Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Running Through the Darkness - Exercise and it's Effect on Depression

I'm going to attempt to make this short and sweet (post blog note... NOPE, I didn't).  Although y'all know that nothing I do/say is short, I run forever and the only thing that moves more than my legs is my mouth. Those who call me a "blow-hard" in reference to my constant jabbering have some merit to their argument, I get sick of hearing my own voice sometimes.  All that said, I have a deep commitment to make a difference in the lives of others around me.  I have many restless nights devising ways to help others live happier, healthier lives. I hate sleep, in that it takes me away from what I most crave, "to make a difference, small or large, in the well being of my friends and family" and you should know that I consider my friends, family, and most complete strangers, friends.  Already, I'm talking too much and NOT about what's important:

I invite you to read that line above, again.  It's ALL CAPS and IN BOLD PRINT, for emphasis.  A great many of you know this about me already, but to the many of you that are newer to my life, or don't know me as well/deeply as you may have thought, I have had a few battles with depression (a couple of them serious).  There were 4 rounds of these spells of darkness, and while I'm not going to dig fully into the muddiness of all 4 of them, I will say they each involved unwelcome transitions.

*Age 12 - my parents' divorce
*Age 19/20 - walking away from a degree/education/college to a steady paying career
*Age 22/23 - after a messy breakup with my girlfriend of 2.5 years whom I then lived with
*Age 26 - a running injury post-1st-marathon (quadriceps tendinitis, brought on by overuse and over-enthusiasm) that took me out of running for a solid 10 months

ROUND 1 - AGE 12 (1989) *WARNING - graphically described and disturbing content*

This was by far the most intense, dramatic event of my 35 years of life (to date).  My parents divorced (after a couple/few years of in-home conflict and ugly fights), and the demise of our family unit led to much inner turmoil. I stopped caring about school work and my grades. Many kids have a rough transition from childhood to adolescence anyway, I felt like I was fast-tracked. My thoughts were dark. I withdrew. Initially, I lived with my mom & baby sis (Mary) and saw my dad once every couple of weekends, some months once a week for dinner too. After a notable fight with my sister and then a blowout with my mom & her boyfriend, I took off to hang out at a nearby creek and returned home to a squad car sitting outside my house. I walked in to see a cop sitting at our dining room table who then instructed me to sit down at the table and talk to my mom. Not wanting to be threatened or intimidated, I declined and walked to the bathroom where I locked the door.  Things escalated. Through the door, the cop threatened me, I threatened right back.  They took my words (in defense) very seriously. The next thing I knew I was in a psychiatric institution: GLADMAN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL in Oakland, the adolescent lock down ward. I pray that none of you ever experiences what I experienced there. I was a caged animal. Escape attempts were treated like jail breaks. Watching a human being struggle for some semblance of freedom be tackled by 5-6 hospital workers, security guards, then be strapped into a straight jacket onto a gurney, only to be sedated by syringe then carted into "the quiet room" is a visual that haunts me (albeit infrequently) to this very day. I learned quickly the rules of this new life.  I missed my last 2 weeks of elementary school.  I was told by doctors I would spend the whole Summer there.  At 12, I was 3-5 years everyone else's junior (at that age, a huge gap).  Many of the 15-17 year old patients were recovering drug addicts, OR people who had either tried to kill themselves or harm others.  I quickly adapted.  Before I knew it, I was fully participating in all hospital groups and activities.  I was released about 3-weeks later and went through "psycho therapy" for the better part of the next 6-years.  I was never medicated. From that point forward, I felt like I possessed an adult consciousness and awareness of all things surrounding me.  I transcended much of the social pettiness of junior high and high school, becoming an astute observer of human behavior and interaction.  I even found myself at times spending the social times alone, eating lunch up against a tree by myself, just watching life happen around me. To this day, when something bad happens, I often think to myself, "well, I'm not in lock down right now, so this can't be THAT bad."

ROUND 2 - AGE 19/20 (1996-1997)
Not much to say here other than: gave up on college, had an opportunity to make good money working for my dad's business partner full time, in sales. While I did succeed in sales (calling, talking to people, and selling them something they needed), there was always something missing. I won't say I regret leaving school, I learned many lessons about life working those 6 & 1/2 years from 1995-2001, but I knew it was time to leave by 1999/2000.

