All I wanted was to get back to who I used to be before I sank into depression – until a doctor told me I probably never would…
Today is World Mental Health Day and seeing hashtags like #ItsOkNotToBeOk trending is really encouraging.
However, I’ve felt like what I’ve seen of the conversation in general today has been rather lacking in practical advice.
I totally get the reasons for this, unless you’re a mental health professional you don’t feel well placed to offer advice.
However, I think it could be helpful for those of us who’ve experienced depression to not only talk what’s it like but also to share what has helped us deal with it.
Otherwise it’s a bit like letting everyone know they’re not alone in their suffering but not really offering much hope that it’ll end.
So, let’s go there.
First, I recommend you read the post I wrote a while ago where I talked about my depression, otherwise I’ll have to repeat a lot of the same stuff.
I’ll pick up from where that left…
Once again, please remember I’m talking about my own personal experience of depression here. This is not mental health advice and I’m not saying anyone else is the same. I’m just sharing my own story on the off-chance it’ll offer someone out there a bit of hope.
It definitely wasn’t like getting over a physical illness.
Like I said in my last post, the most common question people ask is how long it took to “recover”.
I simply can’t answer that question. Because in a way I never did recover from the depression. Not in the sense of getting back to how I was before I was depressed anyway.
I was working at the BBC at the time and because I’d been off sick for several months I was summoned to see the BBC’s own GP.
My memories are quite blurred. Given the state I was in you’d expect me to be terrified about having to be assesed in this way by my employer, but I was so numb, I think I was actually just sad it had come to that.
Anyway, the BBC doctor said something to me which shocked me at the time, but was actually quite brilliant. The conversation went something like:
Me: I really hate being like this, all I want is to get back to who I was before.
Dr. BBC: You need to accept that you probably won’t ever get back to who you were before. This is going to change you. Think of yourself like Dr. Who when he changes. You’ll still be you, but it’ll be a very different you, like the new Dr. Who.
Looking at this now, I’m thinking this will probably sound a like a load of meaningless nonsense to most people. But at the time, it really helped.
It didn’t instantly set me on the road to happiness. I didn’t walk out of the consulting room feeling like I’d had any kind of revelation. Far from it, there was lots more to be done before my transition to “the new Dr. Who”. But it stuck with me and was one of the things that helped.
Gradually it sank in that rather than trying to rebuild my old self I needed to find my new self.
In many ways I’m still looking.
This mindset has helped me tremendously.
Someone asked me on Twitter today: “Are depressives ever fully healed or do we just understand/learn how to cope?”
This is another common question.
For me, it has helped not to think of it as healing, but rather a journey. I look back on my period of depression like a long and painful transition from who I was before to the beginnings of who I am now.
When a caterpillar goes into a chrysalis it’s old form is all but turned to mush before the new creature takes shape. For me, this was part of becoming someone who knows our personalities aren’t fixed, that who she is doesn’t have to be determined by who she was.
Learning this has opened up a lot of possibilities for me.
How did that girl who was picked last in PE class and leaves school with a grade E in English GCSE become a nationally published journalist and then a best-selling fitness author?
By knowing that who she was, was not fixed, she could change.
Change is scary and often very painful. I sometimes wonder if my depression was steeped in resistance to change combined with unhappiness with my life as it was. When it began I had recently got out of rather toxic six year relationship which I’d been in since the age of 17. (But that definitely wasn’t the only factor.)
In the months and years that followed I read a ton of self-help books. I wrote journals. I began learning about myself and how to take care of myself.
I can’t remember anyone recommending exercise as an aid to recovery. Maybe they did and I’ve forgotten or maybe I just remembered how much calmer, clearer headed and happier I’d felt after doing Jane Fonda and Cindy Crawford videos workout in my late teens.
Anyway, I joined a gym and started exercising, on and off, fairly regularly.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year things started coming together. “I” started coming together. Very gradaully I began to feel a wholeness, a contentedness, a happiness I honestly can’t remember having ever before.
Maybe some of this is a normal part of getting older. I don’t know how it is for anyone else. But I feel like I needed to go through what I went through in order to experience it.
My journey continues. I’m constantly still discovering more about who I am, what brings me fulfilment and what happiness looks like for me.
I’m not always happy, content and “whole” all of the time, far from it. I still have a lot of crap going on in my head, I still have dark days, I still have self-doubts and all of the rest of it. But I have a lot of tools and tactics to put myself back on course.
This is why I’m grateful depression happened to me.
