Monday, June 17, 2013

The Cold Hard Truth* about Depression and Fitness

So true story: in the late summer of 2010 when I started going to the YMCA, I was not trying to lose weight: I had in fact, given up on the concept of "losing weight" or "looking good" or "getting into shape." Mostly I decided to hit the gym because I was suffering from strangling anxiety that kept me awake at night and irritated in the day; I was frustrated, restless, depressed, and generally...well anxious. Moving on the elliptical a few times a week gave me a chance to work out that anxiety. It didn't solve all the problems in my life that were causing me to feel so anxious (see also: nightmare job where there wasn't much I could do about my boss touching me), but something about the light cardio and weight lifting gave me a way to channel my restlessness. For that half hour or so that I spent at the gym all my problems were physical and could be overcome with sweat, grit, and determination. I think going to the gym helped me to get my life back on track. That respite, however brief, from the  ceaseless churnings and writhings of my unsettled mind allowed me to refocus, to value my health and my happiness, and eventually, to make decisions about what to do with my life.

Now let's fast forward almost 3 years to the present day. Today I feel awful. Fore the past few months I've been on a powerful combination of Lexapro and Trileptal. Lexapro, as you probably know, is a common antidepressant. Trileptal is an anti-seizure medication which is functioning for me as a mood stabilizer. It was added on top of my Lexapro dosage because the antidepressant alone was not allowing me to cope with my suicidal ideations, anxiety, and self-loathing. The drugs have helped, and I've finally reached the point where I feel happy and optimistic almost every day and actually might be a little over-exuberant about life. So recently I decided, with assistance from both my psychiatrist and therapist, to go off my Lexapro and possibly the Trileptal as well. Right now I'm beginning week 3 of taking a lowered Lexapro dosage (Trileptal dosage is the same). Next week I'll go off it all together.

Today, the withdrawal is seriously. fucking. destroying me. I feel like I've been hit by a truck. There is nothing I would rather do right now than curl up in bed with my kitty cat and hide from the world.

Covert Operations Agent Marnie specializes in combating Chores and Everything I Did Wrong Yesterday.
But instead I'm at the office, Dealing With It while I write a blog instead of doing my work.

When people list symptoms of Depression or Anxiety, often times doctors, friends, and the Internet all line up to gang bang our problems into submission with some helpful advice about eating right and exercising. These good-natured souls are completely right and also totally fucking wrong. I am absolutely 100% behind the sentiment that fitness and nutrition will help with Depression, but really, most of these people have no idea what in the living fuck they're talking about because it takes a hell of lot more than salads and an elliptical to keep the sewies (my pet term for "suicidal tendencies." I made it up just now) at bay.

Why Fitness Helps
I generally refer to the period of my life before I discovered going to the gym as "back when I was fat." At 155 pounds and 5 foot even, size 14, I wasn't precisely "fat" (though I've been called fat). My body was, for the most part, an average American body, and some people probably even found me attractive. But my mindset was fat. In my head I was a short ugly fat person who could never be beautiful or popular or respected. If I had a boyfriend it would be someone who would love me despite my fatness. I could be the funny girl or the tough girl, but never the pretty girl who stars in the movie and wins and gets the guy. I spent the vast majority of my time sitting in front of my TV playing video games and eating junk food.

Adding some gym-time to my routine was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It certainly increased my health. Along with my weight, my blood pressure has dramatically improved, and I've had way less headaches, colds, and other common ailments. Both cardio and weight training also serve as a great way to reduce stress and work out my anger and frustration in a positive, useful manner. This is difficult to articulate, but the achievements I've made, particularly in silks but also in weight lifting and endurance and other things, have helped me to value myself more. I feel good about myself and proud of my accomplishments. When I look back, I feel more like myself now that I work out than I did in my entire life before.

Why Fitness Doesn't Always Help
None of this stopped me from developing hard, solid plans to kill myself when I decided I was bad person for making mistakes and disappointing my family and it wasn't worthwhile to live anymore. I was in the Emergency Room three times over the course of the last year and admitted into a Psych ward for several days. All this when I was regularly eating salads, hanging upside down in the air, jumping over vaults, and sweating on an elliptical.
The worst part is that not only did my healthy living fail to prevent my negativity, it actually started fueling it. I was at the gym almost every single day because if I didn't go I berated myself for being a bad person. I refused to eat food I enjoyed, and when I did eat unhealthy food, instead of saying, "Well, you've earned it for working so hard," I would think, "You fucking fat stupid fuck, you'll never amount to fucking anything because you can't even stay away from a goddamn fucking cheeseburger. Go fuck yourself." My fitness achievements meant nothing and my failures were hard evidence that I would never be good enough. I thought I was fat.

I still kind of think I'm fat.

Punchline: There is No Quick-Fix
When I got out of the hospital I had to work on something that's always been hard for me: forgiving myself. It's something that I dare say is harder in fitness than it is with most things in life. In fitness, you are constantly facing challenges, and the vast majority of these challenges will not be overcome the first time you attempt them. They may not be overcome the first fifty times you attempt them. It becomes very easy to focus on all the things you still can't do rather than all things you can do now that you couldn't do when you began. that you would never be able to do if you hadn't decided to get off the couch and try this. It's agonizing. It's fucking Depressing.

Fitness. Health. Nutrition. Taking care of your body is essential not just for those of us with Depression/Anxiety, but for everyone. Whether it's just a daily walk with the dog or soccer 3 times a week, working out is an important part of maintaining your happiness.
But Jesus Christ don't ever make the mistake of believing that it's everything. There is no quick-fix to curing your Depression or finding your happiness or loving your life, so if someone tells you all you need to do is eat right and exercise tell them as politely as possible to seriously go fucking fuck themselves in a burning building. It's a day-by-day battle, and it takes everything you've got. It takes friends giving you stupid advice; it takes at least a couple of vegetables every once in a goddamn while; it takes sunlight; it takes laughing; it takes moving your body in some way that challenges you. Sometimes, I think it takes ice cream and a good hard cry.

I'm blessed with an incredibly good life. I have a wonderful boyfriend, a loving family, an apartment and a job, an adorable little kitty cat who makes hilarious mew-noises and flops on her back so I will pet her tummy, and I have a strong, healthy body that I work hard to maintain.
But I still gotta work at this Depression thing. It's tough and it's frustrating and it's not going away simply because I can hang by one knee from a trapeze. But today, despite the Lexapro withdrawal, I have a feeling everything's gonna be ok.

Coming up Next Week! Kate Goes to the Beach and Brags About It! 
Stay Tuned!!

*This Truth is not actually based on any facts and is simply my opinion.


  1. 2 words, 1 phrase, countless d'aww: Kitten paws.

  2. Hang in there, Kate. I can tell you from an unbiased and objective point of view that you're awesome.

  3. Lexapro withdrawal is the pits. I keep taking mine because it's so awful. Hope you make it through, and I'd love to know how long the withdrawal symptoms last. Hang in there, Kate. Never knew we had so much in common :)
    - your cousin Meagan

  4. You are beautiful, and you are strong, both physically and in the sense that I can't imagine what it took to write this. Know that there are a lot of people who want only the best for you.