Conquering Depression: Exercise Helps

Exercising Makes Me Happy by  VBTypography  (Victoria Breton) on etsy

Exercising Makes Me Happy by VBTypography (Victoria Breton) on etsy

In the summer of 2012, I started writing about depression. Ultimately, I wrote thirteen articles that were published monthly at the online magazine Scoutie Girl.
A part of it includes my experience with a long, dark episode of depression. But mostly, my goal has been to remind myself of good things to do and help others to help us when we’re unwell: something I couldn’t do when I was down.
The first full week of October 2015 encompasses Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, so I thought, why not republish these? So, here they are. Where possible, the articles exist as they did in 2012-2013, with links to originals.

Conquering Depression: Exercise Helps


When things were really bad, in the bottom of my major depressive episode, I could barely get out of bed. My ultimately life-saving partner would coax me up and walk me downstairs to the couch for the day’s adventure. As I got better, he would put me in the car and take me on little driving trips, like to a local lake or the riverfront, just to sit and have a look at something else for a change. He took me on a summer trip that I only really remember through reconstructed stories and pictures (the whole trip was a bit overwhelming, and either the illness or the meds I was trialling seemed to have taken parts of my memory).

Before being sick, though, I had always been active. I raced BMX in junior high, played basketball in high school, swam competitively in college, and learned to cross-country ski as a little kid on the snowy prairies. As an adult, I had swum Masters meets and competed in triathlons. I know that exercise makes me feel better, and there was nothing I could do to force myself to the levels of exercise that I had been accustomed to. In so many ways, I desperately wanted my situation to change, to get better; meds didn’t work so I had to grasp on to something to help.

So I started small, and asked for help.

I had been seeing my acupuncturist twice a week. He is also a physical therapist, and from the start, he encouraged me to do some exercise at my level. In the beginning, he would check with me to see if I was able to walk to the end of the block — three houses away. As I built up my strength, I moved on to walking partway around the block and back, and then around the block, and then further, until two years later, I was swimming (my regular) 2500m in the pool and skiing 25km per week. The point is that with dedication, I could increase my amounts of exercise, and get to a level that I had been at before.

And the exercise led me to feel.

It might have been the wind on my cheeks, or my lungs puffed up and sore, or tightness in my legs or arms, but it was feeling something. Part of depression is the sheer lack of feeling. Doing exercise and experiencing changes in my body felt like being “better,” and that was the ultimate goal.

It’s a myth that if you are able to exercise, you can’t also have depression. Exercise, at your level, is a tool to help you to feel better on your path to becoming healthy.

It’s also a myth that if you’re athletic, you won’t have depression. Canadian Olympic speed skater and cyclist (yes, she competes in both winter and summer Olympics) Clara Hughes has experienced depression, and recovered. Partnered with communications company Bell, her third Let’s Talk Day is coming up on February 12. [EDITED TO ADD: On September 22, 2015, Bell Canada announced its continued support for mental illness, and several other spokespeople are now also involved.] Clara Hughes shows how important it is to talk about it. And I know that keeping moving makes things just a little bit better.

So, tell me, how does physical movement fit into your day? Do you feel better when you’re doing it? Or does the feel-good come afterward? If you aren’t currently in a rhythm of exercising daily, what’s a small step that you’d like to take to get your body moving?

Note: I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this.