Winston Churchill once said: "If you're going through hell, keep going."
I’m no Winston Churchill. For starters, I am much better looking. But I'd like to add my corollary: "But if you're stuck in hell, make s'mores."
Churchill's quote has long been a favorite of mine. However, it gained a new dimension for me when I was diagnosed with depression.
Spoiler alert if you’ve never seen it up close - it sucks.
Everything that I’d worked toward seemed to vanish – poof – over the course of three months. I put on weight. I was super mopey all the time. A product I toiled over flopped. Months of travel wore me down. Old injuries resurfaced. My sleep suffered. I lost more confidence with each passing week.
It was my own personal hell.
As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That's tasty, but hell is more suited for making s'mores, don’t you think?
So that's what I did. I decided that if I was going to go through this, I might as well bust out some personal development or whatever. (Depression doesn’t lend itself to excitement.)
I haven’t figured it all out, but here are two big lessons I learned.
- My expectations contributed to the problems.
I have high expectations for myself and I usually meet or exceed them. This time, however, my goals and my reality seemed far apart. It wasn’t that setbacks surprised me; it was that I couldn’t bounce back like normal. Instead of a pliant rubber ball, I was a delicate glass ornament.
Something had to change.
I started to ask myself WHY I had chosen each goal. What did I want to accomplish? Was it still realistic? Could I put the goal on “pause” and revisit it in the future, instead of feeling like a failure?
These questions helped me sift through my goals. Re-framing them from “failure” to “pause” helped me reconsider my plans without feeling like I was giving up.
I wasn't saying "no" forever, only for a few months. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in a long time.
I’m currently reevaluating those goals now that I have emotional distance from them. Some are tossers. Some are keepers. Most need tweaks to fit my life.
But now I feel much lighter and like I control my goals, not the other way around.
- I couldn’t even take my own advice.
When I first started my blog, I focused a lot on mindset. To be fair, my mental gameis better than most. You don’t get an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame, or win 4 consecutive Big East titles, or run 3 half marathons, or win trophies in figure competitions without grit.
I’m really good at guiding people through uncomfortable experiences when they want to give up. I’ve written posts about getting back on the wagon, how to approach tough exercises, and my own struggles with mindset.
But I couldn’t do that anymore. Especially in the gym - what I consider my second home. Because I'd gained weight, I berated myself each time I looked in the mirror.
I didn’t practice what I preached!
My boyfriend brought this to my attention, using a technique I use myself. He asked, “If you had a client dealing with depression, what would you say to her?”
BAM - I’d be supportive and compassionate.
Why couldn't I do that for myself??
Changing my self-talk became a priority. I had to be more positive. Now, I’m not talking woo-woo cheerleading pep talks. It was a multi-step process that looked something like this:
“You’re a lot heavier than you’ve been. You let yourself go. How could you this to yourself? UGH.”
Step 1: Pause my brain and divert my thoughts. Either concentrate on my muscles performing the exercise, my breath, or physically move to a different part of the gym. (In hindsight, I probably confused a lot of people.)
Step 2: Say an alternative, neutral “maybe” statement. “Maybe the depression medicine caused the gain, which I can’t control.”
Step 3: Remind myself it’s a future goal. “I may not feel comfortable now, but I can focus on weight loss later, when it's a better time to revisit this goal.”
That framework helped me replace self-contempt with compassion. Workouts got easier and I didn’t feel embarrassed to work out. I felt reconnected to my body and gained a new respect for the power of positive self-talk.
At the beginning of October, I heard a talk from a leading positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor. He said that an easy way to improve happiness is by expressing gratitude for events in your life.
I wouldn’t say I’m grateful I have depression, but I am grateful for what I’ve learned as a result.
I have a better understanding of what sets me off. I have a more realistic sense of what I want and the best ways to achieve my goals. I know how to approach self-criticism.
Am I perfect at this?
But when you’re in hell, you might as well make some s’mores. Learn about yourself, and share your knowledge to help others.
Have you overcome similar issues? How did you do it? Leave a comment below so we can help each other out!
Bio: Genevieve Malone founded The Inertia Project to help women get comfortable in the gym. A former D1 athlete for Notre Dame, she continued her fitness passion by becoming a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. She focuses on habits and mindsets that take you from where you currently are, to where you want to be. As a special bonus from Genevieve, check out this free 4 Week Yoga Strength Guide she created exclusively for YBCers to build strength and stamina to improve your yoga practice.