How to be not unhappy
There’s a lot of talk of how CrossFit helps you physically, indeed gyms are making the extraordinary but very real claim that they are curing type II diabetes, but I would say one of the most positive effects of CrossFit, that I see in myself and with a lot of my members, is a mental one.
The news today (if you ignore relentless Brexit) discussed how Doctors’ go-to prescription for depressed patients is anti-depressants. Perhaps there are other therapies out there that could work better than pills, such as talking therapy.
I thought about this in relation to my own depression when I was younger. At 18, I took an overdose. At 21 I was on anti-depressants, which I continued to take for most of my twenties. Ant-depressants didn’t really help. Sure they stopped me crying all the time but they put me in a kind of bubble where I wasn’t sad or desperate any more but neither was I happy. I was numb.
(Let me add the caveat here that how my depression manifested is not necessarily how anyone else’s has, does or will.)
Would talking therapy have helped me? I don’t think so. I think it would have helped me wallow.
Personally, in hindsight and with a good few years’ perspective, what I needed was to toughen up. I was weak (this is an observation not a criticism) and scared and powerless. I felt like I had no control over anything. I felt that I wasn’t good enough, clever enough, attractive enough, funny enough, hard-working enough, friendly enough, kind enough…. find a positive adjective, I didn’t feel I had enough of it.
Talking about it wouldn’t have changed any of that because on the whole, a lot of it was true. I wasn’t thoughtful or massively kind, I wasn’t hard-working or in control and I gave up easily on anything that was challenging.
So what would have helped me?
I needed to be told to toughen up, to stop feeling sorry for myself, to take control and do something! This is not popular advice for people suffering from depression - I know - and actually probably not helpful to hear if you are depressed but it is genuinely what I, personally, needed to do.
So what are the things that make us happy - not the fleeting moments of joy but feeling genuinely content, long-term?
These things have been shown to be contributing factors with people who consider themselves to be generally happy and content, in no particular order:
Making positive, human connections and relationships
Being in a position to be supportive and helpful
Having a purpose
feeling in control of individual situations and your destiny
being resilient, having the ability to jump back up when life knocks you down
being able to see that individual failures do not make you a failure
feeling happy in your skin
I wish someone had told 21 year old me to do CrossFit.
I’m not sure I would have listened but it would have sorted me right out!
This is a big claim but I wholeheartedly believe that CrossFit would have cured my depression. Really.
At CrossFit, you are forced to make positive human connections and relationships with other members of your gym. You can’t avoid it. We relentlessly introduce new people to older members, ad nauseum, you are not allowed to be anonymous at our gym.
At a CrossFit gym, you know how it feels to be the new guy so you are instantly kind to new members and you know what it is like to suffer through a particularly miserable workout, so you are supportive when you see others feeling this way. You spur each other on to achieve because although it’s a competitive environment, it’s so cool to see someone do better than they thought they could!
There is so much to achieve in CrossFit that you always have a goal you are working towards and so it gives you a purpose. Outside of work and family, it’s really nice to have something else you are working towards that is just for you, especially if your family or work is demanding and stressful. (Aren’t they all?)
You get to problem-solve. Each workout is a riddle to be solved. How are you going to approach it? Pace yourself or go hell for leather? Analysing your performance after a workout allows you to strategise for the future - it’s fun and has worthwhile results.
It’s hard to feel in control when your’e blowing out of your arse and sweating like a trouper and feeling on the verge of tears or a breakdown. Some workouts will get you like that but over time, you learn how to control yourself, you learn how to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable and it makes you feel powerful and in control. If your life feels like it lacks control, being able to decide how your mind and body responds under a stressful situation, albeit for an hour a day, is incredibly empowering.
While you get so much positivity form a personal best lift or beating your time on a workout you knew you struggled on last time you did it, CrossFit isn’t always about doing better. Sometimes you fail. More than sometimes - often, you fail. Developing the resilience to shake it off, use it as a learning experience and continue to move forward has great crossovers into the real world. Learning to understand that a failure in the gym, or in any situation does not therefore make you a failure as a person is a very powerful feeling.
Finally, CrossFit gyms don’t have mirrors. It just isn’t who we are. We are not about what we look like, we are about what we can do. We celebrate strength of body and mind, we celebrate hard work, we celebrate battling through. We celebrate progress, not perfection.
We are proud of what our bodies can do - absolutely NOT what they look like. This means that so many people who have long term body issues get to feel utterly amazing about their incredible bodies in our gym.
So you see, it doesn’t seem such a huge claim after all - I truly believe, if you give it enough time, a lot of people can cure their depression with CrossFit!
I wish that someone had told 21 year old me to do CrossFit.
CrossFit isn’t just about curing the body, it’s about fixing the mind too.