Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

“I had absolutely no direction in my life. I was a loose cannon. An unguided projectile… I viewed life in a negative, nihilistic, cynical, and overall pessimistic way.”

By Kevin Mangelschots

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.

Little did I know I was going to find this out firsthand.

Early on in life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I had loving parents and, in general, a loving family. I had plenty of friends. I excelled in sports and did well in school.

Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had was making sure I got passing grades. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well, he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.

But my perfect world didn’t last.

My Experience with Depression

Around the age of sweet 16, my life started changing rapidly.

I stopped feeling happy and optimistic. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a difficult time adjusting to my ever-changing environment and handling the pressure I believed was being put on me.

I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. My friends and schoolmates already knew what they were going to study when they went to college the next year. I, however, did not. I had no direction in life. I was a loose cannon, an unguided projectile, an immature and wild kid, busy with partying and drinking.

I started getting into frequent fights; I’m not a violent person, but the anxiety, negative emotions, feelings of helplessness, and an overall sense of feeling lost in this world led to physical confrontations with others. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.

Image by Annabel_P from Pixabay

Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real.”

In college, I decided to pursue the field of nutrition. Not because I had a strong desire to become a dietician, but rather, because people I knew from my home town were going this route, and I figured since I was interested in exercise/health, it might be a good fit.

Newsflash, it wasn’t.

I quit school two months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on friends rather than what you want in life is not the smartest idea. (Who would’ve thought, right?)

The following year, I gave it another try. This time I studied occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to earn a college degree despite my depression.

After I graduated and started working as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got better. I was motivated to help people relearn lost skills, improving their quality of life.

But in time, my thoughts turned dark again, becoming negative and nihilistic. I slept less and my sleep quality was poor. I would randomly wake up at night and cry because I felt so terrible. I withdrew from friends and family. I even discovered a way to measure the severity of my depression; when my mood worsened, I craved alcohol. Drinking was a way to self-medicate.

Image by succo from Pixabay

I continued to plow away at work, but an excessive sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. I was head deep into my depression.

One day, I woke up and found I couldn’t get out of bed. I had nothing left in the tank. I realized I needed to take some time off work to deal with my depression and get my life in order again. I called my parents and asked to come home.

At first, I didn’t leave the bedroom. There were successive days I didn’t get up to eat or shower. I was in constant mental pain. It was hell on earth.

One evening, I managed to get out of bed and sat down to eat dinner with my parents. They were silent, and looked tired and sad. Until this moment, my depressive haze prevented me from seeing how my illness impacted my family. I decided: that’s it, no more. It was my guilt that fueled the decision to fully contend with my mental illness.

Up until now, I was only living for myself, not participating and valuing what my parents, family, and others did for me. So, something needed to change. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my attitude.

I started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants. I took a sincere look at self, including undesirable traits I’d been afraid to face. I set goals for myself. And when I had zero desire to get out of bed, I pushed through. I made sure I did something useful every day.

After several months of therapy and medication, life became manageable. I talked more, was less irritable, and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved. At times I even looked forward to things!

How Depression Changed Me


Although the depression was tough on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought about some positive changes.

I became more mature and resilient; I learned to put things in perspective and take necessary responsibility. But the two most significant aspects that changed were my so-called “intellectual arrogance” and the pessimistic way I viewed life.

Before, I considered myself a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this was that I overvalued intelligence, viewing other aspects in life as inferior.

Moreover, my attitude was overwhelmingly cynical and negative. What I failed to realize is that focus shapes experience. And if you only pay attention to the negative, you miss the beauty life has to offer. Now, I actively search for the good and beautiful things happening around me.

