Exercise is My Drug of Choice
I have been known to text a friend of mine a litany of “F words”. Just a string of F words. Probably all caps as well. On these “F days”, I’d be feeling caged in, mad at everyone around me, tired of my students, whatever it was, I was in a mood. My friend’s reply…“Did you run today?” She would say nothing else, just ask me if I had run. My response, was a defeated “No”. She knew; she knew by my attitude that I had not exercised, that I had not run. I had not had my “runner’s high” for the day. So I would smirk, take a deep breath, and know she was right; I needed go for a run.
Depression has been stigmatized for so long. People do not talk about depression. People are ashamed to admit that there is a problem; afraid of what others might think. Depression affects everyone, it does not discriminate. Just look at the notable suicides these past few years- Robin Williams,
Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Jessica Starr, Lucy Gordo...the list goes on and on. I recently went to an Imagine Dragons concert where frontman Dan Reynolds openly talked about his depression and how depression is not something to be ashamed of. It was a powerful moment for me. I felt strong, unafraid, and ready to come out of the darkness.
I spent many years riding out the highs and lows of my depression, waiting for the wave to pass or for it to come crashing down on top of me. I was surrounded by people telling me my depression was all in my head, people telling me to “choose to be happy”. Depression is not a choice. Depression is a medical condition and it needs daily attention. For ten years I tried several different medications to control the crests and troughs of my moods. I hated the side effects, the weight gain, the feeling flat all the time. So, I found running and triathlon. Endorphins and neurotransmitters are released when you exercise and these chemicals can affect mood regulation, thus giving you that euphoric feeling. Endorphins act as an analgesic, acting to relieve pain and the perception of pain. Endorphins are created in the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body and are released in response to neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. When I run or do any type of exercise, I can feel these chemicals rushing through my body and I feel better almost instantly. Exercise has become my Prozac.
I teach high school and when I come home from a long day of dealing with teenagers, all I want to do is put on my pajamas and binge watch some show. I have to fight an inner battle every day with what I want to do and what I need to do. So here are some things that I do to keep my high.
- I change into my workout clothes immediately from coming home from work. This puts me in an exercise mood and gives me that first boost I need to get out the door.
- I do not sit down and “rest” when I come home from school. I try to go for my run, bike, or swim, walk or whatever, as soon as I get home. Packing a bag and going straight to the pool or the treadmill before going home is another way I beat the afternoon slump.
- I try hard to stop comparing myself to others. I limit my social media until the evening. When I see all these beautiful women working out, I tend to retreat into my own little world and my mind tells me that I will not ever be that strong, that fast, so why bother. I will look at IG and FB after I have worked out, that way I have the chemicals I need in my brain to stop the self- shaming.
- I have friends that keep me accountable. My friends and I will text each other before a run group or spin class, to make sure we are still on plan, and when my friend does not cancel, I can’t cancel. So out the door I go.
- I have a tribe. I hang out with people who do crazy things with me, who will sign up for a race, who will support me no matter my athletic ability. This community of people is my endorphin support system.
- I try to do something every day. A little or a lot, it all makes a difference in my emotional and chemical wellbeing. A walk around the block can boost my mood just like a hard run.
- I sign up for races. I may moan and groan about the early wake-up call, I may complain the whole race because my knees hurt, but when I cross that finish line, I am higher than a kite.
I am not ashamed of my depression. I want others to see that you can live with this disease; you can have a healthy life. Exercise is my medication and I can’t skip a dose. So when you are feeling blue, a little off kilter, go outside, take a little run, and get those endorphins moving.
Written by Renee Edwards, Siren Luminary
Follow Renee on Instagram @reneealys
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