I have this very vivid memory of coming home from school, bitterly disappointed about falling out of a Spelling Bee competition I had been doing really well in. My mom was making a no-bake cheesecake. My favorite. I don't know if she said this or I simply made this correlation in my mind, but the cheesecake was my consolation prize for losing in the Spelling Bee. And the cheesecake was delicious and comforting compensation.
At some point I made an emotional connection with food.
Food was my friend as I tried to deal with the sadness and anger I felt over so many things. I didn't have any friends for most of junior high. The friends I thought I had betrayed me all in one swift swoop. They invited me to a fake birthday party, hoping I would show up and realize I had been tricked. I remember finding some shells and photographs I had given them, smashed and ripped and blowing around the school yard. People called me a "brown noser" because I tried to do well in school.
I came home every single day just as smashed and lost as those shells. My parents did their best to try to put me back together each day. I remember lots of notes of encouragement and late night talks. There were also lots of commiserating treats.
My last year of junior high, I finally found my way into a group of wonderful girls...who, because of city boundaries, all went to the other high school after we finished junior high. Again, I was friendless and lost in a big new school full of big new experiences.
Eventually I found new friends. They were fantastic and I loved them dearly, but I still felt alone as "The Jolly Green Giant" of the bunch. I was one of the tallest and heaviest girls in the group. I felt awkward and obvious. I had no idea how to act around guys. I tried to compensate for my size and uncoordination with humor; humor that probably just made things worse at times. The only guy-ask-girl dance I went to was a Valentine's dance where my friend asked me via phone message machine at 11 pm the night before the dance. I was grateful to be asked, but crushed to know I was, once again, last choice.
Finally high school drew to a close and college began. I never could master the art of dating and settled for being "the buddy" or the heart breaker of every weirdo in my hometown. But, lo and behold, one day I met my future husband. He was handsome and athletically-built so of course I immediately set about matchmaking him with my younger (skinnier) sister, "because no guy like that would ever go for a girl like me". But I soon realized he wasn't looking at her. He was looking at me. Well...this is new.
We were married and quickly got very comfortable around each other. No boundaries meant no more time in the gym and no more being vigilant about every little calorie. Soon I was pregnant. And then I was pregnant again. Before I knew it I was 100 pounds over my wedding day weight and struggling with what I thought was "just" postpartum depression; and what I thought was my first encounter with depression. But the "postpartum depression" raged louder with each pregnancy and birth. And it came ever maliciously with a miscarriage. And then it was there all the time. Anger and apathy and jealousy and over-sensitivity and feelings of inadequacy and frustration and pity and hopelessness.
After 31 years of life and almost 10 years of marriage, I have learned a few things.
I suffer from chronic depression.
I am an emotional eater.
My natural tendency is to "medicate" my pain with food.
Prescribed medications do not work for me.
I will probably struggle with depression and weight my entire life.
I do not have to live in misery my entire life.
No one is responsible for my happiness but me.
I have found my drug of choice.
I can pinpoint exactly why this week has led me back to the doorways of depression. I have not been able to get a decent run in since Saturday. At first it was a time conflict, but as each day passes it becomes a motivation conflict. Very quickly it spirals into dark, old conflicts between my brain and my body. I forget very quickly just how much I love running and how much running loves me.
If someone had told me in junior high or high school how much I would love running, I would have told them they were nuts. But now it drives me nuts that no one did! Running is so healing physically AND mentally. I would probably have been at a better weight. Maybe guys would have asked me to the dances then. I would have lots of endorphins rushing through my brain counteracting all those nasty, gnarly, negative thoughts and doubts. I might have come in contact with people who could have helped me learn about the very positive and powerful effects of exercise and healthy eating. Maybe I would have made the correlation that just as I can stick to a training schedule and achieve major mileage goals, I can stick to other things and see other big life goals come to fruition.
I feel like I can say with a great degree of certainty that my adolescent experience would have been a TOTALLY different experience had I known how to be a runner.
I hate hearing people say they have no regrets or "live life without regret" because I do! I have so many regrets! And then I have guilt because I must be living wrong if I am living with regret. My saving grace is that I have running. While I wish I could have had it 15 years ago, I am so grateful to have it now. When that nagging depression raises its ugly head I know how to combat it. I know how to help my children not make some of the mistakes I made. I can teach them ways to cope with the hard times that will inevitably come with things other than food and well-meaning "just get over it"s. I can show them in a very tangible way how to set goals and actively achieve them.
And that is very powerful medicine.