Three and a half years ago, David, a 29-year-old struggling with depression, sat on his workout press, a gun in his hand. His relationship of eight years had just come to an end.
Devastated, he held his Glock and thought about firing it. “I could end all the pain and the misery right now and the world would be a better place,” he says today.
But he didn’t. Instead, he looked at his exercise equipment.
Looking back, David sees this moment as the turning point in his life — evidence of what he could overcome. He realized exercise was an escape from the darkness, he tells MEL.
“Depression is fucking hard and it takes you to the deepest recesses of your mind that you can’t even begin to imagine until you’re sitting in that dark corner with your head in your arms crying and rocking back and forth,” he says. “Just the simple fact that we can pick ourselves back up from that place and put on some shoes to go running, pick up a solid iron bar or spin the tires on our bikes in an attempt to get the hell out of that place makes us fucking warriors who will always fight on despite our greatest struggles.”
When David says “us,” he’s referring to the online community of individuals who live with depression and use exercise to help cope. The subreddit, r/EOOD — Exercise Out of Depression — is full of people posting success stories, asking for help and offering loads of positive feedback.
“It’s one of those communities where we’re all going through a shitty shitstorm together and we just do our best to lift each other up,” David says. “[We] remind one another that it’s okay to stand back up and keep getting back on the path one step at a time no matter how far we feel we may have fallen.” David shouts out the two-person moderating team of the subreddit, which manages to address “almost every single post,” he says. The mods provide positive reinforcement for almost every post on r/EOOD, along with a good majority of comments.
Physical activity is not a cure for depression, but there’s no denying it helps. According to a recent study, there’s “increasing evidence” that exercise can help protect against depression. Still, the sidebar on the subreddit is clear that neither the community nor the exercise is a suitable replacement for seeking help from a doctor. It’s not as simple as getting up and going on a run when you feel sad. That’s why I asked a few guys how their EOOD journey has fared so far.
Andy Richter said it best when he described chronic depression as an emotional limp. No matter how much success you have, some days it is hard to walk.
I pay way too much money for a semi-personal trainer and he was such a help to get me going. Sometimes, you need someone else to push you before you can push yourself. The hardest part of the gym is going, but that’s only 100 percent of the time.
I knew about [the r/EOOD] community beforehand and I read success stories, but I never acted. Everything about depression is difficult, no matter how it is analyzed, there are trials. Depression tells you “no” about everything — person, food, color or activity you know you enjoy. It denies you necessities or makes you find false comfort in them, but always it denies you. [So] I denied it — I started with the most simple action. I was tired of being tired. I went to the gym because I did not want to go.
But here I am 10 months later and better off than I have been in a long time.
I use the r/EOOD community as motivation for my own discipline. It’s the butterfly effect. They have no idea how much they changed in me even if their action may seem minuscule. An army doesn’t need to be raised to topple a dynasty. The word of a common citizen can start a revolution just the same.
I am still struggling with this fight. So are many. It’s not about personal triumph anymore, but unified action. I like to smile at a random person because they generally smile back. I keep a door open for those behind me. I say please and thank you. I do this because I don’t know how another person is feeling. It’s the butterfly effect: The smallest action may change a mind. It counts, trust me.
I have been suffering with a mixture of anxiety, stress and depression for years. I’ve been to numerous therapists, and on different kinds of medication, all to varying degrees of effectiveness.
When I was younger, skateboarding was my outlet for a lot of my issues, a place to go and leave it all behind and just focus on that board. This was great for a while, but then social media came along, and the feeling of having to be “good enough” to post something on Instagram and get validated by “likes” soured it for me. I knew I needed regular exercise, but I knew I needed something else, something more. So after months of deliberation, I joined a local gym.
This was a huge step for me even signing up, pushing myself to go along and do it. My anxiety was sky-high that first time I went. I almost walked out and never came back. The gym can be such an intimidating place, but once the barrier of the first session was over, I was overwhelmed by the amazing feeling I was getting, the endorphins rushing through me like I’d never experienced before.
It was an addictive feeling, making me want to go back, and that feeling became stronger than my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I had to battle with my anxiety in there and I still do, but I use it as an exercise in mental well-being [and] exercise for the body.
I would overcome mental hurdles and break through anxiety each time I went. I found myself becoming more confident day by day, session after session, egged on not only by the noticeable effects on my physical appearance, but also the amazing feeling it was giving my mind. It became my escape, my place to go and forget about it all, easily accessible, cheap and there whenever I needed it. I could challenge myself, push myself, all within my own boundaries.
I found the r/EOOD subreddit shortly after joining the gym, and was amazed to find that there was such a place for like-minded people to come together and share the ups and downs of mental health, with the help of exercise. There is such a caring community of people on the subreddit. [They] have been there in times of need, with a pat on the back in times of success. People are there not only for themselves, but for others. It’s such a great help network.
Exercise has changed my life. I still live with anxiety, stress and depression, and I’ve come to the realization that I probably always will. But now I have found a way to improve my life and keep those issues contained. Exercise gives me real purpose, it gives me the opportunity to change my physical and mental health for the better. I don’t exercise because I “have to,” I exercise because I WANT TO.
