How I Gained 15 Pounds and the Courage to Move to Spain
I have been putting off writing this post for a while. Everything that happened in 2016 is still so fresh on my mind and I am not sure if I have processed all of it completely. It is one of those big emotional boulders that are almost too overwhelming to conquer all at once. However this topic is very important to me, and I know at the beginning of the year when I was buried under the darkness of depression and anxiety, I could've really benefited from seeing a post on how someone dug themselves out of that hole. I hope this will help anyone who might feel suffocated and paralyzed by depression and/or anxiety see that they are capable of rising above it.
Backstory: In June 2015 I moved from the Pacific Northwest back home to Knoxville, TN. I moved because I was severely depressed, in a job that felt wrong for me, in a city where I had very few friends or support system (besides my friends Gina and Flora who I will never be able to thank enough for being so there for me during that time). I was struggling to feed myself, was having regular panic attacks and generally was not in a state to make good decisions for my own wellbeing. That being said, a decision I don't think I will ever regret is moving home to take care of myself and heal, despite having to "quit" and turn my back on something I was so sure was right for me initially. I decided facing the embarrassment of moving home and starting again was better than toughing out a life that I knew was wrong for me and contributing to my mental illness.
So I began again. I moved home and got a job doing something I knew I loved, working with children as a preschool teacher. At this time I felt like I didn't know myself at all, but digging deep to remember my love of children and deciding to just forget everything else and focus on that for a minute was one of the best decisions I could have made. My brain was trying to complicate everything, and this decision was simple. Through that job I was able to regain a sense of my own happiness, relearn the importance of self-care, and meet some of the most dear people to my heart. Among those people, I met my trainer, Shamir Peshewa Jackson, who helped me discover my love of fitness and ultimately change my own life through hard work and self discovery.
So, without further ado, here is a list of the steps that took me from feeling weak, small, and depressed, to strong, capable, and determined. These steps gave me the courage to fight for the physical strength I'd always longed for, and turn my dream of moving to Spain into a reality.
1. I stopped buying my own excuses
Somewhere during this time I remember hearing a quote that stuck with me. "Don't believe everything you think." I realized that just because I had this internal negative monologue that felt constant and never-ending, didn't mean I had no other choice but to listen to it and take it as the truth. I had power over my thoughts and could change them and rise above them. Here's a list of things I was telling myself that I slowly started to realize I should stop believing:
- I am weak, and small and physical limitations will always prevent me from feeling strong.
- I am incapable of sticking to a consistent work out routine. I am too busy and tired and incapable of self-discipline to ever make that happen.
- Other people are stronger than me and that will always be the case.
- I can't move to Spain because people will judge me and I will fail again and have to move home again.
- I don't have any right to feel depressed. My life is fine and everything is fine and I am being stupid and ridiculous for feeling this way. I am weak because I am letting depression rule me.
I realized I could let these thoughts rule me for the rest of my life, or I could realize that these were just excuses I was making to get out of the hard work I knew it would take to change my own life. I started to see through these excuses and recognize them for what they were: fear. Fear of failing and fear of judgement. Shamir helped me realize that I could choose to let fear rule me, or I could be firm with myself, stop working so hard to fight change and start putting that energy into taking control over my circumstances.
2. I decided to love myself stubbornly
This is something that I will readily say that two year olds taught me. Two year olds are stubborn and strong-willed and have some of the most passionate spirits I've ever known. I will be honest and say that some of the more difficult children at the preschool got under my SKIN! Children are great at that. But you know what the most difficult kids taught me? They just want to be loved. Sometimes they require even more love than the other children. You can fight them all day, but if you choose to send them love instead, most likely they'll curl up in your arms, calm down, and eat their snack in peace.
So, learning this made me realize, why can't I start treating myself like the most difficult child? Instead of fighting myself and punishing myself day in and day out, why can't I choose to love myself the most instead? Why can't I send myself the same love that I send my "extra special friends" when they are having extra special melt-downs?
So I decided to remind myself of this when I was being hard on myself. Choose love, not self-punishment. Love myself no matter how mad I was, how depressed I felt, and how unworthy I believed myself to me. Fighting self-love felt like playing with a Chinese finger-trap, and leaning in instead of repelling myself ended up being the only way to get out of negative mental cycles.
