“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” – Annie Dillard
When I was 24, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. On the heels of that, it was also declared that I was suffering from major depression and that the two were inextricably linked. The clinical depression diagnosis was, I would say, about 15 years too late. In a sense it was a relief to put a name on the unbearably heavy blanket I felt I had been living under. At the same time it felt like I was being sentenced to a life of “treatment” for my “problem”. The idea of taking a pill for my mood scared the living shit out of me. I felt weak, lazy, powerless. The truth was, I was not capable of addressing ANY of my “issues” without the help of pharmaceuticals. Anti-depressant medication was described to me by one of my doctors at the time as “allowing me to be at a level playing field” with the rest of the world, not unlike putting on a pair of prescription glasses in order to see clearly. I was/am “serotonin-deficient”.
Depression is confusing. It’s hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it, and harder still to accept as a part of oneself that one must live with. I am now 43, almost 44, so that’s nearly 20 years of living with the reality of depression. How have I dealt with it? Well, in all the ways. I have tried all the things!
On the dysfunctional side, I have tried: all the various disordered eating patterns you can possibly imagine (starving, bingeing, purging), compulsive exercise, drinking, cutting, escaping into bad relationships, excessive sleeping, isolation, marriage. (yes, marriage)
Despite many years of that craziness, I have also grown up a bit and faced my depression compassionately and proactively, with the hopes of finding solace without having to take a pill every day. On the functional side I’ve tried: acupuncture, yoga, massage, Reiki, meditation, spiritual pilgrimages, nutritional therapies and herbal remedies, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, couples therapy, Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, daily visits to the shrine, and running.
During these years of experimentation, I tried to treat my depression without medication. I also tried pretty much every anti-depressant out there. Some worked. Some gave me migraines and made me sick. I wanted SO SO SO badly to be someone who “outgrew” her depression. I really thought I could do it.
Thing is, you cannot will your way out. You cannot “try harder”.
You cannot just “BE HAPPY!!” (don’t you think I would have done that by now if it were that easy???)
This is part of the enormous confusion for loved-ones,,,part of the helplessness they feel. It is truly heartbreaking. I get that. I am fortunate in many ways. I have health insurance, an understanding partner, wonderful friends & family, satisfying work, and: I found running.
Yes I take anti-depressants daily. I have a therapist. But I rely on running in a way that empowers me and puts my health and well-being firmly in my own hands. I know, with 100% certainty, that even 30 minutes of running will save me on any given day. There is something about the breathing, the sweat, the footfalls, the solitude, the freedom. The mish-mash of anxiety, fear, sadness, confusion will gradually fan out in front of me into a more clear, clean, manageable set of “life lumps” — it’s just life and I can deal with it. I’ve built up, over the years, the mental and emotional muscle to be able to face life without the dysfunctional coping tools that only served to bury me deeper into that dark hole. Running has allowed me to do this.
Am I saying every depressed person should just get over it and go running? NO. Not at all. I was lucky to find “my thing”. My thing might be another person’s ticket to further depression. I would simply say: find your own version of running. It might be yoga, meditation, gardening (those 3 things still help me immensely!) – or knitting, cooking, playing with your dog, long walks in the forest, time with friends, building something, drawing, singing, etc etc. I believe the key is finding “that thing” that gets you out of your own head, IN A HEALTHY WAY. For me, the endless looping destructive track of excessive worry & rumination is cut off when I run.
It’s kind of magical. :) I’m not about to let it go.