3 July 2018
Written by Steven R.A. Markin
Before 2007, I isolated myself in the house because of my depression. It was the only time in my life that I have suffered from agoraphobia and battling it was a prolonged process that I firmly believe I am still fighting.
11-years later, I have noticed over the last month that I have been fearful and struggling again. The physiological components of my depression, and quite possibly yours too, don’t allow for adequate energy to get out of bed, which is a scary thought because I am athletic, and before July, I have spent countless of time exercising. My depression isn’t a state of sadness, I have felt debilitated to my bed, and everyday tasks have become goals.
However, over the course of time, apart from four days where I pretty much just slept on and off for the entire time, I have been achieving these everyday goals that I was taking for granted.
- My 20-minute walks on the treadmill in the garage, turned into 20-minute walks outside, and then into 45 to an hour-long walk outdoors.
- From not wanting to eat and hardly eating, to making meals regularly, to now I barbeque and cook for my brother and I, and sometimes my father.
- Writing a poem or two before bed, to editing, painting pictures, and now writing blogs and working on my book of poems throughout the days and night.
- And, from hardly working out in the garage for about 30 minutes, to full 2-hour sessions, to bike riding to school and working out for 2.5 hours.
The last point is what I am going to talk about:
I decided I needed a reason to leave the house. I have not been on my bike in over a month, nor at the school gym for about four months. The gym offers cheap summer rates, and it was going to be Canada day, so I borrowed the money from my brother, and tried to get some sleep.
Of course, going to the gym shouldn’t seem like much to most (or maybe I am wrong?), but to me in this mental state was something big. I was afraid. Everything I thought about it, I thought of who could be there, who would say what, and who will think of what. I thought irrational, and this kept me awake for quite a while. The idea, however, was fixated in my mind. I knew that I had to go because I refuse to slip back into my depression and to stay all day indoors.
I woke tired but excited to go to the gym. I knew that going to the gym would be hugely beneficial for me, physically, cognitively, and social-emotionally. Although, I was scared to be around others, and I certainly had no intentions of talking to anyone.
While getting ready, there was a shift in my focus. It was slight at first. I thought of my ex and how she could be there, and I would rather not deal with too much today. I kept thinking, and as I thought, my motivation to go declined. I even got annoyed. My brother has a habit of running the water upstairs. He swears it is to fill up his water bottles and wash things. Nothing gets cleaned, so I am sure it is his anxiety. His cat was whining at the door to get out, and I couldn’t get my hair done right, or find my shirt, or even make my lunch fast enough. I set a time to be out, and I had plenty of time. My heart was racing, and my hands were shaky. My brother talked to me, asking about my night. Then he talked about video games. I hardly contributed because I had one thing on my mind, everything associated with the gym and getting there.
Finally, I left. My brother wished me good luck. And I took my bike out for the first time like I have done thousands of times. I felt light, more accurately, numb. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking, and my head was off. I rode in the community and through the alley to avoid people and vehicles. Luckily the pathway to school is mostly a path. I kept my head down and focused on bike riding. I counted to 3, held my breath for 3, and then exhaled for 6. Then I passed Heritage. It was Canada day, and full of families and families on the bike path are the worst. Often both lanes are either taken up by slow walkers, or by people who do not pay attention, nor know that bikes also use the path. I inhaled for 3, held for 3, and then exhaled for 3. I did this often throughout my 40-minute bike ride. I told myself I could do this, and when my mind thought otherwise, I tried to plan out a light workout. “I can do this,” I kept saying. “Even if it is a light workout, it is a success.” I stopped twice on the path to drink my water, and the second time was the hardest to start peddling again. I thought of too much. I felt exposed outside, vulnerable. I couldn’t do it, and I couldn’t go back through the crowd. I felt stuck, and I wish I had stayed home.
I got back on my bike, and I rode to the gym. Once I got to the school, another large group. There were a soccer tournament and many people. I was anxious and rode the other way around the school. The long way of finding a place to park my bike. I couldn’t make up my mind where to park it. I even thought that someone would steal it (I never would feel like this). Then, I walked the hallways as I have for four years, but with no one around until I got down the stairs in the recreation center when someone greeted me. Maybe my response seemed forced, but I said something – weeks of only talking to my family – I said something to someone else, and I asked for the summer membership. I passed him my money while shaking and stood there anxiously looking around trying to focus on one spot and not stare. Walking into the gym, was one of the hardest things yet, and I did it. There was hardly anyone around. I did my workout, kept to myself, and went downstairs where it was busier. My legs shook, my hands vibrated, my heart raced, and I was in panic mode, but I did it.
This event may not seem like much, and I get it. But to me, I left the gym proud of myself; although nearly passing out, and the shaking lasted for hours afterwards, I felt pride. My brother was proud, and so was the rest of my family.
Steps that helped me:
- I started off with a small idea, such as in the garage for a short period.
- I pushed myself throughout the week to extend this time, and I started to enjoy it.
- Then my plan grew to go to the gym, which involved a lot more, but after going for walks, and enjoying working out again, I kept this in mind throughout my panic attacks.
- In my head, I focused on breathing (inhaling for half the duration as an exhale with a hold; 1:2 ratio),
- I tried to encourage myself and concentrate on little steps, such as which exercises I would like to do. I kept the plan for the workout very short but ended up adding more because it felt good.
- During my moments downstairs, although certainly the most shaking I have experienced in public, I focused on my breathing, but I also thought about creating art. I thought of the painting I have been working on and what I would like to do next. Shifting my thoughts to something creative, helped. The shaking didn’t stop, and I did go back upstairs before leaving the gym, but I felt proud.
I went again today, and the shaking was much less. I did have a rush of anxiety near the end and brought my boxing gloves upstairs to hit the heavy bag. And people were around and watched, but I kept my chin down and focused on the bag. My first rounds, where not smooth, and my breathing increased, but my mind calmed. I kept at it for ten rounds at 1 minute On, 45 secs OFF. I rested on the mat and got out. I may have walked with my head down, but I felt good.
Tools that may help:
Mediation music: Ocean Waves: Calming Sounds
or Books: Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life, You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, and
The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness
Art supplies: Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint, Canvas panels, Paint Brushes, Adult Coloring Book, Coloured Pencil, 24 Pack.
Search YouTube for meditation music (my favorite is in the link – share your favorite, if you want).
Feel free to share your experience and strategies with depression, or of anything, in the comments below. stevenmarkin.com is my way of reaching out for help, and there is more to come. Thanks for reading.
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