I occasionally see stuff about depression and exercise come up on this forum so I thought I'd tell people my story. Well, I'm in two minds to post this, because on the one hand, I've always hated self-righteous indulgence and sob-stories, but on the other hand its good to get my thoughts down in one place and move on, and hey, it may even help somebody who reads it. It goes something like this...
By my final year of high school I was in the best sports teams, I had great friends, a hot and popular girlfriend, and was on track for some top exam results. I was self-assured, confident to the point of arrogance and generally felt I "knew the score".
It was during my first year of university that things started to change. When I got to uni, for the first time I had no real structure to my life, and was pitched into a situation where I felt like I was surrounded by people below my ability (I was an arrogant ****). Whatever the case, it was a ****ing joke; I'd ended up going to a lesser university than planned and totally breezed freshman year. Instead of university being this amazing intellectual experience which was going to change my life and enhance my mind, it felt like I was wasting my time. I started questioning everything about my life, my ambitions, my hopes, my social skills, everything. I also stopped doing any sport. At the end of first year I went travelling on my own all summer because I was always intensely independent and wanted nothing more than to strike out on my own. I've come to regard this as a bad decision because all it revealed was nothing more than loneliness and self-hatred lurking a couple of inches below the surface.
When I got back, I felt like a different person. I literally went back to university the day I got off the plane causing a massive dislocation of reality and suddenly, everything I'd been mulling over for the last year hit me hard. Actually, that's a misleading description because it didn't feel like pain, it felt like numbness, it was like everything had been stripped away, drowned, suffocated. It came out of nowhere and terrified me. I went to parties and just sat in a corner staring into space vacantly. The rest of that year I was like a ghost amongst men. Nothing mattered. It felt like I'd seen how utterly pointless and meaningless all of existence was and I just couldn't recover. On top of this nihilism I started for the first time to really perceive all the sorrow in the world, the realisation that at this very moment somewhere in the world someone is getting tortured, someone is getting raped... it was too much. And the fact that I'd had such a comfortable life and there was no reason for me to feel personally upset or depressed only made me feel guilty, which made everything worse. I had no desires, and absolutely no energy. I would sleep up to 14hrs a night and just stare at a blank wall for the rest of the day. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I lost a lot of weight through under-eating and lack of exercise. Suicide became a daily thought. I don't think I was ever serious, I was just aware it was an option and it became almost like an unwanted daily mantra. Things got weird and I started to worry I was losing my mind. It looked like I was going to fail the year, which considering I'd previously won scholarships to several private schools and universities was a bit of a change.
People were getting concerned. On the surface I managed to maintain a relatively normal appearance, except being very quiet and moody but inside everything was wrong, and those who knew me could tell. My parents were scared. The only reason I didn't go on medication was because I used to be one of those people who thought depression didn't exist, meds were only for weak people, SSRI's didn't work etc. I was too stubborn to seek help and not quite ready to emerge out of my cavern of darkness anyhow. In retrospect, I think I would have saved a lot of time by just going on a short course of antidepressants. But I didn't, I wanted another way.
And now, the good bit!
Last year, some improvements were made in general and it seemed like I was through the worst of it but my confidence was shot, and I was in all truthfulness a different person. I found it very hard to relate to other people (and to some extent still do), had no idea what the **** I was doing in life, and hadn’t had sex for almost three years (yeah, I know, no wonder I wanted to kill myself!) I finally decided a permanent change was needed so I stopped being a ****ing pussy and remembered the kind of guy I used to be. I wanted my muscle back, and I wanted a purpose. I went to the gym!
At first, it was like looking through the other side of the mirror – I’d gone from being one of the bigger guys in my school gym to being one of the weaker, smaller guys in this gym. I was intimidated and finally understood what girls and weak guys meant when they said they didn’t like the weights room. But I put my ego aside and started lifting. At first just machines, then I got up the nerve to brave free weights and then eventually started squatting and deadlifting. It was starting to come back to me and it was starting to be fun. I started checking WBB again for the first time in two years and got more inspired. Cheers guys! I started to eat big and lift heavier; at this point nothing was very regimented, no real routine, but just intelligent lifting with reasonable weight and no overtraining, which led to some noticeable size and strength increases almost immediately. I was also noticeably more assured and talkative than usual.
I was starting to get into this and around the end of May I got properly serious and adopted a 5x5 program, squatting three times a week, coupled with a determination to bulk. I simply exploded and my strength went through the roof. I wasn’t a complete beginner because I already knew how to lift and I suppose I had some muscle memory, but the results were amazing! Beginners take note: I didn’t care about precision or cleanliness, or calorie counting or even protein quantities, and I used NO supplements or powders of any kind: I JUST ATE A LOT OF FOOD. Rereading Chris Mason’s articles and remembering his old posts helped me a lot here. I drank four or five pints of milk a day, had bacon for breakfast most mornings. Added loads of olive oil to everything. Added cheese to most things. Had a couple of pieces of bread with each meal. Ate peanuts or spoonfuls of peanut butter whenever I was bored. I checked the end-of-day discounts at a nearby supermarket every night and ate loads of cheap steak, beef and pork this way. Whenever I went out, I’d buy a few less drinks than usual to ensure I'd have money to buy some junk food on the way home. My flatmate was somewhere between amazed and disgusted; he didn’t know who this guy I’d turned into was, even though I felt like I WAS ME for the first time in ages. In response to some comment about an enormous meal I was eating I said “well I’m a growing boy!” in a rather off-hand manner. He looked at me and said “no, really, you are by the way, you’re a lot bigger.” And I realised I was. I remember his disbelief one lunchtime to find I’d eaten the whole loaf of bread he’d bought a few hours earlier! Whoops! I’d gained over 30lbs and had developed some mean stretch marks. The stretch marks between my pecs and shoulders were so bad they actually started bleeding at one point and made me consider scaling back the lifting and eating for a while. By the end of the summer, for the first time ever I had a bit of a belly. But I didn’t care, I was big and strong, and I was ****ing ready to take on anything. I also completely lost the fat in just a couple of weeks before the start of this uni year.
My point to all this:
I feel so much more confident, and happier, and more like myself, now I'm fit and strong, and it’s a bonus people are noticing. From looking like I was going to drop out, it’s now looking as though I may do a PhD next year. From being a slacker I’m now a determined young man with a variety of aims in life and a number of new hobbies. From constantly struggling with my mind I now feel on top of everything. From being almost asexual, I’ve had more female attention in the last four months than the last three years. I think this was only partly due to my good body and a lot more to do with confidence, how I held myself, how I talked and a wealth of subconscious signs we’re not aware of that indicate you have high testosterone levels. Whatever, it was pretty cool! For a while it seemed like I couldn’t go out without women approaching me – often to the annoyance of people I was with. I’d been told I was attractive by female friends before but my body-image was so bad I'd never believed them. When I started back this year I got so many compliments and surprised reactions from people I hadn't seen for a while. It made me feel really proud of what I'd achieved in just one summer. I got lots of "your looking really good" from quite a few girls, saw old mates who said I was looking "ripped", one said I looked "bloody huge! but in a very positive way", and one girl I bumped into on the way back from the gym said I looked "amazing" and then tried to lift my t-shirt up in the street to look at my chest! I stopped her and ran off. I also got a "you're pumped as ****" from someone.
Well this has turned into a far longer post than was planned so anybody who made it this far through my boring life is probably wondering what the end to it all is. There isn’t one – I go on. Life goes on. I keep lifting. I keep learning. I stay sane. I make something of myself. I interact with others. I enjoy life. I keep my fire burning. All there is to it. Gotta keep moving. At least that’s the plan anyway…