Tug of War: Fitness vs. Depression

Fitness and nutrition has always been a huge passion of mine. Beyond the physical benefits, I am well aware of the mental health support both provide. I grew up horseback riding, so I was not a “traditional” athlete. I didn’t play high school sports or do weight training at school because what I did after school was enough. I mucked stalls, threw hay bales, carried buckets of water, and managed 1000-1500lb animals with ease.

I grew up with a mother who was constantly¬† seeking the best nutrition. I never had much sugar. We had periods of time eating vegetarian, avoiding red meat, and gluten free diets. She instilled in me health values that I wouldn’t appreciate until later in my adult life.

In my twenties, I was an avid runner. I ran frequently in the local park with 2-3 dogs at a time. It was my happy place. Usually the only time I could get my mind to shut off and just focus on the sound of my footfalls and the rhythm of my breathing. In many ways it was my meditation. I eventually found my way to a local church that offered Boot Camp classes twice a week at 6 am. Yes you read that right. I would wake up at 5:15 am and drive to work out twice a week before coming home to shower for work.

Later I fell in love with Crossfit. This was before crossfit gyms charged that of a small car payment. I learned mind over matter. I pushed myself beyond anything I thought I could ever do. And I became addicted. The sweat, work, and lack of oxygen shut my brain off more than running ever could. This was my new therapy.

Life happened and we moved to Tipton, with no gyms at the time. I tried to incorporate running and at home workouts but struggled since I was commuting 2 1/2 hours a day for work.

Skip forward to now. I’m 36. Mother of 2 special needs boys and step mom to my boyfriend’s beautiful boy. I’m 3 years into the grieving process of my late husband and 1 year after losing my mom. And I am here to be 100% real with you. Because I imagine if you have gone through or are going through anything like me, you’ve been encouraged to workout for your mental health at the very least.

Here’s the cold hard truth:
The truth is I know fitness helps your mental health.
The truth is I know good nutrition supports your mental health.
The truth is I have depression and anxiety.
The truth is I am a widow grieving.
The truth is I have 2 boys that drain this stay at home mom and am loaded with mom guilt heavier than the world on my shoulders.
The truth is there are days I don’t want to get out of bed.
The truth is there are times I want to ignore all my adult responsibilities and go into panic mode just thinking of them.

Fitness and depression is a tug of war within me. Over the last 3 years, I have sought out fitness through a familiar gym near home. I have joined a crossfit-ish gym that cost that of car payment hoping the payment alone would motivate me. I have worked with a personal trainer in split sessions with my closest friends in hopes to hold myself accountable. I have built a personal gym with all the bells and whistles in my basement when Covid forced us all home.

I have driven to the gym, parked, and driven home.
I have cried all the way to the gym, worked out without speaking a word to anyone.
I have worked out, become flooded with emotion, and began to cry through the daily WOD.
I have walked into the gym consumed with my social anxiety, feeling insignificant.
I have finished dead last on a workout because I know I have let my body suffer the last 3 years.
I have a gym in my basement that frankly more days than I would like to admit, I ignore it’s complete existence.

There are days I KNOW my mind needs a workout and I cant get out of my pjs. There are days I know I need to workout and it would help my mindset but I can’t bear the thought of facing my body and knowing it can’t do what it used to and it’s my fault for not staying consistent.

I have grunted, yelled, become angry during a workout because in that moment my mind is still in the place it was in my twenties but my body can’t do what I want it to do because consistency key and I haven’t put in the work.

I hate going down those basement stairs to do a workout that my mind views as easy but my body screams it is all it can take.

The tug of war is my depression can be so consuming that some days I just won’t make the small choices that will baby step me forward in the right direction. And there are days I workout back to back and I’m suddenly taking less anxiety medicine.

Like so much of my post loss life, there is this duality. And I am so freaking tired of feeling like 2 people, 2 lives, 2 realities.

Why do I tell you this? Because I need to give myself grace. And if you feel any of this, you do too! Celebrate the days you show up. Stop shaming yourself for the days you sit in your pjs and stay in bed. Grief is a beast and its about stepping forward, no matter how small the step and no matter if you step back some too.

In the tug of war between your healthiest self and depression, fight and pull as if your life depends on it.

Because it does.

Live, because you are here for a reason.