Note: This is actually not a new post. It’s one I wrote a long time ago, long before I actually had a blog. I have put off publishing this post for a long time, fiddling with the editing late at night–much like I am now– then, I’d sit and stare at the “Publish” button, fear racing through my mind. What if my bosses see it? What if no one will hire me because of it? What if my clients see me differently? Will people look at my mom weird at the grocery store back at home? Will people think I am irreparably damaged?
The fear is still there. I know how Google works. I know openness can come with a price. But I’ve decided that if someone does not like this entry, then we’re both better off not to associate in the first place.
Last month, a very dear childhood friend shared her story of her struggles with depression in our hometown newspaper, in hopes other people would know they’re not alone and would seek help. What a badass. Because of her, tonight I’m hitting the Publish button. This post is dedicated to her.
A particularly wise therapist once pointed out to me that many successful dictatorships first shut down human movement. From there, it’s easy to make a person weaker mentally and spiritually. I think of that point almost daily. If I am feeling helpless, it’s usually at some place or time when circumstances do not allow me to move freely. I talk to people who feel trapped all the time.
I’m in charge of answering calls on behalf of my CrossFit affiliate. The calls have the usual questions (“Will CrossFit kill me? Will it make me bulky? Will I still make friends if I don’t follow Paleo?” –No, no, and a definite no.) and then some more unusual inquiries (the man who barely let me say hello before demanding to know my max back squat –225 at the time– and quad measurements —Who even does that?!— and then accused me of using steroids before hanging up).
Often, I get a little glimpse into people’s lives at a tipping point. They’ve reached their threshold of the innumerable small stressors that add up to an unbearable burden. They’re sick of being sick, overweight, underweight, you name it. They are joining the military. They just moved to our city, and it’s a way to make friends or create the life they have put off living for too long. They just came out of the closet, got married, are undergoing a divorce, are trying to date again. Sometimes a mixture of those things. Some callers are in pain, and I can feel it through the phone. It resonates with me, and I wish I could tell them how I can relate, because I came to CrossFit at one of the lowest points of my life, and it saved me.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager. I graduated college and left Montana, making two moves ever further away from home as I tried to make my way up though the Hunger Games known as the television news business. 2011 found me broke, friendless, in a long distance relationship, and 2,600 miles from home, but still hopeful. That is, until I got a call that sent my world into a tailspin.
My college love, Shamus, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor on his brain stem. Though we were no longer together when he fell ill, we were still very close. He was one of those incredibly, infuriatingly talented and charismatic people that could have done anything he wanted… And he did. He threw himself into bodybuilding. He travelled extensively. He quit college for a spell to become a pro wrestler. Before he got sick, he was CrossFitting often, preparing for a half marathon, and had just been accepted to med school in Vermont. Because he was in such impeccable health to begin with, his body put up an amazing fight against the cancer, slowly shutting down one system at a time, refusing to give in all at once. Shamus died four long, cruel months after his diagnosis. He was 25. Normal people get sick and die, and I feel bad. Shamus was a life lost that cost the world in ways I cannot even begin to estimate.
I thought that was my emotional low point, but upon returning from the funeral in Montana, I managed to prove to myself that things can always get worse. When I stepped off the plane in Florida, I opted out of the grieving process. I was numb inside as I partied more and more often, poisoned the relationship I was in, hated the hell out of the overnight shifts at my news station, and alienated the friends who cared enough to voice their concern. I was as broke as ever, completely alone, and emotionally adrift thousands of miles from the family and friends who understood my sense of loss. There were times I thought not waking up the next day would be easier than dealing with the mess I’d made of my life. I couldn’t follow through with plans to harm myself because I had no one I could count on to feed my dog. I had a full emotional breakdown by summer 2012. I could hear the concern in my mom’s voice on the other end of the phone as I tried to make everything seem fine, babbling away mindlessly, but I contradicted myself constantly because I didn’t know how to ask for help. That’s how I landed on that therapist’s couch, where she told me I had to start taking care of myself on the simplest, smallest level.
Eat. Sleep. Call your family. Walk your dog. Work out. And I did just that.
I have always been close to Shamus’ parents, and we have strayed close after his death. They were the ones who called me and told me it was time for me to start a new adventure. They sponsored my first months of CrossFit, a gift I don’t think I can ever repay.
As I started integrating CrossFit into my life, I began to feel again– pain at first, grinding out WOD after grueling WOD– but it was a start. My first WOD after foundations was Fran. It took me over 20 minutes– scaled. There were days I thought I could not possibly keep going, and then I thought that Shamus would certainly be there calling me a jabroni, and I picked the bar up again. And so I finally mourned, one rep at a time. I left the box with my heavy heart feeling a little lighter, knowing he would have been proud. The fog began to lift, slowly. I slept better. I ate better. I stayed in with my dog and Netflix on Saturdays instead of falling off a barstool somewhere. I was dumbfounded when I skipped a WOD and the next time I came in, one of the the ladies in my noon class asked where I had been. It had been so long since anyone held me accountable or cared about my whereabouts, I mumbled some excuse before stepping away to blink back the unexpected tears. I stopped hanging my self worth on how my floundering TV career was going. I began to value myself more, my time, my health, my relationships, my talents. I dug myself out of the dark hole. Slowly, one day at a time. And I still am. That journey is not without setbacks at moments, but CrossFit gave me one constant around which to reorient my world. The barbell is always 20 kilograms. Everything else can be figured out from there.
I won’t act like CrossFit can solve all of your problems. You will likely piss off your friends with all of your CF Facebook posts. It will not give you nice hands. It certainly won’t make you a sandwich. But for a little while– you are no longer trapped in prisons internal or external. You are free to find your limits, and then tell them to fuck off. And you will carry that feeling of empowerment with you out of the box and into the world. And that, my friends, is when the real fun begins.