My old enemy

It's been a while since the last blog post, huh? Sorry about that - I haven't felt like I've had anything to say and I really don't think you need to hear me talk about the importance of skill development again... at least, not yet :)

So this is going to be a good ol' fashioned personal blog post. I'm not trying to set up any big lesson or reveal any great truths about health and fitness. There are an awful lot of coaches out there dispensing fitness advice on their blogs. Many of them are legitimately really good. We're all trying to contribute something meaningful with (hopefully) the goal of helping people and definitely with the goal of making a living. I've got a lot of respect for everyone trying to make it as a teacher/coach - it may seem easy until you try it and then realize how insanely difficult it is. Here's the crazy part though - this is a job that is intensely humbling and humanizing, but there seems to be this conventional wisdom that all coaches have to appear infallible and 100% certain of the "correctness" of their methods... actually, scratch that, the superiority of their methods in order to be successful - or even taken seriously. I am not the best traceur and I am not the best coach (this isn't false modesty - I think I'm pretty good at both! I just know where I stand) but I'm also not overwhelmingly concerned with what other people think of me. So if I have the opportunity to dispel the specter of guru-ism in the fitness industry with a personal story I will gladly jump on it.

I went to the doctor recently. I guess a lot of people in the community like posting their lab results. I'll give you the bullet points: slightly high cholesterol, but extremely low triglycerides and very high "good" HDL - just what you'd expect from someone who eats the way I do. Solid vitamin D levels, (with no supplementation I might add) ...and everything else was normal - I did have slightly high blood pressure which we attributed to mild dehydration and maybe some stress issues. More on that soon...  So, I need to drink more water and relax a little bit more which is hardly surprising. I aced all the lifestyle questions - don't smoke, don't drink a whole lot, clearly I get a lot of exercise, etc. We talked a bit about my father (who passed away from kidney disease) and then the doctor asked me how my mood was.

And I paused. Because, truthfully, my mood has been pretty shitty for the past few months.

For as long as I can remember I have grappled with Depression. We all suffer from depression at times - something bad happens and we feel sad about it - it's normal and healthy and we recover from it just fine. Clinical Depression, on the other hand is more of a chronic issue. I'm not going to give a lecture about "Big D" Depression - Google away if you're interested... it's actually pretty fascinating. There's a strong genetic component to Depression and I've got it on both sides of the family. A big trigger is stress, and, well, starting a new and really unusual business is pretty stressful.

I've had two major episodes in my life.  One was around the age of 13 when my parents split up. I stupidly refused to go into therapy and slowly clawed my way out of it. The two things that helped most (Other than a loving and supportive family) were a large and magical patch of forest that was behind the house we moved into and starting to study martial arts. The second major episode was short lived but acute - it was the first winter of moving to Chapel Hill for business school. Lots of stress from classes, almost no exercise, and short dark days. I was older and a little wiser, so I recognized what was happening quickly. I carved out more time for exercise. To make it a little more fun, I decided to learn just one of those "parkour moves." I watched this video, found a picnic table and got to work. Obviously, it changed my life.

I don't want to speak for anyone else who struggles with Depression, but for me it never really "goes away." It's always there, but most of the time it doesn't cause any trouble. I remember being really preoccupied for a time about whether I could still experience normal sadness without somehow triggering an episode. I tried my best to not get sad EVER... which clearly is impossible. I learned that getting sad and getting Depressed were different - they felt different. For me, unless things are really bad, I can still experience a range of emotions while Depressed, but it's like they've been desaturated. I can feel happy, but there's not a lot of happiness in my happy, if that makes any sense. Perhaps because of this, I've always been pretty functional even while struggling with Depression. I daresay most folks I've encountered over the past few months didn't realize I am Depressed. The tough part this time around is that there really isn't a good way to eliminate the stress - and my typical coping mechanism (exercise) is now intimately connected with the source of the stress (the business) A proper pickle, that...

The upshot is that I spend a good portion of every day absolutely convinced that I am doing everything wrong and that I am utterly worthless as a small business owner, as an athlete, and especially as a coach. In brighter moments I'm able to reflect on the fact that I generally get very positive feedback from my students. Objectively, I know that while I still have a lot of room for improvement, I'm a pretty good teacher. Some self-doubt is good. It guards against hubris and the development of the cults of personality that plague so much of the fitness industry. But too much doubt is crippling and I often feel paralyzed by it or like I am spinning my wheels in an attempt to compensate for my perceived lethargy.

So yes, this round of Depression has been tough to crack. I think I'm the type of person who would benefit from therapy, but it isn't in the budget. I've never tried medication, but I'm open to the idea. I am consistently frustrated with how Depression is treated in the paleo community. There is general derision of any kind of anti-depressants and a constant refrain of "diet and exercise can treat Depression better than pills!" While I am firmly in the camp of "try lifestyle changes before drugs," I know many people for whom anti-depressants have been a life-changer. These are people who eat well and exercise. Anti-depressants are a tool, and they are often the right tool for the job. If things weren't improving, I would definitely consider them.

Yes, things have been getting much better. Interestingly, the answer seems to be LESS exercise. Also, getting better sleep and spending 30 minutes each day sitting still and breathing... some people call it meditation. I still have plenty of sad days, but overall this past month has been much much better. I've been down this road before and this definitely feels like I'm travelling in the right direction.

Why write all of this? Well, in part it's therapeutic to put it down and get some perspective. Also, I tend to be very direct when dealing with some issues and extremely passive on others. Depression fell into the latter category and I want to change that.

Finally, I suppose I'm hoping to demonstrate to other coaches/fitness professionals (or anyone really) that it's okay to make yourself vulnerable. The hard act may seem smart and it may seem like that's what clients want, but too much hardness makes you brittle. True strength is knowing how to bend. We're all human, we all make mistakes, we all have limits to our abilities and we all need help sometimes. You don't have all the answers and you don't need to. This may sound odd, or downright stupid, but admitting you don't know everything, that sometimes you are weak, and that you make mistakes is, I think, absolutely vital for long term success.... as long as you then commit to improving.

To all my wonderful students, I'm sorry if I've seemed a little down over the past few months. I'm working on it! - and you all help more than you can know. I am extremely fortunate to have a great support system of friends and family for whom I am extremely grateful.

If you've had any similar experiences and feel like talking about it, go ahead and drop a comment. I'm definitely not a doctor or a councilor or anything, but I'm listening.