Injury, illness, depression… and conquering it
As you probably know, I’m in the recovery stages of a 3 month-long illness. 6 weeks ago, while I was lying in bed, coughing, nursing a fractured rib and just generally feeling well and truly crap, I started googling. I was googling for 2 main reasons. The first was to find funny cat memes to cheer me up (obviously). The second, and probably more relavent reason, was to research how to deal with the mental fall-out of going from:
Person A: “Super-mega-sporty-happy-fit-get-up-early-and-exercise-enjoy-the-sunshine-YAAAY” person
Person B: “Oh-my-god-I-can’t-climb-the-stairs-and-I’m-in-SO-MUCH-PAIN-and-why-is-my-body-getting-so-squishy-and-I just-want-to-cry-all-the-time-WHHHHY-MEEEE?” Person
…within little over a month.
And I discovered, there is a LOT of information on the internet about how to deal with rebuilding your body physically after a debilitating injury or illness, when you transitioning from Person A to Person B. But there is not much about how to deal with the pappy mental effects of abruptly stopping a varied and vigorous exercise regime.
And bear in mind it’s not just the exercise regime that stopped overnight. It was the actual ability to move without excruciating pain. So here I was. I’d gone from moving, fast and frequently, to not really moving at all. Alone in the house. Bored, hurting, and absolutely miserable beyond belief. The lack of exercise-induced endorphins definitely affected how I was feeling, and dragged me into a state of annoyance, frustration, sadness and anger.
Well, here’s my gift to the internet- a little article to pop up on google for every person who types in “fitness injury illness feeling depressed”. I haven’t got a single scientific fact to offer, only experience. But if it’s got to the point that you’ve typed this horrid sentence into google, then a little advice at a time like this has its place. Here are my top tips for conquering those “poor me” gremlins that burrow into your brain when you are a former fitness bunny at the height of an illness or injury. Although you probably feel it right now, I just want to reiterate- you are not alone, my friend. You will feel better than this eventually, ok?!
Lesson 1: Promise not to about take your health for granted, going forward
Ok- first thing I need to get off my chest. Until this illness, I took my health and fitness for granted. I feel like I should apologise for that, but I don’t know who I should apologise to. I’m not even sure an apology is what’s needed, actually.
I think instead, I am ok to accept that taking your body (and all it can do) for granted, is a VERY silly (but also very natural and thus excusable) thing to do. If we, as humans, were as awe-struck at existing as we should be, life would be pretty unproductive. Waking up in the morning would become: “OH MY GOD I AM ALIVE!!! ALIVE!! What made life?! It is amazing! I AM AMAZING!! I am just cells and yet I am an actual HUMAN!!” We’d probably never make it out of the door. In the same vein, this human-ness we all possess means that we can adapt when physical adversity strikes- instead of curling up and shrivelling away at the injustice of it all.
So, while keeping in perspective the fact I basically only had an (albeit really bad) cough and nothing that was going to change my life forever, and at the same time avoiding collapsing in an awe-struck stupor at the very existence of the universe, I made the following pledge to myself whilst ill:
When I am better, I will be proud of any exercise I do, whether I’m slower or more tired than the day before, or even if I can’t do things other people in the class are able to. I may sometimes forget to appreciate the sheer amazingness of what it takes to make a person move, sweat, and feel happy due to thousands of little bursts of happy hormone, but I PROMISE to give a little gratitude to the universe that I am able to move and enjoy moving, of my own free will.
Lesson 2: Have a mope, it’s allowed. But keep that chin up and do NOT let it take over.
Do NOT feel guilty about moping, but just make sure you recognise it for what it is, give it it’s time and a place, and then onto something, anything else. Book, boxset, phone to friend (or invite someone over who you don’t mind seeing you with a sad little face in week old, sweaty PJs).
During this time you may have a cry or call your mum and put on a small little voice to maximise the sympathy she gives you. You may also drag yourself to the shop to buy icecream because it’s the only thing that will help (and you also want the cashier to ask you if you’re ok so you can get a bit of attention).
But sandwiched around this pity party, you must pledge to sleep, read all the books you brought because you liked the covers but then left in a dusty pile on the side, watch a boxset, call positive, happy and good friends who will chat about their day with you, sleep some more, eat wholesome and nutritious food (with small icecream injection) and then google (and even book if you know when you’re going to be better again) something fun to do when you are feeling yourself again. Your mind will get you through this.
You’re not unhealthily avoiding your emotions by only allowing yourself to mope for a short while at a time. You’re just in tune with the fact that the majority of a lot of the gloominess you’re feeling is actually brought about by chemicals in your brain, and yes they are allowed to sit and stew for a while, but not indefinitely. They don’t get to win. They can hang out for a bit, maybe a day or two, or a couple of hours a day. But then, they pack up their bags and leave. You are still you. You are still alive. Friends, family, home, security- hopefully these are all still intact. Be thankful.
Lesson 3: How to avoid this stupid predicament in future
Well my first piece of advice would obviously be not to kiss people who say they “just have a bit of a cold”, ugh. But, obviously, you might be of a slightly more discerning nature than I am, and a kiss with an unhealthy individual might not always be the thing that renders you bed-ridden. So instead, my advice would be to get in tune with your clever old bod and listen to it.
Learn the difference between your body saying “I’m sluggish because I need to do some exercise, take me for a gentle jog” and “nope, stay in bed today because we are tired, hurting and exhausted, thank you!” Listen to it. Ain’t nothin’ good going to come of you sweating in a 90 minute Bikram class with the tickle of a sore throat- it’s only going to make you wake up with an even more sore throat and wishing you’d gone home and had a couple of early nights.
Feeling burned out? Then be strong, stay true to yourself and say NO to that FOMO. Decline that invitation to the pub with your colleagues. Be honest with your pal and tell them you will be back on form at the weekend if you can just get an early night tonight. There is something quite admirable about a person who can say “thanks for the invite, but tonight is my staying-in night, and so I’m going home to rest”.
Make sure you are eating properly- veg, fruit, protein, grains. Fuel your body. Exercise to the best of your abilities and yes- constantly bite at the heels of your goals, but PROMISE me that you won’t push your body to the point of exhaustion… because then those goals are going to streak off into the distance, and you will be left in bed feeling useless, wishing you’d slowed the hell down a bit.
Now I’ve given you a mum lecture, I feel like we’re good here. Feel better! You won’t be feeling like this one day. Hard to believe, but believe it!