ROUND 3 - AGE 22/23 (1999-2000)
It was suggested to me in my now adult battles with depression that I be medicated. I refused. I remember hearing my doctor say things like, "well, we could give this drug a shot or maybe try that drug" and I'd ask about side effects and many of his responses frightened me more than being depressed. It all seemed like guess work, and I didn't want to grow dependent on some magic pill to solve my problems.  I bought a bunch of self-help and relationship books.  I signed up for self-actualization seminars.  One seminar I took (the Landmark Forum) lead to me getting back into running, something I had set aside for a few years. I cut a lot of the unnecessary things out of my life.  Got back to essentials. Got back to chasing silly dreams. Running became a few times a week activity again. I got the crazy idea to train for a marathon. I failed, over and over again.  Started training for my 1st marathon in January of 2000. FAILED to train for more than 1-month.  Started training for the 2nd time for my 1st marathon in January of 2001 (gotta LOVE New Year's Resolutions, which I no longer make), FAILED to stay healthy, injuring my IT band so badly that I couldn't run for 4 months.  Went and completed 26.2 miles in JUNE of 2001 anyway, but broke the distance up into 2 half marathons, one Saturday and one Sunday, a part of the Suzuki San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon, which I had registered for that January.  There was hope but more importantly, now there was determination.  This determination has stayed with me in the years since.

ROUND 4 - AGE 26 (2002-2003)
I finally ran my 1st marathon after my 4th attempt to train for one, completing the 2002 Chicago Marathon 1 day prior to my 26th birthday. I missed my goal of qualifying for the BOSTON MARATHON by 12-seconds.  3:11:11.  I resolved to reload and run my 2nd marathon less than 2-months later at the California International Marathon in Sacramento.  I never backed off my training and 3 short weeks after Chicago, I had developed a severe overuse injury, quadriceps tendinitis. This subtly stabbing pain in the top of my knee didn't heal for 10 months.  Fear turned to despair. I again withdrew.  At the time I dove into the world of videogames, often logging 50+ hours a week, and in a rather pathetic irony, I was commissioner of a videogame football league (Madden NFL Football 2003), organizing 30-guys from around the country to play their league games every few days. I couldn't be an athlete, but I could virtually manipulate one. I wasn't a good sport. I was so angry/frustrated/depressed about not being able to run, sometimes I'd lose a game and turn into the Incredible Hulk and smash controllers, keyboards and headsets into pieces.  It was the first time my then girlfriend Kate had seen this side of me. I'm still not sure how it didn't scare her away for good. After 10-months of this dark cloud, one day in August 2003, I accepted Kate's invitation to go for a jog around the park near our house. 30-min later, feeling healthy again and empowered, I vowed to never allow myself to be THAT injured through ill-timed, impatient over-use again.

I have often said that RUNNING saved my life. I do mean that quite literally.  There is something emotionally and psychologically cathartic about sweating out stress chemicals, and having them replaced with healthy self-produced chemicals. I now avoid depression with EASE (Electrolytes, Adrenaline, Serotonin, Endorphins). I am dependent upon no FDA approved mind-altering drugs. I'd like to believe I'm a member of our society that helps offer reasonable solutions, not one who contributes to the underlying problems. I have grown a healthy distrust of Western medicine (based on my personal experiences with it) and an even greater distrust of Western media (for continual fear mongering and perpetuation of beauty myths).  I'm not saying "all doctors are bad" nor am I implying "all media perpetuates the beauty myth and fear mongers" but what we think to ourselves becomes our words.  What we say becomes what we do.  What we do defines our life.  I've gone to the root of my depression: negative thoughts often stemming from deep fears related to unfulfilled expectations. This negativity and fear leads to paralyzation (of both thought and action).

No, running isn't for everyone (I wish it was, we'd likely have a clearer thinking society). Using exercise to help your mental state takes a calculated form of patience, or one's enthusiasm will cause that same individual's next bout with depression (as in my Round 4, stated above). At the end of the day, we are capable of anything: most importantly we are all capable of elevating our own well being.  I don't ignore the little things anymore, and doing the little things consistently has lead me to run more consistently.  I'm not the first to say this, and I certainly won't be the last... "Running is my Prozac" which is to say movement is one of the most vital healthy mood inducing things that we need every single day. Sweat is a key to unlocking one's bliss.

Now get out of your seat, step away from the computer and get out there and RUN, dance, hike, play and move! If you view your life as a runner views a 100-miler, you know there will be hard miles, good miles, ugly miles and miles of beauty, what counts is relentless forward movement. Just do it.