Monday, February 3, 2014

The Day Depression Saved Me at the Gym

I am not usually one to broadcast my physical feats on the internet. And that is mainly because, well,  I don't have any physical feats to broadcast on the internet.

But today is different, my friend.

Today, I have a story to tell.

It's probably not a big deal to most. I'm sure there are people out there - runners, athletes, buff gym dudes - who do this on a daily basis and don't think much about it. But for me, it was new and painful and awesome and painful again.

But first, let me go back a couple years.

I have talked before about the amazing benefits of having a great counselor on your side when you're battling depression. Mine was Keith. (If you live near me and want a really great counselor, email me, and I'll give you his information.) Keith and I spent several of our sessions together talking about why I was in this depression, and more specifically, why it had hit me like. a. mac. truck. instead of coming on gradually, as is usually the case.

Eventually we determined that I had a fear of emotional pain. If something painful happened in life, I would pick myself up by my bootstraps and run as hard and fast as I could into the Next Big Thing. A new job. A house project. My kids. My church. Whatever. I dove head first into anything that wasn't the thing that was causing me pain. I ignored pain. And ran from it. And pretended like it wasn't there.

Then Keith said this: "What you have to realize is that pain is just another feeling. It will come. You will feel it. And it will leave. It won't kill you, but not dealing with it might."

I have written before about how Keith taught me to deal with feelings of failure or inadequacy: here and here.

But this statement about pain opened me up to a whole new level of understanding.

Physical pain is literally your brain saying: Hey you! Pay attention to this area!

Break your foot, and your brain sends pain to your foot to say: Dude, pay attention to your foot. Something's going on down there.

And if you ignore it. If you numb it or try to power through it, you run the risk of making it worse.

Emotional pain is the same. Something injures us. A broken heart. A stab in the back. A painful tongue-lashing. And our spirit sends pain signals: Hey you! Pay attention here! Take care of this area before it gets worse!

So now I know. Painful memories pop out of nowhere. I can't push them down with a new project and jelly donut. I have to take a moment. And I feel it. I let myself cry if I need to. I pray and journal and sometimes call a close friend. I process it in the ways that work best for me, and then I let it go. Sometimes that means forgiving someone. Many times it means forgiving myself.

Pain is just another feeling. It will come. You will feel it. And it will leave. It won't kill you, but not dealing with it might.

So what on earth does this have to do with my night at the gym?

Let me tell you.

I stepped into a "Ball" class for the first time ever tonight. It's one of those classes where everyone is gracefully rocking and squatting and bending and push-up-ing on a huge exercise ball.

Everyone except me, that is. I was more falling and rolling and grunting and chasing my big ball. But that's not the point.

The point is that I had a moment in class where I thought I was going to die. Literally, right there in front of all the graceful ball balancers, I was just going to keel over and die. There were five reps left, my arms were shaking, I could feel the ball ever so slightly slipping from beneath my feet. And I knew in that moment - this is how I'm going to die.

Then Keith popped into my head.

You know those moments on cartoons, where a cloud hovers over the character's head, and a person in that cloud says some crazy profound thing that echoes a little bit and is exactly what the character needs to hear so he can do whatever he needs to do in that moment?

Cloud. Keith. Echo. My head.

"Pain is just a feeling. It will come. You will feel it. And it will leave."

And then I knew I wasn't going to die. Because pain can't kill me.

And then I knew something else. I knew that my depression - all that dark and heavy and gross and ugly pain - it has changed me.

I am not who I was. I am stronger. I am wiser. I am a fighter. I am not afraid of pain.

And by the time I thought through all that, I had made it through those five reps. And I didn't die.

That is the point.

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The Quote That Started It All...

I myself have twelve hats, each one representing a different personality. Why be just yourself? - Margaret Atwood