I haven’t exercised in months. And by months I mean more than 12. I’ve moved my body, but I haven’t actually put on workout gear, grabbed a water bottle, and moved in a way that really challenges my physicality and leaves my body glistening with sweat.
In the past, everything in my life felt better when I was regularly going to the gym. I would crave it and fit it into my day whenever I could – which was awesome because instead of waking up in the morning and feeling the pressure of “needing” to exercise, then falling asleep at night feeling like I failed because I didn’t, I felt at ease knowing I was doing right by my body. In other words, besides the obvious physical and mental health benefits, I also felt less tortured. Win! Win!
I know a lot of people find gyms to be boring, but I loved mine. Most of the members are elderly (bad asses) and the environment was calm, quiet and familial, rather than a scene. Everyone knew me by name and were genuinely happy to see me and hear updates on my life, and me theirs. I never had to wait to get on my favorite machine and, bonus, no one except for ole Roger was taking photos of their abs in the mirror.
With every stride, pull, push and bounce, I knew in my heart there would never again be a time in my life when I didn’t exercise.
And then I stopped exercising.
That’s right. I stopped.
There are several legitimate reasons I could provide to explain the this and that of it all, but the bottom line is that, for the past 5 years I have endured a lot of loss and, before I could even completely grieve one, another would strike. Over time I started getting depressed (naturally) and every crisis pulled me deeper. I forgot that I ever felt like a bubbly, positive and optimistic person because I gradually got used to feeling more and more beat down – like it was just too hard to have relationships or accomplish anything outside my main responsibilities. I was surviving, just trying to sustain what I needed to, while either crying or choking back a cry. Doing anything away from home seemed too draining, plus I didn’t want to talk to anyone. If I did talk to someone, I was worried about being a Debbie Downer because all I had to offer a conversation was sorrow.
I declined most invitations that came my way. A summertime pool party sounded like climbing a mountain. Lunch with a friend sounded like taking a final exam. So purposeful exercise? Dream on. (Obviously, the counter-intuitive aspect of this is that exercise would have made me feel better, however, at the time that just didn’t seem to make sense in my mind.)
I finally recognized I was the problem when, one day at my daughter’s swim lesson, a nanny called out, “The skies the limit!” to the child she was watching and I felt the need to provide her with a reality check. “Take it from someone a little older, the sky is not the limit. Life is hard and the limit is much closer to the ground.” Oh, boy.
I immediately scheduled an appointment with my doctor and explained to her how I was crying all the time, whether at the grocery store, in my car, in the shower or in my bed. I reasoned that it was just grief, but informed her I was afraid to stop grieving for fear of leaving unfinished business lurking around in my brain. Sobbing, I asked her “When will I have grieved enough?”
First off, she told believed I was experiencing PTSD more than grief, and that spending my days crying hadn’t yet proven productive, so maybe it was time to try a different approach. She then suggested I start an anti-depressant. She explained that if I had a broken arm I wouldn’t be able to lift anything until I wore a cast to heal my arm. In the same way, my taxed out nervous system wouldn’t be able to “lift me up” until I put on a cast, in the form of medication, to heal it. I was reluctant, but not surprised. It was time.
Fast forward about 6 weeks and, let me just say, “WOW!” I completely forgot what it was like to feel happy, lighter – like myself – and, honestly, most of the time I kinda forget why I was even so sad. Motivation has returned to encourage me to engage again with life, with people and to take on new challenges. I’m able to let things just bounce off me instead of getting dragged down by them. And guess what? I suddenly had the desire to return to the gym!
It actually happened in a fateful way. My daughter takes classes 3 days a week, right upstairs from my gym. I was sitting on a couch, playing on my iPad, while waiting for her lesson to end the woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. She was new to the area and had a lot of questions about the facility and, after a few minutes, I told her I’d give her a tour. When we got to the gym, old friends waved at me and said hello, making it appear as though I was a regular, prompting the woman to ask when she could find me there. At first I was a bit embarrassed, then a bit tongue tied, but then I felt the click!
I made my triumphant return to the gym the very next day. So now, instead of sitting and waiting for my daughter, I’m using the time to move . . . and it feels fantastic!
I’m not there to win a race. I’m not there to lose weight. I’m there to clear my mind, move my body, condition my heart, improve my blood flow, strengthen my muscles, break a sweat and care for myself . . . all while I watch my favorite TV shows on my iPad!
I’m not saying that medication is the answer for everyone, but in my case, I am 100% positive that the anti-depressant is responsible for my desire to return to the gym – not to mention all the other tremendous ways I’ve reengaged with life. I am not ashamed to openly share that I was stuck in a dark place and that medication helped me recover in ways I wasn’t able to in therapy or on my own. I am so grateful and relieved I asked for help and took advantage of the resources available to me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to download another show for my next workout. Life is good.