Depression and exercise

Depression and exercise

I sprained my ankle three weeks ago, and I’ve gone full Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window; peering covetously out at the mobile world, blinds drawn against the sweltering heat. Remember that summer I was so desperate for? Yeah, it’s happened and I’m missing it all.
For the most part, it’s been fine. A blessing, almost. Being bound to my desk with my foot up on a cushion has been good for my productivity at a really crucial time, when I’m trying to market my e-book all by myself. But it also fucking sucks. I’m going to be a bridesmaid in September and I was supposed to have a supermodel physique by now. Instead I’m slowly getting squishier, like the contents of the butter dish – just replace ‘hot weather’ with ‘consolatory Dairy Milk’. Also, I’m not sleeping well. It’s hard to get tuckered out when your biggest exertion over the course of the day is hopping one-footed up and down the stairs.
But my biggest complaint isn’t my lack of ‘thigh gap’ or the quality of my sleep. It’s that exercise is as good for my mind as it is for my body, and for a while I’m going without.
Let’s get one thing straight: the idea that you can put on your running shoes and go cure yourself of depression is ignorant and misguided on so many levels. For a start, it implies that depression is a symptom of laziness or inertia; that it’s a character flaw of sorts. Suggesting a simple, one size fits all solution that reduces a potentially life-threatening illness to a matter of lifestyle is, to put it mildly, unhelpful.
Maybe you know a depressed person whose exercise is limited to shuffling between the sofa and the fridge, and you’re thinking ‘but of course getting up and about would make them feel better! That’s how endorphins work!’ And perhaps you’re right. It’s just science, after all. It’s also nearly entirely beside the point. Let’s imagine you have polio. Your muscles have degenerated to nothingness, and you can barely stand. That’s not to say you wouldn’t get a boost of endorphins from a little jogging, and who wouldn’t benefit from that? You should do it; it’ll be good for you. Yeah, that’s pretty much what you’re saying to your friend with depression.
Your depressed friend probably knows that if they could pull themselves out of bed and get their heart rate up a little, then sure, maybe they’d feel a bit better for a while. And maybe they wouldn’t. Don’t assume. Don’t assume that they don’t want to. Don’t assume that they haven’t spent all their mental energy that day just working up to the idea. Don’t assume they never put their running shoes on, and get as far as the front door before they’re hit with the heart breaking fact that they’re kidding themselves; that their body and their mind don’t care what they want; that they’re just not capable.
And if you’re not sure, then don’t assume your depressed friend isn’t even more active than you are. Save from these last few weeks, I work out three to five times a week, and guess what? Still not cured. In my case – ‘recovering’ is guess you could say – I can usually find it in me to get moving, and it’s as useful as part of maintaining a routine and personal confidence as it is for my brain chemicals.
It’s never comfortable to make changes like this one when I don’t know what the effect will be on my precarious health, but you know what? I’m fine. I think I’m as good as I’ve been all year. Maybe I’d be even better if I was still routinely working out, but I think it just goes to show that there’s nothing make or break about a little cardio; that you can’t cure yourself with exercise any more than you can induce clinical depression by skipping it; and that you should probably watch where you’re stepping if you don’t want to spend your summer imagining the murderous plotting of your shady neighbours.
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