Weighty Matters on My Mind – Can Weight Lifting & Exercise help Depression?
How many of you have told yourselves that you want to lose 20 lb. by an event that you have in 3 days? Why stop there? Why not lose 10 lb. today? I’ve had so many goals around weight loss – lose 50 lb. by my next birthday; lose 25 lb. by Thanksgiving; lose 15 lb. this week. At the end of the day, many of us set unrealistic goals that ultimately lead to disappointment. So how can we set a goal that we can achieve? How can we feel proud and accomplished instead of defeated? For me, the answer was more than just going to the gym. I found a personal trainer that was unlike the others I had before. Anthony Stewart said, “It’s not just training you’re going to get from me. I’m going to get in your heart from the moment we start talking. That’s what fitness is about.” Since working with him, I’ve been on a journey that has taught me so much about health and has literally and figuratively changed my heart and happiness.
Join a gym? No, Thank you.
Joining a gym had been on my mind every other day for years. I felt a lot of pressure from my family and societal expectations which only added to an abundance of stress. One of the most common questions asked of me around my struggle to lose weight was, “Have you joined a gym?” What is it that people say? LOL-laugh out loud. Or rather, laugh out loud in that person’s face. Over the years, I worked with 3 personal trainers, joined 6 gyms (more if we count the gyms I joined two or three times) and expressed interest in gym memberships 9 times. If you would have asked me 6 months ago if I exercise, you would see I would become uncomfortable. I would turn my body, fidget and make a facial expression or gesture as though you caught me red-handed at something wrong. If you talked or asked me about working out, I might as well have had a sign that said allergic, danger zone, do not enter.Ask me if I’ve ever lifted weights? Again, LOL.
Webster’s dictionary defines a journey as “an act of traveling from one place to another.” Until recently, my journey to lose weight wasn’t much of a journey at all. There wasn’t much movement going on, literally or figuratively. If I would go to the gym, all I kept thinking was that I can’t do this. I could barely go on the treadmill for 6 minutes without huffing and puffing. I felt ugly and that my clothes were too tight and I would leave. I had so many thoughts and told myself that it wasn’t going to happen for me. I mean if it wasn’t happening overnight, something is wrong with my body, right? I went to the gym yesterday – why doesn’t the shirt fit yet? I went to the gym twice today- shouldn’t I be a different size now? Months would pass and then I would go through the same process. I would join a gym, go one day and then stop. If I ever made it to the gym a 3rd time, that was the limit. After 3 times, well, there was no after. I was done. And so the cycle continued.
People would suggest getting a personal trainer but that totally wasn’t going to happen. I don’t need someone to weigh me and watch me struggle to catch a breath because I’m out of shape. But,I figured I would give it a try so that I could check that off my list. When I first worked with a personal trainer, I had a terrible experience. I felt inadequate, judged, and self-conscious and left feeling worse than I did when I started.
Weight Lifting and Depression
For years, I have struggled with sleep and emotional regulation. I knew that exercise could improve mental health but knowing it just wasn’t enough for me. I just didn’t believe that going on the treadmill could help depression. Recently, Jama Psychiatry published a meta analysis that found that resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms. The study found that besides going to the gym and hopping on a treadmill, strength training and lifting weights specifically helped improve mood and feelings of unworthiness. I wanted to feel better. My life wasn’t enjoyable at the rate I was going. Each year around my birthday, the numbers were definitely changing, but not decreasing, rather increasing. I wasn’t feeling good physically or emotionally. I needed to do something because nothing was working for me.
New Year – New Me
Like many people do around December, I started to think about New Year’s resolutions and joined a gym (again) a little before the New Year. I decided that I would set up a month to month plan so that I could cancel anytime. Whereas in the past, my parents paid for the memberships, this time I didn’t let anyone know what was on the agenda. This time it was about me. I felt motivated but it was a stronger feeling-a feeling of self-determination. I didn’t feel outside voices or pressure from others. I chose to go to the gym, and I decided to join. It was the first time I used my own money to pay a gym membership. I didn’t want to tell anyone close to me because I felt it would no longer be my own experience. I was definitely apprehensive when I joined LA Fitness for the 4th time. What makes this time different? I hate the gym; I hate working out; I hate it all. But having the right trainer influenced my whole self.
I was scheduled to have an assessment with Anthony Stewart. I was already feeling resentment towards the gym and towards the trainer I hadn’t even met yet. I was in no mood to walk into the gym only to hear about how out of shape I am and how much weight I need to lose. But from my first interaction with my trainer, he made this a completely new experience for me. He didn’t try to change my lifestyle, he was able to work within my lifestyle. The night before our appointment, my trainer asked me about my goals. That was the first time anyone has ever asked what my goals are about my own body that it took me by surprise. What does he mean? What are my goals? To lose weight obviously. Little did I know that was just going to be an added plus to working with him.
