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Monday, May 8, 2017

Drugs, Depression, Deadlifts: Lifting My Way Out Of Darkness

"I’ve always been weird and funny but I’m much more sure of myself now." 

Nivana Campos lifting barbell | www.TheFittestBlogger.com



I, verbatim, spoke these words to my weightlifting coach very recently. At 26 years old, I can finally say that I am mentally, physically, and emotionally strong – and I owe it all to joining El Jefe Barbell Club, in Silver Spring, MD.

I am four years outside of an oxycodone and neurotic wine habit. Three years outside of weekly visits to a cognitive behavioral therapist for severe depression. Two years into being a dedicated Olympic Weightlifter. And at 2:13 in the morning, I am blogging one hour post-workout.

Nearly a decade, I have done it all. The self-medicating, the prescribed medication, the hiding, the self-inflicted emotional abuse – but as I sit here, eating and drinking water from my favorite Nalgene water bottle, and I can say that 

"I have reached a point where my mental stability is no longer dependent upon a substance outside of myself."

Six days out of the week, I make an effort to step foot into a gym.

Depending on my work schedule that might mean training before work, training in the afternoon, or like tonight, training very late. Regardless of whatever commitments I do have, I make my training a priority.

It is somewhat of a conflicting idea to acknowledge that I, someone who at times is heavily depressed, am able to maintain an arduous training regimen. Some might find my illness less credible because it does indeed seem rather oxymoronic: depression and lifting heavy ass weights – they seem to be on opposite spectrum of what we’re told to look for when pinpointing someone who is mentally ill. (Well, it’s not.)

It’s the reason why I am now progressing in my personal and professional life. Six years ago I was weak minded, I was timid, and I was afraid that people would find out about how sick I was. I shaved my head in the beautiful fashion of 2007 Britney Spears and I was high as fuck while I did it.

I have acknowledged that I am now what is considered a high functioning depressive. I am able to function to a higher degree than some of my fellow counterparts with depression. Unfortunately “high functioning” does not mean that I am spared of the darker aspects of depression.

"Very recently I found myself with very strong suicidal thoughts. I share this because weightlifting hasn’t magically fixed my mind, but it has provided me with the tools to cope with my depression."

These coping mechanisms allowed me to channel the irrationality of those thoughts, these coping mechanisms helped guide me away from hurting myself. And I am blessed enough to currently find myself here, writing.

It’s taken years of learning and listening to myself to notice when an episode was developing. With constant effort and developing positive habits, I have been able to offset some of the debilitating aspects of my mental illness.

That being said, episodes are now addressed with a barbell.

I firmly believe that the best practice for attacking a depressive episode is to continue following your schedule.

I follow a regimented weightlifting program, inside a gym six days a week, and in order to overcome negative thoughts, I could not deviate from my fixed schedule.

I have experienced these episodes enough to know that what I was feeling was not going to go away immediately — but it would eventually. This small optimistic thought allowed for the following to occur.

I forced myself to take a shower, I forced myself to put food into my mouth, I forced myself to go to the gym, I forced myself to complete my program for the day, I forced myself to reach out to friends, I forced myself to then drive home, and I forced myself to not fixate on the thought that, on that day, I genuinely thought it better to die than to continue living inside a body that is capable of such extreme, painful, and suffocating thoughts.

Exercise, fitness, wellness, all may seem very difficult and nearly impossible from an outside perspective. Maybe even more so from someone who is living with debilitating emotions.

But I can assure whoever is reading this that while motivation is fleeing, habits are where we grow as people. I did not lift weights today because I was motivated. I was actually very exhausted from my day. But, I picked up a barbell because I know that weightlifting is a sport that challenges my mental and physical strength.

I have grown because of this. And I will continue to grow as a person, the longer I continue being active and striving to improve myself.

My final tidbit. There is no magical formula for getting fit, for getting healthy, for being the best you can be. It really simply comes down to one thing; do you have the will to show up?

I am proof that obstacles, internal or external, can be overcome through exercise. Will squatting allow for someone to stop taking medication? Maybe not. But I know that I am prescription free and I so very proud to say that it all came down to taking a chance on myself. I walked into a gym where I was a novice, I walked in scared and unsure, I walked in high for the first six months because I was anxious and afraid of my illness being found out. But I persisted and I am so much healthier and mentally stable because of it.
I fell in love with a sport and that sport has done more for me than all those hours I spent inside of a doctor’s office, crying, and attempting to dissect what was so wrong with my mind.

Mental illness is not inherently a weakness. Physical strength can be developed. Mental toughness can be taught. You simply need to wake up and make a conscious effort to place your wellbeing first. Whether it starts in the gym, or outside on a high school track, your entire being will thank you in a few months if you are able to make that small commitment to just show up.

Then show up again, and again, and again, even when you don’t want to. Force yourself to be uncomfortable. I swear on my deepest admiration of Samwise Gamgee that you will be glad that you did. Happy Lifting!


Nivana Campos. 26. Olympic weightlifting badass. Obsessed with Hobbits and currently working on bringing to life an expansive agricultural business venture, starting in her family's hometown in Peru.

Have you gone through depression or thoughts of suicide? If so please don't be afraid to reach out in your moments of despair. If you have no one to talk to, please reach out to the Suicide Prevention by Texting 741741. It's free and confidential.


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