Do The Hard Thing: depression edition – by Vern

unnamed

Duckling, modeling Mom’s favorite shirt.

16.2 million. That’s how many adults in the United States have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Another 1.7 million people have been diagnosed with dysthymia, or chronic, persistent, low-level depression. And another 5.7 million adults have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression related to changes in seasons. The most disturbing part of these numbers? They’re just the official, formal, clinically-assessed diagnoses. Researchers have estimated that up to 66% of adults in society have undiagnosed depression, and that number continues to rise.

What this means: if you are struggling with feelings of depression – lethargy, apathy, sadness, mood swings, exhaustion, insomnia, weight gain, weight loss, or any of the other laundry lists of symptoms – you’re not alone.

Me? I’ve got anxiety. I exist in a permanent state of crawling-up-the-wall, jumping-off-the-roof nervous energy. I very rarely get depressed. When I do, it’s a doozy. And it’s been a doozy of a December.

I play Words with Friends, and I’m super competitive about it with my friend Lee. We usually have at least three games going at a time, and we’re about 50-50 on wins and losses. I realized I was depressed when, about a month ago, I was staring at my screen, and thought, why am I even looking at this? Why does it matter? What’s the point of games? What’s the point of life? I give zero f***s. In that moment, I realized with sudden clarity that I’ve been feeling that way about everything.

But there’s hope. I’m starting to feel better, and here’s what I’ve done to get through it.

  • See a professional. 

Can we talk for a second about how much the stigma against mental illness sucks? It sucks a lot. People joke about shrinks and therapists. My public defense clients say they won’t see anyone for their PTSD because they “don’t want to be a p***y.” We use “crazy” as an insult, make fun of ourselves for being “OCD,” and laugh at the guys on the street who hear voices.

But that’s wrong.

There’s no shame in needing help, y’all. This is a common analogy, but I’ll use it anyway. What do you do if you fell down the stairs and snapped your ankle? Would you just ignore that pain because only wusses go to the doctor? No way. You’d get yourself to the clinic ASAP, and get everyone to sign your cool cast.

Having something misfiring in your brain is no different. There is no shame in getting an evaluation and, if necessary, starting medications with a doctor you trust. Hey, maybe you can have your friends sign your prescription bottle.

Plus, when you take ownership of your mental health and refuse to be embarrassed, you give the people around you the permission to do the same.

  • CROSSFIT!

I mean, this is a CrossFit blog. You knew this was coming.

This is where “do the hard thing” comes in. Sometimes doing the hard thing means pushing yourself to the very edge of your physical capabilities and doing something amazing – rowing a marathon, PR’ing your snatch, putting in hours of strenuous work to get that first ring muscle-up.

And sometimes “do the hard thing” means just. showing. up.

When I was feeling the worst, about ten days ago, I didn’t skip CrossFit. Instead, I showed up to the gym, and did something. One day I simply rolled out my back. But I was there. Another day I did a heavily-scaled version of a workout that I normally could Rx. I didn’t give a damn about pushing myself to lift any heavier. But I was there.

I didn’t walk out of the gym feeling like the world is sunshine and unicorns. But on those darkest days, I pulled the only thread I could grasp, and I knew – even if I didn’t feel it – that I’d done something good for myself and my mental health, and built one more step on the staircase out of the apathy.

Plus, exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!  Don’t just take it from Elle – the Mayo Clinic agrees.

  • Self-soothe, my dude.

Sometimes life is like a doctor’s clinic. It’s well-organized, repetitive, no crises. But sometimes life is an emergency room and needs to be triaged. You have to fix the heart attack before you can check the sprained ankle.

I’m on a group text thread with two other women, Mags and AJ. We have all faced some form of mental illness, and because there is no shame in talking about it, we are very open with each other. Mags has a mantra: “self-soothe, my dude.”

What this means is that you can give yourself grace to not be perfect. Sometimes life is really, really hard. Sometimes you just don’t have it in you to take care of yourself, and you know that you’re either going to get ragingly drunk on an entire bottle of whiskey, or take a four-hour nap.

Out of those two options, take the nap. Self-soothe, my dude.