Maybe it’s still in me. Maybe as my friend on Twitter suggested we depressives just learn to understand ourselves and cope. But if that’s the case, I’m OK with it. It’s part of who I am and not only has what I learned from it helped me, it has helped me to help others in my work as a fitness professional.
I don’t know if what I’ve said here will be of any comfort to anyone. When you’re in depths of darkness knowing that someone else found a torch can be as annoying as it is reassuring.
But I thought it was worth sharing, just in case.
Anyway, let’s all keep talking about this stuff. I’d love to get your thoughts on this post – come chat with me on my social media channels.
Do you dislike or even hate how your body looks and want to change it with diet and exercise?
Yet you struggle to consistently make yourself exercise or eat healthily?
Maybe there have been times when you nearly cracked it, but doing that never really quite felt like the real you. In fact, it was an exhausting chore, an act you just couldn’t sustain.
So, now you’re in a position where you’ve failed (probably several times) at changing your body. It’s starting to seem like you never will.
The worst part is, you can’t get yourself to accept your body as it is either.
No matter how many messages are fired at you telling you to love your body, you just can’t, because you don’t.
Now, forget about that for a minute, and humour me by thinking about the following weird scenario…
We’ll take a random “average” person and task them with looking after a pet. It can be a dog, cat, bird, whatever, I’ll leave that your imagination.
Anyway, pheewee! The person we gave this pet to does not like it at all.
They find it ugly, believe it’s offensive to other people, and also that it’s guilty of just being plain “wrong”. Not only can they not bring themselves to love this pet, they don’t even find it acceptable.
As you’d expect when they feel that way about it, having this creature living with them is making their life pretty miserable.
And what kind of care do you think they give this pet? Not great, eh?
Sure, guilt and a sense of responsibility might make them give it some care, especially if they feel like someone is monitoring them, but it’ll be the bare minimum they think they can get away with, and they’ll probably give that minimal possible grudgingly, probably with mounting resentment toward the creature.
They’ll mostly likely look for ways to get someone else to take care of it for them, or maybe there’s a machine that can do it automatically without them putting in the time and effort, or better still a pill they can give that pet that’ll mean they don’t have to do anything.
Clearly this pet is not going to thrive.
We can’t have that.
Let’s take the pet away from that person and give it to someone else.
You know how it goes with pets – a creature one person thinks is horrid can be seen quite differently by another person.
Person Two is different. Ahhh, they love it!
Sure, they know it might not win any rosettes at a pet show, but they have no reason to care about that, that’s not important to them because they don’t think that’s what pets are for. To them it’s beautiful! It is full of love and life and tries it’s best to follow their every command. It makes their lives better every day.
What sort of care do you think the pet is going to get from this person? They’ll do the best very best they can to nurture it, to keep it healthy and give it a happy life. What’s more, taking care of it will feel like a pleasure and privilege.
…I think you see where I’m going with this.
If you are hating on your body, this will continue to perpetuate itself and will keep on making you miserable.
In the rare cases where people manage to leverage that hate to compel themselves to make changes, they hardly ever sustain them. Those few, who do, usually continue to hate their bodies because they don’t know how they’d sustain their new body shape without that self-shame as motivation.
Here comes the cliché you’ve been bracing for…
The only key to get you out of this nightmarish prison is to make healthy choices because you love your body not because you hate it.
I know it’s not the first time you’ve heard this message, but maybe this could be the time when the truth of it really sinks in.
For sure, coming to love your body after years of criticism and hate requires a lot of adjustment. It’s very doubtful it’ll happen in an instant “aha moment” after reading this blog. It’s possible for some it could, but be ready for what’s most likely – you’ll have to keep reminding yourself of this truth:
Hating your body is a very ineffective way of bringing the happiness and contentment you crave into your life.
Loving your body is far more effective.
You probably have work to do before you really come to love your body, but as a starting point, simply staying awake to the above fact will help immensely. Please remember it.
Write it down. Now.
If this post was helpful to you or you’re interested to explore the subject of healthy mindset and happy living I’m working on a project that I hope you’ll like. If you might be interested in being involved from the development stage stay tuned, I’ll post info on the pilot programme soon.
In the meantime, if you think this a message worth spreading, please share this blog post on social media (buttons below).
[Note: I am not a mental health professional. This blog post is not intended as expert advice, just me sharing my personal experiences and thoughts on loneliness.]
Let’s talk about loneliness.
Lately I’m seeing heaps of articles, blog posts and positive-message memes aimed at helping us with the impact of social media bringing a constant flow of other people’s thoughts, opinions and lifestyles into our awareness.