He took an approach of empowerment, encouragement and realistic success. Anthony didn’t just validate where I was at but met me and joined me in the process. In the beginning, he didn’t push me to do 5 more until I was having trouble breathing but instead he asked me to do just 1 more, and when I did it, he acted as though I had won a marathon. If he saw I was nearing my limit, instead of getting lost in the need to complete the task, he stayed in the process. It was up to me. It was my accomplishment when I completed the task. Anthony made sure I saw my success. He made sure this journey was my own. It’s my body, my health, my happiness, my heart.
Anthony took a stance of acceptance. He didn’t make me feel like there was a problem with being a larger size. He didn’t make me feel like I would look better or prettier if I lost weight. He never once mentioned about looking better but instead about being better, doing better, and feeling better. When we sat down, he didn’t ask how many pounds I wanted to lose or when I wanted to lose the weight. Instead, he talked about my health and my heart, getting me in shape to feel good and live a life worth living. He talked about heart rate, zones, stress and inches. We didn’t even talk about numbers around weight until the very end and when we did, Anthony talked about losing body fat not just pounds.
When we did talk weight numbers, I had a moment of shock. For years, I had it in my head that I needed to lose 75 lb. After he assessed my whole self, the reality was that I needed to lose 36 lb. When I saw that number, I was confused. I’m not saying 36 lb. is a little nor easy, but for years I have been walking around thinking I needed to lose practically double. Seeing that number made me realize that I needed to stop listening to the media, the environment and others and stop sending myself messages about what I should be and will never be. This 36 was my number, and I could do it. I assumed we would weigh in every week. Isn’t that what some people do? Weigh themselves weekly? Daily? Or even a few times a day? No, we were going to weigh in once a month. But that’s not how he referred to it -he talked about losing inches not just pounds, and he said that we would take measurements once a month.
After the first month of working with Anthony, I saw results in numbers that I hadn’t seen in years. The second month, the scale was the same but my body fat and measurements decreased, the numbers that actually matter. As the weeks went on, I didn’t need to weigh in or take measurements to know where I was because clothes were becoming looser. At first, I didn’t recognize it or rather denied it. If I put something on and it felt baggy I just thought I probably stretched it out or sizes run big at this store. But as weeks went on I realized there was a common theme. I wasn’t fitting into an XL anywhere anymore and I had to get the next size down.
Realistic Goals for a Healthy Heart
The last time that we took measurements, I had one month until my birthday. I set a goal for myself that the scale would read a specific number when I turn 28. I told myself every year that I would lose weight by my next birthday but for the first time, I had a goal to lose 4 lb. by my birthday, not 40.
So how do we learn to empower ourselves? Education. I learned how to set realistic goals and that change in perspective happened when I started working with my personal trainer. I learned that if you have the right trainer, you are getting a leader, motivator, cheerleader and educator. I remember telling Anthony that I don’t know what it’s like to be skinny, I can’t even imagine it. I told him that no matter what I do, I can’t lose weight. He told me that he was sorry but he doesn’t know the word can’t. First things first, eliminate the word can’t, there’s no such thing. He believes it’s foolish to have negative self-talk. Maybe it would be inspiring if it were my birthday and I told you that I’m looking at the number I had in my mind, that I lost those 4 lb. But the truth is my birthday is still a few days away. I can’t tell you what a scale will say. But I can tell you that I reach my goal everyday.
I didn’t understand what working with Anthony would be like but I knew from the moment I had my assessment that he was going to help me get to where I’ve wanted to be but have never made it there . Anthony said I’ll get there with A Plus training! His attitude, perspective and wisdom has helped completely change my views about health, losing weight and life itself. Finally, my journey didn’t just begin but has continued. I am accomplishing things I never knew I could. Working with a personal trainer has helped me be confident, love myself, and empowered me to be me. One of the many things I have learned over the last 6 months, is that having a personal trainer is all encompassing and can help improve mental health. Having the right personal trainer isn’t just about someone to help you lose weight, but about someone who can help you live a life filled with good health, heart and happiness. How I feel about myself stopped being based on how I look but became more about how I feel. Anthony has taught me to set goals differently. Now I no longer focus on losing weight, I focus on gaining a life.
To learn more about mental health visit www.erikaslighthouse.org and help “Get Depression Out of the Dark”
This blog was written by one of our staff, Shira Lichtenstein. Shira has an M.A. in Psychology and is our social media and events coordinator. She is currently pursuing a Masters in social work at The University of Chicago. Shira is passionate about mental health issues and strongly believes that given the right tools and resources, anyone can improve their mental health.
