On the Mend….Physically and Mentally

Last Tuesday, a full week ago, I found myself checked in to my local Emergency Room in an attempt to get help and reprieve from a 4+ week bout of sustained depression.  Today, I am still in a bit of shock for having gone through the experience.  That being said, since last Tuesday, each successive day has been just a little bit better and brighter.  Below is my account as to what has happened as a result of the bottom that I experienced.  Overall, my hope is that it’s just the beginning of another very important process that I must embark on to simply stay alive.

Blood tests have revealed that I have hypothyroidism, which helps explain many of the symptoms that I have been experiencing over the last month.  My loose understanding (as I am NO doctor and will never pretend to be) of  how a thyroid works is that it is a clearinghouse of sorts within the body, a gland that secretes essential hormones which primarily influence one’s metabolic rate and ability to properly synthesize proteins.  If a thyroid is operating below capacity (in my case 25% of it’s normal functioning ability), several things can occur including: lack of recovery from physical activity, low rates of testosterone, and an extended state of depression.  Over the past month these have been my primary symptoms.  Not included are the incessant and fierce pressure headaches that I have experienced over the same time frame.  Largely, as of today, the headaches have subsided.  To help assist in my recovery  I am currently taking a medication called Cytomel, a common prescription drug used to treat hypothyroidism.

So, how did I get to this point?  According to my team of medical professionals and mentors, who have been absolutely crucial throughout this process, the story started earlier this year when I overtrained.  From my understanding, by training above my means  for an extended amount of time, I dug myself into very deep hole of physical, hormonal,  and adrenal exhaustion.  After taking some time off to let my body heal throughout the month of May, I began working with a new mentor  from an ultra-running perspective who helped foster me through my overtraining symptoms and back to a place of relative normalcy.  By the late summer months I felt recovered and was running well again thanks to some solid professional training advice. However, the race I was training for in early September, Pine to Palm 100, was cancelled due to the awful and devastating fires in Southern Oregon.  The original plan of attack was to get through P2P and then take an extended period of recovery over the fall months to let my body heal from the race, as well as from any residual effects that were left over from overtraining.  At this critical juncture I made an error.  I still wanted to race in 2017 to at least have a solid finish, any finish really, under my belt.  Therefore I opted to sign up for Rio Del Lago 100 in November.  I was warned that extending an already aggressive training load for another 10 weeks would be risky, especially considering where I had come from earlier in the year.  Being my relentless-self I opted for the extended training period, which, in a roundabout way, helped lead me to the symptoms that ultimately landed me in the ER last week.

The idea here is that I never quite recovered from being overtrained.  My hope is that this current period of rest will help get me back to square one, not just from a running perspective, but in all regards.  Again, there is much more at stake than just a running career. Sure, there are other factors are work, for one being my predisposition with depression, as well as many other things.  However, the combination of everything ultimately helped lead to a perfect storm of sorts, which brought me to a place of sheer helplessness last week.

Another factor in this equation is that I’m preparing for a move out of Corvallis.  This has been on my mind for a couple of months now and just two weeks ago I was ready to be in a new town as soon as mid-November.  Logistics for the impending move were happening rather quickly and I didn’t realize the extra stress that said move was creating for me.  While respecting the need to take my foot off the gas and direct my attention to sorting out my health, my plans for moving are put on hold for a couple of months.  Ultimately I am planning on moving out of Oregon, which means that, in the interim, if I had moved suddenly then I would not have had the appropriate short-term health care services to rely on to help me get my shit together.  To move at this point, in a period of influx and  uncertainty, both mentally and physically, would have been entirely irresponsible on my part.

Today, from a symptom standpoint, I still experience the gambit of mental negativity that happens in conjunction with depression.  However, this negativity, along with my perpetual  pre-disposition for obsessive thinking, is beginning to ever-so-slightly veer in the right direction.  I can feel some sort of gradual rebound occurring.

