"Lifting Weights Helped Pull Me Out of the Darkest Period of My Life"
Just acknowledging my depression was the first step — and a huge help. Even though it sounds so basic, it was really this mindset shift and commitment to start caring for my mental health that changed everything.
In 2019, I started lifting weights more seriously than I ever had before. I've always been huge into research, and I channeled that energy into learning better ways to train and develop strength. I read everything from textbooks to fitness blogs, and developed a routine of training for hypertrophy, strength, endurance, balance, and cardio.
After the first month following my new, healthy workout routine, I had more energy. My mood improved drastically, but I was nervous that I was just entering a manic state. I had to learn the difference between feeling good and feeling manic, which is where self-care came in.
I wrote in my journal. I had mental check-ins and gave myself permission to feel my emotions. I took walks and did things that I found just plain fun, like dancing.
I was learning about myself and getting strong at the same time. The fact that I was able to lift heavy weights boosted my confidence. It felt like a win — which I needed in my life.
My workouts really took off when I discovered Bret Contreras, The Glute Guy. I learned in physical therapy that strengthening your glute muscles is key to relieving pain in other areas, and Bret's approach to fitness really embraced that. I started following the workouts inStrong Curves, which helped me not only get stronger but manage my lingering knee pain.
I was so surprised by how quickly I was able to gain strength. After a month of deadlifting regularly, I hit my goal of 175 pounds — that moment really surprised and impressed me. It made me realize I was capable of a lot more than I thought. I began to push further, reaching my max at 275. Then, I started maxing out glute bridges at 325 pounds.
These days, I generally do leg/glute focused workouts three days a week, arms and back one day. I make a point to vary my movement patterns every workout.
In addition, one to two days a week, I dance. Dancing has always been a part of my life. When I was younger I danced in church and took classes here and there. But lately, it's about the freedom, that mind/body connection, and confidence. It is truly a wonderful feeling.
Since I have a history of bulimia, I don't follow a strict diet. It isn't healthy for me. Instead, I eat intuitively. I eat mostly plant-based throughout the day, sticking primarily to chicken and fish for protein. One thing I'll never stop eating: a burger and fries, my favorite meal.
After six months, I found that I was no longer feeling depressed, I was sleeping through the night, and I wasn’t experiencing excessive highs.
I would feel that boost of endorphins leaving the gym, but it was more than that. My outlook on life was changing.
I had spent the majority of my twenties hating myself, feeling unattractive, and trying to figure out how to look better.
Now, at age 30, two yearsinto my self-care and exercise plan, my life is about acknowledging my feelings and allowing them to exist without taking over.
My biggest surprise is how much exercise has opened my mind and trickled into other aspects of my life. When I started lifting heavy, I realized I was capable of many other things.
I have never been so in control of my emotions. I have my bad days, of course, but I cannot stress enough how different I feel. My life is totally changed forever.
Always be aware of yourself, and be aware of your emotions. Listen to your body, and to your mind.
Of course, everyone is different, and may be better off with a different course of treatment. While I checked in with my doctor regularly after my diagnosis, I never sought additional therapy for my bipolar II. This may not be the right choice for others with the disorder.
Everyone has a different path, but just acknowledging how you feel, and allowing yourself to feel it can go a long way.
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