My Mother Told Me

I think it must have been my mother who used to tell me, when I was a kid, that bad things happened so that we can appreciate the good things more. Wouldn’t have been the fascist nuns at my infant school, who were convinced bad things happened because you had sinned. While I wouldn’t want to base a philosophy of life on having to have the bad in order to enjoy the good, I do think I’ve seen a few signs lately of the two going hand in hand.

Comparing notes recently with a few Masters athlete colleagues, there certainly seems to be quite a prevalent pattern of good year, then bad year. Matches my own experience – great 2009, crap 2010. I’m also seeing how, at a smaller scale, this is reflected in two other things, which are, inevitably, related. These are the progress of my training for 2011 and my recovery from severe depression.

One of the great things about being depressed (and those are words I never thought I’d see written down!) is that people refer you to all sorts of great books and articles. A chance conversation in a local bookshop led to a lovely member of staff showing me Dr Tim Cantopher’s “Depressive Illness – The Curse of the Strong”  In its 114 pages, this little book packs a lot of real wisdom. I’ve reached the section in it about “Recovery”. That in itself is good, given the way that depression can destroy your ability to concentrate on a book, and how it has certainly affected mine.

Early words in that chapter grabbed me: “Recovery isn’t, unless you are very lucky, a smooth path upward...” This is so true. As was no doubt clear from my last two blogs, I have been feeling rather better lately. I have even had the confidence to say to myself “Yes, you ARE getting better.” But then come the bad days, down come the shutters, out goes the optimism, and it is all too easy to think you were kidding yourself. I really did take heart when I got to the part of Cantopher’s book which covered exactly this situation, and read: “The crucial message at this time is: don’t act; you are going to be better soon; this is only a bad day.”

In other words, take the rough with the smooth. The one will help you recognise the other.

The book includes this little graphas a stylised diagram of how mood recovers during appropriate treatment for severe depression (be that medication, counselling, or a combination.The author acknowledges “mood” to be just one symptom of depression, but says that, in his experience, “other symptoms tend to follow the same basic pattern, but the timing varies from symptom to symptom in an unpredictable way“. I can’t explain how good it felt to read that, and to realise this was becoming very much my own experience.

And not just in mood. I’ve been boring to death anyone who will listen about how good the “ithlete” iPhone app is for anyone involved in high levels of physical activity (see a recent blog). Without going back over all the detail, ithlete measures heat rate variability, as a measure of current fatigue and fitness levels.

Little surprise then, I guess, to see similar irregular patterns in my fitness and fatigue levels to the pattern Cantopher says can be expected in mood recovery. Here is my ithlete summary graph for the last few months.

The sharp downward dips coincide exactly with severe depression events. However, the latest dip (right hand side of graph) reflects the rather annoying cold I have just developed.

The colour coding is interesting, too. ithlete has a “traffic light” system. Red means activity severely ill-advised. Orange means rest would be good. Green means you can give it some stick. White is ” normal”.

You’ll see that my depression-related dips have no link to a physical need to rest. In two cases, had my mood been able, I would have been well able to turn in a good training session next day.

The blue line, by the way, is my overall fitness trend. Was going well, until recently!

And what of the calf injury, I hear no one ask? Well, ice worked a treat. I had some bruising within 24 hours, which was good, because this showed me I hadn’t imagined anything! I was training again four days later. I didn’t push it hard, but all seemed pretty good. Then my cold struck. I know what they say about training being ok if the cold stays above the neck. Right now, however, I couldn’t even if you paid me.

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2 Responses to “My Mother Told Me”

  1. Rory Says:

    Re: “I’ve been boring to death anyone who will listen” – yes I can relate to that….when the morning pleasantries are out the way – for example “Good Morning….” – I usually throw a number into the mix – that number being an HRV reading. So….”Err yes – good thanks – I’m a 77 today!” or “Not so good…..I’m down 10 to 65 today – I wonder what could be wrong what could be wrong with me?”….at which point eyes start to roll skyward and the tutting starts. If only they knew what they were missing!

  2. Every Beat Of My Heart | Blog from a Faster Master Says:

    […] in Chamonix, and, of course, away from training and racing, things made a pretty major recovery. I’ve always believed that my “ithlete” figures are also a pretty good guide to my mental state. Thus, they rose in […]

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