What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control

In addition to medication and therapy, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Seeking help. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we’d like to. There are times when you will need help to cope with your depression. In addition to professional help, seek support from family and trusted friends. You may find that feeling heard and understood is what carries you through the darker days.
  • Setting goals. I had no desire to do anything in life. I had no goals. For severe depression, I would advise setting smaller goals you think you would mind doing the least (minimal effort) and/or goals which you found important in the past (before your depression took over).
  • Taking responsibility. Although depression can be debilitating, practice taking responsibility for the things in life under your control. For me, it was easy to blame others for everything that went wrong, believing the world to be wretched and unfair, but it didn’t do me any good.
  • Exercising. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemicals related to pleasure. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try a hobby that requires some level of physical exertion. As an additional benefit, engaging in exercise can take your mind off the stressful things in life.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My Depression Warning Signs

For me, there are clear signs that indicate my depression is coming back or worsening. Keep in mind that warning signs vary from individual to individual. What might be a warning sign for me may not for you.

  • My desire to do anything decreases. Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not just about hobbies. Things like getting out of bed and showering suddenly become difficult because I have zero motivation or energy.
  • My thoughts get darker and more negative. It becomes increasingly tough to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I become cynical and pessimistic.
  • Overthinking. I tend to overthink when things go bad, which is basically what depression is for me: feeling bad.
  • Anxiety. Negative thoughts and overthinking lead to increased levels of anxiety. My anxiety about the little things in life may seem insignificant to others who don’t have a mental illness, but a simple act such as calling or visiting a friend can freak me out and lead to rumination.
  • Ruminating. Intrusive thoughts run through my head and there’s no “off” switch.
  • Irritability. I become increasingly irritable; I’m in a foul mood all of the time and the smallest things piss me off.
  • Increased desire to self-medicate. I experience a strong desire to drink. Alcohol impacts the brain by triggering a release of dopamine. This rush of dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and happiness.
  • Decreased sleep quality. My overall sleep quality gets worse, partly due to constant overthinking and ruminating. Anxiety and stress are also big factors. And when I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.

Conclusion

Depression is a terrible disease that may go unnoticed if the signs aren’t recognized or known. A person with depression might attempt to maintain a positive front, possibly because they don’t want to complain or they’re afraid of being misunderstood.

There are multiple symptoms of depression; my symptoms went hand-in-hand, playing off one another and creating a vicious circle of negative thoughts that sucked the energy and lust for life from me.

Depression symptoms are different for different people. Learning to identify the symptoms will help you to recognize depression in others. Furthermore, an increased awareness enhances empathy and enables you to better support someone with depression.

I give the following advice to anyone with depression:

  • ☑ Don’t give up.
  • ☑ Seek professional help.
  • ☑ Seek support from your family and close friends.
  • ☑ Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
  • ☑ Take responsibility for the things you can control.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Is there a cure for depression? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression-free? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that my illness is manageable and livable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.


About the Author:

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and has created a platform for other bloggers to share their life stories where he writes about his own experience with depression at retellinglifestories.com.

Guest Post: How to Stay in Shape During the Lockdown

Two simple workout programs for the home; no gym required!

By Kevin Mangelschots

Crazy things are happening all around the world at the moment. The pandemic, lockdowns, riots… In times like these, it’s crucial that you keep your mind sharp and healthy. But in many places, gyms have not reopened. And not everyone has the luxury of owning a home gym.

If you lack access to a gym (home or otherwise), fear not! You will be amazed at how fit you can get with little (or no) equipment if you put your mind to it! This article reviews ways you can workout at home (minus the weights and fitness machines).

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Beginner Workout Program 

Warmup: 

⬜ 2-3 minutes of walking or riding the bike

Use this time to start your day off right. Go outside (weather permitting) and walk or ride your bike to warm up. If staying inside is your only option, walk in place or walk around your home.

Workout: 
  • ⬜ 30 seconds squats – 30 seconds rest
  • ⬜ 30 seconds planks – 30 seconds rest
  • ⬜ 30 seconds pushups – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30 seconds lunges – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30 seconds sit-ups – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30 seconds Superman – 30 seconds rest 

–> Repeat this routine 2x. 