But I don’t know when I last saw anything on loneliness. It’s like it’s OK to complain about feeling you have too much “other people” in your life, but still taboo to admit you crave more human connection.
Probably the most important message I want to share on this subject is that, no matter how anyone seems on the outside, every single human being on this planet experiences loneliness. So if you feel lonely right now, you’re far from alone in that.
It’s something we all go through, not always at the times other people might expect.
I’ve felt loneliness in all kinds of situations. Sometimes in the type of scenarios you might typically expect, like moving to a new city where I didn’t have even one friend, or working full-time from home with very little contact with other people. Other times I’ve felt lonely when it might have seemed the last thing I’d feel – like having a crazy busy social life yet still feeling alone inside, or despite having tens of thousands of social media followers and a backlog of messages to reply to.
Loneliness can happen when we’re literally physically alone, or it can be more of an internal thing. No matter how many people are around, if we see ourselves as weird or different or just somehow can’t connect with others, we can be deeply lonely inside.
Even when surrounded by people who care about us, who make efforts to understand and engage meaningfully with us, it can happen.
I believe this is because loneliness has a lot do with how we feel about ourselves.
As I said above, I’m not an expert, this is just me speaking from my own experience, but I’ve found that the more I’ve come to love myself, the less isolation I’ve felt.
Loneliness hasn’t vanished from life always and forever, I still get twinges at times, but despite spending more time alone than ever it’s now quite rare that I actually feel lonely in a negative sense. In fact, I have come to very much enjoy spending time alone.
Of course, this is far from a quick fix for loneliness. For many of us, loving ourselves is about the biggest challenge anyone could suggest. But I think at least becoming aware that this is what we need, rather than looking for solutions outside of ourselves, can be an important turning point.
To ease loneliness it seems to me that most of us need to feel understood, accepted, listened to and loved. If you’re not providing those things for yourself, from my experience, no matter how much you get them from other people, loneliness will persist.
When you do begin giving them to yourself you gain a connection with yourself and then you no longer feel so disconnected from others. The best way I can describe it is feeling whole, or maybe feeling at home in yourself.
Learning to understand, accept, listen to and love yourself requires a journey and there’s far too much to it to go into here, plus it’s very individual. But if I’ve triggered someone reading this to seek advice and resources to help them get started, or even just reassured anyone that feeling lonely is normal and then I’ve done my job well today.
You’re truly not alone. Hit me up on social media and let me know your thoughts on this post and loneliness in general.
For professional support with mental health issues visit Mind.
I haven’t blogged about diet and nutrition for ages. So I’m here fill you in on my latest thoughts on eats.
That’s not the only reason I’m writing this though
I also need to let off steam. So bear with me, this one is going to be a bit free-form!
The thing is, I’m seeing what is looking suspiciously like a return to the trend for high carb, very low calorie diets.
Seriously world, do we really need to go around this crazy carousel again?
Some people in their 20’s and early 30’s won’t remember how this went down the first time. Maybe the status quo in dieting is now “clean eating” and paleo-style diets. So maybe, to some young people, high carb, low fat/protein/calories seems an interesting new way of “dieting”.
For me it’s an exasperating return to something which I’ve seen mess up countless people’s bodies (and minds).
I should point out that I was no more in favour of the “you must always eat 100% Clean” (whatever that meant) or “only ever eat what (we think) cavemen ate” diets either.
I’m glad those fads are dying out. But what I had hoped would happen is that the diet-trend-pendulum might swing away from very low carbs back towards some middle ground.
But apparently no. Looks like we’re heading right back towards “eat loads of processed crap and just restrict your calories”.
“It Worked for me!”
The tricky thing in explaining this is that both high carb and low carb diets will actually “work” in the short term. But the reality is it’s rare for people to stick with them for the long term.
Please guys, be very wary of people touting anything like this. Remember, it will work, but usually only in the short term. So, you might see someone showing off their weight loss on the latest trendy plan, but unless they’ve maintained it for at least around 5 years they haven’t really got to a place where they can say whether they’ve found it sustainable.
And please be honest with yourself. If you find yourself flitting from one new diet “innovation” to another, what’s going on there?
I don’t care how much “science” the people marketing it say they have behind it (see adendum). Ask yourself, what are you looking for with all these different diets? Are you sure it isn’t a quick fix, or the magic pill to allow you to shed fat without changing your eating habits for the long term?
