I returned home from the Camino one month ago today. The past month has been that of re-integration. Getting used to being home, figuring out a routine, starting the search to get back into the job market have occupied my days. Coupled with the aforementioned has also come a phenomenon I have experienced from time to time over the years. I have learned to expect it, and to some degree learned to deal with it.
From my personal experience, its timing isn’t guaranteed. Assuredly, however, within a few days to a couple of weeks of completing a big “event” it will make itself known. It’s somewhat difficult to discuss, as many people don’t understand or have no experience with it. It’s presence makes no sense, as it occurs on the heels of life’s biggest accomplishments or joys.
I’m referring to what I have come to label as “post event depression”. Being an endurance athlete and an adventurer, I have experienced the phenomenon with regular frequency. You train for months and months for a big race, plan a huge trip, or other adventure. You set a personal record, and have the time of your life. You return home and within a few days/weeks, you are down in the dumps. Motivation goes out the window. You have a difficult time with your daily routine. What only days early brought you tremendous joy and accomplishment, now seems a burden. You just can’t seem to get going. On what should be a sunny day, a thick cloud cover obscures clarity of mind. You can’t seem to get out of the funk.
In researching, I have discovered some athletes struggle with it. Additionally, some organizers of large events share the list of symptoms. To date, research in this area has been limited. From the medical communities perspective our symptoms are anecdotal. No less real to the sufferer of course, but anecdotal. If the symptoms last long enough, they would be happy to diagnose you with clinical depression. Fortunately for me, the symptoms generally only last 1 to 4 weeks.
Coping with it is a game within itself. It’s easy for others to say, “How can you be down, you just got back from the trip/event of a lifetime?” Or my favorite, “just snap out of it, you just need to get over it.” Holy hell, why didn’t I think of that? They are well-meaning of course, but often are unaware their comments do more to hinder your recovery than help.
I have come to learn to let it run its course. I allow myself down time, a period of functioning at a lower level. It can be challenging to let yourself relax in this regard. Personality types that seek out adventure and endurance events have a hard time “relaxing”. It can also be difficult to keep the negative self-talk in check. Being a victim of your own derogatory remarks isn’t much fun and can serve to exacerbate the condition. One I struggle with routinely is, “You just completed XYZ race, or ABC hike! Why aren’t you out hiking or training, you love it!” As I said early it generally runs it course in less than a month. At which time, I generally pick up training in some form or another and begin to plan my next great adventure. If it lasted much beyond a month, I would likely seek professional help. Over the last 15 years, further assistance hasn’t been required.
I struggled with chronic depression in my early 20s. After quite a long time of struggling in silence, and with urging from my partner, I sought help. I was medicated for a period of 18 months, which provided me the stepping stones to get back on track. Knowing how horrible I felt during that period of time, I try to stay in tune with my mental well-being. I never wish to return to those dark days.
For those reading who have never experienced Post Event Depression or Clinic Depression, consider yourself lucky. If you have a friend who doesn’t seem to be themselves after a big event, they may be struggling. Be a friend, but don’t tell them to snap out of it. For those afflicted, we certainly wish we could.
My goal in writing this piece is not to garner sympathy. I hope by showing a side of me few have seen, others who may suffer, will realize they are not alone.