Improving your life – even saving lives – is as easy as taking a walk

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Even before I became sober (which is the best thing I ever did for myself), my life began to improve when I began walking.

When I sold my clunker to a junkyard when dad entered a memory care facility in 2013, I had no choice but to start walking. Once, I walked all the way home from the grocery store carrying a 25-pound box of cat litter (well over a mile).

It didn’t take long before I got over my hang-ups about using public transportation, but usually I chose walking over riding the bus even then. At one point, about a year after I became sober, I no longer felt safe riding the bus and returned to just walking.

We know that walking is incredibly good for your health. Even before I stopped drinking, weight began to fall off of me when I started walking.

In February I decided to buy a Toyota Prius, so I haven’t been walking as much as I once did. I go to the gym now instead.

But when my therapist suggested a few weeks back that I start participating in charity walks to meet new people, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Why have so many Q-C LGBT people died?

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Overdose Awareness Walk and blogged about that. I’m sure you all also have seen my pleas for sponsorship in the upcoming Out of the Darkness Walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Oct. 29 in Bettendorf) as well as the NAMI Walk benefiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Sept. 24 in Davenport).

I’m proud to say that as I write this column, I have raised $175 so far for the NAMI Walk and $170 for the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have donated.

What’s even more meaningful to me, even beyond the fact that walking has greatly improved my health (my blood pressure is perfect these days!) and the fact that I’m helping raise money for good causes by participating in the charity walks, is that all three of these causes are near and dear to me.

In the Quad-Cities, the number of gay and lesbian people who have died of drug overdoses is staggering. I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years (and was a wild party boy) and only knew two people who OD’d. Here in the Quad-Cities – and we’re talking as far as back as six or seven years ago, even before the nation’s opioid crisis reached full tilt – I can think of several LGBT people who have OD’d.

Of course, overdose, suicide and, I’d surmise, even foul play sometimes are blurred when you don’t have the complete story. And on many of these people, I don’t. Simply put, there are lots of moms and dads who have lost children in this town; and lots of children who have lost moms and dads.

Brandon Ketchum puts a face to “20 per day” stat

And of course we know that 20 service people per day are committing suicide, which is not excusable. Our country needs to do a much better job of taking care of our service men and women, and that includes accommodating their mental health needs. That point finally was driven home locally with the untimely death of Brandon Ketchum, which even has caught the attention of local lawmakers, as reported here by Quad-City Times columnist Barb Ickes.

I know what suicidal thoughts feel like, although thankfully it is not something I have experienced since 2003. Many years ago, after returning to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles, my depression was so bad that simply being awake was painful. I just wanted to sleep.

In June 2015, when I raised my voice after not being taken seriously when reporting an intruder at my dad’s memory care facility, I was thrown in the Rock Island County Jail on no charges at all. The reason they gave? They said I was suicidal.

Please start paying attention, folks!

While many of those who govern and have governed out of the county of Rock Island are famous for their lies and corruption, saying I was suicidal may in fact be the tallest tale they ever told. And everyone who was in the jail knows that whether they have chosen to tell the truth about it or not. Even the local mental health center deemed me “not suicidal” after one of their clinicians evaluated me inside the jail, but now those records are “missing.” The hospital also forgave the portion of my bill that Blue Cross Blue Shield did not pay (and not because of financial need).

What was going on that day was a PTSD-fueled anxiety attack that occurred nearly to the day of the one-year anniversary of an assault that could have killed me.

Sure, after two days in there I was weeping, but mostly for my community, and for the fact I thought they were going to kill me in there and that I would never see my dad or my cat again. Prior to that, I banged on the cell door and screamed for help for hours and hours and hours and hours. It was a horrifying experience I will never forget nor ever stop talking about so long as I can make a difference by sharing my story.

Watch for my book coming out next year. In the meantime, please consider supporting me in the NAMI Walk, or the Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention.

Thanks, and happy Labor Day!

Study: Depressed people with HIV at greater risk for heart attack

HIV Church

We’ve known for quite some time that for a person living with HIV but treating it with modern antiretroviral therapy, a heart attack is a much greater threat than an opportunistic infection.

And now we know that when you put depression into the mix, the heart attack risk is even greater.

While the findings aren’t surprising because they mirror a link between depression and heart attack risk in the general population, the paper published online this morning in JAMA Cardiology is cause for concern. That’s because people with HIV already are at far greater risk of having a heart attack than the general population, due in part to the heightened state of inflammation HIV causes in the body.

“Our findings raise the possibility that, similar to the general population, major depressive disorder may be independently associated with incident atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in the HIV-infected population,” the authors wrote. “Considering the dearth of research in this area, future epidemiologic and mechanistic studies that include women and non-VA populations with HIV are needed.”

Researchers from Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University followed more than 26,000 HIV-infected veterans without cardiovascular disease at baseline (1998-2003) participating in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Aging Cohort Study from April 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2009. At baseline, 19 percent of them suffered from major depressive disorder as classified by the International Classification of Diseases codes.

“We report novel evidence that HIV-infected adults with major depressive disorder have a 30 percent increased risk for acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack) than HIV-infected adults without major depressive disorder after adjustment for many potential confounders,” the authors wrote.

Depression a problem among people with HIV

The findings are troubling because not only is heart disease far more prevalent among people with HIV than in the general population (one study showed that the risk is increased by 50 percent), so is depression.

Read more: My report for HIV Equal on a “PrEP Against Heart Disease” being studied now among people with HIV

Two years ago, I wrote a story for Healthline News headlined, “People with HIV Suffer from Depression Caused by Pain, Shame, Substance Abuse.” You can read the story by clicking here. I don’t think I ever have received more email from readers than I did for that story, mostly thanking me for bring me the issue to light. People with HIV run twice the risk of depression than the general population, studies show.

Many people with HIV simply are getting older, and older Americans are at greater risk for depression even without a chronic illness. Older people are at greater risk for heart attack, too.

The mean age among people with HIV with major depressive disorder in the Vanderbilt study was 48. The mean age among those without depression was 47.

“It is possible that the presence of major depressive disorder further exacerbates the persistent inflammatory and coagulatory activation already present in HIV, resulting in higher cardiovascular disease event rates,” the authors wrote. “Potential behavioral mechanisms underlying the major depressive disorder incident CVD association are poor health behaviors (eg. smoking and sedentary lifestyle and treatment non-adherence).”

Studies have shown that people who are depressed are less adherent to their HIV medication.

It all adds up to a deadly mix for people with HIV who aren’t taking care of themselves. The authors hope their study stimulates new research for depression treatments among people with HIV.

Read more: My Healthline News report on why people with HIV must stop smoking