Tag Archives: recovery

I Fought Depression & Won. I Was Lucky.

It’s #BellLetsTalk day and while I hate giving free advertising to a company, it’s a day that does inspire a lot of conversation, and for that reason I feel obligated to say my part.

My feeling “obligated” to share my mental illness battles stems from being someone who’s been through both biological and situational depressions and who knows first-hand how hard it is to climb out of that, but that it’s possible (for some).

These days, I still get angry at people who suggest depression is a matter of discipline and keeping your appointments. “Oh, do X, Y, Z, and talk about crap with a professional, and you’ll be tickety-boo.” Right. As if.

Sunset in a cemetery.

Sunset in a cemetery. By Me.

Sometimes There’s A Reason

I know now, from this early-greying side of 40, that many of my mental issues probably stem from the fact that I had four concussions in the decade prior to a traumatic brain injury. I don’t know that I’ll ever walk away from anxiety and mood-swings completely. Maybe that’s a part of me now. It’s been 11 years since my head injury, but I’ve had leg bruises take 6 months to heal, so who knows about the brain, right?

I do know that I’ve overcome the worst of it. It’s like finding your legs at sea –a new normal can be found where one realizes their ups/downs and the triggers thereof.

Sayings like “knowing is half the battle” become truisms for a reason. Knowledge changes everything, particularly in the mental health battle.

It was life-changing the day I learned that some 80% of TBI sufferers go on to experience serious depressions in the decade following their traumatic brain injury. It really was life-changing, on a #BellLetsTalk day, no less. Two years ago.

In Good Will Hunting, here’s a scene where Matt Damon keeps getting told by Robin Williams that “it’s not your fault,” and Damon doesn’t get it until he “gets it,” and then he breaks down in tears.

This wasn’t quite like that, but finding out there was probably a physical cause for how I got so very fucked up, it was so empowering and disarming. It wasn’t my fault. I was “injured.” Until then, I didn’t realize how much I had always blamed myself for my depression.

But it really isn’t my fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not our fault that science can’t explain these things better, or that we’re only really now studying the brain and making advances.

What if There’s Always Been a Cause?

I’ve seen news recently too where medical experts are beginning to wonder if there can be a bacterial cause or infectious disease behind the growing spectre of depression. There is evidence that this is potentially true. What if it’s a “bug” you caught as a kid that’s made you depressed all your life? What if it really can be “cured”? This is an amazing idea.

It’s also a dangerous one to latch onto. Depression is such an insidious beast that easy antidotes are a cruel tease. False hope can literally be a killer.

For me, I know now to expect lethargy, anxiety, depression, overeating, overdrinking, and every other negative under the sun when I’m enduring the short days of a Canadian winter. I’m one of the 20% for whom “SAD” could be a very serious affliction. So much so that my heart sings at the idea of being a nomad next winter and taking off to the south of Spain in January. Oh, yes. Positively giddy concept, that.

The Road Back

Reprieve will always excite me, even if it’s just me running away to a Spanish winter.

I’ve been through hell and back on the inside of my brain. It’s just a thing. That’s depression for you. For those of us who’ve come through to the other side, life is a surreal and powerful experience. Sometimes overcoming depression can be as simple as a decision, but those are the lucky and the few who enjoy that choice.

I often have moments when I look around the world and know it’s largely the same when I’m happy as when I’m depressed, and I’m all too aware of just how dramatically differently your brain can process things, and sometimes by fluke of chemistry or just seasonal weather. It’s astonishing once you see both sides.

For most, the road back from depression is an inexplicably personal journey, one that cannot be replicated, faked, or mass produced. For most, there is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all trick. For most, it is a grueling, tiresome, troubling, exhausting journey where two steps forward come with one step back, but eventually, if lucky, they succeed.

Happiness, it turns out, is a process of elimination in which one of many factors is simply luck.

And if folks don’t succeed on their “road back,” they sometimes end up like Robin Williams, at the wrong end of a rope.

That’s depression for you.

Use Your Words

Whatever it is we don’t understand about the brain and its chemistry, the one thing we do know is that, for some baffling reason, just using your words, opening your mouth, and saying something to someone, anyone, can sometimes be the thing that saves your life.

