An hour of riding a stationary bike -mostly at your maximum heart rate – and my body is toast. However, my brain is on a pink cloud – awash in endorphins.
But on that day, the endorphins did not come. I rode and rode and rode until foamed formed in the corners of my mouth – but there were no endorphins. And then I snapped in half.
As the weight slipped off my bones, I dragged myself to the gym. I spoke to no one. As a recovered alcoholic – unable to take a drink or a hit off a joint – I knew I needed to give my brain all the help I could. I took my antidepressants with the understanding that it would take weeks before they might work – if at all.
The only instant relief would be the endorphins, if I could find a way to re-ignite them.
I can’t say there was an ah-ha moment when the endorphins kicked in. It could have been the antidepressants that brought me out of my black hole. Or maybe a combination of the medications and endorphins. Who knows. But I got better.
I take my antidepressants and workout out 4-5 times a week. In the years since my last major depression, I have come to realize that exercise gives me much more than a flush of endorphins. I get a powerful psychological boost from working out. I have come to believe that the psychological benefits from exercise are as important as the physiological ones from my antidepressants.
Here they are:
- Self-esteem: I am proud of myself after I workout. I have no self-esteem when I am in my black hole. Down there, I am a worthless piece of crap. My brain tells me that. Exercise stops that evil chatter. I am not worthless.
- Accomplishment: If I accomplish nothing else today, at least I have worked out. With every workout you accomplish something. When I am depressed, I beat myself up for not being able to accomplish anything – ergo, I’m a piece of crap.
- Confidence: With accomplishment comes confidence. Depression strips your confidence. Self-doubt builds and destroys any thought that you can help yourself. Hope is lost.
- I look better: You cannot help but gain muscle when you workout. Muscle makes you stronger – both physically and emotionally. If you want to lose weight, you will do that, too. The sweat will clean out your pores. When I am depressed I tell myself I look like a piece of crap. I may look like crap when I walk out of the gym, but two hours later I feel beautiful.
Some illnesses can be cured with medication alone. Not my depression. I need – and use – every tool I can find.
Woman with weights available from Shutterstock.