3. I sought help
My mom is a therapist, so for a long time I for some reason thought this made going to see a therapist unnecessary, which sounds extremely counterintuitive now that I'm writing it out. I think this thought was exaggerated by the self-judgement I was having regarding seeking help. Realizing it is SO okay, and necessary to admit when you need help was crucial to my healing. I went into my first therapy session, not knowing what to expect, and came out with the realization that my dream of moving to Spain was valid and I deserved to love myself enough to follow it. I will never forget that day, because it was the day I began to realize it was okay if my dreams were different than other people's, and that internally I really had everything I needed to make myself happier.
My therapist and my trainer played key roles in helping me regain that sense of self-worth. I was learning that the "difficult child" in me deserved enough love to gain mental growth through therapy, and physical growth through fitness.
4. I decided if I wanted big changes, I needed to make big changes
Fitness became more of a priority for me as I went from feeling weak to realizing I was capable of more strength than I ever knew. Physical activity is the best way to combat depression and anxiety that I've ever found, so it became a crucial part of my routine. I realized a lot of people quit working out because at first it makes them feel weak and incapable, and therefore bad about themselves. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't feel that way at first. But once I started leaving the gym feeling strong, I realized that you have to stick out hard things long enough to start seeing the results that you know are on the other side. I always thought my bone tumor would prevent me from certain physical activities, but gently pushing against that idea proved that my body was capable of more than I realized. Not only could I be strong, like for-real strong, but I LOVED feeling strong! I started working out 4-6 times a week and went from lifting 3-5 lb. weights to lifting 20 lb. weights over the course of about 6 months. I worked with my trainer to develop a diet plan, began eating way more than I was used to in order to develop the muscle I wanted, and gained about 15 lbs within the year.
All of this did wonders for my sense of capability, and ultimately I don't know if I would have followed through with my plan to move to Spain had I not had fitness to guide my recovery and develop my confidence.
5. I worked my ass off
This stuff was not easy. I heard a lot of things that sometimes made me self-conscious and wonder if I should really be as proud of myself as I was slowly starting to feel.
"Well it's easier for you because you started out skinny."
"Are you sure you want to get any bigger than you are now?"
I heard things like this a lot and turned to Shamir for guidance in dealing with the words of others. She made me realize that yes, in fact, I was working my ass off. Turns out, it can be even harder to gain muscle weight than it is to burn fat. Not only was I working incredibly hard to change my body, but I was also pushing myself mentally in cultivating self-love, which for me was even harder than building muscle. These things were and still are processes and everyone has their own, but just because mine looks different than other people's didn't mean I wasn't worthy of feeling incredibly proud of the work I had put in.
6. I watched in awe as I surpassed my own goals, and then I set new ones.
In the summer, after I had put in some serious physical and mental work, I made some decisions that would require even MORE work, though the difference now was that I knew I was capable. 1. I decided definitively that I would move to Spain in the fall. 2. I decided to enter a Spartan race with my work out community.
I had never done anything anywhere near as physically strenuous as a Spartan race, and all of my work out friends were so strong and capable. The "difficult child" in me wanted to ask what the hell I thought I was doing acting like I was on their level. But I pushed past that thought and trained with them anyway, all while filing all my Visa paperwork, getting my Spain plans situated and flying to Houston to apply for my Visa to live and work in Spain. I was blown away as I watched myself check off the to-do lists for both of these giant goals. I shocked myself by seeing the impossible work outs my trainer came up with for Spartan training and completing them alongside peers I was so impressed by. We completed our Spartan race, staying together the whole time, and I can say without a doubt I have never been more proud of myself than I was at that finish line.
Going from depression and self-punishment to happiness and self-love was a trying and challenging road, and I definitely still struggle with anxiety and depression regularly. The difference is now I know I have the tools and the abilities to choose self-love, to work hard, to fight the negative thoughts, and to accomplish things I never would've dreamed possible.
I spent a year choosing to love myself over and over and over again. It was a battle, but I won. I gained 15 pounds of muscle and developed the courage to move to a foreign country. I was still afraid of failure, but I had taken the steps to prove to myself that I could do hard things. I could still make myself vulnerable, try something scary that I'd always wanted for myself, and actually succeed. Just taking one goal, the goal of feeling stronger, devising a plan, and making it happen, had the ripple effect of showing me that I could actually turn my goals into my reality. I am now living in Spain and am training for my second Spartan Race that will take place this spring. Depression and anxiety never go away, but if we just work little by little to prove to ourselves that we are stronger than the things we think are limiting us, we end up realizing that most of the time these limits don't really exist, we just need to love ourselves stubbornly enough to rise above them.