Years (and years) ago, my brother and I (rather sadly) played a computer golfing game. Our shots would often hit the trees, roll into bunkers, or miss the fairway by half a lunar mile. There was a completely hilarious commentary kept up by two faceless american-accented men. Any time we would hit a tree, one would remark to the other, “Looks like he hit the tree, Jim.” Exactly the same words, and tone, each time. We were in fits of hysterics the first few times it happened. So after a while we gave up on trying to sink the little ball in the hole. We just basically tried to whack it at the trees. So much juvenile fun.
This week, when I joined my local gym, I tweeted to my brother, “Looks like I hit the gym, Tree.” He was bemused, and everyone else was most likely mystified or hurriedly clicking the ‘Unfollow’ button. [Ah, no. I followed another loony one.]
Exercise and I have been…estranged… for the last decade or so. Let us list, very quickly, the things that are responsible for this: year12-boyfriend-fiancee-husband-goodfood-studying-sedentaryjobs-threekids-depression-and-not-enough-partridges-or-pear-trees. Got that? I particularly like the way I managed to blame James four times (boyfriend-fiancee-husband-goodfood). No I don’t. I hate it. The whole list of excuses annoys me. But the fact of the matter is, there are good reasons sometimes why we don’t hit the gym. And sometimes it’s because we’re actually busy trying to sink a hole-in-one. Other worthy things often take our focus away from good habits.
The link between exercise and good mood has been made many times. Endorphins get bandied about a lot in conversation. For the last few years, during my most depressed times, I have seriously struggled not to hit people who have suggested that all I need is exercise and I’ll feel very different. Depression not only disturbs your mood, but also your energy levels, your motivation, your thought-processes, your sleep, and your concentration.
Post-natally, there are also issues for those contemplating exercise. A weirdly-different body, possibly still recovering from major trauma (caesareans, internal injuries, tears), often breastfeeding (where-o-where to find time to be fitted for a good sports bar in size 14Double-Bazillion, or the suitcase of cash to pay for one? Can I get a bra for my other floppy bits too?), perhaps with continence issues, and so, so tired. When a walk doesn’t feel like ‘enough’, people like me think if we can’t do exercise ‘properly’ we won’t do it at all. Add to that the predictable pressure of comparison to the strange breed of famous women who ‘lose’ their ‘baby weight’ and ‘get their body back’. You end up with motivation in the negative. Yes, there are many women who are wonderful and manage to ignore all the pressure, who are not perfectionists and don’t hold to the all-or-nothing imperative, and just get on with things. And there are many women who are wonderful, and falter.
I faltered. In some ways, I’m glad. I ate well, and that fuelled three years of breastfeeding (one for each child) very well. Many depressed people go off food and struggle to eat healthily. If I ever go off my food you will know that I’m at death’s door. Food and I are good friends (except when I’m in the early stages of pregnancies, of course). Plus, food gives us mums the energy we need for this demanding job.
But exercise has been largely missing from my life. I am now convinced that it is also going to be an important part of my recovery process.
So, I have joined the gym. As a side note, this has coincided with a reduction in my medication. So far, so good. Brilliant, actually. Far from wanting to hit the people who suggest endorphins will help, I now want to high-five them. It’s true. How annoying.
Of course, if you know someone is clinically depressed, it’s not a good idea to go in all-guns-blazing and tell them exercise will create a smooth path to wellness. They might hit you.