Saturday, December 20, 2014

Depression and the Holidays

I promised a post on this topic, and unlike some of my other post promises, I'm actually getting around to this one in a timely manner. I don't really think this needs a trigger warning per say, but know that I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer on anyone's holiday by talking about how they can be hard for me. I promise I'm not trying to be a Grinch or ruin your Christmas spirit! I just need to get out my personal feelings instead of bottling them up.

I'm trying desperately not to be this bear.
I had planned to write this post sooner, but the topic is pretty raw for me, so I took some additional time to contemplate what I wanted to say. I honestly wrote quite a bit of this in my head over various runs the last week or two.

I'm trying to be more open about my struggles with depression (...on my blog with relative strangers - hey, it's a start!). I think one of my goals for 2015 is to be less secretive about it, or at least not view it as a wonderful victory when I successfully can keep it hidden from others.

A bit of background - my depression started in high school and was the worst then, and I went to therapy for a few years. I didn't really have any major, or even minor, episodes with it in college. I did have some sad times, but they feel completely different, especially because I know they will pass. I thought I had beaten it, but I was wrong.

My depression unexpectedly flared up this year after graduating. I didn't expect it because I love my job and where I live. I've become good friends with some of my coworkers and have the most amazing cat ever, so I'm never lonely. Michael does live five hours away, but we've been making do pretty well, so that's not even too terrible. However, in hindsight, I don't cope well with change at all, so it's really no surprise I started to feel depressed again following graduating from college, moving to a new city, and starting my first full-time job.

I think this is the trickiest part to explain - my parents have even questioned why I'm sad when I have all these good things. The answer is I'm not sad at all, I'm just depressed. I'm honestly quite happy, the depression just mutes my ability to feel that happiness.

The holidays are always a time when I feel pretty down, even if my depression has been otherwise quiet. If my depression is already bothering me, I can feel downright hellish.

Part of it is all the travel and altered schedule. Having my daily routine changed and often my workout schedule rearranged is very stressful for me. Even if things are changing to accommodate fun things with fun people, I still have anxiety about not having my security blanket of routine.

Another issue is that I no longer have my own place to retreat to. Even if I have a bad day at work, I know I'm coming home to kitty cuddles and peace and quiet. When away, not only am I bent out of shape because the things I'm doing are different, I don't necessarily have a place to retreat to re-center myself and put things back in perspective. This isn't too bad at my parents' house (they know it's a weird adjustment and are understanding if I need to go have a bit of alone time in the guest room), but my extended family lives out of state, which means I have lots of hours in the homes of others without an escape.

This leads to the other big issue - judgement. When I have my own routines and my own space, I'm much more confident in identifying that the hurtful opinions of others aren't worth my time and I can move on (albeit sometimes slowly). When I'm surrounded by judgement (or even just the fear of judgement) with nowhere really to go, my depression can become overwhelming. I don't remember how many nights of disrupted sleep I had last Christmas worrying about this, but it was far too many for my liking.

I don't want to air my dirty laundry out here, but it's obvious most of my extended family is not a fan of me (don't worry, Michael gets to come under the bus with me by proxy, so I'm not alone!). They've also deemed my depression unworthy, unlike other family members who have struggled with, which isn't exactly a self-esteem booster. This causes a huge amount of stress and really puts a damper on any attempts to get into the spirit beforehand. (This party usually falls after Christmas, so I can't really relax.)

But I think the worst part of all is that I'm expected to pretend to be happy despite all this, because everyone else is. I'd say I'm pretty damn good at it (see wanting to keep my depression as secretive as possible), but it creates a ton of cognitive dissonance, which really just makes everything worse in the end. It usually results in me trying to pretend to myself Christmas is the best thing ever and getting excited with other before flipping out and acting like the Grinch and straight-up telling people the holidays are the worst. I feel doubly bad because I too want to be genuinely excited, and I also don't want to rain on anyone else's parade. It's just so much negativity builds up inside me that it has to come out somehow to be validated.

I've been told to let it go and stop worrying before, and believe me, if I could flip a switch and stop, I would do it in a heartbeat. Instead, I turn to running (and cross-training) as my main coping mechanism. My depression leads me to often value perfectionism above else - I still have this trait when not depressed, but I have a much more healthy attitude towards it. Following my training plan to the T is what gets me through.

The problem this year is a pesky injury that has flared up just in time. I think I've suffered mild to moderate peroneal tendonitis (on the insides of my calves) every winter I've run. It doesn't seem to matter how old my shoes are, what surface I run, or how many miles I'm logging. I suspect this major flare was caused by increased intensity, so I'm going to switch my interval day to an easy day at the same mileage. (While I do hate intervals the most, they are the hardest of the three runs on my body.)

Today I cut my 18-miler short to 12 miles for various (pretty good) reasons, including the very beginning of frostbite on one of my hips and a terrible blister. I tried to go back out for the last six, but my mind just wasn't in it. I conceptually understand 12 miles is better than nothing, but I still felt like a failure. It took a lot of mental effort not to just lie on the floor and do nothing.

I guess I could pretend I'm doing yoga?
At this point, I think the holidays are really going to be a struggle. I've updated my training schedule for next week to reflect what I need to do for my body, but it still feels like "cheating". Yes, Depressed Rebecca thinks taking some time to rest an injury is cheating. The normal bit of me still kicking around in my brain knows that is incredibly stupid and that with eight weeks to go still, I should do whatever I need to be healthy to enjoy Myrtle Beach (and the rest of my 2015 marathons).

I've tried focusing on the positives, but the problem is I'm already happy about those things! Like I said, they just get overwhelmed by the depression. And I can't just focus on getting through day by day by focusing on my workouts, because I don't know if they'll need to be amended or even cut.

I don't really know how to wrap up this post (lazy writing, heyoo) other than to say depression royally sucks. Here's to hoping things will look up once this season passes.

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