24 February 2007

Depression and Running

I know folks. This blog is supposed to be about running, yoga and zen. Not necessarily in that order.

But its really about life. Which is up and down like the hills I ran today. Running is a good but overused metaphor so let's not go there.

According to the NIMH, about 9.5 percent of the US adult population suffers from a depressive illness at any given time. This is a fairly staggering number. "The economic cost for this disorder is high, but the cost in human suffering cannot be estimated. Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them."

The costs in human suffering cannot be estimated. In part because it can't be seen, can't be measured - it may be the most subjective illness around. No blood test can detect it. Because your arm is not broken, because you are not blind or deaf, or dying of some horrible disease, there is no way to "show" anyone that you are ill, that you hurt, that you are dying inside.

You put on your game face, tough it out, ignore it, hide it, maybe treat it yourself with alcohol, other drugs, sex, food, gambling, anything that will take the feeling away for a little while. Though, trust me, they all make it worse.

What's really hard is that many folks just don't think it exists. But it does and someone you love probably suffers from it. Even if you don't know it. The link to NIMH has lots of tips for helping that loved one - read it 'cause you might recognize someone you know. Even yourself!

Next time you are at a race, realize that many of the folks around you are suffering from depression. That they are there is a testimony to their desire to get better, get over, or just hold the damn thing in abeyance. Exercise is supposed to be good for your head. Numerous studies have shown it to be more effective that any prescription medication available. The problem is a chicken and egg thing: its hard to motivate yourself to get out of bed let alone run when you are depressed. And yet, if you can, it really does offer some release from the symptoms. If you get into a habit of exercise it can help tremendously and prevent relapses. So usually you need some medical assistance to get the process rolling, get rid of some of the fog of depression. Once you start doing things, as the meds kick in, it becomes easier to do more things and so on.

So when I got out there today and ran in the snow, slipping and sliding, I pretty much hated every minute of it. Then here at 10 PM I am feeling myself coming back down to earth. I've been exercising pretty steadily for several weeks. I'm not out of the woods yet but I can see the meadow beyond the trees. The constant pushing to exercise is slowly paying off, more good days than bad, more motivation than procrastination.

But its possible to fall flat on your back again. To relapse into the darkness, the bleakness and hopelessness that is depression. Depression is a lie that some part of your brain tells another part of your brain.

Medication and running are ways of unmasking the lies, interrupting the conversation.

I remember a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin is thinking of doing some wild and crazy and foolishly dangerous thing:

That's depression.

See you on the trail!

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

I don't know about in America but in australia we have programmes that you can sign up for and you get paired up with someone with an illness and you make a time to go for a walk once a week. It is hard to say no when you know there is someone else relying on you to be there.

Smae Idea though, get the body moveing