Good morning and welcome to 2018. I managed to patch together a full night of sleep, in spite of insomnia and partying neighbors. Chico (my dog) spent the second half of the evening in the bed with me, which is quite the rare occurrence, but necessary since my neighborhood was lit up like the 4th of July. I’ve had a long weekend of downtime, which sounds like a treat for most, but it’s something I struggle with. My headache has been going strong for three days. I can’t sleep past 1am, and I’m itching to do something but don’t want to do anything. This is par for the course.
I’m not here to bitch about my weekend, though, and I certainly could use a moment to rest my tired body after last week’s workouts. I go back to school next Monday (gasp), and if I recall correctly, grad school makes me cry and wish I had a moment to myself (SO JUST ENJOY THE MOMENT, WOMAN!). I’m actually here to talk to YOU. Yes, you, the person who feels scared and alone and not sure how to make changes in order to feel whole. I can’t fix you, but if you’re patient and have time to listen, I can show you how to find that light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you’ve noticed it mainly consists of bike racing stories and cryptic tales of being sad and then finding out something magical about myself. Actually, the majority of blog posts over the past two years have been about how cyclocross is awesome and also terrible, because I always fall victim to being too sick, too injured, or too poor to continue the season. Then it’s nothing but radio silence until I decide to post something random; usually when I see a glimmer of hope in my life/training/etc.
What I’m about to say may not be a surprise for some. I’ve been on the fence for over a year about whether or not to come out and show my true self, and for reasons I’ll explain later, I’m actually glad I didn’t come out sooner. There are a lot of little moving parts to my story, and if you can hang on long enough, I’ll fill you in on why they are important to the bigger picture.
During Christmastime in 2013, I reached out for emotional support after a very damaging relationship ended. I was no stranger to sadness and depression, but this time it was much more than I could handle alone. I was given a diagnosis that didn’t completely shock me, as my entire life had been filled with similar moments of struggle, but hearing someone say it out loud felt like getting slammed in the chest with a baseball bat.
“Megan, you have Bipolar II. We’d like to start you on a couple medications and get you into cognitive therapy as soon as possible.”
My world was crashing down all around me, yet I felt a strange sense of relief. I spent most of my life dealing with what I thought to be mere depression (as if that’s not bad enough), but nothing prepared me for being “bipolar”. The first thing that came to mind was how this disorder had been depicted in movies over the years. People with bipolar are “crazy” and can’t hold down jobs. People with bipolar talk to themselves and have multiple personalities. People with bipolar are put into institutions and cut themselves because life is just too damn difficult. So, where do I go from here? I’m just a crazy person with bipolar now, right?
I had been on a couple different medications throughout my life, none of which were the answer at the time, and I always stopped taking them against the medical advice of my doctors. My mom took me to therapy once when I was in high school, but I found it to be super weird and uncomfortable. I saw a counselor at App State during my senior year, because I spent two weeks lying in bed and almost failed out for the semester (Luckily, I didn’t and graduated with a 3.23 GPA). This new opportunity to get help was awesome and scary, because it meant I had to take DRUGS and talk to a stranger about all the dark and gloomy spaces in my head. And let me be honest, talking was the easy part.
The trial-by-fire way of finding medication that suited me was difficult. I remember feeling very uncomfortable the first week, and drove myself to the mall to walk around. The mall? I can’t say this was my best idea, and almost had a panic attack in the middle of the food court. My psychiatrist decided this particular combination wasn’t going to work, and we started something new immediately. I ended up taking Lamictal and Seroquel for the next three years.
For those of you new to the wonderful world of psychiatric medication, Lamictal and Seroquel are pretty potent buggers. Lamictal is used either alone or in combination with other medications to treat epileptic seizures in adults and children. It is also used to delay mood episodes in adults with bipolar disorder. Seroquel is fucking scary, and I remember some of the frat boys in college taking this for “fun” before going to the bar. I was totally terrified, and for good reason.
Seroquel (quetiapine) is an antipsychotic medicine. It works by changing the actions of chemicals in the brain. Seroquel is used to treat schizophrenia in adults and children who are at least 13 years old. Seroquel is used to treat bipolar disorder (manic depression) in adults and children who are at least 10 years old. Seroquel is also used together with antidepressant medications to treat major depressive disorder in adults. –drugs.com
The side effects page alone had me wondering if I’d ever live a normal life on drugs. The part of major interest was the sleepiness factor- I had severe insomnia and hadn’t slept well in 33 years. The doctor warned me that until I adapted to Seroquel, my social life would be non-existent, as I would have a 20-30 minute window before I fell asleep. She was not fucking around. That stuff would knock out a 300 pound gorilla, and I finally experienced a full night of peaceful sleep.
Except they forgot to tell me I would need 15 hours of that peaceful sleep before it wore off. I was late for work every day for about a month.
Once I adjusted to the medication and got down to the nitty gritty with my [amazing] therapist, I could begin the task of rebuilding my emotional world. I learned a lot about myself, and how to manage my thoughts and feelings. I became more mindful and aware, and I started adding very special tools to my toolbox. This is why therapy is so important, and why I am a super huge advocate for seeing a therapist. They DO NOT “fix you”, but they offer you tools to manage yourself. They don’t take away the depression, but they give you the ability to see the other side.