It saved mine in August, 2006 when I called a psychiatrist and said I was scared for what I might do to myself that day. Because I was terrified of the “what if” that afternoon.

Since then, I’ve never again felt that kind of hopelessness. Never again. Never, really.

And I think that’s a potential outcome for many people who today might feel there is no future or hope. Maybe they just need to open up and admit they’ve never been lower than now, to tell someone, anyone, and start that journey. Maybe that’s all it will require.

“Hey, it’s a start” has never had as much potential as it does when you put a name to the unthinkable beast that’s been keeping you down.

Trust me. Knowing really is half the battle. Put a name to your beast. Then get your fight on. You can do this. I did.

Bouncing Back from The Month of Suck

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October was My Month of Suck.

Things went badly at the end — personally, financially, physically, spiritually.

Times like that, my struggle is with Emotional Eating. Growing up, if there was something we’d celebrate or mourn, we’d do it with food.

At 37, it’s still my battle.

Another struggle is the pressure I put on myself and the self-damning I do when I don’t meet those lofty standards.

What happens when I get angry or disappointed in myself? I eat.

When I eat, what happens? I get fat or feel like it — equally dangerous to morale.

My first mistake in October was not saying sooner that I’d bitten off too much, regarding my post-pneumonia recovery.

The problems with me getting something like pneumonia is, it’s easy to think the pneumonia’s just some “thing” I’ve created to get out of shit, regardless of how sick I actually was.

As a kid, yeah, I was in and out of hospitals, but I was also a lazy kid who loved the excuse of illness — I hated exercise. When it came to exercise, I was happy to play the “I’m too sick” card.

The last five years, the greatest “getting fit” struggle I’ve faced was overcoming “I Can’t” and those old excuses.

In so doing, when I thought I couldn’t do something, I often did better than I expected. When I thought I was too weak, I was strong. If I wanted to improve my time in how long it took to cycle someplace, I did. When I thought I was too tired or too sore, I proved I wasn’t. That’s how I lost 70 pounds on my own.

Sure, I beat “I can’t,” but I’m still not an “I Can” girl — and that’s what I want to be, via my work with Nik Yamanaka from Le Physique.

I want say “Sure, I can do that!” without blinking. Now? Not so much, more like “Maybe?”

A lot has to do with the “I Can’t” Girl legacy.

In October, when I first thought I was doing too much too soon, I didn’t take a break — I didn’t want to use the “I’m not well” excuse or to make allowances for being sick or recovering. I didn’t want to admit I’m weaker or less strong.

Now I’ve paid for it through too sore muscles, too tired body, and the emotional fatigue that comes from the too-much-too-soon lethargy one suffers after trying to bounce back post-illness or injury.

***

Today I see Nik for the first time in two weeks. She knows I’ve been ass-kicked by both life and myself of late. I think I really need a session to get my head from Where I Was last month to where I’d rather be now.

For me, returning to anything after injury or illness is a struggle. The longer I’m out of the game, the harder it is to get back — especially when my body doesn’t like the pace I set, since I normally like to take my angst out on a workout, but my body doesn’t like that approach.

That said, almost every time I “return,” I do too much too soon.

I warned Nik that a former chiro labelled my tactics as “KAMIKAZE”. I mean, I know I do this shit.  I told her, “I know this about myself, I’m gonna be careful”, but, boom, there it is: History repeating.

This time, my bounce-back wipeout coincided with Heavy personal stuff on a few levels, and a bout of food poisoning, all within 10 days. I got knocked on my ass — hard.

Coupled with emotional baggage and the caloric hell that is Halloween, it’s been a doozy of a three-week stint in which I’ve been visiting all manner of feeling like a Failure.

We’ve all been there.

Still, I know my abilities and what I’ve learned about my food relationships, and my physical accomplishments with cardio and strength-training over time.

Believe me, I know. That’s why it’s so hard to accept such a rocky return.

Up side? Nik’s got a crash course in Steff’s Fitness Foibles 101 — my determination, roadblocks, how connected food is to my emotions, how I pay for my stubbornness.

Down side? It’s a disheartening start to what I hoped would resonate with awesomeness from the get-go. I have to recalibrate my expectations, and I will.

