As part of my blog I (MM) believe it’s important to share common and similar experiences. Through the wide reach of the fitness community across social media, I’ve been able to connect with Diana (DB) a fellow advocate for exercise and mental health, I’m really inspired by her journey and what she is achieving.
MM: You’ve experienced mental health challenges since your teens. Can you expand on why is exercise important in regards to your mental health?
DB: When I was young I was very athletic. I was always going from practice to practice and it really helped keep me focused. Eventually, I could no longer afford the training and I didn’t bother to stick to my own routine. My depression had always been there but now without sports, my mind could only focus on what was wrong. I let myself sink deeper and deeper into the sadness and did absolutely nothing about it for years. Finally at the start of 2016 I had a wakeup call, I was getting sick quite often, had zero confidence in myself and was in desperate need of a healthier life. I began to make changes to my diet and added in some workouts little by little. I kept going and the more consistent I was with my new routine, the less I felt depressed and the more weight I lost as well. This healthier more active lifestyle has become a healthy addiction because I now feel all the benefits of taking care of yourself. I still have depression but now I know that if I go and continue my routine then I am proving to it that I am in control and I always feel so proud after. Exercise keeps all those “feel good chemicals” flowing in your brain and it’s an amazing way to channel all the stress you might feel from day to day.
MM: Can you tell me about your ‘why’ for starting the Fuck Depression Fitness platform and the meaning behind the bracelets?
DB: Initially I started my Fuck Depression Fitness Instagram page just as a sort of online diary. I was not inspired by the Instagram fitness celebrities because most of them only post about what is going right and glamourous in their life, it was very superficial. I felt I needed to become that page that shows the good and the ugly side of things so people can relate. The more in depth that I shared then the more people started to respond saying that they were happy someone was bringing up the topic mental health when it comes to being more fit. This is when I decided I needed to really step up and be that role model I was looking for. I needed to be an inspiration to myself and by doing that I can inspire others. The bracelets came about because I felt I needed something to serve as a symbol. When I was younger, I always had some sort of “lucky” bracelet so I thought it would be nice to have a symbolic item to remind people why we started. The bracelet serves as a reminder that you can cast your anchor into a better life, that you are not alone and that you can do anything you want to achieve in life. My goal has been to form a community of people who can connect with one another to motivate each other and life one another when going through tough times.
MM: When you have experienced depression, and are in the low moments, what advice would you give to people about how they can ground themselves?
DB: This is when you are really put to the test because it’s “easy” to stay grounded from day to day but when the low moment hits your depressive instincts shift into quitting mode. I suggest that you try your best to not listen to that negative voice and do everything in your power to maintain your food and exercise schedule. For example, when I’m in a low moment I don’t want to move at all and I want to break my diet by eating excessive junk food. There have been times I gave in and I felt so bad and disappointed for doing so. After that, I made myself get up and go exercise and eat all my good meals. At the end of the day I was so proud of myself for sticking to my routine and not letting the negativity point me in the other direction. Also it has helped me to tell people around me that I am having a tough day because it helps to get that extra push from others when you feel that you’re losing control. Remember that a low moment is just that, a moment. It will pass but you also have to believe in yourself and be willing to and want to work to make the change.
MM: With depression it’s not always possible to remain objective or recognise negative subconscious behaviours, how did you get help to recognise these behaviours?
DB: Sometimes my husband would help me realize these things but honestly most of it has been because I have spent so much time analyzing myself. I made it a goal for myself when I started to get off my medication to really pay attention to my thought patterns and how I reacted to certain things. I realized when faced with a stressful situation I would dwell on the negative on why I couldn’t face it. With time, I began to learn more and more about ways I would react so I would change. At the very beginning it was a huge part to be analyzing how I think because I needed my mind to work for me and not against me. I spent a lot of time repeating to myself in my mind that “yes I can” or to not listen to the part that tells me I can’t. I repeated this and practiced this so much that it’s now become natural for me to push away those bad thoughts and fight them with better ones, food and exercise.
MM: There is a lot of focus on strong body’s, as a visual reference. But in your experience how important is it to have a healthy mind alongside this?