Cooldown:

⬜ 2-3 minutes of walking or slow biking 

Intermediate Workout Program 

Warmup: 

⬜ 2-3 minutes of walking or biking

Workout: 
  • ⬜ 20 burpees – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30 close-grip pushups – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 20 Bulgarian lunges (10 left, 10 right) – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30-second plank – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 40-second side plank (20 seconds left, 20 seconds right) – 30 seconds rest
  • ⬜ 30 seconds mountain climbers – 30 seconds rest 
  • ⬜ 30 seconds Superman – 30 seconds rest

–> Repeat this routine 2x.

Cooldown: 

⬜ 2-3 minutes of walking or slow biking 

Adjusting Your Workout Program 

Both of the above workout programs can be easily modified to be less difficult or more challenging. Below, I will explain how you can experiment to adjust the difficulty of your workout program and ways you can experiment if you are getting bored. Sometimes, changing things up is necessary to maintain motivation.

Reduce or increase rest times. Reducing or increasing rest times will make the workout harder or easier. 
 
Increase or decrease the reps and sets. The amount of reps refers to how many times you repeat the same motion for one set. For example, bench pressing 100 kg (220.5 lbs) five times in a row counts as five reps. The amount of sets refers to how many times you repeat a number of reps. For example, bench pressing 100 kg (220.5 lbs) five times in a row counts as one set. You can do multiple sets of the same exercise after you take a short rest.
 
Increasing the amount of reps and sets makes the workout harder while decreasing makes it easier.  

Adjust the way you do certain exercises. Most exercises can be made harder or easier. For example, pushups can be done on hands and toes, the traditional way, but can also be performed on hands and knees. Alternatively, they can be done with your feet raised on a bench, making them harder.

Squats can be done with or without weights. If regular squats are too easy, you can perform single-leg squats to increase the difficulty of the exercise.

Image by Keifit from Pixabay

Add or decrease the number of exercises. You can also add or remove exercises from your routine to alter the level of difficulty. Exercises should be added as your level of training advances.

Consider adding the following exercises to a workout program:

The exercises listed above are just a few examples to add to your workout in order to make things trickier or for a nice change of pace if things get boring. Don’t hesitate to add your own exercises; get creative! Just be sure to perform any exercise with the correct form in order to prevent injuries.

Why Are These Workouts Effective?

The workout programs in this article are compound exercises. Compound exercises are exercises or movements that target multiple large muscle groups at the same time. (For example, squats are compound exercises that target the legs in addition to the back and abdominal muscles, among others.) With compound exercises, you get more “bang for your buck.” The core of any training program should always consist of compound exercises.

High-intensity interval training. This means your heartrate increases and stays elevated for prolonged periods of time. We accomplish this with exercises of a certain level of intensity and by keeping rest periods between the exercises relatively short.

Strength, endurance, and mobility combined into one workout. With these workouts you will become stronger because you use your own body weight as resistance and your endurance will increase because your heartrate goes up with this high-intensity interval training style. Your mobility will increase as well because you will be utilizing a full range of motion.

Easy, even for individuals lacking prior experience.

Easily adjustable workout routines. Multiple ways to adjust the templates to make your own workout more challenging or less difficult.  

Convenience and value. No equipment or gym memberships required; a cheap and easy path to fitness. Both exercise programs require little time and can be performed at home. No drive to the gym. What’s not to like?

Additional Home Workout Ideas

  • Dumbbell workout
  • ⬜ Cardio kickboxing
  • ⬜ Jumping rope
  • ⬜ Home trainer
  • ⬜ Treadmill
  • ⬜ Walking up and down the stairs
  • ⬜ Resistance bands workout
  • ⬜ Kettlebell workout
Image by Rattakarn_ from Pixabay

Closing Thoughts 

In comparing the workouts, the biggest differences between the beginner and intermediate programs are the amount of exercises, the difficulty level, and the overall volume. Rest times are initially the same because everyone’s cardiovascular health is different, but should be adjusted for each individual.