The I’ll-take-it side? I’m reminded I’m not God, I’m not even immortal, and while deities might allegedly be able to create whole worlds in seven days, we take longer to create what we dream, and more realistic aspirations make the road less arduous.

***

I’ve had a hard time writing this piece. I’ve started it six times now.

Why? I despise admitting that I’ve failed myself, but it’s more disheartening that it came after I tried too hard and hit the wall, only to fall back into old habits just ‘cos I emotionally roll that way.

That’s what I had a hard time with: feeling like I was being punished for working too hard. It’s tough to swallow that you’ve achieved what you wanted to do, but then suffered consequences as a result — and then revisited bad habits of old out of weakness.

To whatever end, it all comes back to listening to the trainer when he/she says “Listen to your body.”

They don’t say “Listen to your neuroses.”

Woefully, my neuroses speak loud and clear. Listening to that’s hard not to do.

And sometimes we don’t understand our bodies. Don’t understand? Or maybe we just don’t listen. Success usually isn’t a switch we can flick on overnight.

Some learn these lessons harder than others.

My lesson is in finding a middle ground between what I want to be Tomorrow and what I’m able to be Today, and for me it can be the hardest part of fitness.

Part of a trainer-trainee relationship comes from learning where you’re at with each other, and the trainer knowing when you’re really trying or when you’re just phoning it in. This is a tough beginning, and I know Nik’s being challenged with having to interpret that about me. I can respect that.

Still, my journey’s not just the physical roadblocks I have to contend with. I know I’ll be in a difficult place emotionally for a while, so my food struggle will be tough. That’s when training will be good, and social media/blogging also helpful, so I can get advice, support, friendly prodding, and experience accountability to others.

Because I can’t work out at 100 per cent, I’m learning I never overcame my food demons, despite having lost 70 pounds.

I didn’t. Food’s the devil, always was. This is the reality check I needed.

Waiter, there’s a fly in my aspiration soup. Check, please.

Yet, Food Demons can be beaten into submission. People do it all the time.

And, pneumonia can only hamper my efforts for so long. I’ll get there a little more each week. I’m just impatient.

***

So, today? Training looms.

My Catholic upbringing makes me dread facing people after I feel like I’ve failed them or myself, so showing up to see Nik will be a bit heavy at the beginning, but another part of me can’t wait to just get in there, see her, and turn the page on my October.

Something I’ve learned in recovery/rehab, and forgot until now: It’s best that I do cardio at the end of the day so I can recover after, rather than early in the morning, when it might take a lot out of me, since, frankly, post-pneumonic life isn’t brimming with energy just yet.

Sometimes we need to find new normals.

I’m finding mine.

***

Failure happens. We don’t choose when. Life’s tough, we deal where we can, and sometimes fall down elsewhere.

At the end, know what matters?

Not that I ate badly or didn’t exercise sometimes, but that I’ve been more honest with myself about food than I have in months, and that I’ve been active more regularly than I have in a while.

I’ve improved. That’s the point.

I haven’t improved as much as I’d wanted, as quickly as I’d hoped, but I know why I haven’t, where I can improve still, and now I’ll do better than I did last time.

In the end, sometimes just continuing to improve is the best result we can hope for.

For now? I’ll take it.

Le Physique is in Leg-And-Boot Square, in Vancouver’s False Creek. Nik Yamanaka is co-owner, and was the BCRPA Personal Trainer of the Year for 2008. Le Physique tailors a program to meet your abilities, goals, and lifestyle. They can’t do the work for you, but they can tell you the tweaks that will help you meet your best performance and give you the mental tools and simple practices that might help you attain the success you need. You can listen to Nik talking about training in this radio interview here. You can follow her/them on Twitter, too, by clicking here.

On Strange Times: Our Heroine Turns The Page

Y’all needs a status report, so here’s an update on the big, bad world of Steff. :)

I’ve had the biggest roller coaster week ever and I’m still reeling. My new mattress set came yesterday and judging by the strange cohesive feeling in my body this morning, my speculation over my bed being at least 60% of my back problem might have been understating things.

