Get Healthy

 

February, 4th, 2008: That date marks, as distinctly as any other, the start of my salvation from my own deepest depression. The night of the 4th was the first I ran.

I remember wallowing in the familiar morass of frustration and despair. But the momentary impulse, that would spark a new era, is too trivial to remember. It was probably just another typical displeasure. With the same infinitesimal nudge that directs a water droplet down a window pane, I walked into the cold night instead of hunkering in my room.

The brick walkway of my student dorm passed under my enormous, black shoes. My baggy jeans were draped over the top of them like thick canvas curtains. A ragged belt pinched them to my waist. And the quintessential college sweatshirt, draped amorphously over a white t-shirt, rounded out my attire. It was a truly pathetic ensemble for a runner.

I did not walk with any intention of running. But when I reached the perimeter of the property, and I crossed the tracks bordering the campus, I ran. It was more like falling in a continuous, clumsy gait. Unfit and ill-equipped, my lungs and legs began to burn almost immediately. But I kept running.

I kept running because it hurt. It was a form of self-destruction. The maddening numbness of misery had long induced other self-destructive habits. A typical outlet of adolescent angst, I’d used pain as an oasis of reprieve. And that night, for the first time, I channeled it through aerobic exercise. So I ran.

For me, white hot anger and evil black hatred were the catalysts to my escape. I not only utilized them, I exaggerated them. I didn’t let myself feel a little angry. I wanted fury. I would grab that feeling and intensify it. Then I would run on it.

In all my life I have never discovered a healthier use for those emotions. They were released non-violently, and caused no harm. They were focused towards a healthy outlet. And they heralded the end of a dark depression. This is the effect anger and hatred had on my life. So I ran.

Without any understanding of the monumental impact it would eventually have, I ran. Without any aspiration to lose weight or improve health, or even to achieve that ‘runner’s high’, I ran. I alchemized apathy into anger, and used anger as a fuel to run. I wasn’t enlightened. I wasn’t inspired. I was simply fed up. So I ran.

And I ran. And I ran. I ran nearly everyday after that. Six days a week, for six months, I shuffled home in that morphinic stupor: the runner’s high.

What started as a masochistic endeavor grew into an addiction, and then evolved into a habit. The most notable effect was lost weight, heightened fitness, and improved health. That of course lead to greater confidence and opened the door to the social and intrinsic benefits of participating in sports. I plunged down the unknown sequence of benefits and opportunities. And up out of darkness I climbed. This was the path I took, and the one I walk today.

But it began with running. Looking back years later, I understand why it had to begin with running, or at least some form of exercise.

In short, I needed to be healthier.

Depression is a sign of ill mental health. The mind and body work in synergy to produce health. So it follows that improving physical health would foster the mental health that characterizes overcoming depression.

Yet those struggling under the gloom of depression are often prescribed drugs sooner than they’re advised to adopt an exercise regime. Depressed folks ought be taken from their homes, and put on the track. The air ought be sucked from their lungs. Fire ought be injected into their legs. Sweat ought be pooled at their feet before pills are pushed down their throats.

For me, alleviating depression began by improving the health of my body.  The first move towards psychological empowerment was a physical one.  All else built from there.

Fortunately, most people in the developed world live in a healthy environment. Clean tap water is abundant. A healthy diet can be crafted from the wares of any grocery store. In every city there are parks, running trails, and gyms available. And fitness communities are as strong and supportive as any other.Those who reside in a Western country have the necessary environment.

Unfortunately they need the intrinsic drive. And therein lies the rub.

It is hard to dispute that the Western lifestyle is riddled with health detriments. Whether it’s a diet overloaded with sugar, fats, and salts; or an addiction to nicotine or alcohol; or a subsistence on processed foods; or the habits of indolence. Poor health is rampant in society.

It comes as no surprise then that many people are depressed, or carry a vague dissatisfaction with their lives. It makes sense that poor health is passed from parents to children through the habits they exhibit. When that combines with the turbulence of adolescence, depression is an almost inevitable consequence.

It follows that people then fall into a nasty Catch-22: One needs a healthy, empowered mind to supplant the habits that lead to poor health. One needs a healthy body to foster a healthy, empowered mind. And one must resolve this impossible loop within the atmosphere it was created. Shit.

I challenge the self-help genre as it fails to offer substantive tools for escaping a realm of desolation. In troubled times, all I wanted from such literature were simple, unambiguous instructions, backed by sound reason, that would help me help myself. What I mostly found was anecdotal, feel good fluff.

So, dear readers, for improved mental well-being; for a happier life; here is the first, simple, unambiguous instruction of mine: Run. That, of course, is only a method for the broader aim: get healthy. Lose weight, reduce sugar intake, eat more vegetables, exercise more. Whatever form it takes, get healthy. All the self-empowering notions in the world can wait. First, get healthy.

Still too vague a parameter?  Ok.  Ask yourself ‘Am I content with my life?’ and ‘Do I feel empowered to change my situation?’  Get healthier until one of those no’s becomes a yes.

Subjectively, I advocate physical health for mental well-being because it worked for me. Objectively, I advise it to others because a happy mind is a healthy mind, and a healthy mind needs a healthy body.

Let the cause of adopting a fitness regimen be a passionate anger for the status quo. Things suck, fuck everything, everyone, and how the world is. Then run on that, or swim on that, or bike on that, or punch raw slabs of beef on that. Don’t try to fix your life yet. Sometimes you need fucked up shit to contrive a spark.

Burn the fuel of malign emotions to keep running. Stick it out long enough to addict yourself to the endorphins that will train your brain to be happy again. Finally, let motivation derive from the effect of heightened fitness, greater pride of appearance, and augmented confidence.

It does not strike me as coincidence that my emotional well-being began to improve when my physical well-being did. That causal relationship is universally human. So one last time, to those who want to be happier: get healthier.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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