If you want to shed fat and keep it off, accept that you need to change what you eat, forever Click To Tweet
Come on people, as I’ve said so many times before. If you base your diet around mainly veggies, fruit, natural proteins and some healthy fats, do you really think you’ll be going too far wrong?
How my Approach has Changed Since The Fat Burn Revolution
Yes I’m eating cake. Deal with it.
I’m not saying no one should ever change their ideas and opinions about diet and healthy eating, of course. It’d be pretty dumb to stick to principles which had been unequivocally disproven (although many people’s egos do seem to force them to do that).
As for me, sure, I change my ideas sometimes. My nutrition education began with my own struggles with fat loss which got me reading anything I could about eating for weight loss. Later as a fitness journalist I regularly consulted with top nutrition experts, sports scientists and world class athletes on their ideas, experiences and recommendations.
I passed a nutrition course as part of my Personal Trainer qualification (many people who call themselves nutritionists actually only studied the same module). Then there are the countless food diaries and corresponding results from all kinds of different people I’ve monitored in my work as a trainer.
But my learning never stops. I’m still constantly reading about nutrition research and shaping or reshaping my approach based on what I learn.
It has now been over five years since I wrote the diet and nutrition chapter in my book, The Fat Burn Revolution. Since then I’ve probably softened on a few things or maybe it was just that the tone of the book was very forthright and it came over more strongly that I actually meant.
(I should probably go back and re-read the chapter really, but I can’t. Revisiting my work from a long time ago always makes me cringe. It’s like watching old family videos, or something.)
Going Soft on Grains?
From what I can recall, I think threw potatoes and grains some shade. I’m still not a fan of there being a lot of processed grains (e.g. bread and pasta) in a fat loss diet. They don’t have a lot of nutritional content, are easy to overeat on and leave you hungry quickly afterwards.
However, foods like wholegrain rice, potatoes simply cooked and quinoa, can work well for someone planning their eating with the aim of fat loss.
I can’t remember what I said about calorie counting. I might have said ‘don’t do it’…or at least I think that’s how it came over. I still think, for a lot of people, it’s not necessary. However, calorie monitoring can be helpful for people who have never looked much their calorie intake/expenditure before to allow them to get a feel for the energy density of different types of foods and what their daily intake needs to look like.
That’s about it really in terms of what’s changed since I wrote TFBR. I still maintain that “mostly healthy, most of the time” rather than any kind of extreme is by far the best approach. But I have learned that a lot of people need guidance in finding what “mostly, mostly” should look like. I’m working on something I hope will help with that.
Mostly healthy, most of the time is the best approach to sustainable healthy eating. Click To Tweet
I’m still not a fan of eating a lot of dairy products. I know this didn’t go down well with some people. But I’m not going to hold back from saying it again now, because it’s true. Dairy products are packed with hormones which evolved to help calves grow, having a lot of that is clearly not going to be the best thing to help your body fat levels shrink.
By the way, I had a complaint once about my comment that drinking milk is “drinking the lactate of another species”. I’m sorry that offended someone, that wasn’t my intention. But I can’t retract it because that’s simply what milk is, it’s cow lactate, whether you want to face up to it, or not.
But again, I’m not saying ‘don’t ever have any dairy’, I’m not vegan (which is super-trendy now too, but let’s not get into that here!). A splash of milk in your coffee probably won’t have much of an impact on your diet. All I’m saying is, think about what milk/dairy is and whether it’s in-line with what you want your diet to do for you.
OK, I have loads more to say on the subject of eating but I’d better close before this post gets too epic. I can talk more on this in future posts if you want me to…? Hit me up on social media and let me know!
Read up and Decide for Yourself
Here are some links to a few of the places I go to stay educated on diet and nutrition. I hope you find them helpful/entertaining too:
Just one last thing. There is of course also PubMed, as every “bro-scientific” fitness trainer knows. It’s excellent at what it does, which is publish raw scientific literature. But I’m just so tired of people who are vastly unqualified to analyse the research, pulling papers off there to support their opinions. Usually, their “evidence” could equally be disputed by other research. So folks, just be a bit wary of fitness trainers/marketers who do that. Taking an evidence-based approach is, obviously, the only rational approach. But in my opinion, if you’re not able to ascertain when the evidence is spurious it’s wiser to find a few experts you trust, who are highly trained, educated and experienced in analysing the scientific data, and learn from their work. I don’t know whether it’s naivety, arrogance or dishonestly that leads so many in the fitness world to do otherwise, but I’m certainly not ashamed to say that I take my lead from the experts, which is why I haven’t included pubmed above.
