Must depression ruin your running plans? Again?
Running in the winter can be hard enough. Running while struggling with winter depression (or any kind of depression) can be darn near impossible.
March is the cruelest month, I think. I loved it once, when I was young and growing up in Cincinnati. I could count on it to feel like spring, with daffodils and sunny skies. Not so much in Michigan. April can’t be trusted, either.
Although to be fair, it was when I was living in Cincinnati that I first realized that I suffered from winter depression. So what did I do? I moved north. Brilliant plan, Jen.
I had married a Cincinnati man who immediately got a job with Ford Motor Company near Detroit. Neither one of us could have known the impact that decision would have on my health. Once we did realize it, the economy had tanked and finding a new job in a sunnier climate just wasn’t happening. We were very lucky he had a job!
I have a fairly easy time finding the motivation to run between mid-April through mid-November. That leaves five long months when I want to wrap myself in fleece, curl up in bed with a book and a bag of Doritos, and talk to no one until May. I believe they call that “hygge”.
Hibernating like a bear didn’t lead to anything good, so I’ve developed some healthier coping strategies. I hope that some of these will help someone else.
Through the sheer force of my will… by hook or by crook… I don’t care if it kills me… JUST DO IT!
Bottom line is that I make myself go to the gym, whether I feel like it or not. I don’t feel like it. It’s cold. It’s dreary. I have to see people. Nice people, but I feel obligated to run a brush through my hair. Don’t think, just go.
Set the bar low.
If things are going well, I have a workout plan. My plans are overarching for the year, the month, that day. But if depression is sucking the life out of my soul, the plans can be on hold.
Instead, I tell myself, “Just go walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes. Chances are that a body in motion will want to stay in motion. Some Duran Duran tunes will pep you up and this may turn into a 60 minute jog. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay.”
When my spirits are low, usually all I can muster is a long, slow jog. Good news! That’s the basis of my heart rate training program. Winter is a great time to build my aerobic capacity so that I’ll be ready for marathon training come June.
Sometimes being depressed pisses me off. I’ve been dealing with this for nearly 30 years! Dang, no wonder I’m developing anger issues.
There are times when I get on the treadmill expecting to slog through a slow jog and a Bob Segar song comes on∗ and I just tap into my inner rage. My eyes squint, my jaw sets, and I turn that pace up until I’m running sprint intervals.
Have you ever run mad? It’s awesome. I wish someone would tick me off right before a race.
Ugh, I hate this advice! Most runners seem to like running outside in the winter but I can’t stand being cold. If it’s truly bitter cold I end up feeling worse after a run than before, which should never happen. But if it’s at all not hideous outside, getting some fresh air (for just 20 minutes!) really can make a difference.
Seek appropriate help.
One thing I tell all my friends who are struggling with depression, “You don’t have to feel this way. Help is available. Talk to your doctor.”. That help will look different for different people. It will look different for the same person over time.
I used to take Zoloft because it was the antidepressant “most compatible with breastfeeding”. It worked pretty good, but once breastfeeding was no longer an issue, I switched to Wellbutrin. It was like someone flipped a switch and I woke up. I didn’t even realize that I was sleepy!
Try other remedies.
I used to use a light box to help with winter depression but once my eyes reached the age of 40 it started to trigger migraines. How cosmically unfair is that? But this past December I discovered an amazing secret that I am willing to share.
My neurologist prescribed Botox to help with the migraines I was getting twice a week.
(Do you hear angels singing? You should. I did.)
I got a small test dose in mid-December. Not only did the migraines go away (as did some wrinkles!), but I had no winter depression in January. Seriously. For real. I felt… normal. I wasn’t loving that it was cold and gray. But I felt like how I imagine normal people must feel about January.
The Botox wore off by mid-February and now I am having a terrible March. I’m waiting to find out if my insurance company will cover the injections because the headaches have returned, too.
Take the long view.
When all is going well, I try to follow the advice of “Don’t take off more than two days in a row.”. Ideally I will run Monday through Saturday and take Sunday off. If I have to miss another run, I try to make it a Wednesday.
If for some reason, if I must miss an entire weekend then I will be back at it on Monday. The thing is, when you’re struggling with depression it’s all too easy to skip running on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and then convince yourself that Monday doesn’t matter at this point anyway.
But I’m not training for next week. I’m running for the joy of living my life. I need to do the best I can right now with the sure hope that I’m not always going to feel this way.
I’m not aiming for the 2020 Olympics. Having a rough training month when I’m 46 is not going to impact how I’m running when I’m 56. It’s not even going to impact my half marathon later this year.
So I’m giving myself some grace. Get through this and know that happier running days are ahead. I can’t wait to get back out there on those rural dirt roads.
∗PS… I don’t know why Bob Segar helps me tap into my inner rage. I’m sure he’s a very nice man. But something about “Hollywood Nights”makes me run fast. Now get the hell out of my way.
Do you have any tips on how to get through a rough patch? Please, share them here! Then please share this post via the buttons below so that we can help one another get through this thing called life.