*Disclaimer: It seems I’ll always have to mention that yes, I realize my posts may be all over the place. Yes, there may be run-on sentences. But I’m suffering from depression, I have a hard enough time just having the motivation to write.*
Recently, I have been attending physical therapy for my neck to help strengthen the muscles in my back and shoulders that support my neck in efforts to relieve some of the pain and flare-ups from my Chiari 1 Malformation. I have been going twice a week, every session having different exercises or massages, for about a month. During this time, I have noticed that my depression has lifted if only by just 10%. I still feel an overall malaise; and every time I arrive for PT, I feel weak, tired, and dizzy-and this is before I start my therapy. Aside from the physical activity that I’m assisted with, the routine of having to be somewhere at the same time every week has given me a sort of sense of purpose. This is a huge part of alleviating depression.
I started my session off by warming up – today it was five minutes on the arm bike. My biceps, triceps, and other surrounding muscles were already shaking; and my shoulder joints were beginning to wake up and yell at me to stop before I became so much in pain that even turning the wheel of my car would elicit sharp pains that would radiate down my arms, leading me into panic mode wondering whether or not I’m having a heart attack. Of course, I wouldn’t be. But, I was smart this time around. After wall push-ups (on my toes!), planks on my knees, stretch band exercises, and various one-pound weight training movements with my body bent at the waist, leaning over on an exercise ball propped up on a massage table, I asked if I could sit with some ice. Although my middle back is starting to hurt, it’s probably largely in part because of my horrible posture, something that physical therapy is trying to straighten, strengthen, and prevent the melancholic curvature of my spine. The signature curvature of someone who has been depressed for 20 plus years of their life and can’t find the will nor stamina to sit upright for 10 minutes. I was shaking. Throughout my entire workout, I was shaking. My physical therapist noticed this and would constantly ask if I felt I needed to rest before continuing, or if I felt okay enough to start the next set.
My revelation came to me this morning, while in the shower, when I realized something that could very well decrease psychopharmaceutical sales. What if psychiatrists prescribed physical therapy, two to three times a week at half hour sessions, for patients who have been immobile and bed or couch-ridden because of depression? Even if the patient had a hard time following through with take-home exercises (of which I’m guilty), working with someone a few times a week who is aware of the patient’s disability and understanding of the limitations that a person has, would be greatly beneficial to that person with depression, even if the overall improvement is 10 or 20 percent better. For some, they may fall back into old ways of sitting or sleeping all day, but others may take the opportunity and slowly rehabilitate their body into movement, and build strength.
I have been sitting and have been near bed-ridden (at times actually bed-bound) for over two years now. I have gained 80 pounds during that time and lost so much muscle that walking a few blocks makes my legs shake. I’m so weak at times that any type of extended physical activity involving my arms and reaching above my head causes me to shake uncontrollably. Ultimately, I avoid these types of activity.
I certainly don’t want to claim or rather, proclaim, that “If I can do it, so can you,” because this is not the case. With anything. If there is one thing I hate about motivational speakers it’s the assumption that just because their back story and journey to where they are now had been so grueling, they expect that others have no excuse to say that they can’t do the same. No one is above anyone and certainly no one’s misery and hard times are more difficult than everyone else. Yes, I hate where I am at; and I hate even more the depression I experience every damn day, but I never once compare my misery to someone else’s, and if I do, it’s in a more self-deprecating-typical-depression kind of way. I look at another person and think that they do have it worse than me, so why the hell am I attending all these self-pity parties all the damn time?
So, one idea I have (if I can conjure the energy) is to put out an honest book on exercise and depression and how to get from point A to point B (rather how to drag and claw your way from point A to point B). I would take care not to include self-pity stories nor “If I can do it, you can too” stories, but rather just talk about my personal experience with depression and physical activity. I have been thinking about this on and off for a while now, wondering what the key thought is to getting off the chair, or out of bed, to doing the slightest of exercises to start your body moving. My head is plagued with so many fucking doctors rattling off how I need to exercise, take the dogs for a walk even for a few blocks, or start by lifting weights; or, after telling them that I completed the P90 program twice, “Why not start the P90 program again?” The problem these doctors don’t understand is that, for someone who used to workout at least five, if not six or seven, days a week, have two jobs, and energy to have craft fairs every weekend AND have a social life, starting an exercise program with the past mocking me in my head is simply not an option. Although I know that if I was going to start again I couldn’t pick up where I left off with 100 sit-ups, lifting 20 pound weights, and dancing on the treadmill for an hour, there is still a part of me that when I try to pick up that dumbbell, even if it’s only five pounds, in my depressed mind, I see my former body, 100 pounds of fat lighter, and an unknown amount of muscle heavier. And so, in order to write a successful book, or rather, the book that I want to write, there has to be a conclusive, concrete thought process to look at where I used to be and accepting where I am now. And to be clear, the accepting part is NOT the thought process that I want to focus on. Acceptance is hard and frankly, redundant and overused. I want the readers with Major Depressive Disorder to read this book and think that, “Okay, maybe I could try this,” or, “I feel that way, too,” or, “I get the same responses from doctors and TV advertising.”
Perhaps I could even start a program that becomes so widespread, perhaps nationwide, that insurance companies approve the use of physical therapy as an alternative or additional form of “medicine” for those who are depressed. Level of depression need not apply. If you’re depressed and stagnant, you are automatically qualified. Force the doctors to put their money where their mouth is and prescribe exercise for their patients. You cannot expect a depressed patient to begin an exercise routine on their own when they already think so little of themselves.
I hope with my next month of physical therapy, that I can be motivated to exercise on my own, and hopefully it will lift at least 10 or 20% of my depression. Anything would make a difference.