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Personal Essay on Using Exercise to Treat Depression

Exercise Helped Me Through My Depression — but Not in the Way You Think

Six years ago, after a hurtful breakup, an abortion, graduating from business school, and not finding a job in my field, I was slowly falling into a depression. I am usually a very optimistic and positive person, but I had trouble finding goodness in everything I was going through. I knew that people had it way harder than me, but I couldn't shake off this state of sadness mixed with failure. I had some good and bad days. On the good ones, I was the bubbly and happy woman that I have always been. But on the bad ones, I was lost in my own thoughts, which led to long crying sessions.

During those days, I didn't want my family to see me this vulnerable and start to worry about me; I'd feel more down that I already was. So I spent most of those dark times in my bedroom watching videos and leaving just to eat and take a shower. Those dark days can be really difficult to handle. You know those times when you question every life choice that you made and start thinking "What if?" It can only go downhill from this point.

Instead of allowing this stage of dark thoughts to have control over me, I decided to go on a journey. The aim was to get my mind off of this road. So I chose to focus my attention on something I could control and have power over: my weight. I have always had a curvy lower body thanks to my African heritage. Although I love those curves, I had some insecurities that grew out of proportion due to the situation I was living in. That's why I thought that losing a little bit here and there wouldn't hurt.

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In order to stay in it for the long run, it was better for me to be prepared. I downloaded some apps on my cell phone: Runtastic (for my runs), Abdominaux en 3 minutes (for some abs work), and MyFitnessPal (to monitor my meals). The last was the one I really got obsessed about. Every meal I added, I needed to check what would be the goal weight if I kept eating like that. If the number was too high, I would reduce the portion of my upcoming meal. I would cut a lot of products in my diet because I wanted to "eat clean." Food blogs, Instagram, and magazines educated me for my diet.

I was working out a lot — some days even twice a day because I had no job. In the morning I was running, and in the evening, I was either doing some Blogilates workouts or going to the gym. As soon as I saw the effect that my workout habits had on my body, I wanted to go harder, so I switched to the Insanity videos along with some Jillian Michaels videos. My friends and family thought that I was being too extra about this drastic diet and workout regimen. I felt a little bit misunderstood sometimes, but it kept me sane, so I couldn't stop.

I wanted to look like those girls I used to see on Tumblr and Instagram, those with thigh gaps, perfect and sculpted abs with little body fat. It got a little too extreme for me, though. I got amenorrhoea, the condition where your period completely stops. At first it didn't bother me at all, to be honest. No period for a month meant I was free from cramps, mood sings, and leaks. But after the third month, I knew going to see the doctor was necessary. He told me that my body reacted this way because of the intense regimen I was putting it through.

I guess that's when I realised that everything didn't have to be that extreme. I did some reverse process, educated myself on how to be strong instead of skinny. I learned not to worry about the scale, since it doesn't mean anything and doesn't quantify how beautiful and awesome I am. The darker days were far less frequent than before. I rediscovered myself. I was more confident, more in love with myself and others, more at peace. I made some changes in my workouts and my diet, and now, six years later, I realise that the only competition I needed to be up against was with myself. But my body is beautiful just as it is, even if I don't see a lot of women looking like me in the magazines or online. I am still a badass.

Going through all this helped me on the journey of self-love, confidence, acceptance, and growth. I don't think I would have it any other way. My mind, body, and soul are finally in sync, and I am definitely not letting that go for anything.

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