Sometimes you have plans with friends, but you are so strung out with anxiety that you know you’ll snap if you try to leave the house. You’re either going to have a terrible evening and feel worse when you come home, or cancel your plans and sit at home and color for two hours.

Out of those two options, take the coloring book. Self-soothe, my dude.

Self-soothing means giving yourself grace in difficult times. It’s finding the least damaging option that will soothe your soul in that particular moment, and taking it. It’s not an excuse to let your life fall apart; if you’re always canceling plans and sleeping through the day, see #1. But sometimes, my dude, you just need to self-soothe.

  • Reach out!

If you’re not feeling great, don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to someone. A friend. A family member. Someone you trust. Heck, reach out to me – I don’t bite. Sometimes it’s just really nice to have someone listen to you, and say, hey, I still like you. (To my friend who said this to me at CrossFit Sabertooth last week, thank you – you know who you are!)

This advice is what’s gotten me through several bad weeks. I’m not feeling 100% yet, but going to CrossFit, self-soothing, and being honest with my friends has made all the difference from the last time I felt depressed.

How do I know I’m feeling better? I just found out that Lee is cheating at Word With Friends (using the “word radar” and “letter swap” tools is totally cheating, amirite?!). And I actually care about that again 🙂

At CrossFit Sabertooth, we’re passionate about helping you live your best and healthiest life, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Click here to set up your own free intro session!

A Tale Of Two Meets – by Vern and Maddie

Today’s blog post is two different impressions from the same meet, last week’s deadlifting competition at Solcana Fitness. Special thank you to CrossFit Sabertooth member Maddie for sharing her thoughts and feelings following the meet.

Strength in Discomfort, by Vern

Twelve months ago, the most I’d ever deadlifted was forty pounds. Six months ago, I pulled 225 and thought, hey, maybe I can do this strength training thing. Four months ago, I signed up for a deadlift meet – my first performance event since a college piano recital. One week ago, I was throwing up in the bathroom at work, every nerve on edge, cursing whatever it was that convinced me to leave the safety of my comfort zone.

Here’s the thing about being Vern: I talk a good talk, but have a hard time walking it. I act impulsively, sign up for events on a whim, and find some reason to cancel them (whether “I have a broken arm” or “I need to do the dishes”). But this was different. This time, I trained, and even if I came in last at this deadlift meet, I was going to do it. Maddie and I both signed up, along with my awesome friend Shannon (a powerlifter who just qualified for Nationals!).

I wrote last week about doing the hard thing. I’ve written about edgework – pushing yourself well past the edge of your discomfort to set a new baseline of strength, resilience, and power. Last Saturday morning, I hollowly repeated those words as I woodenly forced one foot in front of the other into Maddie’s waiting car.

For goodness’ sake, I acted like I was going off to war – not to a deadlift meet with two close friends at a super-friendly gym where my Sabertooth friends would be cheering Maddie and me on.

But here’s the thing about feelings: they’re real, whether they’re justified or not. These feelings sucked. No matter how many times I asked myself WHAT I was so afraid of, my hands still visibly shook – and if I hadn’t put on blush that day, I might have been mistaken for a corpse.

Walking into Solcana, I had tunnel vision. I dropped my snowboots by the door and robotically took gear out of my bag, following Shannon like a lost puppy. I didn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed when I stepped on the scale in a bra and underwear – I was too busy staring at the carpet-covered wooden platform of deadlifting death. Shannon programmed a warmup for me, and she and her own coach insisted upon changing my weights for me while I literally danced around the warmup room to shake off the jitters and shakes.

After an hour, I finally put on my brand-new belt and got in line. I distracted myself by complimenting all of the women around me, as friendly (and overbearing) as a drunk girl in a college bar bathroom.

And then – as quickly as four months of hard training had passed – it was over.

I nailed all three attempts. I didn’t die. In fact, I laughed – laughed out loud, as I turned around on the last lift and saw all three white lights. My lifts were smooth, with perfect form. I hit a new PR of 140kg/308 pounds, and could easily have lifted 142.5kg. I wasn’t sore, wasn’t tired, and wanted nothing more than to keep going, lifting the bar again and again.