My name is Mark Ehlert, and I survived a suicide attempt at the age of 19. At that time, I was at a point in my life where I felt lost and hopeless. I came from a very interesting background and I had issues with abandonment and rejection. I felt very betrayed by a lot of people that I thought I could trust. I felt like my world was falling apart around me. Because I felt so unloved, I didn’t know how to talk to people about my problems. Whenever I had a problem with something, I would try to do something drastic to get peoples attention to show them that something was bothering me and that I needed help.
My attempt happened on a night in September. I had a lot of problems and I was really desperate. My head was spinning. That’s when it hit me; this idea of suicide. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed right and it felt like my answer. I went for a walk. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. All I knew was that I was walking. I was having a moment of euphoria. I was laughing hysterically to myself the entire time. For some reason, I really felt like what I was about to do was going to be monumental and the way to show people that I needed help. And that’s when I found myself at my destination. There I was, standing in the middle of the park by myself. After standing there for a while, I started looking around and wondered; Why am I here? What am I doing? And that’s when my voice of reason started to kick in. I started asking myself, really? Is this what you want? Is this what you’re going to do? How is this going to help? I was about to turn around and walk back home, but that’s also when I started feeling lost, desperate and hopeless again. I didn’t want to lose that feeling of euphoria. So with no hesitation, I went through with my suicide attempt.
I didn’t want to die – I just wanted to fix my problems. I didn’t want to leave this world. I wish I would’ve stopped and thought rationally about what I was doing and listened to the voice of reason in my head. I wasn’t thinking clearly and acted impulsively. When you are in a bad place, bad ideas can sound very good and tempting. I was just trying to ask someone to show me that they care. But if I would have succeeded with my suicide attempt, no one would be able to show me that they care or have been able to help me because I would not be here anymore.
Suicide is not an answer. Suicide is a mistake. It is a problem. I have a lot of regrets for my suicide attempt. In that moment, I was forgetting how much people love me. I was destroying and throwing away a great life and I had to start over and rebuild it. My suicide attempt resulted in a significant amount of brain damage and I was put into a coma for a period of time. When I came out of the coma I had to deal with and accept the consequences of my actions. Because of the brain damage that was done, I had to relearn how to do a lot of basic functioning skills. It did enough damage to both of my optic nerves and I am now completely blind for the rest of my life. There is nothing that doctors will ever be able to do to restore my vision. I also now suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and high anxiety.
Over the last 13 years it has taken a very heavy physical and emotional toll on me to be able to rehabilitate myself. I don’t want anyone to ever feel this way. That’s why I am here. I don’t want anyone to ever have to feel this regret, this guilt, this grief, or this pain that I feel daily. It didn’t just affect me. My suicide attempt devastated the people that are close to me; my family and friends. They kept asking themselves what they did wrong and what they could’ve done to stop it. I wish I would’ve stopped and thought about what I was doing. I wish I would have waited an hour or two because that’s when my older brother would have come home from work. Getting support from my older brother would’ve reminded me of the life that I have. It would’ve reminded me of the family and friends that love me unquestionably and unconditionally — and we all have people that love us.
My suicide attempt was a desperate way to reach out to the world and ask someone to show me that they care. I wish I would’ve found the strength in me to reach out and ask for help. I want you all to know that when you are in a very low place, and you are thinking with your irrational mind but don’t ever hesitate to reach out to the world. Talking to someone that cares about you will bring you back to reality and help you start thinking with your wise mind. It will remind you of all the things you have and the people that are there for support.
We all have problems in life, but problems are only temporary. Suicide is permanent. For the rest of my life I have to deal with the repercussions of my suicide attempt. And it’s not worth it, trust me. Suicide is not going to solve any problems. It will only make things worse.
When you are are struggling, you should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask anyone for help. I wish I would have. We are human beings, no one is perfect. It is more uncomfortable for me to have to admit the fact that I am blind because of a suicide attempt but I am no longer embarrassed about my problems. And I am no longer ashamed to admit that I need help.
Ever since my suicide attempt in 2004, I have been going to therapy once a week. I want you all to do the same thing — when you need help, ask for it. I’m admitting that I’m not perfect and I need help. My therapy is giving me someone to talk to, a way to help me deal with my problems. It is doing wonders for me and I’m a very happy person and in a great place. So please everyone, do what I do; love and appreciate life. Rock on. Don’t ever consider suicide. Never forget that we all have people in our life that love us.
