Exercise, Depression and my Inner Hulk

I went to a therapist this week. The first session was more of a “meet and greet” than anything else, but I can already tell that she means business. I know from past experience I need a therapist who means business. At the next session, she says we are going to talk about the 5 big things that help with depression. So, of course, I have been Googling “5 things that help with depression” on a regular basis to try to figure out what she might say. Patience isn’t exactly my strong suit.

As you might have guessed, there’s one thing that’s on EVERY “Top 5” list – Exercise. This makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Obviously, I don’t mean I want to go to the gym so I can get muscles like the Hulk. That would actually be a productive reaction. No, I literally picture myself screaming in agony and transforming into the Hulk. Of course, since I am depressed, my frustration does not come out in any real way. I just switch my Google searches to alternative ways to deal with anger that don’t involve so much physical energy.

In all seriousness, I see the writing on the wall. I get it. Exercise is like, super important and necessary when it comes to depression. Somehow, I’ve got to figure out a way to incorporate it into my life.

Before I do though, let me just spend ONE more millisecond being sarcastic and snarly. I apologize in advance to the well-intentioned bloggers out there who published Top 5 lists of remedies for depression. It’s really not you. It’s me. And to the particularly ambitious blogger who had a daily “brisk 15-30 minute walk” in your Top 5, thank you for giving me that kind of credit. The truth is, right now, I’m not capable of physically doing anything that even comes close to being near the realm of 30 minutes a day.

It seems like a grand idea to take a 15-30 minute walk every day doesn’t it? I mean, obviously I HAVE 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day. Otherwise, how could I write this blog post?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. One activity can’t so easily be substituted for another. A blog post can be written in bed. It does not require the individual to brush her teeth. Or take a shower. These things, which are non-negotiable morning routines for most people, typically happen 15 minutes before I have to leave my house to pick up my kids. Now, you might be thinking that I should just start brushing my teeth and taking a shower earlier in the day. Isn’t that a simple change?

Again, it’s not quite that simple. Just thinking about exercise makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Now you’re asking me to somehow motivate myself to shower and brush my teeth earlier in the day too? I have been around this block enough times to know that only something external, like having to go pick up kids or go to work, will motivate me to do these basic necessities. If you throw on top of this whole exercise thing that I must also internally motivate myself to get ready in any way, shape or form, I promise, I will give up before I’ve even started.

Another flaw with the “brisk 15-30 minute walk” idea is that it requires me to actually go out IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD by myself. I have no desire to do anything alone right now where I will also be in full view of others. I don’t really know how else to explain this particular issue (ahem, excuse), but I just felt like it deserved mention.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous all of my excuses are. But I am not quite ready to let go of them just yet. What I AM willing to do (praise God) is give this dreaded exercise concept a chance. But it will be on my own terms and with my own “Top 5” list, thank you very much. I even made my Top 5 an acrostic poem so it would be extra special and fun. And if you think that is a cool thing, then I am being totally serious and sincere with the whole acronym thing. If you are rolling your eyes like I would be, then I am being totally cheesy on purpose in a super cool rebellious and sarcastic way.

Without further ado, to actually start to exercise, I am making exercise the ultimate SELFY.

S = Simple
E = Every Day
L = Little
F = Fun
Y = You Do You

First, I am keeping it so unbelievably SIMPLE there is no way I can find an excuse not to do it. Going to the gym … way too complicated. Going outside … way too complicated. Putting on exercise shoes … way too complicated. Believe it or not, I do not own a pair of exercise shoes. I do, however, own tap shoes.

Second, I am striving to do it EVERY DAY, or at least every day of the work week. Otherwise, I know I will just procrastinate until later in the week and set myself up to fail. If I just take it one day at a time, like with everything else, I think I will have better success.

Third, I am starting LITTLE. (Yes, I realize it would sound better to say I am starting “small” but little works better with the acronym, alright?) 30 minutes a day just isn’t realistic for me. Who am I kidding? 15 minutes a day isn’t realistic for me. I am starting with 5 MINUTES every day. 5 minutes is a long time. I will be so super proud if I exercise for 5 minutes a day. I will throw myself a party if I exercise for 5 minutes a day for a week. I don’t care that most of my friends work out for an hour or more at a time. 5 MINUTES is my definition of success right now, and I am not ashamed.

Fourth, I am doing something that I think is FUN. Every time I try to exercise, I do something I have never done before or that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy running so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to go to Zumba class at the gym. My butt will never move the way the instructor’s does, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror trying to shake it like she does for an hour. My body will never bend the way yoga-lovers’ bodies do. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to do yoga. I am really good at and really like tap dancing. And did I mention that I have tap shoes?

Finally, my mantra will be YOU DO YOU! As if tap dancing in my own home for 5 minutes a day isn’t uniquely ME enough, I am going to do this as only I can. I am going to blog about it just because I know it will help ME. I am going to try to be funny and self-deprecating about it just because I think that is who I am supposed to be and it makes ME feel good. I am going to give it to God and try to use it to help others in any way I can, because that is ME being ME.

Alright, well, there you have it, that is my “Top 5” list. It has already motivated me to exercise 2 days in a row. If anyone else is coming to this exercise table kicking and screaming because of depression, I’d love to hear how you have motivated yourself. Thanks for reading!

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When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.