I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between depression, sleep, and dreaming lately, as I read yet another article the other day about the correlation between depression and short REM latency. Basically that means that it is a pretty well-established fact that people with depression skip right past the deep sleep phase of the night, where HGH production and physical recovery are the highest, to the REM phase, where most dreaming occurs. As someone who has spent pretty much her whole life as a frequent and vivid dreamer, who is perpetually tired even when I’m consistently getting “enough” sleep, and who has had to manage bouts of moderate depression taking up big chunks of my life since I was 9, this fact is super relevant to my interests.
Unfortunately, while the correlation is well-established, the causation is not. I like the theory that this phenomenon is the brain’s attempt to heal itself rather than the cause of the depression, even though that would basically mean that my brain’s need to repair its own emotional centers is stealing from my body’s much-needed physical recovery. I guess I secretly hope that it will someday lead to my getting a doctor’s note saying that I’m actually required to get 10-12 hours of sleep to stay healthy, and that I’m not just weak or crazy. Because, honestly, I think that would do so much more to help me than anything “modern medicine” has to offer.
It’s always a tough decision about whether to discuss my struggles with depression and anxiety in this blog, because I don’t want to write something just for the sake of whining. I do, however, want to give an accurate picture of my experience as an amateur athlete and human being without glossing over the ugly parts. I do work very hard to frame experiences in a positive manner, as this is a useful exercise for me, as well as more enjoyable to read on a weekly basis. At the same time, I do this for me, and I don’t have any sponsors for which I have to constantly put on a mask of perfection, so I occasionally do like to broach the topic mental health within the amateur adult athletic community through the lens of my own experiences. As always, I hope that my honesty might make someone else’s struggles a bit easier.
The past few months have been able to focus my writing on race reports from my cyclocross season and my growing relationship with my new team. I’ve had some awesome things going on in my life, while still having some pretty terrible things going on in my head. As I pointed out during my talk with Frank last night, when you have anxiety, everything that isn’t staying home and watching TV is scary, even good things. Although the balance of my life since the beginning of ‘cross season has been positive, the associated anxiety with racing, travel, and change has led to some pretty severe meltdowns.
During one of my low times a few weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of my first “honest” post on mental health from two years ago, which many people talked about and thanked me for writing. I re-read it, and thought, “Damn, I was smart back then.” The only problem is, much like re-reading my old training-related posts that are full of good plans and intentions, two years have passed and I haven’t really seen the improvement that I was expecting to come when I wrote it. I did like my comparison of emotional skills to bike skills, seeing as I still can’t really bunny hop after 10 years of mountain biking, either. Some people just pick up certain skills easier than others, and some try for years without really getting it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t invest in some suspension and learn to monster truck your way through rockier situations than you thought possible.
And I suppose that is what came out my talk with Frank the other night. While I’ll continue to practice positive psychology skills that I know are beneficial but sometimes hard to completely pull off, it’s okay if I need him to help me absorb some shock. Mostly that means talking to him about my anxiety more before it builds up, even if there isn’t much he can do about it. (Eating in restaurants doesn't scare him, apparently. Silly sane people.) At least he can provide a clearer perspective on some situations, and try to do things to help ease my stress in other areas. While I haven’t improved as much mentally or physically as I would have liked during my time on this blog, they are both things that I am not willing to give up on, so I’ll keep tweaking my methods until I find something that works.