Friday, June 19, 2015

Weightlifting as Medication

Despite dealing with depression and anxiety in some form for pretty much my whole life, I've never taken actual medication for it. Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way: I have 0 problems with people who take medication for depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health issues. Mental health illnesses are diseases just like physical illnesses are diseases and sometimes when you get sick you need to take medicine. I admire people who are brave enough to overcome social stigmas about talking about and treating mental illness, and do something about it. They are brave in ways that I am not.

I don't take medication to treat myself. I lift weights.

I think the experience of lifting weights is different for everyone who does it. If you go to a powerlifting meet, or even just to a gym, you see a full range of... styles I guess. You see dudebros who hang out on a bench for 15 minutes chatting with one another before cranking out one set of benchpresses. You see giant monsters who lurk around the gym quietly before SCREAMING as they go for a PR on a heavy deadlift. And you see everything in between. There are as many mental approaches and personal ticks in weightlifting as there are weightlifters. Everybody is different.

Weightlifting is very meditative for me. In fact, it's pretty much the only thing I've ever done in my life that allows me to successfully clear my mind for any period of time. If you see me walking around during the day, I'm probably thinking about five thousand different things. Chances are, that 4,000 of those things are worst-case-scenarios. I often can't sleep at night because I'm up late worrying about whether I'll get food poisoning from the cheeseburger I had for dinner and whether or not we'll ever be able to tackle climate change in a meaningful way when half of the US population doesn't even believe it's a thing. Here are 10 other dumb things that give me anxiety, in case you're curious.  I'm fortunate in that my anxiety is (usually) not crippling. I'm aware of it. I know it's there. And most of the time I can go on with life in a mostly normal way.

In fact, sometimes I actually think my anxiety is good in that it allows me to see the world in a way that not everyone gets to see it. That's probably a whole other blog, "The Silver Linings of Living with Anxiety." Some other time, maybe.

When I go to the gym though, and I'm deadlifting/squatting/benching/cleaning/jerking/snatching/etc., all of that anxiety goes away. When I touch the bar, and focus on my form, and the weight, and the simple action of moving the weight from point A to point B, all of those worries big and small flow out of me, and into the bar. As I move the weight, it's like I'm also moving my anxiety and my depression. They diminish. They grow smaller. They disappear. Just for a little while, the world goes away. When I lift weights, I'm quiet. My mind and my body are connected. As much as I ever feel... one with the universe, I guess, it's at the time I'm weightlifting. It's basically the only time I ever feel calm.

There are other anxiety and depression fighting benefits that come from lifting weights too, beyond that simple sort of meditation that happens during the actual act:

  1. We live in a society that tells you that your body is primarily valuable for the way it looks. As your body grows stronger, you learn to value it for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.
  2. With that said, if you lift weights enough, your body will start to look better. As you grow stronger, your body literally grows bigger. That can be a powerful confidence builder if you let it be.
  3. Weightlifting is something controllable and quantifiable. When life feels like it's spun out of control- work is crazy, your family life is nuts, everything on the news is bleak- weightlifting is often the only thing in life that you have power over.
  4. It's hard. Weightlifting is hard. If it wasn't hard, as they say, everyone would do it. But doing something hard on a regular basis- making yourself do it, and going in each and everyday- you see results. It teaches you discipline, and it shows you that discipline gets results. It helps you develop habits that you can apply to the other parts of your life and can make a real, positive, and lasting change on them.
  5. Friendships. I've met so many wonderful people through weightlifting at my gym, Crossfit Defined. I'm thankful everyday for them. 
I sort of wish that weightlifting wasn't so strongly associated with hyper-aggressive douchebags. Because it doesn't have to be that- it doesn't have to be about dudebros attempting to assert their dominance (or what they believe to be dominance) over the world and the people in it. It can be about meditation, and personal improvement, and friendship. It can be a powerful medication for those of us who struggle with mental illness- a welcome oasis in a desert of worst-case scenarios.

1 comment:

  1. Really well written post! Sums up many of my thoughts on why I like weightlifting in ways I wasn't able to communicate.