Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

I think I’ve mentioned before that after my Father died last year, some parts of my life went to hell in a butter-coated, deep-fried handbasket. The first anniversary of that event is about to roll around, and I realize that I’m still carrying the ‘couple’ of extra pounds that I gained back then.

One of the things that put me over the edge was a promising potential job offer that fell through right after I had returned home from the funeral back East. I became so despondent that I knew I finally had to seek help – in the form of therapy and strong anti-depressants. My subsequent slow return to normalcy felt like a minor miracle. Over time, I had more energy to walk the dog, more spirit to bring to work, more sparkle to share with my friends. And suddenly it dawned on me… I had been depressed for far longer than I realized, in fact for at least a year prior to my Dad’s death. In fact, well, I’d been depressed ever since I lost fifty pounds!

So wait a second, wasn’t losing all that weight supposed to make me cheerful, self-actualized and energetic? Wasn’t the purchase of a new wardrobe and an album-ful of new photos supposed to be proof positive of my transformation? Hmm. In fact, when I was at my highest weight, I was already ‘treating’ my depression, however inartfully, through the consumption of large quantities of fat and refined sugar. When I was able to kick all of that and lose weight in a healthy way, my brain chemistry didn’t change – just the chemistry of my food intake. So now instead of using donuts and candy, I had to treat my ongoing depression with more reliable methods.

The other day I was at the gym with a friend, feeling very self-congratulatory for having lifted weights for a half-hour, despite feeling very blue. When I signaled to John that I was leaving he said ‘what about your cardio?’ to which I replied ‘Nah. I already took a long walk today.’ And my wonderful, smart, caring, honest friend took me by the shoulders and said ‘Jonathan. We depressed people do cardio. Its how we cope. Endorphins. So give yourself 20 minutes.’ I grudgingly strode over to the machine, fuming at the unfairness of it all! But in the end, I did 30 minutes. And I smiled for the last 15.

12 thoughts on “Better Living Through Chemistry

  1. Laurie says:

    I know that exercise does wonderful things for my body. But for me, by far, the best benefit is for my spirit . . . my mental health. And it is that boost to my spirit that is my only hope for the serenity required to prevent binges. It is all related. For me, the physical benefits of exercise are just . . . oh dare I say it . . . icing on the you-know-what!

  2. Quinn says:

    Oh, Jonathan. Thank you so very much for this post. And you have all my sympathy for your loss. 😦

    Yes, depressed people need to do cardio EVERY day. In addition to meds and therapy. It really does help. 🙂

  3. Jane says:

    Great article! I love reading this site. Exercise does make a big difference in how we feel. I have to remind myself daily that I have to do it even when I don’t want to. I never realized that I was eating junk foods as a form of coping with my problems.

  4. Mary says:

    Jonathon, So true! – I consider my daily run medicine – that is so exhilerating that it is a spiritual experience! But afterwards I do get muscle tension (from weight training as well) and I’ve found I MUST also many times a day stretch heavily. Gosh, no matter how sore – the stretching re-energizes me like nothing else except running/weight training!! It’s all body tension – whether good from workouts or bad from stress! In fact, I’ve found that heavy carbs produce that feeling of stress/tension that these relieve too. I discovered that the more intense the stretches the more exhileration I got from them because I was trying to learn to do stuff like backbends, splits, etc. I’ve found that stretching eliminates tiredness!!! Yet I can stretch and go to sleep.. I’m never going to be heavy again, I’m so alive like this now! Mary

  5. ladymisstree says:

    For many months, the only thing that was keeping me functional was the cardio that I was doing every day. Eventually the depression I had got to the point where I needed better living through chemistry, but now with a combination of both, it’s a whole new world.

  6. mulaohu says:

    So true. About 10 minutes into my cardio I’m smiling like nobody’s business. So glad to hear I’m not the only one!!

    Thanks for the great column. And now, I must activate those endorphins.

  7. Richard says:

    Jonathan, Somemtimes it takes a good friend to remind us what we want and need. Thank you.

  8. marisa says:

    Great column, Jonathan. I fight mild depression constantly. I haven’t been able to fit cardio into my life yet, but hope to soon. One thing that makes a big difference for me is either Vitamin B6 or B12, 50 mg/day. (I take a B-complex that has 50 mg of each, as well as various amounts of other vitamins – can’t remember which one helps depression.) If I haven’t been taking this, one tablet lifts my mood within hours.

  9. Jane says:

    THANK YOU!!!! i forced myself into an extra cardio session today [i’ve been slacking again!]. intervals. and after JUST a few minutes i felt better.

    i think i’m going to add ENDORPHINS to my daily pep talk – they’re nice!!!!

  10. poly says:

    Ironically, the 50 pounds I gained in ONE year were due to the meds!

    Cardio. Everyday. I can’t agree with this more. Getting off the drugs was extremely important to me but also very scary. I was being treated for PTSD and come from a long line of chronically depressed women. So I tapered off the meds and got serious about health and fitness last year. It took several months but I found that the exercising did and continues to have a profound and positive impact on my mood and self-esteem. (Hasn’t helped the sleeping problem but then, neither did the chemicals).

    Thanks for this post, Jonathan.

  11. k says:

    Good clean healthy food (plenty veg, fish fruit, NO processed things at all!) + no alcohol + no caffeine + exercise + enough sleep takes my baseline mood from depressed and hopeless to really chirpy.

    If I forget, and go back to old habits, it takes about 2 weeks of the ‘good’ regime for the happiness to kick in. Remarkable stuff.

  12. marisa says:

    k, I think I’ll try your regime. I’m mainly missing the sleep, and I do love to have a half-glass of wine most days. I am quite conscious that alcohol is a depressant, though, even in minimal amounts – at least for me.

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