By Margie Clegg
San Francisco is notorious for its fog. It is not uncommon to be surrounded by the dark mist for days without seeing the sun. Sometimes you begin to wonder if you’ll ever see it again. Its chilling dampness can make you want to stay home alone in bed under the covers rather than explore the day. The fog is dark, cold, and isolating. This is what depression feels like.
As a depression survivor I know how isolating depression can feel. You lose your passion for life and everything you’ve loved. You have no motivation. You feel alone and like there’s no end to the sadness and hopelessness that follow your thoughts and feelings everywhere.
This was me a few years ago. I am one of the 17.3 million (nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml) people in the U.S. who suffer or have suffered from depression. It is not glamorous and is often a taboo subject for many families to discuss. While physical illness is treated with empathy, mental illness is often looked at as a person’s weakness or fault. The worst part of depression is the feeling of being all alone – that there is no one who understands. That is why I am sharing my story. It is my hope that by sharing my struggles, others who are suffering from depression may know that they are not alone.
Several years ago, I suffered from depression. But it wasn’t just affecting me. It was affecting those around me. Particularly my husband and dog. It was the look of hurt of my husband’s face as he told me he couldn’t live that way anymore that finally started my path to recovery.
I didn’t know exactly where to begin so I literally started with a small step—I took Jax for a walk. I didn’t start too ambitiously. We started with a .5 mile walk to see the goats up the road and turned around to go home. There was something about seeing his eyes light up when he saw those goats that made me do it again the next day.
That next day we continued up the small hill past the goats. Day by day, we went just a little bit farther. It wasn’t long before I was mapping out longer and different routes we could take to keep the walks interesting.
Each day, I noticed Jax becoming better behaved. But more importantly, I was building a momentum of confidence. It was this growing confidence that nudged me to start lifting weights.
My self-worth and confidence began to skyrocket. One of the amazing things about beginning a lifting program is that the early gains can be exponential. Month after month, I was investing in heavier weights and new equipment. I started seeing muscles and fitting in clothes that I hadn’t in years.
I can’t say the exact day, but I remember waking up one morning before my alarm, feeling excited about the day. Not only was I looking forward to my walking and lifting, I was looking forward to life. The fog had lifted, and the sun returned.
You’ve probably heard that exercise is good for the mind and body. I am a believer. Endorphins are real. I walked and lifted my way out of depression. I know exercise alone may not be enough for everyone, but it worked miracles for me. I am fortunate enough that I was able to alleviate my depression through exercise alone.
The biggest takeaway I have is to start small. In hindsight, that was the secret to my success. Even if it’s just a step a day, the steps add up. When you are depressed, any win is a win, so set your sights low and build momentum. Know that depression doesn’t have to last forever, and like the San Francisco fog, it eventually lifts.