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September 14, 2013 · 10:53 am

the company I keep

This picture was taken on June 17th, right after Chicago’s Bike to Work Day rally, where I and a few others were honored for our contributions to the cause of cycling. Miguel is holding up my award, and as we biked home, he said he wanted to grow up to be like me. It was a dear moment, and I love how happy we look in the photo.

But the smile is somewhat misleading. For months I had been spiraling into a major depressive episode. For weeks my last and first waking thoughts drumbeated “I am a failure. I want to die.” Getting the award inexplicably only made me feel worse.

Later in the day, I was clutching the phone with a psychiatrist on the other end who was trying to determine if I needed to be hospitalized before I could get in to see her. Having been through this before, I felt confident that I could stay safe. I was advised to not be left alone.

Five months, five drug combinations and much talk therapy later, I am still really low. But at least not quite as low as in June.

When I started this blog, I thought I would be courageous about sharing my mental health struggles, but instead I have filled an inch thick journal with pain, frustration and boredom with covering the same topic. I have also leaned hard on Michael, my parents and a few close friends who have been wonderfully patient and tolerant. What cheer I can muster I try to save for Miguel. What energy I can muster, I save for work and laundry.

Today began, as so many do, with an overbearing sense of hopelessness. After Michael and Miguel left, I sat in front of this computer and wept. Through the haze, I decided to reach out. I yawped on Facebook; “I would like a new brain please. Depression sucks. I could use your positive thoughts and Michael could probably use a night out. He has been my rock.” It was hard for me to post. I am uncomfortable asking for help, and I don’t like to spread negative energy. But I didn’t feel like calling Michael at work in tears again and I am not so good on the phone anyway.

The response was overwhelming. All day I have received public and private messages of support, empathy and advice. Each red alert of a new comment pulled me a little closer to shore. One common piece of advice was to try to stay connected to friends and community and I felt so grateful to be reminded that I do have people I can reach out to. Some shared their own struggles which reminded me not only that I am not alone, but that I am not making this all up. Some folks–maybe lots of folks–have brains that don’t work the way we would like them to. It’s taken me 20 years to come to some uncertain terms with this. I was reminded to exercise, which I have not at all felt like doing. Since completing my yoga teacher training, I have done very little yoga. Since doing the half marathon I have done very little running. (I have felt like doing very little of anything that used to give me pleasure–cooking, gardening, writing.) Some people brought up the season and light boxes. I have a light box on my desk that I have never used.  I need to give it a try.  I was recommended a book and a support group and given the gift of music. One friend sent me a link to a perfect, and humorous, description of depression. All in all I was reminded that I know some really great people; if we are judged by the company we keep, I must not be as much of a failure as my brain would like me to believe.

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late innings

The big 13.1 mile race is on Sunday, and judging by my last two runs, I am not in great shape. Yesterday, I barely eked out 4 miles with Karen. Same thing with Michael on Sunday, as we followed the echoes of his childhood neighborhood in Detroit.

Perhaps I can blame my sniffles (curse you, ragweed!), but most likely it’s because I fell off my training the last few weeks. I missed some runs and nibbled at the margins of others. In fairness, the big 12 mile run I was supposed to do turned into an 8 mile run, 3 mile run/walk when my running partner became ill. In honesty, I did not mind the break, despite also being  very concerned about her.

I have been questioning why I didn’t just stick with trying to improve on my 10K times. I do best with small pieces, the mad dash–not the long haul. When faced with big projects, I choke. Or at least that’s the story I tell about myself.

Maybe it goes back to not completing my senior thesis in college, which would have been a brilliant treatise on how Frankenstein should be an anchor text for multiple disciplines. In fairness, my computer was stolen towards the end of the semester. In honesty, I probably would not have been able to corral all my thoughts into one place any way. There have been other projects that stalled at 85%; it’s hard for me to shake the feeling that if I was a pitcher, I would rarely see the 8th inning. (But I would dominate the first seven!) Although I do actually have many complete games to be proud of, somehow the projects not done make more noise in my brain.

Some have suggested that perfectionism might be part of my problem. I am sometimes loathe to finish something out of fear that it is not good enough. Self-doubt takes over and turns into self-sabotage. This Sunday’s run is not going to be perfect, that’s for sure. I am afraid I will be out of gas after six miles. But I am trying to have confidence that I trained enough this summer to gut it out. My goal is to complete, not compete.