Keep in mind that the workout programs are templates only; they provide general guidelines that can be adjusted for fitness and training level as well as individual differences. For example, one person may struggle with pushups while another has difficulty with squats. Prior experience and recent injury or illness should be taken into account. You can reduce or increase reps/sets or perform alternate versions of an exercise, such as performing pushups on hands and knees if the traditional pushup is too hard.

The common stigma that you need a lot of fancy equipment or heavy lifting to stay in shape is not necessarily true. While exercises that utilize body weight only may not lead to bulging muscles, they will lead to fitness and you being in great shape as you lose fat and gain strength.

Getting in a quality workout with the current lockdown regulations is challenging, but with some knowledge and determination it can certainly be done!


About the Author:

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and writes about general health with a specific focus on mental health and self-improvement on his blog, healthybodyathome.com

 

Guest Post: The Toll Diabetes Takes on My Mental Health

Diabetes can take a toll on anyone. Michele Renee was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 22. In this post, she describes her experience with the disease, including how it affected her mental health. She also shares the key to finding peace with her illness.

By Michele Renee from Life With Michele Renee

Diabetes can take a toll on anyone, if not taken care of properly. When it comes to mental health though, diabetes is known to affect certain aspects of day to day life.

I first found out I had diabetes type 2 when I was 22 years old. I was overly stressed and eating my feelings way more than I should have. The stress and unhealthy lifestyle were what triggered my diabetes symptoms.

I have always dealt with depression and low self-esteem, but once my symptoms were triggered, I started to deal with memory loss, and a foggy brain. The best way to describe that experience is like you learn something that doesn’t quite make sense, but you could see where the concept is headed but you still can’t figure it out.

Then five minutes later you completely forget the meaning of the concept and where it was headed. I dealt with this constantly. I was in college during this time, and I ended up failing quite a bit of classes because I just couldn’t understand what I was learning. Also, on a test day, I would forget almost everything that I had studied.

How I Manage Diabetes Day to Day

I started having to keep an ongoing list of “To Do’s” and would have to revisit the list four or five times before I remembered to finish the “To Do” item.

This crossed over into my conversations with my friends and loved ones as well. Some days I wouldn’t remember what I said in a conversation from the day before. The short-term memory loss was horrible!

But once I started eating according to a diabetes diet, the fogginess and memory loss started to go away.

I also dealt with insomnia and poor sleep, and in a lot of ways that was a result of the foods I was eating. Once I changed my diet, and started exercising more, I slept a lot better.

Diabetes and Other Mental Health Issues

On top of diabetes, I also have a few other mental illnesses. One of them being bipolar disorder, rapid cycling. My highs would go for a week, then I would feel normal, then I would be low for another week, in terms of mood.

During my highs, I would often forget to eat, and that would leave me feeling shaky (a result of low blood sugar) and anxious. Some days, I would forget to eat for hours because I wanted to finish whatever inspiring project I was working on at the minute.

On my low mood swings, I would feel so depressed and sad, and sometimes even numb that I would binge eat. The binge eating would either be fast food or sugary foods (both of which I HAVE to avoid). This would cause me to feel nauseous and I would often get horrible migraines (a result of high blood sugar).

Insecurities From Diabetes

Dealing with both diabetes and my other mental health issues caused me to gain a ton of weight in the last fours years. I have gone through times where I lost the weight, then gained it back six months later.

It left me feeling very insecure, and like I had a bigger body than I actually do. I stopped taking photos of myself, and was mortified everytime I took a group photo with my friends. I found myself disgusted by my looks.

This led me to judge myself harshly when I deviated from my diet, and honestly probably pushed me to deviate more and more. The bad food was my comfort from my harsh criticism. It became a vicious cycle.