I’m still swirling in a very busy world of doing this spending spree I’ve arranged for. Monday will be my visit to the furniture factory to buy a new sofa. A wealthy furniture-store-owning uncle has arranged for me to get wholesale on a handmade leather sofa, so, I’m buying something that’s way, way beyond the means of most of my friends and I, for a couple hundred more than I’d budgetted, but in 3-4 years I’ll still be able to sell it for what I’ve paid, so why the hell not? I’ll show you what I get once I decide. Think retro-hip leather with sleek straight lines, firm and no overstuffing. Rat pack and martinis. Continue reading

Sombre Thoughts On A Friday Night

You ever have that feeling of, “I want sex. Now.” Well, of course you have. Haven’t we all? Now, how about that feeling coupled with a non-existent desire to masturbate?

See, now you understand why I’m confused. Well, I’m not confused now, but a few minutes ago I was, when I was lying in bed, planning on doing the dirty deed – naked, under the covers, at 7 on a Friday. Why? Because I’m tired. I want sleep. I’m really, fucking tired. I’ve not been in the bed so early (for such an innocent reason) on any night, let alone a Friday, in a long-ass time.

But I was lying there, contemplating masturbation for the first time in a while, and literally shrugged it off and said, “Fuck it, I’ll write.”

I’ve barely seen my man this week. Briefly Friday, a little Saturday night, and a nice but disappointing Sunday, and not since then. It feels weird, like forever or something. Normally, we hook up Fridays. I don’t know if he stayed home tonight after all, but there was talk of poker – which would be his first time hanging out with the guys since he badly broke his leg six weeks ago, and probably just the kind of night he needs.

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade: Broken legs are shit for the sex life, all right? They are. We’ve been doing our best, trying to manage between positioning, fatigue, pain, and all those complications that arise from any serious injury, but when it’s a leg, it’s all just that much more frustrating and hard. Besides, sex, when positions are not much of an option, tends to be a little unfulfilling. It’s really too bad, because it’s all about variety, isn’t it?

Mentally, I want to get fucked silly. One of those exhausting, sweaty, draining experiences that leaves you gasping – with this guy of mine. Physically, I suppose I probably desire it, but I don’t feel it. Logically, I know it’s just not going to happen for a bit. It’s all depending on what the doctor tells my man Tuesday.

In case you haven’t already heard, he shattered his lower right leg when it snapped like a twig during a bad tumble down a slope. A couple titanium plates later, and he was in a world of hurt for a long while. He’s had no cast on the leg, just plates, so he’s been very vulnerable for the duration of the injury. He’s also in a world of suspense. Apparently, he claims, 5% or more of patients of this kind of injury need to be opened up again (and he has two 5”+ incisions, on both sides, just above the ankle) and have the plates re-set.

So, Tuesday, we find out. He’s worried, and I’m concerned. Honestly, another six weeks of this… there’s a lengthy rehab as-is, but going back to square one would be so hard, because then there’s another wait, another period of suspense, and more pain, more adversity… Who needs it?

We just don’t know. I’m positive about it, but I can’t say I’m optimistic. We just don’t know. The possibility, though, is freaky. If he gets a “Wow, you’re doing dandy!” from the doc, man, I can’t imagine how good each of us will be feeling about it. That’d be sensational. God, would that be great. We’d have hope back and could start talking less tentatively about the future.

It’s not until you’re at the end of these kinds of scenarios that you really begin to appreciate how difficult it has been.

As the “girlfriend” of the boyfriend who’s on the disabled list, I’m left having to check my emotions all the time. I’m not allowed to be too concerned, I can’t be too fluffy or doting, and there’s so fucking much that I have to resist saying or expressing.

I’m left feeling like any of my concerns are selfish or that they pale in comparison to his problems. But we all do this. “Oh, but X has it harder than me.” So? Your emotions are invalid, then?

Who says our feelings come with built-in comparison scales? They don’t. Whatever pain, sadness, grief, hardship, woe it is we feel, it’s ours, and ours alone. It’s valid by the very nature that it exists. Is it selfish? Maybe, yes. So then you need to find a better way to deal with it. It must be prioritized against others’ needs sometimes, but it can never be disregarded.

