Lift the Stigma

Awhile back, I stumbled across a quote that stopped me in my tracks. It’s a simple quote, but one that really resonated with me.

It said  “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

And it’s so very, very, true, isn’t it.

Sometimes, we forget that though. We get wrapped up in our own lives and pressures and difficulties. It’s so easy to look at someone else and think “Man, they’ve really got it all together”. We may think that everything is perfect for that other person – maybe they have a great job, a good relationship, or seem to have lots of spare cash to throw around. To top it all off, they always look so darn great too. Yeah, with all that good stuff they’ve got, we’re pretty sure that person couldn’t possibly have any problems. Not like ours, anyway.

But we never know the real struggles that someone else might face, do we?

My Dad was one of those “got-it-all-together” people I just mentioned. He had a career that he was good at, and it gave him a comfortable lifestyle. He had a family that loved him. Even though he didn’t necessarily take good care of himself, he was in great physical health. And of course, I think he was quite a handsome fella too.

But he fought hard battles of his own that no one knew about.

My Mom remembers when she first met Dad that he could be a bit serious, but also had a real fun-loving side. He enjoyed a good joke, and playfully teased his friends a lot. He always wanted to be out with people on a Saturday night, and was even known to be the first guy to go under the limbo bar at a party  – Not an easy feat for a guy who was 6’4″.

I still find it hard to believe the limbo bar story actually happened. You see, I never knew that side of him. The Dad I knew was always quiet, very intense and serious, and didn’t like to go out very much. And he worried a lot.

He was diagnosed with depression shortly after I was born.

When I got older, Dad would sometimes tell me that he felt guilty – and actually ashamed –  of his depression. He told NO ONE outside our immediate family of his diagnosis, and asked us not to tell anyone either. On the surface, he knew he had a lot of good in his life, and felt he “should” be happy and grateful.

But he just couldn’t shake how he felt, and he felt horrible about it.

Since his death, I have thought a lot about just how torn up and lonely he must have been. How awful to think that he felt responsible somehow for his illness, that he felt it was in some way “his own fault”, and he just needed to try and “cheer up”. His doctors reassured him that it wasn’t his fault in any way – they said all they needed to do was find the right pharmaceutical combination for him, and he would feel better.

Unfortunately, he never did feel better. They tried him on all sorts of different medications over the years, and none seemed to give him the relief he longed for.

I often wonder if maybe some other things in combination with his meds might have helped to ease his pain, even just a little bit. And one of the things I find particularly fascinating is the connection researchers are finding between exercise and mental health.

Though I haven’t had a medically diagnosed depression like my Dad did, I have had some dark periods in my life. One of the things that I know has helped me during those times has been exercise. Even when the last thing I wanted to do was lace up my shoes and hit the gym, I knew that if I just got there and did SOMETHING, I might feel better. I didn’t know the specifics why, I just knew it happened.

Turns out science is starting to back up what I felt during my workouts. If you’re interested in reading more about this, there are lots of links I can provide. This article and this one are two good places to start.

About six months ago, I started working with a fabulous personal trainer. Kim is highly educated not just in the physical aspects of exercise, but the mental ones as well. She seems to know exactly what I need on which days – when to push me to my limit, and when I need a session that might help calm me down somewhat. We’ve talked a lot during our sessions about the benefits of exercise on mental health. As a trainer, she noticed that many clients and gym members were dealing with anxiety and depression, and wondered what she could do to help with this a bit.

So she decided to hold an event. It’s called Lift the Stigma, and it’s happening this Saturday, April 22nd.

Kim has organized teams of trainers, their clients, and other gym members who will participate in a lift-a-thon. At the event, every trainer will have a group of 5 lifters, competing against other groups to see who can lift the most amount of weight. They will have 10 minutes at each exercise (the bench press, dead lift and squat) and totals will be calculated at the end. Prizes will be awarded to the group that collectively lifts the most weight, as well as to the group that raises the most amount of money. All money raised will be given to Healthy Minds Canada, a national charity working in mental health and addictions.

It’s something I feel very strongly about, and I’m participating in memory of my Dad.

If you’d like to help us spread the word about it, that would just be so awesome. Or if you are interested in donating yourself, all the details are here.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.