As someone who has experienced depressive episodes and probably will continue to do so (though hopefully with less severity) I thought I would write how I have recruited my physical body as an ally in the enduring war of my mood disorder.
In February 2016 I was obese at the age the age of 31 and had been putting on the weight for sometime. I had a BMI of 33 and weighed 17 Stone 6 pounds (110 KG) as a result of my depressions and all the medications I had tried over the years. My Mum used to to keep telling me to lose weight by changing your diet and exercising. Some negative people in my life labelled me feckless and lazy. I have never considered myself like that before but that is what they said. My biggest struggle was I did not believe I could lose the weight and in that part of my life I had lost hope. My self esteem was lower and I didn’t feel I was attractive anymore. Also being so unfit made simple activities like walking distances and carrying shopping hard work. I also had very low stamina so it slowed what I could achieve in a day.
Then in February 2016 I had a dream, others have described this as a spiritual experience and one even described it as a delusion. Anyhow the dream finished with one simple message “If you get physically stronger, you will get mentally stronger”. All I wanted was to get mentally well and so I decided that rather than fight this with medication and psychology alone I would take my “war with my mind” to a different theatre. This was a scary change to begin to undertake but I knew it was necessary.
I began a process of self learning on diet, nutrition and exercise. I began logging my weight each week with a target of losing 1 to 3 pounds a week. I quickly learned that running was the best way for me to lose weight. So I did three 5KM runs in 4 days for the first time. That was very hard work and a bad idea. After the third run my trainers ripped to pieces and then my legs were very injured. Just walking was very hard work. I believe at the time I had shin splints but I didn’t get medical opinion at the time. It would have been easy to give up at that point but I chose not too. After a few days of rest I started walking short distances and avoiding public transport. I kept increasing my walking distances.
By the end of April 2016 my legs were feeling better, I could walk further distances so I began running again but in 2KM distances but not too often. During that time I was modifying my nutrition as I learned about healthy food and what foods worked for me. A lot of food manufactured out there is quite addictive in my view. I believe it’s hard to go complete healthy overnight. It was a slow transition to a healthy diet for me and a lot of trial and error of new foods. I even forced myself to eat foods I wasn’t that keen on but in time they became my favourite foods. My favourite foods became less interesting and I no longer savoured them. I don’t know if this is true, but as I transitioned my nutrition to a new healthy diet it was like my taste buds and mind (the neurons) were rewiring themselves to a new way of a positive lifestyle.
By late May 2016, I was starting to get results. The weight was coming off significantly, I was keeping to my nutrition plan and my running became faster and further in distance. Often when I went running in public I would worry or feel embarrassed what other people thought of me. To me I was this obese guy killing himself in public and at times it felt humiliating. Though I maintained to myself this was for me and no one else. However, I had developed the confidence to run by myself in public despite what I may think others may think of it. I then thought based on my reading with the speed I was losing weight, that my muscles could also disappear with the fat in my body. So with my new found confidence to do strength training in the gym, I joined a gym and began another physical endeavour. I couldn’t afford a personal trainer and I knew no one that could help. So I read books, read articles online and watched videos online on how to do the strength training I wanted to do. I remember the first day I walked into the gym and saw all these ultra fit people, it was very intimidating. It was by that point I was using mantras to maintain motivation and I found this quote helpful when I turned up in the gym to do a session:
I am in competition with no one. I have no desire to play the game of being better with anyone. I am simply trying to be better than the person I was yesterday.
So throughout the summer of 2016, I went to the gym three to five times a week to build my strength. I also did a lot of running. A lot of people would start to complement me on my physical fitness and people seem more interested in striking up conversation with me. I believe this was partly because my self esteem had improved and people just judge one by their looks. By September 2016 I had lost 5 stone 6 pounds (34KG) and weighed 12 stone. During that month my mother was in a hospice and I can still remember her smile when I first entered the room to see her – She was proud. That was the best gift I could ever give her and myself. In October 2016 my Mother passed (as you can imagine this has caused great sadness) and I then just maintained my new found healthy lifestyle but didn’t need to work as hard.
In the New year of 2017, I started setting some goals in my life. Since I was healthy and fit, I started working on making myself fitter and stronger. I worked on my muscles and endurance. During this year I have run two 10KM races and a Half Marathon. Completing these physical challenges has allowed me to fundraise for St Helen’s Hospice who looked after my Mum and Rethink Mental illness who have helped me and others. The fundraising (a form of altruism) was good for my wellbeing as well. My Mothers death taught me a lot about my own mortality, when I’m feeling well I try to make the most of it for myself and others. I believe we can all make a small difference in the world – I want mine to be a positive one.
When I began this experience, exercise was an awful experience. I didn’t want to do it as it was painful and then eating healthy food was hardly a great reward. But as I maintained my relentless pursuit to see it through it then become fun and challenging. After a while it got easier, the adrenaline and endorphin became a great reward for my mood. There would be days in the gym I would be quite low, but picking up a heavy weight and seeing myself lift it in the mirror – showed me visually I was strong. The running has also taught me things about my thought processes. I remember in March 2017, I was by myself doing a 10KM run and after doing 7km I was running back home against a a very strong ‘March wind’ with cold pouring rain by the sea front. It was very hard work going against the wind, my mind started telling me you “You can’t do this, your going have to stop!” I then started slowing down and was on the verge of giving up. I then had a meta-cognition (a thought of a thought). I asked myself “Hey, I’m in control here! Why give up? I then asked myself Breathing ok? Legs ok? Body temperature ok?”. My answer was yes, so I put my head down and finished the run.
So if your want to lose weight, don’t delay, take action now – As the present is all we have.