Thursday, October 1, 2015

Running (Or, I was sure I was going to die, but then I didn't)

I exercise. And to be frank, I don't generally enjoy it. I have to give myself constant pats on the back, gold stars, and dangle multiple carrots in front of my own nose in order to be motivated to do it. I don't exercise to be fit. I don't do it to be faster or stronger. I don't do it to be thinner or prettier. In all honesty, none of that was ever motivating to me. And so, this is a story of why I take exercise so seriously. 

The story is not easy to tell. Let's get raw today. Let's be very, very real. I am going to be a voice for a disease that we don't like to talk about, that makes people feel ashamed, even when they have never experienced it. It's ugly and strange and awkward and self defeating, and it needs to be talked about or it will never go away. Tonight, let me be a voice for depression. 

As a parent, a foster parent, a step parent, and a single parent, life is not always fluffy bunnies. Of course there are any number of hilarious and heartwarming things that happen, but it's not always easy. Throw on top of that being a parent who also suffers from depression, and the combination can be toxic at times. Overwhelmed, paralyzed, alone, suffering, unsure, defeated... You know the feeling, dear reader. It happens to everyone, not just the "clinically depressed". 

I have been struggling with depression for longer than I can remember. Ups and downs and downs and downs and spiralling to the bottom and getting back up... Teenage angst taken to a whole new level. Post partum depression- what a fresh hell that was. But for the last number of years, I have been mostly managing well with the help medication and counselling.

Early last summer, my doc and I thought maybe it was time to change up my medication a little. Please note- never ever attempt a medication change of any sort without the approval and support of a doctor who knows what they are doing. 

Two weeks into the change, I was feeling tired and low. I was sitting in my office, and suddenly I had this terrifyingly wonderful idea that I was going to die. I no longer wanted to be alive. I thought about it all afternoon. On my way home, I heard myself say, "This is it, you could run off the road right now, and no one would even know that it was on purpose."

I spent that drive in a literal battle for my life. And wouldn't you know it, the only thing that kept me going forward was the realization that the kids needed to be picked up and fed and put to bed. I was able to rationalize just enough through my fog of believing that there was no purpose for me on earth. I was able to imagine my daughter's fear when no one picked her up from after school care, the look on my son's face when no one came home... That night, I cried for more hours than I slept, so deep in shame and self-loathing that I didn't think I would ever be able to find my way out.

The next morning, I had run out of my "new" medication. I went to the pharmacy... and I realized what was wrong with me. The pharmacist confirmed that I needed to stop taking the new meds immediately and see my doctor. Which I did. And within two days, I felt almost 100% better. Happy ending. Whew... 

But it gets better. 

You see, I have a friend who is a fitness enthusiast and generally awesome person. She and I had been walking regularly together, and even though she tried to get me to jog a little, I insisted that I would never run anywhere. But, after this last brush with depression, I had had enough. 

I knew from "the literature" (an obscure term for stuff where people get paid lots of money to make fun experiments and then write about them) and from multiple sources that exercise was important to mental health, and that proper exercise and diet were just as beneficial, if not more so, than medication and counselling. 

I took the leap. My wonderful amazing friend fully supported my sudden change of heart, and started me off nice and slow, with a two minute walk-30 second jog interval for about half an hour. Well holy mother of peanuts, I thought I was going to die for sure. But guess what? I didn't. And that sense of accomplishment from just that one "walkie-joggie" (mostly walkie- sort of joggie) was enough to keep me going. 

Every time I exercise, I have a goal in mind- faster pace, longer distance, better endurance... It doesn't matter. And as long as I finish feeling like I've done my best, I am happy. Whenever I feel like it's not possible to do anymore, I do more. Five more seconds, just to prove to myself that it was actually possible to do more. Because as long as there is still more to do, there is a reason to keep trying.

And when I am feeling tired, unmotivated, or simply don't want to... I remember that summer afternoon and know that I will never allow myself to go back there. 

Dear depressed friends, know that even when you don't believe that you would ever be able to do it... You CAN. Every step that you take is a miracle. Take pride in each and every one, and push just that one step farther than you think you can go. I am here, and I believe in you.