I spent the next three years learning about my illness and attempting to figure out who I really was. I discovered that Bipolar II was not as “severe” as Bipolar I, and people could live normal-ish lives, hold down jobs, and be quite successful if managed properly. I was religious about taking my medication, and my social life was limited by my ability to stay awake. I decided to go to grad school and found a way to get back on my bike after a long, depressed hiatus. I was sort of “okay”. I got a couple tattoos. Life moved on.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2016 when I began having serious doubts about my illness, and entertained coming off my meds. I was starting my descent into a depressive state (as I usually do during the holidays), and questioning everything in my life. I had tried coming off meds a few times without success, but was adamant in finding healthier ways to combat this disease. In spite of my early bedtime and semi-fit lifestyle, I was drinking just about every night. I was a dirty vegetarian, ate a lot of garbage food, and I tricked myself into believing I was as healthy as I could be. Let’s face it, Ogden, Utah isn’t on the list for “places where vegetarians can thrive healthfully”, so Chinese food and less than mediocre burritos became my go-to. Chinese is the perfect apres ski food!
In January of 2017, I embarked on my very first trip to Europe for the Cyclocross World Championships, and experienced the exciting combination of jet lag and trying to time my medication perfectly. I had read every bipolar blog on the internet prior to this trip, and was nervous about not waking up when I was supposed to and having my meds confiscated. Neither of those things happened, and the trip was the most exciting experience of my existence. This trip also ignited a soul journey into what I found to be most important in life (that and our newly appointed idiot in chief). At thirty-six, the bigger picture was becoming apparent, and I wanted to shed all the bullshit I had been carrying around for most of my life.
- 2017 was a big year for me. I moved across the country for the 4th time and got pretty serious about my training. I broke my wrist in a freak road bike accident, and this tested my ability to adjust to not-so-awesome situations. Since I fully identified as a bike racer, not being able to ride and train affected how I viewed myself as a human being. I’ve written many blog posts that speak on this very topic, and if you are an athlete of any sport, you understand what I’m saying. I felt unworthy, unmotivated, and depressed. I picked at all the other not-so-awesome things in my life until everything was bleeding. Once I was able to ride again, my depression lifted slightly, and I made three crucial decisions: I will ween off my medication for good, give up alcohol, and lay off gluten (more on these decisions later!).
‘Cross season appeared and I was getting ready to live a pipe dream- experiencing the New England cyclocross scene! After racing Providence a few years ago, I had made many attempts to relocate my life to this magical unicorn of bike people, but nothing ever worked out. I was really fit and it seemed like I was finally coming into form after multiple seasons of trying and failing. I felt like this was my season. I was landing on podiums and walking away from races laughing rather than crying. I felt worthy, happy, and whole. And then I got a staph infection.
Are you fucking kidding me?
This is the type of stuff you see in the Tour, not in cat 3 ‘cross racing. I was completely broken down mentally, and as I started my third week of double antibiotics, I decided to call it. ‘Cross season was over at the end of October, just like the two seasons prior. I just can’t fucking win. I nose-dived into depression. My 37th birthday showed up, and I spent the day running to the bathroom multiple times to cry my eyes out. In spite of doing all the right things, everything felt wrong.
This is another prime example of what I like to call, “The Curse of the Athlete”. Who am I without bike racing? I got angry and bitter, and wrote off bikes altogether. I mean, I couldn’t physically ride a bike, so my hatred for all things two-wheeled was fairly raw. I went through the motions of waking up, going to work, and going to bed for weeks. I made a few weak attempts at running, but my heart wasn’t in it. I bought “The No Meat Athlete Cookbook” and shifted my focus from training to nutrition. I had to do something.
In this period of time I also had a very vivid realization about my illness. I was seeing a new therapist and she was supportive of my decision to stay off medication. I told her I had doubts about my Bipolar II diagnosis, and wanted to explore my childhood a bit more. My mother also battled with depression and very heavy mood swings during her life, and the more research I did, the more I realized my situation may have been a learned behavior. I wasn’t certain at the time, but it seemed reasonable to think I was more a product of my environment, and less of a chemical imbalance. This idea held water.
One day while thumbing through Groupon, I found a sweet deal for Kong Crossfit. In the past, my experience with crossfit has been less than stellar, and many coaches don’t understand the needs of a bike racer. I fully buy into the HIIT training methods (they work) and had great results from MADabolic Asheville. I figured I didn’t have much to lose, and bought a 12 class package. I needed a way to sweat, and as it turns out, the vibe and coaching staff at Kong is pretty spectacular.
So, how does this story end? It sort of doesn’t, actually. I’m a work in progress. I’ve been sober and mostly gluten free since July 29th. I have been off medication since the end of June. I have completely restructured my already healthy eating habits, but I’ve eliminated all dairy from my diet, and the last time I ate an egg was sometime in the summer. I am going into my 3rd month of crossfit, and feeling REALLY GOOD about it. I haven’t been on my bike more than once or twice since my infection resolved, but it’s currently 8 degrees out and why would I do that to myself? My vision for what’s really important has changed dramatically, and I am seeking out opportunities to do good things that matter. I’m addressing the things I didn’t get as a child and acknowledging my shortcomings as projects to improve on, because learned behaviors are VERY HARD to break. My depression will never go away, but my lifestyle choices can greatly reduce the amount of pain and suffering I experience. I have come so far, and have even farther to go, but I think I’m headed in the right direction. The Real Shop Kitty is a thing of the past, and Thirty-Seven is here to stay (until I become thirty-eight)
It’s taken me hours to write this and it feels good to get it off my chest. The blog posts to follow will touch on my recent lifestyle changes and how they’re affecting my everyday life (in a good way!). I want you to know that no matter what, you have control of your life. It may not feel like it sometimes, but you do, and I’m living proof that you can survive all the garbage the world throws at you. If you don’t like your current situation, CHANGE IT. No one will change it for you. Find what makes you happy and figure out how to do it. Get rid of toxic things, let go of toxic people, and be the best version of yourself. It’s okay to fail. It’s even more okay to feel bad/sad/mad, but try not to stay there for too long. Find people who are passionate about the same things you are, and build each other up. You can’t do this alone.
Until next time, friendos. ❤