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.