Healthy Living

Now, I try not to judge myself as harshly anymore. After beating myself up for so many years, I came to realize that I can find peace in this illness. I have managed it with diet alone and that is honestly a huge feat.

Most people who are diagnosed have to take either insulin shots or an insulin pill. I have pushed myself to find a healthy lifestyle that works for me. Once I did that, I started practicing accepting my flaws.

That is the hardest part of learning to love yourself, in my opinion. I also gathered a really strong support system that I go to almost every day when I am feeling super low or when I am feeling extremely insecure.

I also remind myself that no one is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. I have started putting little affirmations anywhere I can; I even made wallpaper affirmations for my phone!

Mental health is hard to handle when you are diabetic, but if you learn to love yourself, the process of managing it gets easier.

Read more of Michele’s inspiring posts at Life With Michele Renee, a lifestyle and wellness blog!

Guest Post: You Don’t Have to Exercise

Exercise is a choice. Trevor Jewell, a certified personal trainer, explains that while you don’t have to exercise, you should definitely consider it.

By Trevor Jewell, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer

You will definitely get more gratification from grabbing a pint of ice cream and putting your feet up for a Netflix binge. Obviously, we don’t exercise because we have to. No one is holding a gun to your head while you sweat and gasp for air in a crowded gym as the seconds of your life tick away on a treadmill timer. We exercise because we want to! We want to feel good, look good, and live long and happy lives free of pain and injury, so exercise becomes worth it.

Image by Sabine Mondestin from Pixabay

Many of my clients have told me during their consultations that they don’t like exercise. Cardio is boring, weights are intimidating, ab work hurts too much, the list goes on and on. But all of them, every single one, enjoys the feeling of having completed a tough and energizing workout. The important difference is, after discussing their goals, they have input on their workout plan in the form of choice.

Hate cardio? No problem! I’ll offer you routines with moderate intensity interval training that mimics the aerobic effect of jogging. Weightlifting too intimidating? We’ll try out different bodyweight routines that incorporate resistance training without ever touching anything but the floor. Ab work hurts? How about a few functional fitness games that utilize your core without shredding it like an 8 minute ab routine from Women’s Health magazine. For my advanced clients, I plan days where they get to use what they’ve learned and choose their own workouts while I simply help align their choices with their goals and provide coaching as needed.

Image by Joanna Dubaj from Pixabay

The point is, almost everyone performs better in an environment where they don’t feel trapped and locked into a routine. This is why hiring a personal trainer can be a truly liberating experience as people realize they never have to touch an elliptical again if they don’t want to, but can still lose weight! If you are dragging your feet on the way to the gym to half-heartedly complete yet another round of the same old routine, it’s time to incorporate more choice into your workout.

It should come as no surprise that freedom of choice can lead to better results outside of the gym as well. In a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists discovered a direct link between having choice in a workout and making healthier diet selections. Two test groups were given instructions to exercise and then allowed to eat at the same buffet. One group was forced to complete an exact routine, while the other was allowed to choose their type of exercise, starting time, and even background music. Upon reviewing their trips to the buffet, the authors discovered that those with more choice in their workouts consistently ate less calories (587 versus 399 kcal) and chose healthier foods than their counterparts!

Image by 272447 from Pixabay

If you’ve ever piled three extra slices of pizza on your plate as a reward for going to the gym that morning, you know exactly how the “forced” participants were feeling. Treating an exercise routine as something you have to “get out of the way” or “get over with” will cause you to feel trapped, and to disassociate your workouts with your life. Our goal as personal trainers is not to force people to get healthy, but to get them to associate an energizing workout in the gym with the overall goal of a healthy lifestyle. We don’t have to exercise, we choose a higher quality of life, and have fun doing it!


Trevor Jewell is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with EnDevor Health: Connecting doctors, exercise physiologists, and personal trainers to truly implement Exercise is Medicine in patients’ lives, located in Columbus, OH