Keeping the Blues at Bay

author : katzchen55
comments : 11

If you are suffering from depression like me, take heart - you are not alone. You can use exercise and triathlon training as depression therapy.

Most people who know me would never guess that I have clinical depression. I’m a high achiever, active in my church, generally social, typical mom-housewife-type. But I, like millions of Americans, am depressed. Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.

It’s not that I lay in bed crying all the time (though there are days like that). It’s not even that I beat myself up emotionally or have a horrible sense of self-worth (though that can be an issue). Mostly, I have a hard time just being motivated to move, make a decision, get on with the day – and a lot of the time, I simply don’t care about anything.

But through my triathlon training, I have found a new way to cope. My endurance training for race day is translating into my endurance reserves for Today. Let me explain...

I began triathlon training three years ago in an effort to lose weight. I’ve always loved to swim, and cycling became quickly addictive. Running is a necessary evil for me, but I’ll struggle through if it means I can reach my goal. After completing my first sprint race, I received a lot of 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' from friends and family. It was a huge boost to my self-esteem and sense of self-worth. With each subsequent race, I was able to identify new goals and overcome new obstacles. Run farther, bike faster, swim harder, complete better transitions – the possibilities are endless. With a race date on the calendar, I was able to take advantage of my deadline-oriented personality and stay motivated.

All of that came crashing down last fall when a major depressive episode hit. I was lethargic, moody, unmotivated, and my self-esteem hit rock bottom. I had a hard time getting out of bed, and when I finally summoned the courage to get my feet on the floor, I struggled through everyday obstacles like they were major crises. It was like I had turned completely inward, unable to respond to the outside world. Not a pretty picture.

I began a regimen of anti-depressants and counseling therapy, which helped immediately. But because it was off-season, I didn’t have a triathlon on the calendar and I didn’t exercise a whole lot. I had been told that the rush of endorphins from a good workout would help lift my mood, but I was having a hard time just getting out of bed. If I couldn’t get myself downstairs, how would I get myself through a 30-minute run?

Then a triathlete friend of mine issued a challenge: do an Olympic distance triathlon. I dismissed the idea at first – I could barely run a 5K, let alone the 10K required at the end of that race. But the idea stuck in my head, and by January, I had registered for a race in April. I was challenged, motivated, and I knew that my psyche would not hold up well if I failed. I found I had a new reason to get out of bed each day and get to work on it, if for no other reason than to not waste the registration fee!

Once I was out of bed and got the circulation going, accomplishing each day’s workouts gave me the encouragement I needed to continue through the day, meeting my other goals – wash the dishes, play with the kids, get the errands done. I began to develop more physical energy, which gave me more emotional energy to cope with my inner struggles. It’s as if the endurance that I was developing for race day was translating in to the endurance race of my every day life.

Race day came and went. I completed that Olympic distance triathlon and met my time goal – I didn’t even walk during the run portion! While the sense of accomplishment was fantastic, and the rallying support of my family and friends was deeply appreciated, it was almost anti-climactic. I had already won the more important race of getting back into my life, of feeling and caring and doing. Though I am continuing my therapy and there is much work left to be done, I am no longer overwhelmed by thoughts of “I can’t,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “There’s no point in even trying.” I am myself again, and it feels great. I have three more races on the calendar this season, and I’m planning ahead for some winter runs and an early season race next year to keep the momentum going.

Because of my schedule, I often work out alone. Many would say that working out with a team would be better for my training and my emotional state. But for me, I need that time to myself to be inside my own head, thinking through the issues of my personal life, listening to my iPod, and allowing the rhythm of the music and the rhythm of my feet to soothe my troubled mind. It’s a time of meditation, prayer, personal reflection, and good ol’ fashioned calorie-burning!

If you are suffering from depression like me, take heart. You are not alone. Continue to take the time for yourself and exercise. It really does help your body chemistry, boost your emotional energy, and help get you through the day. Go one day at a time, one step at a time. Set a goal, mark it on the calendar, and use that motivation to get some inertia going. If a group environment lifts you up, find a group to be with and keep you moving. If you, like me, need that personal time alone, take it. Just don’t sit at home in your bed – have the faith to put one foot on the floor at a time.

If you don’t have depression but know someone who does, please be understanding. We can’t just “snap out of it,” no matter how much we may want to. Be supportive, listen when we need to talk, give us space when we ask for it, and cheer us on when race day comes – whether that’s on a triathlon course, or just Everyday Life. It’s all an endurance race anyway!


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date: May 21, 2007


music (piano and singing), swimming, web design, graphics design, reading, computer games, bible study and teaching


music (piano and singing), swimming, web design, graphics design, reading, computer games, bible study and teaching

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