“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Compared to all the other awareness months and campaigns out there, I don’t think it gets as much attention as it should. Mental health issues effect an estimated 25% of the population, with the most common being depression and anxiety.
Which is also why I felt it was a good time to open up about my struggles with my mental health, specifically depression. Writing this has been extremely difficult because for as much as I ask people, my clients specifically, to open up to me I have a hard time doing the same.
I’m still not sure I want to publish this, but if it can help just one person who is dealing with their own issues, or helps you help someone else, then it’s worth it.
So here it goes…
We’re all human, even us fitness professionals. We make mistakes. We have struggles in our personal lives that we deal with daily. We portray ourselves a certain way on the Internet because we are our brand, but offline most of us are just like everyone else.
We have to deal with relationships, eat “unhealthy” from time to time, binge drink, and skip workouts when we don’t feel like it…
We also hurt. We struggle. We bleed. We cry. But we often don’t show it. Our job after all is to help others.
But it’s there. We all have something we’re struggling with, either internally or externally. And for the last six months I’ve been no exception.
To those who’ve never been around it or experienced it, they think depression is simply sadness or feeling down. Everyone feels depressed from time to time, but those who actually suffer from depression know that the two are vastly different.
I’ve been around depression all my life, and seen the effects it has on people, and on relationships. My parents split up when I was very young and during my teenage years my mom thought I might be suffering from depression, so she took me to a therapist.
I don’t remember much about the experience, but I only ended up going to a few sessions. Turns out maybe I was just being a moppy teenager. I don’t know. But I always had that thought in my mind that maybe there was more going on than just being sad. I always felt like depression was never too far off.
Fast forward to fall of last year. I seemingly had everything going for me. I had just moved in with the woman I loved, coming off the best summer of my life, I was running my own business, in the best shape ever…things many people wished they had.
Each passing day grew more difficult. I didn’t want to get out of bed…didn’t want to work. My writing suffered. In fact, I went weeks without writing at all; something I love to do. When I did work, I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few hours at a time without feeling drained. When I went home, all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch Netflix. I didn’t want to go out. I would sleep from 6 pm until my girlfriend got home from work at 9, then go to sleep again a few hours later. I’d hit my snooze button ten times in the morning,
I had no confidence in myself. I barely had the energy to workout. All I had the energy for was sitting on the couch watching TV. I didn’t even have the energy for sex a lot of the time.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t really want to see anyone. I got invited to go to events and parties with people who were my friends, but I made up excuses not to go, all in favor of doing nothing and sitting at home. That’s all I wanted to do…the only thing that felt okay to me.
I hated myself for all this. But I didn’t know how to change things. I thought, maybe if I worked harder, became more successful, things would get better; that I’d be happier. So that’s what I did.
But things didn’t get better. In fact they got worse. The harder I worked, the less it seemed like the work I put in was paying off. So I grew angrier, more upset with myself, sadder, less confident, more ashamed, and worst of all scared. Scared of what was happening to me. Scared of what people would think of me if they found out. So naturally I told no one. Instead I lashed out. I lashed out at my girlfriend, my family…I pushed friends away. I didn’t want the people who I loved to see me struggling…to see me failing. So I pushed them away.
Every time someone would ask me how things were going, I’d respond with the typical “Good.” and then change the subject; all the while inside I was screaming, “Help me, help me, I’m so lost!” But I couldn’t share that. At least I felt like I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.
I knew how I was acting but I didn’t know how to fix it. In my mind, telling people wasn’t an option. The only thing I could do was try and fix it on my own. But I didn’t know how. I felt lost every day. But again, I felt like telling people wasn’t an option either.
“The walls we build around us to keep out sadness also keep out joy.” – Jim Rohn
They say everything happens for a reason. And as hard as that can be to accept sometimes, I like to think it’s true. I like to think what’s happened, happened so I could finally realize what was going on. So I could get back to being the person that I was, instead of the person I was becoming.
I started seeing a therapist in an effort to better understand what I was going through. And in our first session, after I told her everything I was feeling, she hit me with that word: depression.
I’ve been unhappy with myself for a long time, but I didn’t know why.
I seemingly had everything, but I wasn’t happy with myself.
I was in love, but I didn’t love myself.
Nothing made sense to me. I did as much as I could to act confident and sure of myself on the outside, while on the inside I was struggling. Every day I felt like I was losing more and more of who I was, and getting further from the person I wanted to be.
We all have that internal struggle; that battle going on inside ourselves. For each person it’s different, but the same in that it has the potential to destroy us. It can shape who you are, how you act, and how you treat those you love…If you let it.
Don’t make that mistake. Don’t keep things to yourselves. If you’re struggling, talk to your family…talk to your partner. If you don’t feel like you can talk to them, talk to a professional. It might not take the pain away, but it will help you develop a better understanding of what you’re going through.
Compared to a lot of other people I know, my struggles with depression have been minor. I’ve never had thoughts of harming myself, or taking my life. Many do however.
But going through it now, I understand much better as well. I understand that letting it go untreated or undiagnosed, it can be much worse. I understand that no one is immune; not the rich, not the successful, not the physically fit, no one.
Mental health problems don’t discriminate. And neither should we. Don’t dismiss people struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues as they should simply, “Get over it.” or “Stop being sad.”
The hardest part about recovery is figuring out what’s wrong. For those suffering from mental health issues, that can be especially troublesome. There is nothing physically wrong, and many times it gets chalked up to being sad or stressed, and then gets dismissed.
These things never really go away, you just more learn how to manage and deal with them. For some, this is making small changes in their lives, like starting a fitness regimen. For all the positive physical effects exercise has on your health, the mental health benefits are even greater in my opinion. For dealing with my depression, exercise has been one thing for than anything that has kept me focused on who I am; kept the sadness at bay. For an hour or two at the gym, I can let everything go. I can focus on me, and bettering myself.
For others, they need to reach out to someone. They need to ask for help. I didn’t want to ask for help. I felt ashamed. I felt guilty. And it’s because of this that I couldn’t find myself happy with the most amazing person I had ever met. I was happy being with her, but I wasn’t happy with myself.
And it’s because of this that I realized I really did need to ask for help.
Very few people like to admit that they need help, especially when it comes to issues like depression and anxiety. But often, opening up about your struggles to someone else makes them real; it makes you have to face them.
And if you feel like someone in your life may be suffering from issues like depression, reach out. Because, I can speak from experience, they don’t feel like they can talk to anyone. They don’t feel like anyone will understand.
If someone you know or love isn’t acting like themselves, or is lashing out, let them know you’re there. Because, no matter what your role is in someone’s life, whether it be a partner, parent, family member, or friend, for many people disclosing their issues with depression isn’t an option no matter who you are; no matter what your relationship. That’s the power of the guilt, and the shame.
Letting people know that you’re there for them, that you won’t judge them, and that you want to help could be the push they need to open up. It could what they need to start healing.
And don’t judge them. Don’t make them feel bad for opening up. Treat them with love, respect, and compassion. The world, and everyone in it, would be much better off because of it.
The more we become aware of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, the better we can deal with them, and help those we love deal with them. If you’re suffering from depression, don’t isolate yourself. If you know someone suffering from depression, don’t let their actions or behavior isolate you. Because for those of us suffering from depression, we already feel like we’re alone…and we desperately don’t want to be.
Leashing the Black Dog: My Struggle with Depression – Art of Manliness
There’s Always More to Say: Tattoos, Semicolons, and Suicidal Depression – John Romaniello