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I am also doing fundraising as part of this event. Proceeds go to the Logan Square Neighborhood Association which does terrific work around public education, affordable housing and other social justice issues.  Any donation amount is much appreciated: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=121272

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Lapped

Last night I went for a 4 mile run. I had been wearing my running clothes all day, waiting for a chance. I blew it in the morning b/c I got up late (my new meds make me really groggy in the am, but otherwise seem to be helping). I figured I could run while Miguel was at camp, but I was not able to leave my backpack in a secure place.  So I took the bus up to Fleet Feet to redeem some coupons figuring they would help a fellow runner out by letting me stash my stuff with them. I was right—they were more than happy to help. But I spent too much time comparison shopping and my running window closed.

The commute home with a tired and hungry kid was challenging and I could feel my temper straining. I kept myself together and secured the OK from Michael to run when he got home. I bolted out the door within minutes of his arrival.

It reminded me of when I first started running during my maternity leave 4 years ago. There were times when 5:15pm could not come soon enough. It’s not that I did not love being with Miguel, but the days did feel long and lonesome sometimes. When Michael came home from work, I would lace up and fly away for much needed alone time and endorphins.

Back then, I could barely run 2 miles.  So it was a treat to hit Palmer Square yesterday feeling strong.  My goal was 4-6 laps (2-3 miles) around the squoval so I could be home in time for dinner.  The first mile was dreadful as usual, but I eventually hit my stride, relaxed and took in the scenery.

Running in the evening is so different than the morning. There are more people and more smiles—maybe because the work day is behind instead of in front of them.  Even the tree filtered light seemed more cheerful; everything and everyone radiated. Perhaps mornings are pastel and afternoons are primary colors.

I was passed frequently by faster runners, but I took comfort in my comfort and not my speed. I enjoyed watching the gait of my companions on the sometimes dusty, sometimes muddy trail that serves as a track for the neighborhood.  There was an older man, maybe in his 60’s or 70’s who fell forward into each step. His feet stayed low to the ground and they did not appear to be moving quickly, yet his tilted glide opened up quite a gap between us. There were several younger guys who blew by me at various turns but later huffed and puffed on the sidelines while I chugged along.  There were women too, but we seemed to be going about the same speed, each of us in our own spot in the orbit. My favorite runner was a man who looked in his prime. No ruddiness and clumsiness of youth and no sag and shuffle of age. He could have been on the cover of Runner’s World.  He sped by me, followed by a faint whiff of cologne.

There was something incongruous about his raw athleticism and his refined scent. He probably was fresh from work, shaking off the day. While I am not normally a fan of fancy smells, I appreciate the effort. Working from home, I am generally undergroomed; I miss having a reason to suit up for the morning commuter crush.

For some reason this guy motivated me. Not to run faster—there was no way I could keep pace—but to run long enough to get lapped by him.  Three laps (1.5 miles) later, I made room for him to pass me again. I was happy enough to have snuck some miles and smiles in before dinner.

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Three Sides of Lake Michigan

During the last two weekends, we have visited Lake Michigan from three different angles.

Last Saturday, we hopped in the crystal waves of Luddington Beach, a sliver of sand edged by scrappy dunes, steps from a calm rural highway. It was the last day of a wonderful family reunion with Miguel’s aunts, uncles and cousins, and there was a bittersweet, Norman Rockwell feeling to the afternoon. Miguel shines with his relatives; I rarely see him so happy as when he is with Michael’s large (or my tiny) family.

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The next day, on our drive back home, we stopped by Mt. Baldy, a huge sand mountain in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Undaunted by intermittent rain, we hiked up through a fog of mosquitoes and scampered down the equivalent of a 5 story building of sand towards a quiet beach and rolling waves we imagined to be swelled from the 8 inches of rain the night before. The sky was clearing and we could see Chicago’s skyline, faint but unmistakable; we did not know that Chicago’s beaches were closed that day due to sewage having been released during the storm. Eww.

Today, we woke up with no plans, which before kid would have felt luxurious but now feels slightly terrifying. We pondered visiting the old stand by of  Diaper Beach by the Humboldt Park lagoon, which, contrary to its nickname, is clean and never subject to sewage related closures. But our recent experiences with proper waves, and my desire for a proper long outing, led us on the bus to North Avenue beach, something I have not done since I lost my purse at the beach when Miguel was a baby.