I’ve been prioritizing the Guy’s needs in a lot of ways, and it’s beginning to wear thin – not because I don’t want to make him a priority, but because I’m just getting a little worn out, I guess. It’s different, right? Normally in relationships you can be more spontaneous. You can call them up and say, “Hey, can I get me a little somethin’somethin’?” You pop in, get what you need, have that quick, nice visit, and life is good. Or sometimes it’s 10 or 11 and you’re thinking, “Yeah, going to bed alone tonight? That sucks. I’m dialin’ up some love,” and you get your ass into their bed as quick as you can.

We can’t do that. I’m the one that has to go to him for anything spontaneous (which iis to say not at all), and really, late nights? Just not happening much at all when we’re together, never mind when we’re apart.

Injuries change relationships. There’s no getting around it. I understand injuries far too well, having spent much of four years in chronic pain earlier this decade, so I hold no grudges against my guy. He’s had a bad stretch. Soon, we’ll know if we’re into phase two. Waiting, though, from now until Tuesday is going to be fucking killer. I really, really want to know what our future holds. Regular sex? Score. Going out on the town? Score. Somewhere down the road, a real walk where we can hold hands? Score, score, score.

As of tonight, suspense. Nothingness. No clue. I’m scared of a bad prognosis, but I really, really doubt there’ll be one. It’s the possibility, however small, though, that’s the terrifying thing. There’s nothing that can be done but wait. And it’s not four days – it’s four days on top of nearly six weeks.

But he’s a fine man, and worth a wait. It’s because he’s a fine man that I’m getting so tired of waiting, though. I really, really want to enjoy him at his best, but we’re all adults and sometimes there’s just no fucking hiding from reality. It’s going to be a while, one way or the other, but the other’s just so much less desirable, that’s all.

Still, being in those arms again sometime very soon would be a good, good thing. And the suspense will be over soon, thank god.

It’s The End of the World As We Know It…

And I feel fine.

Despite that, life, as we know it, will never be the same again. Scientists have made water run uphill. Yes, Chicken Little, that is indeed the sky you see falling. Damn you, Gravity!

Even before seeing that, I was having a strange day. For what else can you call a Monday spring morning with rocketing gusts of wind, a bacon & tomato sammich for brekkie, while watching the Godfather?

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Which is to say, life is about practicalities. How do you manage, though, when even the practical becomes unlikely?

My guy proclaims that he has been a cripple now for five weeks.* I feel for him, yet there’s pretty much nothing I can do. If I help too much, he’s left feeling useless. If I do too little, he’ll think I’ve changed. It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of situation, and I have a hard time straddling that really persnickety line. Such is life.

There comes a time in every injury-rehabber’s life, this breaking point. Just when you think you’re never going to improve, things change rapidly. Before the progress, though, comes a period of unknowing, and there’s little more frustrating than that of just not knowing where you stand.

For those around the injured person, it’s difficult. You either can’t fathom what they’re going through (and most underestimate the amount of adversity a serious injury brings with it), or you can relate too well, which can sometimes be frustrating for the injured person, since they’re going through so much that your easy ability to relate is almost demeaning to their present adversities.

The Guy and I have discussed bondage off and on since we began dating. I had plans to tie the boy up much sooner than I have, but I began thinking realistically. It dawned on me that he’d been badly hurt, was on too many painkillers that had some sexual side effects, and all that, and I knew that, on the one hand, being tied up and pleasured would be perfect for him because he’d not have to exert himself and could simply enjoy the moment, but on the other hand, I knew he couldn’t return the favour and my kindness might wind up psychologically backfiring. So, I decided to postpone it.

This past week, I thought we might be at a point where I could tie the Guy up and just have him enjoy the experience now. Well, he did, absolutely, and I loved being able to do that for him, ‘cos that’s what it’s about, but… I’m a kind girl and I tend to be generous, and the Guy matches me well in those regards. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing he’d like to do more than rock my world in response to me rocking his, but then there’s reality. It’s just not quite that time, he can’t. I knew this when I tied him up, and I know it now.

That doesn’t make it any easier for either party. It’s frustrating when you really care about someone to any degree yet can’t show them the affection you’d like to exhibit, all because either you or they happen to be limited by physical realities.

