When my depression started to lift after starting a much-needed prescription, I came to the scary realization that certain aspects of my personality and outlook on life were driven by that altered state of mind. Or rather, those aspects were a part of who I was until I started tinkering with my neurochemistry.
One of my most popular posts on here is about how much I hate cooking – not the act of meal preparation itself as a stand-alone chore, but the fact that it ate into my time and energy and involved more focus and coordination than I felt I could reasonably muster on a daily basis. Do I still struggle with this? Sure, somewhat. But one night recently, I was pulling dinner together and realized that I felt … nothing. Not gloriously blissful, certainly, but also not frustrated, exhausted, or overwhelmed. Just … normal? Is this what normal feels like? I mean, if you love cooking, you may feel blissful while making dinner. But if you think cooking is just ok or feel otherwise neutral about it, you will treat it as just another chore. And you won’t usually be angry or depressed over it unless your brain is wired to trigger those emotions over the event. That must have been what was happening to me before, because suddenly I am sort of ok with making dinner.
Another thing that changed was my attitude toward exercise. I’m still very much pragmatic about my approach to working out: it serves the goal of overall health, and I am going to do only what I need to do to optimize my health. So you will never catch me doing a mud run or a triathlon or any of that. I just don’t like that stuff. I didn’t like it when I was depressed, and I don’t like it now. But I also don’t hate on people who joyfully engage in these torture sessions, sitting from the sidelines, bemoaning my weight gain and rolling my eyes at the billionth Facebook post on someone bragging about running through lava and punching a shark. At least, I think that’s what these things involve.
Anyway, I no longer hate exercise. I am no more exuberant about working out than I am about pan-frying pork chops for my family. But I am now incorporating weight training into my life because (1) I want to lose weight, and I know cardio is not the way to do it; (2) there are some pretty far-reaching mental health benefits to exercise, of which I was not previously aware; (3) I am somehow finding the time to do it now, probably by way of severe neglect of something else I need to be doing, but oh well; and (4) I have a bridesmaid gown to fit into this summer (i.e., see item number one).
So this isn’t going to be a feel-good post about how I embraced exercise and a healthy lifestyle overall after years of negativity. It’s just … ok. It’s normal to just exercise because you know it’s good for you and something you should do. It’s ok to be neutral about it, and not run out to sign up for the closest marathon. Frankly, I like exercising alone. I can focus on my form instead of losing concentration due to getting chatted up with a buddy. I like buddies and all – but I like them better with a well-earned glass of wine, not in the gym or on a hiking trail or on a yoga mat.
If this post resonates with you, then take heart, ye like minded ok-with-exercise person! You too can start incorporating just the right amount of working out into your life to get the results you want. Unfortunately, I am the last person you should turn to for advice on this. But if you want to get a sense of what is working for me — a 36-year-old female who is three years out from two pregnancies and has had some yo-yo weight loss and gain for that entire period — see below:
Exercise: Pulley exercises (it’s an adjustable weighted cord thingy) for upper arms, shoulders, and legs; crunches, push-ups: 15 reps of each, 3 sets. I do this 4 days per week. I pick a fifth day, usually over the weekend, to do 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio on my elliptical machine.
Diet: I dropped grains and refined sugar. Again. Every time I let wheat, rice, oats, and the sweet stuff back into my life, I balloon up. I’m also trying to swap out an abundance of fruit with more leafy greens and animal-based protein. Dairy happens sometimes, but I’m trying to stick with the protein-rich, less processed stuff. Right now I am using an online calorie tracker, and I have a general sense of the range I need to be in each day. But if I go a bit over or don’t have time to track on a particular day, I don’t worry about it.
I hope this helps someone. The point is, if you are like me and just want your life to be simple yet healthy, and you have no goals to be an Olympic athlete, it is totally ok to just do what you can and what makes you feel good. And if you are in a bad place, go find the help you need and you might find that the solutions to some of your problems seem to magically work themselves out on their own.