Let’s just get this out there:
I am one of the 350,000,000 people who suffers from depression.
I can even pinpoint the first time I felt depressed. I was 15 and having a hard time adjusting to the high-school hierarchy. (“Best years of your life,” my ass.)
Unlike sadness, this feeling was deep, heavy and came without a cause. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. A pet didn’t die, I hadn’t hurt myself playing outside — it was just there.
It took me six years before I realized what I felt had a name. I saw a doctor, got diagnosed and was prescribed antidepressants. During the first year on the meds, I got a Prozac high. My mind was functioning like it should. Everything was great, and I was winning the battle.
Except highs don’t last.
By my mid-20s, I was struggling again. I needed something else.
Running just sort of happened. There really wasn’t one thing, but a combination of many: A trip to watch a friend run the Boston Marathon, a 5k for work, jogs with my Energizer-Bunny dog, a chance to be alone with a new album. These moments are what formed Runner Lindsay.
It was around 2011, when I became a runner. Up until that point, I had only ran four continuous miles, which I thought was a BIG DEAL. But I got it in my head that four wasn’t good enough, so I did five. Then I wanted to see if I could do a 10k (6.2 miles), so I did that.
A 10k wasn’t good enough, so I ran seven miles.
While my mileage climbed, I noticed my mood did, too. I had stumbled upon that very real runner’s high. Like a drug, I wanted more, more, more. And as I pushed ahead, everything got better. I increased my mileage and dropped time, I was thinking creatively and clearly, and I had a positive outlook.
While I was still on my meds, running helped to take the edge off.
In 2012, I told myself I’d run a half marathon. By May, I was signed up to run the 15.5-mile Grand Rapids River Bank Run. By the end of the year, I had completed my first marathon.
Running gave me this feeling that I could do anything. I was strong and I was happy. Sadness was more situational than that just-there depression I had felt so often. Running was my magic drug and I was diligent that I got my daily dosage.
I knew I couldn’t rely on such a good thing to last. Around March 2014, something was wrong. My legs felt heavy, my hip flexors ached and my usual eight-minute per mile pace became a 10-minute pace. Running became a struggle instead of a welcome challenge.
This concerned me, so I went to my doctor and he prescribed physical therapy.
I was making progress in physical therapy, or I thought. In July 2014, I put in a 10-mile run and noticed something wasn’t right. I had pain deep in my hip. This wasn’t just a hip-flexor issue that I could stretch out. This was something I couldn’t reach.
My physical therapist knew right away. I had a labrum tear in my right hip.
The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket and provides stability and protection to the joint. Many baseball players have had torn labrums in their shoulders, and my injury is not uncommon in the running world. I would need surgery and significant recovery time.
The one thing that kept me stable was being taken away from me for who-knows how long.
Diagnosis to surgery took three months, and I was in pain for every day of it. I finally had the procedure done in September 2014, which brought on its own obstacles. With one leg out of commission, I needed help moving around, which did not bode well for this fiercely independent woman.
I tried to stay positive. I got to drive one of those carts at the supermarket! I got to work at home with my dogs! But driving supermarket carts didn’t make up for the one thing that kept me happy. And just like that, the depression came back hard.
All I wanted was to know when I could run again. First, I was told three months post-surgery. Then six months. Then when the weather broke. In May — eight months post-surgery — I went for a mile run with my dog.
I DID IT. OH MY GOD, I CAN RUN!
I was so happy. I smiled the entire time. Everything during that run was THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME.
I kept going. I would run a mile one day, rest a couple days, then run another. I worked my way up to two miles. I was feeling positive again, until I started feeling a familiar pain.
I thought my hip was just sore, so I rested it. And rested it some more. A month had passed and the pain was still there. And with the pain came even more depression.
At that point, it had been more than a year since I was regularly running. I gained 10 pounds and a lot of my clothes didn’t fit anymore. I knew it shouldn’t be a big deal, but every inconvenience is a big deal when you’re depressed.
My doctor thought the pain was something another round of physical therapy could help, so I went to a new therapist who used different techniques. I was hopeful.
But it didn’t work. Bless my therapist (Hi, Dave!), he tried. We were both convinced I was making progress. He sent me out for a five-minute run (like the mile run before, it was exhilarating).
I was feeling good, until the next day, and the day after that, and basically every day up until this point. I was in pain unlike any I had experienced post-surgery.
It was a hard day when both of us had to come to terms with reality.
Now I’m being thrown back into the process: Another doctor’s appointment, another MRI, another surgery. I am defeated. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I went on my last real run.
A run where I didn’t have to be conscious of my injury and recovery, a run where I could just go and be free, the kind of run that brings me happiness.
At this point, my depression is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Anxiety and paranoia have been added into the mix, and the periods last longer and are much stronger. I’ve tried to supplement running with other exercises, but nothing gives me the happiness running once did.
My husband has been trying to prepare me for the worst: that I won’t be able to run again. I don’t listen and I don’t think about it. If it happens, I’ll deal with it. Right now I’m fine living in ignorant bliss.
I know whining about not being able to run sounds ableist and that there are people out there whose struggles are harder than my own. But the thing with depression is that it’s all-encompassing.
When I’m in the middle of it, I can’t count my blessings. I can’t be grateful. I am stuck in a black bubble and I can’t see anything outside of it.
Depression makes me selfish, whether I want to be or not. It makes me flaky, it makes me cancel plans and it makes me hide from my responsibilities.
I love my family and friends, and my dogs bring me so much joy. I realize how fortunate I am to be loved, to have a good job, to be able to eat well, and be independent.
But when I’m in the thick of my depression, I can’t think with that kind of clarity. To put it bluntly: it fucking sucks.
I’m not the only one who struggles with depression. I’ve been fighting this illness for the past 16 years and I know there are plenty more people out there engaged in the same fight.
I’m telling you this (thanks for reading, by the way) because I want it to be OK to be frank and open about mental illness. It’s a disease that’s real, painful and dangerous. There is still so much we don’t understand about it.
Maybe we would know more if we opened up the topic for conversation.
I noticed that I gab on and on so casually about my running injury: what it is, what surgery I had done, what recovery was like and my physical therapy appointments. I don’t, however, gab on about my depression, and it’s time to start.