I rode the high of the meet for the rest of the day, and when the positive feelings faded (quickly replaced by seasonal depression, the subject of an upcoming blog post!), I was left with accomplishing my ultimate goal, what I hope remains my ultimate goal for the rest of my life: I learned. I experienced. I pushed myself. I forced myself to do something incredibly uncomfortable – because I knew that no matter what the results were, it would be worth it, and I would have a story to share and a memory to catalogue.

Because that’s the point of all of this. That’s the point of CrossFit. That’s the point of life. It’s not about being the best for the sake of being the best, or getting that lift you’ve been wanting, or seeing those six-pack-abs show up. If you rely on those things in and of themselves to make you happy, you will always be disappointed when you get them. Instead, it’s about the journey that you take to get there. It’s about treasuring the experiences you see, taste, smell, touch, or hear, and finding meaning in every ordinary day.

Sometimes life is awesome, and things go your way, and you can enjoy and exist in the positivity of that experience. And sometimes life is about finding beauty in defeat – but either way, it is about living.

Beauty in Defeat, by Maddie:

I could feel the bar slowly prying my fingers down. I stared straight ahead and willed my fingers to hang on, I knew I had screwed up. I pulled too fast and didn’t take the time to make sure I had evenly grasped the bar in both hands before I pulled up. I swore at myself in my head, my confidence that I had this pull vanished and as soon as the referee put her hand down, I was defeated. I didn’t need to turn around and face the screen to know I hadn’t made my final deadlift, but I did anyway. I quickly left the platform and waded through the sea of fellow lifters patting me on the back.

“You did great!”

“You almost had it!”

“You were so close!”

Their well wishes all blended together and became white noise. I forced a smile and shrugged my shoulders, hoping that no one would see that on the inside I was crumbling. It had been my first powerlifting meet, centered around the one lift I knew I had the skill and technique for, the one lift that made me feel like I belonged in the lifting world….and I failed.

From the time I was little, I had a competitive streak. Maybe it was being the third girl in a family of five, or maybe it was something else, but I have always been competitive. As a result of my competitiveness I ended up equating self-worth and feeling like I belonged somewhere with winning. Logically, I know that’s totally ass-backwards and that winning or losing has no impact on whether I am valued by friends and family, but I still feel like it does. Even after years of competing, not always winning and not always losing, I still feel like I have to be among the top to ensure everyone knows I belong here.

It was only after leaving the venue and driving Vern back to her place that the fog of defeat and mopey-ness that I had inflicted on myself began to clear. This was not the first time we had this discussion of me feeling like I didn’t belong in the lifting world because I couldn’t get one thing. About a month and a half before the meet, we had attended an Olympic lifting seminar with some other friends and while things were clicking for them and they were making awesome progress, I was not. I felt all the same things then as I was feeling after the meet; shame, embarrassment, jealousy, anger, defeated, etc., all swirled in my head.

When we got to Vern’s place she said something that stuck with me the whole way home.

“Go home and self-soothe, take your time and wallow.” She stated bluntly,  “But, when you’re ready, I want you to look back and re-evaluate how you did today.”

As I drove home I really started to try and reframe my experience. I thought about how far I had come in just 9 months when I first started lifting and how I was now lifting 100lbs more than I could when I started. I had made a new friend, Shannon, who showed me so much kindness in holding my hand throughout the meet and in her coach Jason, who coached without hesitation or even being asked. I had seen Vern’s smile as she made it through and PR’d, when only 3 hours before she was so nervous she wanted to back out. I had an amazing cheering section of friends from my box, CrossFit Sabertooth, there, friends like I have never had before.

As I sit here, typing my feels vomit out for your reading pleasure, I can feel the weight of not being enough slowly lifting from my chest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still hearing the negative thoughts in my head, but they’re harder to hear now. I know that there will be more defeats that I will have to grapple with, but I also am realizing that the cliché of learning from failure is true. I am now prouder that I failed that last lift, because it humbled me again and has ignited a spark in me to work harder and train better so that at the next meet, I won’t fail (maybe). That’s why there’s beauty in defeat.