*** Please feel free to share this story as much as you would like. But you do not have my permission for this to be printed or used for profit without my direct consent. I hope that this finds you all well ***
I want to thank you all for taking the time for reading my story. And especially my thanks goes out to Erika’s Lighthouse for allowing me share my story on their blog. I’m a big supporter and very thankful for what they are doing. When I was younger, mental health problems and depression wasn’t something that was talked about enough. I didn’t know how to recognize the signs or know it was a condition I might have. When it was brought up, it seemed to have a negative connotation. It seemed like it was something people didn’t like to talk about which made me even less likely to admit or talk about the problems I was having. It made me feel like it would leave a black Mark on me. But now I know it doesn’t and I can recognize that I have depression and admit that I struggle with mental health issues.
Erika’s Lighthouse is helping me recognize that it’s OK to have mental health problems. I’m not the only one who does. There are a lot of us out there. We are not alone. You are not alone. I don’t want you to feel that way. If you have depression, it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you. You should not feel embarrassed about it. It is treatable. If you start to notice depression in yourself, or start to notice signs that you’re not feeling well don’t hesitate to look into it. You don’t have to suffer or deal with depression alone. I have come to love myself, and love my life. So thank you Erika‘s Lighthouse for letting me reach out and share my story with the world. I hope that this can help people understand the importance of depression education and eliminating stigma. To learn more about the Erika’s Lighthouse impactful work visit www.erikaslighthouse.org/schools and help “Get Depression Out of the Dark.”
This blog was written by Mark Ehlert, an individual who survived a suicide attempt. Mark is a musician and an advocate for mental health awareness.
Prior to running the marathon I ran a yearly 5k on thanksgiving just to eat more and see if I could still do it. I watched Erika’s Lighthouse runners two years ago at the Chicago marathon and loved the energy of the day. Of course Erika’s Lighthouse is near and dear to my heart and I knew running for such a worthy cause would be a great motivator.
I also had a high school friend that wanted to run it to commemorate our fiftieth birthdays. She agreed to join the Erika’s Lighthouse team and off we went.
We ran short runs during the week and long runs as a team on Saturdays together. I thought I was just going for runs and it would be lonely but what I discovered was a community of generous people helping any and all levels. Our differences melted away and we all became runners sharing this transformative experience.
I had good runs that inspired me to dream of a fast marathon and tough runs that challenged my resilience. This wasn’t going to be something quick. It took time. Patience and discipline became the most important qualities even more than fitness. How could I occupy my mind for all those hours? Podcasts was the answer for me.
The best runs were with a buddy. My sister in law ran my first ten miler with me. It was hot and hilly and tough. She knew just when to encourage me and helped me get through a tough mile. My high school friend ran with me for my first half marathon training run. We met another Erika’s Lighthouse runner, Kim, and ran together. Again the support was generous, each runner encouraging the other through their tough part. Then the big twenty miler that everyone kept talking about. It’s the longest mileage during the training phase. Ours was ninety degrees and humid, not ideal conditions, and tough didn’t describe it. And again my friend and I ran with another runner we just happened to pace with. She talked about her love of running, a favorite marathon in Minnesota and again we all helped each other get through the later miles. I think April called it the ultra-marathon shuffle. The shared experience through something so challenging was the biggest reward.
I will never forget the crowd’s encouragement. I was told it will carry the runner through but it’s hard to believe that until you see and hear it. Chicago is a beautiful city and although it was a warm day to run, the sun shining on our beautiful city made it glisten. The character of each neighborhood was a delight, from Lincoln Park and old town through little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown and the west side, the flavor and sounds of all these places made the run so fun. And the bands, I passed so many fun bands, what a party!
During my run I was so lucky to see my family twice, my high school girl friends twice and Erika’s Lighthouse supporters cheering me on. What a difference those beautiful smiling faces made. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the love and support.
The end of the race was rewarding for the accomplishment, surely, but the journey is what I will always remember. In the end, all the individuals I had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with on this awesome endeavor, all the friends and family that supported with kind words and generous donations to Erika’s Lighthouse, this made the most impact on my life.
I ran over twenty miles with knee pain that I had never experienced before. It slowed me down but never stopped me. I endured. Admittedly I am competitive though and not entirely satisfied with my time. I just may have to do it again 🙂
If you are interested in running for Erika’s Lighthouse, sign up today, limited spots available!
Games can change the way we think and act in our real lives. Play is not only enjoyable, but it can improve mental health, boost creativity, and foster relationships. The beneficial aspects of games and play are explored in the Ted Radio Hour segment “Press Play,” which features three people exploring the depths of play and its importance to human development and mental health. To play is to do an activity with no end goal other than to have fun. It is the act of taking the ordinary, and making it extraordinary for your pleasure. As we grow into adulthood, it is important that play is not an act left behind in childhood. Read More