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How I Learned to Grit My Teeth and Survive After My Mental Breakdown

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Several years ago, I had a breakdown.

I stayed at home for three weeks with the curtains shut tight and the TV on 24 hours a day. I slept on the couch with a baseball bat in my hand should something bad happen and dozed in and out of sleep all day whilst my dog Benson did the same.

I realized I was not bulletproof, no matter how hard I pushed myself in the gym or how big my muscles grew. I did not like this discovery. It made me feel vulnerable.

As I contemplated where my life had gone so wrong, I would take another swig of beer from the collection of bottles by my side and eat another slice of cold pizza from the box despite the fact the sun had just risen. I let the time pass as my gut expanded and my ambitions shrank. I would think about the relationship I fucked up with all my lies and cheating and how I’d ruined my business with a succession of bad decisions. I’d paid my last pounds to my landlord and I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to get off the floor and start rebuilding my life.

I had no money and no motivation.

I was experiencing pain I’d never felt before and certainly nothing that could be duplicated in the gym. The pain in the gym was always short-lived; this hung around all day and was worse than a thousand squats.

I would train alone and listen to music through my earphones. I would pace up and down the room and listen to angry rock music, opera, hip hop, love ballads and motivational videos. All of my emotions would come out in the gym. It was a place to let go, to get out some of the pain and anger that was buried deep inside my gut. As I lifted weights, I would relate the struggle to life. I would always survive my workouts. I would sweat out some of the things that were eating me up. It hurt, but it was the best place for my mental state to be expressed. I have laughed and cried in the gym.

I don’t always feel like lifting weights but if I was ill and I didn’t take my medication, I would get worse. As a man who has always struggled with his mood, energy and mental health, this is the best medication I have personally found for me. For some, the gym and exercise are fun. I do not wish to remove the fun factor; I get pleasure from training too. But for me, it is a matter of existence. It is where I locate my fight and determination and alongside journaling, reading and various forms of meditation, I have discovered a balance of daily activities that make my life better. I have new forms of strength that are needed when life punches me in the mouth.

Weight lifting has less to do with building muscle and more to do with building resilience. I believe you will only know how resilient you are and how much training counts when your back is against the wall. No matter how shit or useless I was feeling, I knew an hour in the weights room would give me the strength to fight for another day.

When I am lying underneath the bench press and a heavy weight is bearing down on my chest, I have no choice but to dig deep and push the bar up. I don’t think about it; I just do it. It teaches you how to grit your teeth and survive.

I have learned how to keep pushing even when my muscles start to burn and I want to give up and drop the dumbbells. This skill can save your life.

It all started in the weights room.

Image via contributor

Originally published: March 26, 2020
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