Anyone with any form of mental illness has heard it. An entirely well-meaning bit of advice. A genuine attempt to help. ‘You should go for a run’.*
*Or ‘you should try exercising’, or ‘you should get outside more’, or ‘you don’t need medication, you just need to get those endorphins going’.
The advice is its own brand of extremely irritating.
Not just because this handy tip completely dismisses the severity of someone’s mental illness (medication can help, therapy is often necessary, and running isn’t always enough to ‘fix’ things), but because I know that, in some small way, the person saying it is right.
I know that, while exercising won’t make me completely better, going for a run would help.
When I started experiencing depression in my teens, I sunk into it for years.
Then, one day, I started going to the gym.
I started doing regular workouts. I felt my mood lift.
Through university, I noticed that as long as I got enough sleep and did pilates a few times a week, I felt a lot better. I still had low moods and worries, but I wouldn’t let myself fall too deeply into that pit.
Then I graduated, started work, and out of nowhere, depression hit me harder than it had before – along with a fun new side of anxiety and obsessive worries.
Suddenly I couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed at the weekend. I would try to do pilates – something I used to love – and find myself slumping down mid-lunge and lying back on the mat, staring at the ceiling.
When getting up and getting dressed just felt like the hardest thing in the world, going for a run or hitting the gym felt impossible.
I moved house, canceled my gym membership, and lost the motivation to sign up for a new one.
I let my trainers gather dust.
The simplest things grew huge and insurmountable in my mind. My anxiety made me scared to leave the house, worrying about all the dangerous things outside and all the things that could go wrong.
On the days when my depression eased and I managed to lace up my trainers, my anxiety would jump in and tell me all the ways that going for a run outdoors was a terrible idea.
I lost any excitement about getting healthy or feeling stronger.
I hated how my body was turning soft, how I struggled to catch my breath as I walked upstairs.
But instead of that serving as motivation to start working out again, it just sent me spiraling into self-hatred.
I hated my body. I hated myself for not being able to do something so simple. I hated my brain for stopping me from doing something I knew would help.
It’s now been two years since I went to the gym. It’s been months since I last attempted pilates and a year since I actually made my way through a session without giving up.
It’s frustrating because I know that working out would help.
I feel like I’ve lost my old self, the one who loved pilates and running, who was learning to do the splits and training to do pull-ups.
I know that while exercise wouldn’t fix things (because endorphins, while brilliant, are a mood-booster, not a magical fix for mental illness), it’d lift my mood and make me feel a little better. It’d distract me from the niggling doubt in my mind that the boiler’s about to explode and my phone will set itself alight.
And that’s why when my dad, my friends, strangers on the internet tell me to ‘go for a run’ to fix my mental illness, it’s more than irritating, it hurts.
It’s a reminder that I’m failing to do something everyone else finds simple, that I can’t do something that could help.
It’s just a reminder that something’s going wrong in my brain. And that’s the opposite of helpful.
I can’t tell people that, obviously.
To every person telling me I don’t ‘need’ medication, that fresh air and working up a sweat is the natural cure, I’ve never said ‘hey, please don’t bash medication that’s helping me’ or ‘I know, but working up a sweat is pretty f***ing hard when you can’t get out of bed.’
I’ve smiled. I’ve thanked them for caring. Because what else can you do? They don’t mean any harm, they’re just genuinely trying to help – by recommending something that’s helped them.
But what a people need to understand is that depression is more than a bad mood. It’s more than just the everyday, occasional low feelings that everyone has.
Exercising helps everyone to feel a little better. But when your base mood is low enough to be suicidal, going for a run isn’t enough – and suggesting that it can be a replacement for medication or therapy just shows a profound misunderstanding of just how serious someone’s mental health issues can be.
Positioning exercise and getting outside as the ‘better’ fix than medication and therapy isn’t helpful to anyone – all it does is make people feel rubbish about needing to take meds.
So this is me, calmly, kindly asking people to please, please stop telling me that going for a run will make me feel better.
Yes, it will. But it won’t make me entirely okay. It won’t fix everything. And even if it would, it’s not as simple as getting up, putting on my trainers, and going.
Try to be a little more understanding. Don’t make me feel rubbish about being unable to do something that seems like such an obvious fix – I already feel rubbish enough.
If you can see that someone’s struggling and reckon that exercise would help, or remember how much they loved doing something before their mental illness became overwhelming, don’t judge them for being unable to do it alone.
Offer to go with them. Set up a plan. Give them motivation.
Help me get out of bed and put on my trainers instead of shaming me for finding it too hard to do something that seems so simple.
And remember that antidepressants and therapy will help me do that, too.
- Original article: http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/13/we-need-to-stop-telling-people-to-go-for-a-run-to-fix-their-depression-6505875/
- By , Senior lifestyle reporter