“Exercise helps depression, go to the gym….”
How many times have we all heard this cliché? If you’re anything like me then the answer is “more times than I can physically carry in my gradually fading long term memory”. The thing about clichés though, is they tend to be true. That’s why they’re cliché’s, spilling copiously from the mouths of people with the best of intentions, but who really have no idea what they are talking about.
If you’ve ever been in the throes of a bout of depression you’ll know that, actually, going to “the gym” is more likely to push you over the edge and culminate in a short spell at the local facility for “like-minded” others, than to actually help you in any way.
Let’s assume for one moment that you can actually muster the small amount of energy required to get out of bed, brush your teeth and generally meet your basic needs of nourishment and hygiene. Let’s also say, for arguments sake, that once you are ready (wearing ill-fitting gym clothes which have been comfortably hibernating in their natural habitat at the bottom of your wardrobe for what feels like decades), that you can fight away the problems eating away at your skull like termites in a decaying snag long enough to leave the house and actually be seen in public. Problems, by the way, that may seem like mole hills to normally functioning adults, but which to you feel like insurmountable obstacles on a sempiternal assault course designed to reduce the terminator to tears of frustration and inadequacy.
Let’s say all these things happen and you make it to this magical place that is going to cure your ailments through the power of sweat and exercise, what are you actually confronted with? A stale room full of strangers that appear to be as faceless and lifeless as you feel. Long rows of machinery that look like they will provide as much fun as attending your local am-dram production of Les Mis. Cliques of muscle-bound monkey men who horde all the equipment and look at you in judgement as you try to make a genuine difference in your life. In short, you are confronted with the face of hell for the depressed. I tried this path for months… on and off, on and off, on and off. I felt no connection with what I was doing and never made any progress. Yet I couldn’t figure out why, even though the answer was straight ahead, in bold font. There was literally nothing enjoyable in what I was doing, so how was it ever going to make me feel better? A man cannot live on endorphins alone, it has to have a meaning, a purpose, and most importantly it must be fun!
So what are the alternatives? Oh yeah, there’s CrossFit. My girlfriend does it, she never stops talking about it and keeps trying to get me to come down to her local box to give it a try. But I’ve watched videos on-line and it looks mental, you need to be superhuman to do this stuff surely? But what’s the worst that could happen? Might as well give it a go and see if it helps. I think. Maybe. Well… next month for sure.
CrossFit Exe doesn’t look like a gym. I walk in to what I thought was an industrial unit and its really cold, and quite bare. I can see weights and barbells and a pull up bar, but it’s so far removed from what I associate with being a gym that I honestly double check myself and have to ask, do people really train in this place? Yes they do. Every single day. And here’s why… the head coach Jaime and his wife Lex are two of the nicest people on this planet. They have worked hard to build this business from nothing and genuinely care about every single person who walks through the door. In Jaime you find expert coaching from a guy who practices what he preaches. He has a no nonsense attitude and differentiates his classes in a way that includes and stretches everybody, from the seasoned WOD’er to the first timer who doesn’t even know what WOD stands for (that was me, by the way). I found myself feeling welcomed immediately and doing exercises that I didn’t even know existed.
And I actually started to enjoy it, despite aching in places I had never felt before. Most important however, is the community that has built up at CrossFit Exe. They are the friendliest, warmest, most welcoming, non-judgmental and amazing badasses in town.
Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I struggle in those socially awkward first meetings with new people, and more so in group situations, where my voice and confidence get lost under swells of other people’s laughter and chatter. I think there are some people in that box that I have gone months without introducing myself and talking to, not because I didn’t want to, but because my anxiety, as it often does, got the better of me. I must seem like a bit of a miserable weirdo at times, and indeed I think I really am, but no one in that box has ever judged me for a second for that. They always smile, say hello, ask me how I am… and then scream at me when I’m about to quit in a workout. They fight alongside me, fall on the floor gasping for air and then scramble over to give me a high five, regardless of how well I have performed. They make exercise fun. I laugh more at CrossFit than anywhere else and I feel like the people in that box all have my back, just like I would have theirs if they needed me. It’s funny, in the end this is what helped me, the community, the friends I have made and the good times I have with them as we all strive to become better. The exercise is an additional bonus.
Huge thanks to Jaime, Lex, the coaches and ALL the members of CrossFit Exe, you make my days easier and you don’t even know it.
Up yours depression. Sincerely, Sam Cooper.