There are things I can’t do that well right now, sexually, just because of injuries I have from over the last four years thanks to a small assortment of serious accidents. Giving head ain’t what it used to be – I can do maybe five or so minutes at a time before I get serious neck cramping and headaches, with my jaw locking up randomly for the next day or so. Doing the cowgirl ride, on top, makes my right knee go all wonky and every time I try it, my kneecap begins sliding off-base and my tendons snap like silly. These things piss me off, and I can’t even begin to understand what frustration the Guy must be having these days. He is a romantic, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some pretty awesome moments when both of us have been functioning in good form. I just know there’d be more of them if we were both at the top of our game more often. In fact, our on-the-town budget might dwindle drastically if full-on sex and all its trappings were on the menu every night.

Fortunately, I have to say that my sex drive’s at a really low point right now. Mentally, I want to go at it like wild bunnies in mating season with the Guy. I’m all about the thumpin’, you know. ‘Specially with him, but… Then there’s reality.

I’ve been doing battle with estrogen in one form or another for many months now. I had this near-insane reaction to an older birth control pill (Marvelon) that has a high estrogen content last October. Went into this black-as-hell depression and nothing but nothing could yank me out of it. You can see some evidence of it in October, 2005’s postings in the archive. I tried to keep most of it private, and maybe my other blog has more personal postings in it, but boy, it was one of the darkest periods I’ve ever experienced.

At the start of my next pill cycle, I switched to Alesse, a lower-dose pill. And now, well, my mood’s better, but my sex drive isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it hasn’t been for quite some time.

I got a lot of new readers earlier this year, in Feb/March, as a result of a series I began on masturbation. What you probably don’t know is that I don’t think I masturbated once during that series. I’ve been a little bothered by this unSteffness of mine for a while, but didn’t really know the extent of it until I got involved with the Guy.

It’s interesting, knowing the extent of your arousal intellectually and emotionally with someone, and not being interested in displaying it, or even able to do so, sometimes. Now, keep in mind, I have a high sex drive. As a chick, I probably have as high a sex drive as you can have without being addicted to sex. (Yes, it’s a real addiction.) So, perhaps having a little of the sex drive diminish isn’t such a bad thing. I’m not too concerned about that. I’m still pretty damned feisty from time to time, and probably still more than the Guy needs just now. At least he knows that when he’s ready, I’m willing, and that’s a start.

What I am concerned about, however, is the lack of sensation I’ve discovered I have.

It’s one thing to be able to masturbate yourself to orgasm… you lose a little sensation and you just dismiss it as getting disenchanted by the thought of having to take yourself to orgasm solo yet again. Like one reader wrote to me once, it’s like drinking water to eliminate a hunger. It’s not exactly a model solution.

When your lover, though, knows their shit and you just can’t feel like you ought to feel, like you know you should feel, you begin to realize it’s not them, it’s you, and that’s as frustrating as hell, too.

Next cycle, though, I begin yet another new birth control pill. Hopefully I’ll be a little less emotional some of the time, and hopefully my sexual sensitivity gets back to what it used to be, and hey, a little more drive might not hurt, but given the present scenario, I could wait a month or two for that.

So, the sky’s falling, water’s running uphill, my sex drive’s diminished, and the Guy’s having a rough week of it. What else is new? Life goes on. Storms seem the longest when you’re in them, and as time passes, you realize what a blip it was on the radar of things. When you’re being bombarded by gusts and howlers, it’s a little harder to see the big picture.

That’s why they made days only 24 hours long; having to get through anything longer would be inhumane on some days. As it is, it all starts anew tomorrow, and soon enough, another week’ll come along. It’s important to live in the moment, but it’s more important to realize time doesn’t stand still for anyone, least of all you.

*If you’re new-ish to the blog, a few weeks after we met, the Guy had a mishap and broke his right leg in three places above the ankle. Two intense surgeries were done to insert titanium plates and far too many screws, and he’s been on crutches ever since. Next week we find out finally if his bones have been correctly knitting, but he’s had no cast since week three, and can see the “monstrosity” he claims his foot/leg has become — covered in scars, bruising, and the like. If he gets the a-okay from the doc, he can finally begin putting pressure/weight on that leg. As of today, it requires great care and protection to keep it on the healing path. Frustrating for its owner, indeed.