STOP! – Read Part I here: http://crossfitmemorialhill.com/im-proud-of-you-pt-1/
I’d like to say that this is the end of the story, but life and mental illness are more complicated than that.
I finished my residency successfully, but lost the time and energy to continue CrossFIt. I gained back the weight I’d lost and then some. The physical endurance I’d developed failed. But I did not forget the great feelings that I’d had at CrossFit. After I graduated and moved to Kansas City, I started looking for an affiliate right away. Matt Scanlon emailed me back almost immediately. I started out with Fundamentals and gradually transitioned to regular classes. I formed a tight bond with a few fellow athletes and made fast friends with many more. I hurt myself—walking across the gym floor, of all things—and had surgery and spent months recovering. People rallied around me, celebrating small successes. Kyle helped me learn to get off the floor with my revamped knee. Brianna checked in regularly. Josh coached me back into a squat. I started learning to pace myself, to control my breathing. I competed in The Hill Games. I hit PRs and increased my work capacity. I started running again. Most days were good days. I learned to be more vulnerable. I learned how to be strong. I participated in WODs to raise awareness, to raise money, to raise spirits and found a sense of purpose and meaning beyond myself. I was proud of myself and the progress I was making.
Then one day I noticed it: the fatigue, the bleakness, a little less motivation to go to CrossFit, a lot less joy while I was there.
Unlike the episodes before, I was able to identify the trouble myself right away. My depression often manifests itself initially in physical and cognitive ways. These were easier to identify as I was more physically active. I made a plan, setting tiny goals for myself. I reached out for help—to my doctor and to my community. I rallied the troops. I called friends. I emailed my coaches. I spent time with family. TheHill was a strong safety net of peers and I used it. I asked for encouragement and accountability and I got it. Coaches and fellow athletes called and texted, agreed to meet me at the door, gave me extra hugs and high fives, touched base frequently about how things were going. In a thousand little ways, they kept me buoyant. I was able to catch this episode of depression quickly and turn it around. And I believe the community and activity at CrossFit Memorial Hill played a big role.
I don’t mean to oversimplify things—it continues to take a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle modification to manage my depression. While some people have a single episode in their lifetime, for many of us, depression is a chronic disease. But the ugly truth is that most of us struggling with this illness—a treatable, manageable conditions—don’t get the help we need. Sometimes it’s lack of recognition on our part. Often it is unwarranted shame. Shame that we feel sad when we SHOULD feel grateful. We are gripped by anxiety, when really, life SHOULD be going pretty well. We are reluctant to share these feelings with anyone else because we think that it makes us weak. We ignore the reality that depression is a condition that develops much like diabetes: there are some genetic components, some life circumstances, some luck. Just like diabetes, depression can be managed a variety of ways: with life style modfiications, with medication. Just like diabetes, some depression is easier to manage than others. And just like diabetes, there should be no same in acknowledging depression or its treatment.
Much research has indicated a positive role for exercise and social support for both protecting against and treating depression and anxiety.
For me, CrossFit has become an important part of my mental wellness. I still can’t do a handstand. I’m still having trouble getting in for the WOD every day, and sometimes more than just “real life” gets in the way. But things are getting better. I recently went to Saturday morning WOD. I eyed our equipment set-up and reviewed our scaling plan. “I think we’ll be okay.“ I said, cautiously. “Are you kidding me?” My partner said. “We’re going to be awesome. We ARE awesome.” Yes, we are. I pick my friends well. High-five, sister. I’m proud of you.
I share my story as one of your fellow athletes and peers. I seek to open the dialogue about and decrease the stigma around mental illness diagnosis and treatment. While community support and exercise such as CrossFit can play a tremendous role in supporting mental wellness, there is no substitute for evaluation and management by a licensed medical professional. More information about signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can be found at the CDC website. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).