A few weeks ago I published a blog post where I shared a snapshot of my experience with depression.
The response was overwhelming. Over 100 people got in touch. Many said they related to my experience, many also were astonished that “someone like” me had ever felt the way I described.
Right from when I first started blogging in 2002, I’ve always been very open on social media and I don’t hold back much from sharing my fearful, weaker, more vulnerable side…or at least I feel like I don’t. So I was bit surprised that people were so shocked.
But I get it, everyone’s timeline is busy, we all skim-read posts and it’s easy to form quite one-dimensional views about people we only “know” online.
People tend to see me as confident, upbeat, strong and energetic. And I am all of those things, a lot of the time. But not all of the time. And I certainly wouldn’t have always aligned myself with those traits.
In my work as a fitness trainer one thing I see holding a lot of people back is that they label themselves as “not a fitness person”.
To them, fitness is more for “someone like Julia” who has loads of energy and self-belief and was probably that really popular girl who was captain of all the sports teams at school.
I see similar mindsets holding people back in their careers, relationships, personal development, and all other aspects of life.
That’s why I’m writing this post. I want to help people break out of that. The realisation that who we were, or how we saw ourselves in the past, does not have to determine our future, is one of the most powerful we can make – I know it has been for me.
Who we were, or how we saw ourselves in the past does not have to determine our future. Click To Tweet
If shedding the superhero cloak some have placed on me will help a few people come to this truth, putting this “out there” will be well worthwhile.
So here goes…
As a youth I was a basically a loser. Or that’s how I felt.
The popular girls thought I was weird and often told me so. My social skills were dire. Boys weren’t interested in me. I found it hard to concentrate in class and didn’t do well academically. AND I had no sporting ability whatsoever.
School PE lessons were a weekly humiliation where I would usually be picked last for any team games. Eventually I started skiving off (skipping school) to avoid them. This led to me getting in with a bad crowd and into some bad stuff. As a result, bad things happened to me, things I can’t go into here. Anyway, I completely messed up school and left with virtually no qualifications. Outside I was a rebellious teenage girl reeking of too much hairspray stomping around in a leather jacket and Dr Martens boots. Inside I was, yes angry, but also sad, with low self-esteem and afraid of the future.
My twenties were a bit better, at least on the outside. I worked my ass off and carved what was shaping up to be a great career, I made lots of lovely friends and fell in love with the man who is now my husband. But I was still dealing with a lot of emotional issues and, as described in the post I mentioned earlier, for a while I struggled with quite debilitating depression.
It was only really in my 30’s, as I began to build on the inner work which had helped me to claw my way out of depression, that I started to develop the confidence, strength and energy some people think defines me now.
I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me. God, please don’t feel sorry for me of all people, I have a fantastic life and am now tremendously grateful for all the experiences that helped me get here. I’m not saying it to try to impress either – it’s clearly a load of “first world crap” and people overcome much bigger obstacles and go on to have more of an impact on the world than I am.
But as I mentioned above, I think that for some people, discovering that “someone like me” not only came from that history, but was essentially created by it, this could be really helpful.
Also, I’m pretty sure that many of those who were surprised by my depression post are the same people who, see me doing something that looks easy for me like press ups or burpees or other advanced exercises and get disheartened when they find it’s a lot harder for them. They don’t stop to think that it might once have been hard for me as well… and, therefore, with effort and time, one day it could be easy for them too. Because we work through our weakness and struggles and that’s how we become strong.
We work through our weakness and struggles and that’s how we get stronger. Click To Tweet
I fought through self-doubt, weakness and vulnerability to finally nail my first full press-up, to write my book, to get to the point where I have the confidence to broadcast live videos, and for almost all of my proudest achievements – and it took me till my 30’s or later to be able to do most of it.
Of course, I’m far from the only one who had take the rocky road. Sure, there are people who seem to sail through life and never experience physical or emotional “weaknesses”. But there are many others whose strength was forged by overcoming their weakness.
So, if you are currently weak in any area you want to become strong, that’s a fine place to start.
Like me, when you get to be able to do press-ups, or have a best-selling book, or have the confidence to talk into a video camera, or get to wherever it is YOU want to be, you still won’t always feel amazing every minute of every day. Be ready for that.
But along the way, you will learn ways to quieten the negative chatter in your head and discover actions you can take that will empower and strengthen you.
When you get there, or even part of the way there, don’t forget to tell people about where you were before. Then they’ll know there’s a road “someone like them” can follow too.
If you’d like to read the post I referred to about my experience with depression go here.