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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Side Effects of Running


When people ask me why I run, the short answer is always "because I feel so great afterwards."  The truth is that running is my own personal cure for depression.  Depression runs strong in my family.  My mom has suffered from it for as long as I can remember.  Growing up I can remember periods, usually around holidays, that my mom would seem sad for no reason.  She struggled through suicide attempts, hospitalizations, alcoholism, lots of therapy, and divorce before finally finding the medication that worked for her. In addition, about 15-20 years ago, she also discovered the Nordic Track.  She has faithfully used it almost daily ever since, including while recovering from three separate battles with breast cancer. She is truly the strongest, most amazing, person I know.

Two of my sons were also diagnosed with depression in grade school. The oldest, now in college, was on medication for 10 years.  Interestingly, the medication that works so well for my mom, had very negative side effects for my son.  For him, a completely different medication seemed to work well. In high school, he felt like he wanted to wean off the meds though, and was able to do so with great success.

When Ryan was first diagnosed at age 8, he drew the picture above titled, "Side Effects." He did not like feeling like there was something "wrong" with him that he needed medication for, but he made the best of it by imagining that one of the side effects of taking the meds was that it would help him to become an amazing athlete.

Last fall, Ryan began his freshman year at St. Mary's University as a starter for their soccer team. I honestly believe that being active, in conjunction with being lucky enough to have had two incredible coaches growing up that understood his diagnosis, yet did not let it define him, is the reason he is so happy and healthy today. (Thank you Coach Mark and Coach P!)

My other son continues to struggle with his depression, and taking his medication is an ongoing battle.  The drug that works best for him, is the same drug that works so well for my mom.  The key being that he needs to take it consistently, which is where the problem comes in.  He tends to go through periods where he seems fine, and then for no obvious reason falls into a slump where he has little energy or motivation to do the things he typically enjoys.

Being in middle school, and going through all the typical hormone changes that are common at that age, make it harder to manage his depression.  Unlike my older son, he is also not as verbal about how he is feeling.  The one thing that does help pretty consistently though, is when he is playing sports.  His first love is baseball, but we see the depression abate for him regardless of if he's playing baseball, soccer, basketball, etc... The key for him is to stay active.

I too was diagnosed with depression after the birth of my 3rd son.  At first we had believed it was post-partum, but eventually it was evident that it was more than that.  For many years I was prescribed the same medication as my mom and my younger son with moderate success.  For whatever reason though, like my boys, I just didn't like the idea of taking pills each day.  I tried several times weaning myself off of them, only to have the depression return after a few months of being medication free. Then I discovered running.

Just over 3 years ago, I started running and have pretty much run 75-125 miles per month pretty consistently ever since.  When I was about 6 months into it, I was feeling so good that with my doctor's consent I once again weaned myself off of my anti-depressants.  I am happy to say, I haven't needed to go back on them since.  There have been a few months when my mileage has dropped and each time, the signs of depression would come creeping back.

I knew I had to make a choice. It is highly likely that depression will always be a part of my life.  However, I now know that I can choose whether to fight it with running and maintaining a healthy life style, or I can go back on my medication. I choose running.

I am not a doctor, nor an expert, but I do know that depression works differently for everyone, and there is no one right answer or cure. What works for one person, may have just the opposite effect for another. (As it did for my mom and my son.)  There is no stigma attached to needing an Rx, attending therapy, etc..., as long as it helps. However, based on my family's experience alone, it is clear that daily physical activity as at least one component in the battle against depression, is capable of delivering a pretty strong and lasting punch.

I love looking back at my son's drawing now because of course, the side effects of the medication did not make him an amazing athlete.  Ironically though, one of the side effects of being an amazing athlete, was treating his depression. On those days when I don't feel like lacing up, that drawing is all the inspiration I need!

I'd love to hear why you run & what positive side effects keep you motivated to continue day after day,  mile after mile!


2 comments:

  1. Yes! Exercise is a wonderful way to alleviate depression- and healthy for your whole body! You have made a brave choice to share all of this- and a brave choice to face what all is going on and make healthy and beautiful choices for yourself and your family. Way to go!

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  2. Thanks Karise. As much havoc as depression has caused for our family, we are blessed to all be battling it successfully. I know so many people for whom that is not the case, and for them I am heartbroken. Unfortunately it is a disease without a true cure, and managing it will be a part of our lives forever. Whatever I can do to raise awareness & help erase the stigma even a tiny bit, I am simply honored to be able to do it.

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