I am a natural optimist, always seeing the glass as half full. I can find the silver lining in any situation and believe that everything happens for a reason, good or bad. However, there have been times in my life when I thought I could never be happy, or be optimistic about the future again.
The first time that I felt like this was when my son was born nearly 19 years ago. I was in the grip of post natal depression and didn’t know it. Back in the day, there wasn’t as much support, awareness and resources as there are now.
My family did their absolute best to support me and my husband didn’t know how to support me. He went to work each day, leaving me stranded at home with no car and with a baby I had no connection to. Each day was a constant struggle with anxiety and sleep deprivation. I couldn’t sleep even when I had a few hours to myself – my mind just raced the whole time. My heart leaped into my mouth every time Darcy cried or grizzled. My hands shook when I picked him up and I also cried while I held him, not knowing what I was doing and just wishing I could run away or die. I used to just sit on a chair every single day – numb, fidgeting, heart racing, mind racing. I felt out of control and a failure as a mother. I was in a dark tunnel with no light at the end.
When I finally sought help and was medicated, I gradually started to feel better, get my sleep back and stop crying. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, and took a lot of self belief and determination that I was going to feel normal again. I finally fell in love with my son when he was three months old and miraculously, his sleep and his eating improved also. I regained my pleasure in everyday activities and loved life once more.
I was rocked to my very core during this time and it almost destroyed me. Even though my marriage broke up two years later, the experience scarred me so much that deep down I never wanted to have more children.
I was optimistic I would get better once I sought the right help from my doctor. I was optimistic that my family and friends would be there to support me. It taught me so much about myself and that no one is perfect. It taught me to stop trying to control every situation. I learned that PND is very common and that I wasn’t alone. I learned that out of overwhelming fear and loss, comes a love for your child that is so deep and so strong that it’s like your very soul is connected to theirs.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time I had brushes with depression. Before I found fitness, I had at least two more serious episodes in my life requiring medication and counselling. Although the medication worked well and gave me my life back, I gained quite a bit of weight and found it very hard to shift. This is one of the main reasons I never want to be on medication again.
I credit fitness with improving my life in so many ways, but improving my mental health has to be up there as one of the top benefits. In the last five years or so since I became serious with my fitness and got consistent with it, I have successfully kept the black dog at bay. The only times I’ve threatened to sink back into the fog is when I’ve been unable to train due to serious illness (a story for another blog!) or surgery. I have felt the hopelessness start to nibble at the edges of my mind and the lethargy begin to seep in. I don’t ever want to feel like that again. As I say, this is one of my key motivators to stay active and fit. The struggle and the ‘hard’ of training day in, day out – being tired, being sore, being consistent no matter what – is a walk in the park compared to the struggle and the hard of depression.
Physical activity has been scientifically proven to help with mental health. If you would like to get started with adding more physical activity in your life, take a look at my coaching packages. I can create a program just for you that doesn’t overwhelm you, for home or gym, and gets you results both physically and mentally.
If anything in this blog has triggered you, please speak to a loved one, visit www.beyondblue.org.au or call Lifeline on 13 11 14