DB: Having a healthy mind is a HUGE part of having a strong body. It doesn’t mean you can’t struggle with a mental illness, we all have our issues. What I mean is that we recognize our weaknesses and have a strong desire to combat them the right way. Many times before I started to try to improve but I’d quit a few weeks or 2-3 months after. It was my mind that would quit, not my body. I just wasn’t willing at the time to push myself to go the extra mile. Your mind is what will help power you through the tough days, it’s the voice that will inspire you when nobody is there to help. We can’t always rely on others to motivate us, we need to be able to motivate ourselves and once we can manage to do that then we can accomplish it all.
MM: Having a mental health illness could be seen as a weakness, but in your experience how is it actually a strength?
DB: Mentall Illness is a weakness if you let it. You can let it crumble you from the inside out if you don’t try to do anything about it. If you fight mental illness then you are actually turning it into a strength. Illness or no illness, we all deal with negative thoughts but a mind that struggles with illness deals with those thoughts on a whole other level. By fighting those mental demons, it makes us stronger than anyone and it makes us destroy obstacles that our mind has put there. We gain a whole new perspective on life when we break down the walls our illness put there. In that we find strength to continue fighting. When you manage to get over those mental hurdles, you realize how powerful you can be and you begin to wonder what else you are capable of. There is strength in every “weakness”.
MM: You’ve talked about your weight loss on Instagram, what advice would you give to someone looking to start a healthy nutritional programme?
DB: I suggest first off to not fall victim to all those Instagram celebrities who sell meal plans. They’re not all bad but just watch out for people who don’t actually know about nutrition. If you are going to consult someone about a meal plan, don’t get one of the one size fits all, get one tailored for your needs and goals. This is why I am straight up, because I fell for all these quick & easy fixes. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is. I’m not a nutritionist or a personal trainer so I can’t really construct custom plans but I do share what I am doing if it helps guide others. What I can suggest is to make sure you are eating the right amount of protein, carbs and fats. Make sure they are good quality too as in complex carbs and healthy fats or lean proteins. There’s some supplement stores that will even help you construct a meal plan. Really it is not that complicated as it may seem, it sounds intimidating & complex but you just have to throw yourself out there. I started by swapping out unhealthy choices with better alternatives. I observed how my body responded and since then I have been adjusting my intake to suit my body. You have to play around a bit, do some research and ask trusted people who can guide you if you have any doubts. Nutrition is the biggest part so you can’t just eat crap and train hard. You need to fuel your body with the right ingredients in order to maximize the results. When you eat right you will be amazed by how much more responsive your body is.
MM: With a broken bone, there is a recovery period before it heals. Mental health is fluid, so what would you say to people who think it can be fixed in the same way?
DB: Healing your mind is not something you can say that for everyone it will heal in a certain period of time. We are all different therefore our recovery times will vary. A lot of people also have underlying traumatic experiences that they need to deal and make peace with and that can take a while. People need time, patience, support and inspiration to heal. Also many of us will always have whatever illness we suffer from but we just learn how to handle it better. My depression is not gone, I still have it I just have learned how to fight it to lead the best possible life. I feel happy most of the time but I do have my days where I feel low and need to fight back harder.
MM: What are you currently training for?
DB: I’m not really training for any kind of event. I’m just working hard on my health because it has become my therapy. I am interested maybe in the future in competing in something. I have been researching powerlifting and also figure competitions but I’m not really sure if that’s something I’ll do. At the moment I am focusing on reaching my fitness and nutritional goals while helping inspire others to try the same.
MM: Based on your experiences, what do you believe to be true?
DB: The one thing I have really found to be true is that your mind makes a difference. You can buy the gym membership, the supplements and all the foods but if your mind is not in it then that stuff is just going to sit there. In order for you to take advantage of all the benefits of these things, you have to truly want to make progress. You have to believe or at least really want to believe in yourself. It’s true that sometimes we just don’t believe in ourselves at first, I certainly didn’t. As time went on I began to see that I am capable of making changes and once that realization settles in then I was truly committed to this life. Your mind can be your enemy or it can be your friend, believe it or not you can control which one it will be. It is not a simple task but is it achievable? Yes, it is. I think some people view those who have completed these insane transformations and don’t believe that they can do it as well. It’s like they view these people who transformed as having some special quality that they lack. These people are like you and me, they just really believed in themselves and you can do it too. This isn’t an ability some are born with and others don’t have, this is something you can build on and strengthen over time. You can get to where you want to be but you have to believe in yourself and be willing to work hard.