Hello there, good to have you.
Now that we are almost 24 hrs. into it, how has 2018 been treating you so far?
Me? I recently took a 7-days long leave of absence — Dec. 24th – Dec. 31st — from all forms of social media, and more-or-less the Internet. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, especially when my S.A.D. kicked in and I found myself heading down the rabbit-hole of rumination, and became tempted to seek any and all distractions from the smoldering anguish.
The funny thing is I started to notice where some of my thoughts were headed a few days prior to taking said break. It was all rather minor at first, and then everything took off once my school’s winter break started and I truly had time for myself.
As a result, I probably spent 3 – 4 days conducting one-person dialogues — at times out loud when nobody else was around — while being my own counselor and therapist. Maybe I should rephrase what I said earlier: I recently took a 7-days long leave of absence from anything resembling normal human life.
I also came to the conclusion that I am probably a cat in another universe: I napped a lot, gazed outside of the window and watched the falling snow for extended periods of time, visually stalked squirrels, and cherished every moment of the sunny sky and the accompanying warmth that managed to cross past said window at just the right angles.
I will take this moment to give anyone who struggles with mental illnesses such as major depression, anxiety, etc. a gentle reminder:
It’s situational… It’s situational. It’s situational!
Of course, awareness alone isn’t enough, because you still need to transfer that awareness into concrete actions. But it at least gives you a starting point for those actions, and thus a fighting chance. I equate the difference to: forcing Kobe Bryant to take a last-second shot vs. having Kobe Bryant scoring 62 points on you in a rout.
In three quarters.
One of those concrete actions for me is heading to the gym. I consider myself a mellow guy with a case of RBF, but the mellowness makes way for forcefulness at the gym. I channel whatever anguish and frustration I carry with me into approx. 65 – 75 mins of lifting and hoisting things: barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls,
gym attendants, etc. It has been a part of my lifestyle ever since I was at my emotional rock-bottom in late-2008 (a few events on the timeline: I had to drop out of school, my grandfather on my mother’s side — who influenced me in many ways and with whom I was close to as I was growing up — died, I was jobless, and ever-constant parental bickering). It was why I went to the gym the day the break started, and on 7 of the 10 days.
A large part of my battle with mental illness has to do with the struggle in separating the things I can control from the things I cannot. Sometimes, circumstances change and what was controllable previously suddenly becomes less-so. I think this is true for a lot of people who are in the same struggle: our perception of helplessness and hopelessness becomes more ingrained when we don’t see just how/what we can control, and by extension, change. I should also make a note that by no means am I a control-freak, I’m merely talking about control in terms of developing self-efficacy.
Any tiny measure of self-efficacy can be a life-saver when you find yourself to be stuck, and this is why I’m a big proponent of the idea that you should not only be physically active, but to do so with a purpose. In my case, I was at emotional rock-bottom and my self-esteem was practically non-existent. How non-existent? I love photography, but it would be difficult for me to find you more than a handful of pictures of myself from that time, because I loathed feigning the appearance of happiness and contentment when internally, I was anything but those things majority of the time; we take pictures of moments we want to hold onto, I wanted those moments to be over while simultaneously not knowing what I could look forward to.
I decided to give the gym a try after a family friend suggested it gently, and because I felt I had nothing to lose. In other words: I embarked on the gym journey not out of a desire for an improved physique and girls, but out of a necessity to save my life, even though I was a skinny kid.
What did I mean by “…to do so with a purpose”? It means being present during the activity, and keep a track/log of it: being present is for safety, log-keeping is for performance improvements. I understand not everyone enjoys going to the gym to lift weights, because I certainly don’t see the appeal in spending an hour on the treadmill running, and my name is Ran. Below are a few examples of non-weightlifting gym activities that can do your body a lot of good, when done in moderation:
- So you want to run/swim? Good, there are several ways to make it more interesting: cover the same distance with less time (explosiveness), cover a longer distance at the same pace (endurance), cover a longer distance with a faster pace while increasing duration (endurance), etc.
- For swimming, learn as many of the four different strokes as you can: freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke.
- If you want to do yoga? Awesome (even if you don’t intend to look into the accompanying spiritual aspects)! Learn to breathe, increase the duration of your holds/stretches, learn more challenging poses once you have mastered the basics, etc.
- If you want to start taking out your aggression on actual punching bags? Be my guest (not literally)!
- If you are interested in the myriad of cardio-machines? Go ahead too, learn the proper techniques, and try not to get lost on the cellphone/TV screens.
Regardless of what appeals to you, one of the keys is to record your progress. Depending on your preference, this can be done by pen-and-pad or on your cellphone, you might even want to do so by taking pictures of yourself (try to keep the time, location, and lighting consistent). Progress in your written log normally corresponds positively to visible physical changes, which normally correlates with improvements in sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem. This is all excluding all the accompanying hormonal changes that result directly from physical activity.
Until then, don’t forget to unplug, we’ll Randezvous again.