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I know I tend to overplay the transportation card, but I do feel incredibly lucky to be able to access a world class beach via a 30 minute bus ride (Armitage or North both work, plus a short transfer or ½ mile walk). The sand was crowded but clean and the water was shallow for many yards out. Miguel quickly joined a team of kids and a visionary adult making an epic sand castle and then befriended a seven year old boy with a SpongeBob floatie. They played and dueled in the water for an hour.  As the day wore on, the spaces between people on the beach and in the water got smaller and smaller, yet there always felt like enough room. How much does a person really need anyway? A couple let Miguel and I play Frisbee with them in the water, a dangerous game in a crowded place, but somehow it worked. Leaving was a small misery, and Miguel declared the day useless, but we knew he had had a blast and was just sorry to go. I feel really bad about the pile of sand we left on the back seat of the North Avenue bus we took home.

All in all, I declare Lake Michigan to be a truly Great Lake, and I am grateful to live so close to it.

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Garden Half Full

Sometimes I can only see the bare spots in my garden, such as the mildly morbid grave looking emptiness being taken over by weeds in our front yard—a leftover from construction work prompted by last summer’s flooding.*

Earlier this summer, when I was very depressed, all I could see of my garden was the clay and the weedy grave where my horticultural hopes seemed buried. Once again, this is not really the year of the  yard—front or back. After starting some seeds with Miguel in March and doing some minimum watering, I have been able to do very little—too depressed and then too busy cleaning up the wake of depression.

Thankfully, the perennials persist, sometimes in spite of me. Tonight we had friends over for dinner (something else I have struggled to do this summer—I hope to catch up this fall), and I looked around and thought the garden does not look half bad. The goldenrod and phlox are not the best pair as they bloom at the same time and are about the same height, but the colors suit me. I love the reed grass (?) waving behind them, even if it is a bit common. There are many things to love in my garden just the way it is, and I hope for the time and patience to keep tweaking and learning.

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*After seven inches of rain and a naked dance party in the streets, Michael and I had come home to a basement full of sewage water. Turns out we had collapsed pipes in our parkway that needed repair, and we also ponied up the dough to have a clean out valve installed in front of our building to spare future crews the futile task of routing 100 feet to the street from the catch basin out back. The work seems to have helped, as this summer’s 8 inches of rain—is this the new normal??–only resulted in minor basement puddling.  But it did thwart my parkway gardening efforts, as all the lovely soil I had been building up in the last nine years was turned under in exchange for buried clay. I guess that’s a form of double digging.

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13 miles (almost) in three days

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Brothers David (just turned 50) and Michael after our six mile run

Had another running first while on vacation this week: lacing up three mornings in a row.

I was in Michigan, having joined Michael and Miguel for Michael’s family reunion in honor of his brother David’s 50th birthday.  His family had kindly offered to watch Miguel for one night while Michael came to pick me up from the Grand Rapids train station. The next morning we hit a trail in a local park for a blazing hot 4.5 mile run along a river. A local church had organized a clean up day, and both of our silly egos kept us running until after we passed the group, even though we were pooped.

The next day, my 14 year old niece, who is a member of her school’s crew team, and I tackled the mile long hill outside the cottage-mansion we had rented for the reunion. The twenty minutes of exercise had my brain buzzing all day, and made me wonder about the wisdom of living in the flats of Chicago.

I was also due for my “long run,” so yesterday, Michael, David and I headed back to the hill for the scheduled six miles. Michael has been running for many more years than I have, and is generally a stronger athlete. David ran his last half marathon in under two hours, at a sub 8 min mile pace. I can barely get down to that when sprinting after the bus, let alone huffing and puffing for miles at a time. I was nervous about my company, but figured they would keep me honest.

I fired up my watch, and we were off, my calves screaming at me for heading uphill two days in a row. It was hot, I was slow and they were patient, running ahead and circling back during my 5 walking breaks.  We were on a quiet country road, surrounded by hints of old farms—a crumbling foundation here, a lonely cow there, wild blushing phlox and blue chicory everywhere. But I could not pay much attention to the surroundings; most energy was devoted to placing one foot in front of the other.

Merciful to my pride, Michael and David walked the last little bit as I chugged along, waiting for my recently recalibrated watch* to hit 6 miles. A breeze twirled the phlox, and I felt strong for a moment, enough to give me hope that I can keep adding the miles.

I ran almost 13 miles in three days. For me, that’s great. But I don’t see myself going below two hours with that distance anytime soon. Maybe by the time I am 50. Happy birthday, David!

*During the 10K, I realized my watch was overestimating my training mileage. I started noticing the gap when the two mile marker was nowhere in sight as my watch hit 2 and blinked optimistically along. By the time my watch said six miles, I knew I had almost a mile left to go in the 6.2 mile race. I reset the watch to the race distance and hope it is more accurate now. Better to under than over estimate mileage.

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