Finding the things that save you

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I’ve been absent for a while. I swear sometimes it feels like I take one step forward and five steps backwards. My depression has been pretty well under control with medication and a variety of other things but my anxiety is at an all time high.

I really want to talk about how incredibly important physical activity is for both depression and anxiety. The real kicker about both of those things for me is that they paralyze me. When I go into a depression or when I’m having crippling anxiety, I freeze. I shut down. My absolute last inclination is to get up and go workout or get outside. But that is exactly what I need to do most.

It may sound like a lofty claim, but working out literally saved my life. I was never a super active or sporty kid. I never played sports of any kind. I did spend a lot of time outside though with my four younger siblings when we were young playing in the woods, and climbing trees, and riding bikes, and walking down the lane to pick berries. Looking back now on what my life was growing up, I honestly believe that being outside is what saved me then.

And yet how very easy it is to forget the things the help you the most. After I finished college I was so horribly depressed and I was living in my parents basement. No light really, and very dark and cool. It suited me in the sense that that was how I was feeling. Dark. Empty. Alone. It wasn’t the best place for me to be at that time. When I finally went to the doctor and started taking medication, the biggest change I made that, as I said before, saved my life, was beginning a workout regimen. I had never been comfortable working out at a gym. I felt clumsy, didn’t know what I was doing,  and felt self conscious about people looking at me so an entire workout program that I could do all at home was a dream come true.

It was frankly, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. As I said, my natural inclination is not to exercise when I’m feeling bad, it’s to crawl under a blanket and sleep, a lot. But when I decided to commit to doing this workout program for 90 days I knew I needed to prove that I could complete something. And I did. I lost 18 lbs and gained a lot of freedom and at least a little more confidence.

Fast forward a few years and I have once again forgotten that working out saves me. When I don’t move my body and sweat, I literally lose myself and sometimes feel like I want to die. So yes, working out saved my life in every way you can imagine. At a time when I really didn’t have anything else, exercise was my lifeline.

Depression does something to you though. It does something to your brain. It makes you forget all of the things that you know already that you need to do to feel good. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost years of my life not living how I really want to live. At times I’ve lost respect for myself and done really incredibly stupid things that I’m still paying for. I don’t think I believe in that saying that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ But I do believe that with whatever hand you’ve been dealt in life, if you choose to, you can use that to help change someone else’s life. But it has to start with you.

When you have nothing inside you, you can’t give anything to anyone else. I don’t speak to my mother. But one thing I do believe I have sort of come to terms with is that she just didn’t have anything to give. She couldn’t be a mother because she never got what she needed as a child. Unfortunately we have no control over what our childhood is. I can’t go back and change any of it because it wasn’t mine to change. But now… now I can change something. I can change myself.

And that’s the turning point. At some time when you finally become an adult you have to admit that you are now the one who controls what you make of your life. And I will not be my mother. I will not be a person who never changes. That is probably my greatest fear. Not changing. Not growing. Not becoming more and better.

My greatest struggle in all of that attempting to grow and change is that I really can’t do it alone. I mean, I am ultimately responsible for whether I do or do not change. But what I mean is I can’t do it without support. That is also a hard lesson I’ve had to learn. I’ve always hated asking for help or asking questions. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve always felt that I should just be able to do everything. Well, not literally everything, but things like being an adult and feeling that there is no room for me to need or ask for help or build a support system for myself.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in some groups that relate to both my job and physical fitness and I cannot begin to tell you how much they have started to change my life. Fear of falling and failing is so much easier to stare in the face when you know you have people to fall back on. People who understand. People who aren’t judging you. People who are on the same journey with you. It’s everything. So thank you to all my support systems out there. I’ve never really had them before and now I can’t imagine my life without them.