Houston We Have a Problem

For my upcoming 40th birthday, my husband planned a trip to Houston for the Final Four. We have both always wanted to go to the Final Four and this seemed liked a spectacular way to celebrate my milestone birthday. When we planned the trip I did not think my team, the Virginia Cavaliers, would be in the Final Four. In fact, I assumed that planning the trip pretty much guaranteed my Wahoos an early exit from the NCAA tournament. I was just hoping that the Final Four teams would be teams that I was excited about seeing and that the games would be good games.

When Virginia played well in the Sweet Sixteen and beat Iowa State, I was ecstatic. We had made it to the Elite Eight for the first time in 21 years! If we beat Syracuse on Easter Sunday, we would go to the Final Four. Living in Idaho, I do not get a chance to see my Wahoos play often. In fact, I have not had an opportunity to see them play since our beloved Tony Bennett became head coach seven years ago. The idea that I might have the chance to see them in Houston had me so nervous I could barely stand it. I would hardly allow myself to think about it for fear of getting my heart broken. I have been a Cavalier my entire life and indeed know the heartbreak that can come along with being a Wahoo. When we were up by 14 against Syracuse at half in the Elite Eight, all of my rational thinking went out the window and I allowed myself to feel the excitement of possibly getting to see Tony Bennett and the boys in Houston for the Final Four. Just 20 more basketball minutes and that would happen. We had been a second half team for much (most) of the season, so it did not seem like too tall of an order.

But alas, it was not meant to be. Syracuse would go on a 20-4 run in the second half, Virginia would collapse and my heart would break into a million pieces. I was absolutely stunned, shocked and heartbroken. Yes, over a basketball game. My friends and family who do not watch college basketball or sports do not understand at all, but fortunately I have many friends and family who get it. A loss like this one is painful. Exacerbated by the fact that we have tickets to the Final Four and I now have the pleasure of watching Syracuse play instead of my beloved Wahoos.

Immediately after the Elite Eight loss my tears flowed freely. I could not watch the post-game press conferences, nor could I bear to watch the next game between North Carolina and Notre Dame. My sweet kids tried to console me and my daughter made Virginia a beautiful trophy just from her. (Disclaimer: I felt embarrassed about my poor display of sportsmanship and have since spoken with my kids about it. However, I am human and my emotions were raw and real.) I did watch the post-game press conference the next day and I was nothing but proud of my team and my coach. They display pure character and class, and even after a gut-wrenching loss are the epitome of the Five Pillars upon which Tony Bennett’s program at UVA is based: Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood and Thankfulness. After the loss, Coach Bennett said he told the team that he had an old church hymn ringing in his ears that said tears may endure for the night, but joy will come in the morning and that he believes that joy is coming for this team. Hearing him say those words eased my heavy heart and I clung to them like a child clinging to her favorite blankie.

However, for me joy did not come the next morning. Or the next. Or the next. You see, to make things more complicated, I struggle with depression. And I never know which seemingly inconsequential life or seasonal event is going to send me into a tailspin. It could be the change of the weather, a fight with a friend, or, in this case, a gut-wrenching basketball loss. To even further complicate things, running, which helps keep me sane and level headed, is not happening for me right now. About a week ago against my better judgment I did a speed workout while sick. Towards the end of it my right foot started to hurt. By the end of my cooldown it was hurting so much I was limping. I ended up taking a week off, tried to run again, and same issue. My left foot is bothering me as well in a different area. So I have concerns about a stress reaction or fracture and cannot run. Running is a major component of my mental health regimen and not being able to do it causes issues for me. So it has been a rough week on multiple fronts.

On an unrelated note, I halved my antidepressant medication several weeks ago. I had been feeling great, I have the ultimate goal of weaning off of it one day, and with the warmer weather and longer days coming I thought the timing was good. The side effects of cutting down the medication were rough at first (I felt lightheaded and dizzy for weeks), but I was finally feeling normal and good. Until Sunday night.

After about two days of watching me mope around the house over a basketball loss, my husband told me it was time to re-up my medication.  His comment made me angry. I thought he was not giving me proper credit for my ability to fend the depression off myself. I am tough. I am strong. I am a working mother of three who runs marathons and has successfully fought depression my entire adult life. He was not giving me enough time to tough it out.

But that is the thing about depression. It does not care who you are, what you have done, how tough you think you are or how determined you are. Depression takes over the rational part of your brain. It renders you unable to see or feel the good in your life. Stifling out the sunshine and beauty, you feel like you are walking through mud. Basic tasks like taking a shower and getting dressed feel Herculean. Depression is a silent killer because many of those who suffer are so stoic that you would never know they are suffering. But make no doubt that it is indeed a killer. When left untreated or treated improperly, depression can be terminal.

I wrestled with the demons in my head for a couple of days about going back to my full dose of medication, but I got tired of walking through the mud. My husband and kids deserve more. I deserve more. If I were a diabetic using insulin or a patient with high blood pressure taking high blood pressure medication to manage my blood pressure, I would not deny my body the medication that it so badly needs. And although we do not have a test to medically quantify it yet, I have a deficiency or imbalance in my brain that the medication helps repair. I know this because just two days after returning to my full dose I already feel better. I can get dressed with ease. I do not feel like I am going to burst into tears at any second. I do not feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. And I can get on the plane to Houston with my family and feel the moments of joy as we spend time with friends celebrating my birthday and watching the Final Four. Yes, I still feel sad that Virginia will not be there, but I feel proud of what they accomplished this season and I feel hopeful that one day they will make the Final Four, Tony Bennett will cut down the nets, and when they do it will be that much sweeter. And I will get to cry tears of joy.

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