Last week I put together a game plan for how I was going to attempt to manage my life in the short term while my body and mind healed from the agony of last month. It’s only been a week; for the most part, I have stuck to the plan.  Most interesting to me has been the revitalization of my creative mind.  I’ve played more guitar and wrote more songs, which will serve as a soundtrack for my memoir, than I can remember, perhaps dating back to college, some 15+ years ago.  Furthermore, I am writing better than ever, as is evidence from the revisions I am making to Appetite for Addiction.  I have no doubt that this book is going to be good.  To top it off I am becoming rather proficient in GarageBand, something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while.  Perhaps seeing Gareth Emery on Saturday night in Portland provided further motivation for this. During the show, my buddy, #10, pulled me aside and said: “what the hell are you waiting for dude, starting producing this shit (meaning EDM, electronic dance music), and learn to spin, people would go apeshit for you!”  Point taken #10 ;).  The process has started.

From an exercise standpoint, while respecting the fact that I need to take a break from running, I’ve been getting in some great walks in the woods.  One aspect to Corvallis that I will miss dearly after I move is my beloved McDonald-Dunn Forest and the extensive trail system that lies within it’s boundaries.  Normally a slave to my Garmin, I have left the watch at home on these walks.  Right now it’s not about heart rate, pace, mileage, or time;  it’s about breathing and appreciating the solitude and serenity that the forest offers me…if I let it.

The hardest part to reckon with in my recovery plan is the idea of just chilling,  as in, doing nothing.  My brain is wired to be uncomfortable with stillness, the thought of not doing something is hard for me to be at peace with.  That being said, I’ve managed to get a bit of couch time, getting lost in mindless Netflix documentaries.  Meditation has also been of great help in this regard.

Rarely do I look at the statistics for any given blog that I post.  Curiously, a few days after posting my admission of returning to the Emergency Room, I took a look to see what kind of impact my story had had, if any, on people.  The results were astonishing and worthy of particular note.  Within 4 days of posting the blog the post received more than double the views and visitors than any of my other previous posts.  I’ve got roughly 60 or so posts up and live and none of them comes even close to having the exposure as https://spencernewell1032.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/back-to-the-er-yet-another-bottom/  While being amazed of it’s exposure it began to become apparent to me just how much interest a post on depression, a topic that is rarely talked about in a public forum, produced over a very short amount of time.  This tells me that conversation around the stigmatic topic needs to continue to be brought to light.  I will do my best in promoting this idea for it may just save a life someday.

Look, I know damn well that I’ve made some mistakes over the last year in many regards, not with just running but with both physical and mental health.  Normally concerned with the outsider view and perception of these mistakes, I’m becoming more comfortable about the idea of owning and learning from my experience, regardless of what other people think.  Largely, other peoples perceptions can and still affect me.  However, in an effort to break away from those chains that bind me to criticism from the outside, I am constantly reminding myself that I’ve got to fight for myself, on my own timeline, for my own reasons.  Why is that so hard to realize sometimes?  In my quest for  my own self-actualization, this question, along with many others, are important topics to drill down on with the appropriate people.  The journey continues…

Lastly, I want to personally thank the hundreds of people that reached out to me in support.  I cannot thank you all enough, your messages had a profound impact on me and I will never forget the love you all expressed.



Back to the ER…Yet Another Bottom

I checked myself into the Emergency Room yesterday morning.  I hadn’t done this since 2008 when I was drunk and suicidal.  I just couldn’t withstand the pain anymore and I was desperate for help, by any means possible.  I had had it with feeling like complete garbage, physically and mentally.

A few weeks ago I  wrote about “10 days of hell that must see the light,” (https://spencernewell1032.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/depression-10-days-of-hell-that-must-see-the-light/)  describing the longest depressive episode that I’ve experienced to date.  Well, that ten days turned into 4 weeks; the gray, the apathy, and the exhaustion have refused to go away,  it still continues to persist today.  The overwhelming questions that plague me are: “where is the final bottom?” along with “will I feel like this forever?”

Just a few days ago, on Saturday,  I had the best day I’ve had in longer than I can remember.  For some reason, I woke up that morning feeling a respite from the stranglehold that depression had on me.  I was up in Portland, clowning around with a friend, and everything seemed good to go.  I felt “normal,” whatever that means these days.  However, during the days run I tweaked my hip.  At the time it didn’t feel like a terribly big deal and I largely brushed it off.  But, on Sunday, it was a different story.  My hip had tightened up over night and I was in pain.

