In honor of May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, I asked my daughter Sierra to rehash a social media post she shared late last year about her own journey into better physical and mental health.
At first, I was very hesitant to share my story of how fitness has positively affected my life because I am not very good at opening up to people but I was encouraged to share my story.
My sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I had always noticed when I worked out more often, exercise helped my symptoms. During this time, I was involved in competitive cheerleading and track & field, and I always felt my best after a rigorous practice. The summer before my freshman year of college, I was working out harder than ever. I was constantly in the gym and I felt amazing.
Unfortunately, as soon as I arrived to college, my schedule and habits changed and I completely stopped working out. I continued to be somewhat sedentary and ate unhealthily through my freshman and sophomore years. After two years of not working out and eating whatever I wanted, I had gained 20 lbs. When I realized how much weight I had gained and saw how great of shape Becky was in after a year of getting back into fitness and eating healthier, I became eager to make a change in my life. I was so afraid to begin though. At first, I didn’t know if I would even remember how to workout. I had also become very intimidated by the gym and was afraid to go. I felt as though I would be judged if I went.
In May of 2016, I started running and attending the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes Becky taught at HIIT Like A Girl and eating healthier. Running was the main aspect that really sparked my fire. I had been a sprinter in high school and had never run more than 2 miles at one time. I also thought long distance running looked like torture and had no interest in trying it….until last May.
In the beginning, I started out by running/walking 3 miles a few days a week. Eventually, I was able to run the whole 3 miles. Then, I ran my first 5k on July 4th (Liberty 5k). Running a race felt so incredible and I was happy to finish in under 30 minutes!
When I came back to school for the fall semester, I decided I wanted to try and go back to the gym to start lifting weights. I began going with a friend who knew more about weightlifting which made me feel more comfortable having someone to workout with.
Since last May, my life has changed greatly for the better. Fitness has brought so much more confidence, motivation and positivism into my life. Dealing with anxiety and depression has always made it so hard for me to become and remain motivated. I’ve always had to work extra hard to get myself going every day, and even though I’ve been pretty successful in my life, I had struggled tremendously with getting myself there. I used to have the most difficult time getting myself out of bed before noon. I would often miss class or show up late because I just couldn’t get the motivation to go.
Now, I wake up much earlier (usually around 8 am) and I even have been getting up at 5:45 am for sunrise yoga on Thursday mornings at my college gym. I find when I start my day out with yoga, I feel so much more relaxed. I also run 3-4 times a week and workout to HIIT videos on YouTube. Not only have I run multiple 5ks, but I have also run an 8k and a two 10ks within a year of starting to run. I would like to run a half marathon by the end of the year, which I would have never thought was a possible goal for me before. In addition, I lost the weight I had gained since freshman year. Goodbye Freshman 15!
It’s truly an unbelievable feeling being able to conquer longer distances and achieve personal records. I also sit down and eat breakfast almost every morning before beginning my day now. I was never really a breakfast type of person before but now I always make sure I have time to eat breakfast because it helps with my energy level.
I barely missed any class this past semester and the class that I did miss was not due to mental illness. Now, I have the motivation to get through each day with a positive mindset. I’m constantly busy due to school, work, sorority, and working out. I don’t even have much time to watch TV, but I haven’t felt stressed like I would have before. I am so much happier and have set a goal for 2017 of continuing to better myself physically, mentally and spiritually. I want to improve myself in all aspects so that I can become the best version of myself. I would not be where I am right now if I had not started running last year. I am so incredibly blessed to have the ability to be able run and workout, and I want to continue to do so as long as I can. As for the future, I plan to continue learning as much as I can about fitness and nutrition so that I can continue a healthy lifestyle and help other people.
My advice to others?
Starting to work out can be intimidating, but it can be extremely beneficial for anyone suffering from a mental illness. If you’re just starting out and nervous, even a run/walk for 30 minutes 3 days a week can be helpful. I’m not saying exercise will completely cure mental illness, but exercise is a natural form of medication I strongly believe in. I still have bad days but even on my worst days, getting a workout in or going on a run can make a big difference for me.
For anyone who may be struggling with a mental illness, I just want to say I know how it can be stressful and sometimes you feel like there’s no way out, but YOU CAN’T GIVE UP. Keep pushing yourself to find ways to put more positivity in your life; fill your life with positive people who you can lean on when times are rough.
You are stronger than you think and you will get through it.”
Thanks for sharing Sierra!