I’ve had several injuries over the years; sprained ankles, IT band issues, hamstring tear, sciatic nerve issues, torn ligaments in the shoulder. Most of these come from over-use, poor form, falls, or bike crashes. We freely share these experiences with friends and family, posting on Facebook and Twitter as we do many things. These are our stories, stories that shape who we are, as athletes, as human beings. Stories of facing misfortune and obstacles and overcoming them to reach our goals, our physical pursuits. We wear our scars proudly, they are our badges of honor and courage. They identify us with our peers and help forge bonds under common interests and experiences.
Who among us doesn’t find inspiration from the athletes that overcome obstacles to reach for something greater. I find inspiration in my brothers, one lost more than 60 pounds to become a professional triathlete, the other early in his Triathlon career had his foot run over by a car as was told he might not be able to run again. Eventually he became runner-up in The World Triathlon Championships at both the Ironman and 70.3 distances. More recently, we watch Lindsey Vonn battling for an Olympic spot after tearing her ACL, twice. We empathize and connect with these stories and the people behind them, they become more human, they become like us.
Injury is defined as harm or damage that is done or sustained. I choose to view my depression as I would an injury, an injury of the mind. I encourage others to perhaps start thinking of depression the same way. If we do, then over time we can squash the stigma and more people may seek to get the monkey off their back. I would hope that someday sharing our stories of mental unhealth will be as easy to share with friends and family as other common illnesses or physical injuries.
Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Longstanding theories about depression suggest that important neurotransmitters—chemicals that brain cells use to communicate—are out of balance in depression. ~ National Institute of Mental Health.
Depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. I can’t say I know exactly what causes my issues, but through my own self exploration, and tons of research, I believe it to be a combination of psychological factors and genetics. While those may be root causes, my triggers are stress (relational, financial, health), insomnia, nutrition likely, and over-use.
My psychological factors involve long standing false beliefs around abandonment, self worth, and belonging and how those beliefs and experiences of my youth created social fears and anxieties. Being an introvert, being bullied and teased, and dealing with frequent moves or changing of schools contributed to my lack of deep bonds as a child and resulted in periods of social isolation, isolation that I still project on myself and allow to inhibit my ability to create meaningful friendships. And as I’ve recently discovered, deal with the loss of friendships. When I read these words, they seem silly and anger me to know that patterns of my mind, created so many years ago continue to haunt and falsely guide me today. While my logical mind understands that the majority of those experiences had nothing to do with me as a human being, as an impressionable youth it can create crippling fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety that ebbs and flows, but follows you around like a shadow for a lifetime.
On the genetic side, I recently discovered I have what is called FHH, Familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia. There isn’t much information available on it as it’s pretty rare. It causes Hypercalcemia, high calcium levels in the blood, due to a mutation to a gene that is supposed to monitor calcium levels in the body. Since my system can’t properly monitor and read calcium levels, it thinks I’m low which triggers the parathyroid glands (which controls calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood and bone) to release parathyroid hormone which causes calcium in the blood to rise. While there aren’t many studies on this mutated gene, a similar issue due to a hyper active parathyroid gland has shown symptoms to be; depression, forgetfulness, fatigue, fragile bones, excessive urination, and bone/joint pain. I exhibit all of these symptoms and a recent bone density test revealed I have extremely low density for my age and will need to take osteoporosis medication in the future. While I don’t necessarily believe my mutated gene is the sole cause of my depression, I do believe it is a contributing factor and perhaps makes me more susceptible, particularly when my stress levels are high causing my system to be out of balance.
Sharing my history and theories on causes for my depression is my attempt to better grasp it myself, as well as show that there shouldn’t be a stigma, blame, nor shame attached to admitting or seeking help with issues of mental health or depression. While there may be things I can or could have done to avoid depression and stay on top of my mental health, just as equally, I could have done things differently to have kept myself from the physical injuries. Events happen and consequences result. I’m not ashamed of my physical injuries and I shouldn’t be ashamed of my mental injuries, nor should anyone. If we reject the parts of us we define as bad or weak, do we not shut ourselves off to fully experiencing the parts of us that are strong and good? It’s in those weaknesses that we often find our strength and discover our uniqueness.
My mind may be broken, but my spirit is not. It can be fixed and managed and I’ll discuss my process for that in future posts. For now, the 800 lb. gorilla that was crushing me is being swapped for a healthier, and lighter, Curious George.