On it’s own, a relatively benign injury, as was the case, is easy to manage.  However, due to my elevated emotional instability and depressive state the injury seemed like the end of the world.  While on the phone with a friend early Sunday morning I just crumbled.  I pleaded with him: “When the hell is this shit going to end, when are these fucking setbacks going to stop!  I’m so fucking sick of this!”  From that point on the good vibes I had going the previous day all but disappeared.  By Sunday afternoon I was back in bed, with the shades drawn, unable to move, wrought with the overwhelming feeling that everything was crumbling down once again.

Monday came, same thing.  My hip was beginning to feel better but it’s impact had set off another spell of oppressive  frustration and hopelessness, once again, pure apathy.  Then, I woke up yesterday (Tuesday) and succumbed to the tension in my head, the anxiety in my chest, and the relentless feelings of helplessness.  I needed more help.

My experience in the ER yesterday was not a good experience.  For the first time in my life I played direct witness as to  how some ER’s handle mental health issues.  Without going into the details of the experience, let’s just say I left in worse shape than when I arrived.  After being “discharged” I found myself in a fetal position, crying, lying on the cold linoleum of the hospital hallway in blue medical scrubs, pleading for help.  And I didn’t get it. All I wanted  was to feel better.

After gaining some sort of composure after the ER experience I scrambled to find the help I needed, visiting the the local county mental health office as well as making emergency appointments with my team of psychiatrists and therapists.  Luckily I was able to get in, be assessed, and come up with a game plan.  I should have just gone to this group of professionals in the first place.  I suppose I was in too much agony earlier in the morning to even consider that possibility.

Fortunately I was able to gain some sort of clarity, from a physical standpoint, of what is currently going on.  Blood tests, taken at the ER, revealed two things of significance. One – my testosterone levels had fallen well below normal again (earlier this Spring I was dealing with the same thing, however by summer I was able to recover). Two – my thyroid is out of whack.  Luckily, these two things can be fixed to a degree with time and patience.  The mental parts of the equation will prove to be  a little more tricky.

After hours of professional consult and self-reflection I have yet another game plan to address everything that is going on:

1). Take one full month off of heavy structured training (two full weeks off from running). I have not let my body rest (not counting the time off from injuries, which isn’t really “time off”)  in well over three years.  It’s finally time for me to take a break and let my body heal, fully, on it’s own.  If it takes longer than a month? So be it. I don’t want to go through this shit again, especially as I get older.  Therefore, Rio Del Lago 100, the race I’ve been training for is off the table. In 2017 I will not complete a single race that I’ve set out for. And that’s OK because there is a much bigger picture at stake here.  I’ll take my life over a race, any day.

2). Focus on my creative side which means writing and composing music.  My book is still coming along well.  In conjunction with that project I am also composing a soundtrack to go along with the book.  I used to sing and play the hell out of my guitar.  Firing both of those passions back up will be good for the soul.

3). Just fucking chill.  If I feel like binge watching Friday Night Lights, for the second time, just do it!  God, relaxation and me do not get along well.  It turns out that I actually might hate the idea of relaxing. I consume myself with endless expectations, pressures, and stresses, which is helping play into my recent demise.  I’m just fucking tired of being tired.

4).  Continue to work with my trusted health professionals to dial in what I need from a medical end.  This part will be crucial to my recovery.

I’m hopeful that this episode will pass at some point, it has to!  Yet, the last month has offered nothing to the contrary.  Living day-to-day is not working, it’s more like minute-to-minute.

I don’t wish depression, or any other chronic or perpetual disease, on anyone.  For me, it’s been absolute torture and hell.  To try and find the silver lining to this experience has been impossible, I’m just not in a frame of mind to even consider the good that may come out of this. Miraculously, and I really don’t even understand this part, I have not had one single craving to drink throughout this entire episode. In and of itself that is a pure fucking miracle.  Perhaps that says something.