I’ve been struggling with anxiety for around 10 years and depression for around four. I read in self-help books and all over the internet that exercise was the cure. No matter how much I exercise, I am still depressed, and it’s still hard to do it.
So my journey of EOOD has been hitting the weights and facing nothing but failures and setbacks, never seeing the progress I imagine in my head and the mental clarity I hope for. Therefore, I recently cut out the weightlifting to focus on biking, bodyweight fitness and simple stretching routines. I hope with these less-destructive forms of exercise I can become consistent and see better results. On my longest weightlifting streak, I was finally starting to put on some muscle after a year, and I loved it! I felt great about my self-image and wish I could get back to that point, but as I get older, my body just can’t keep up. Not all of us were built for it.
I am lucky enough to be able to afford all my own gym equipment, so I work out at home, but even then it’s much easier to just sit in my computer chair all night staring endlessly at the screen watching the minutes pass by with no energy to get up. It really becomes a willpower thing for me, because I never get that boost of energy that most people do from working out. I just always become more tired.
However, I am proud to say that this last week I did my first 25 miles ever on my air bike after forcing myself to ride it almost every day! It was not easy at all, but I want to do it again because I am so sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I can watch an episode while I pedal away and try to ignore the nonstop burning in my legs, knowing there is an end in sight. I just do it because I feel so depressed some days that it’s the only choice I have left to try to better myself.
Everyone who participates in EOOD is a fucking warrior and total badass. When my eight-year relationship ended [roughly] 3.5 years ago, I was devastated and sat on my workout bench holding my Glock. I just sat there, thinking about it, you know? How I could end all the pain and the misery right now and the world would be a better place. I was a fucking dumbass to think that.
Depression is fucking hard, and it takes you to the deepest recesses of your mind that you can’t even begin to imagine until you’re sitting in that dark corner with your head in your arms crying and rocking back and forth. Just the simple fact that we can pick ourselves back up from that place and put on some shoes to go running, pick up a solid iron bar or spin the tires on our bikes in an attempt to get the hell out of that place makes us fucking warriors who will always fight on despite our greatest struggles.
I’m dealing with depression for most of my life now. Officially, I was diagnosed with depression in 2004 when I was in the German Army. But my journey with it goes back even farther. I can say that depression and I are old companions. Sometimes it feels like my shadow.
I started exercising in 2008. After a stressful job at a call center, where I had a heart attack, I finally managed to get into therapy. In these sessions, my past came up: Sports always made me feel good. In the last couple of years, due to a foot injury, I wasn’t able to run or skip rope. I became more and more stressed-out. My life became work and nothing else. Despite some accomplishments, I got depressed again. I called in sick because I got serious suicidal thoughts. My boss always got extremely agitated when someone called in sick. I got fired.
In October 2018, I managed to get three hours at a therapist again. We talked and talked (I don’t take any meds due to adverse effects) and I realized (again) that it’s all up to me. A lot of days, I didn’t leave the bed; even breathing was unbearable. I binge-watched Netflix shows and when I went to bed, I hoped to not wake up again.
I didn’t want this anymore. I started small, and that’s the first suggestion we give someone in r/EOOD as well. I’ve been a member there for some time but finally became active in this subreddit after I rekindled my flame. I already made the first steps to get out of depression. I officially started my way out of the black hole on December 1st.
I started with simple goals: 10 pushups and 10 flights of stairs a day. I didn’t have to leave the house, which I found highly uncomfortable trying to do. I got the latest Microsoft Office and created an Excel spreadsheet. It’s a work in progress and it’s fun to see my progression.
Then I joined the biggest running group of my area. It’s great to see what other people do and to share my own hiking trips, runs and rope-skipping sessions. My final words are about that little spark of life that sometimes pops up. I had many days, weeks and months where it was just gone and seemed completely out of reach. When it shows up, grab that opportunity; it is of utmost importance. Do things one step at a time and be mindful about your steps. Focus on your feet when you walk. It’s a technique I learned in a rather unconventional therapy session, which gave me an enormous and even scary amount of energy back.
And last but not least: Be kind to yourself. The flame will burn hot and get big when you’re consistently nurturing it. You’ll see your limits increase, and it’s okay to push it sometimes. Just think about the days to come and that all of us have physical limitations. It feels good to be active again. The risk of injury is high, though. So it’s better to watch the steps and take things slow, especially in the beginning.
I want to be happy and have a good life. I’ve seen people giving up and I won’t. Also, never be too shy to ask for help. It’s never good to live a long time with just one perspective and one’s own thoughts. We as humans need other people to survive and thrive, and r/EOOD can’t fill that place entirely. It’s a nice addition, though.
It’s also important to know that people who EOOD already made the first and most important steps out of depression. It’s probably the hardest part to do that. And if someone was able to do the first steps, there’s nothing to stop that person. We get people every now and then [in the subreddit] who weren’t able to do that yet. So, while “exercising out of depression” sounds rather simple, there’s more to it than just exercising.
It’s a big and wholistic change in lifestyle. From sedentary to active. From [ignorance] of one’s own surroundings to mindfulness. From eating trash to informing oneself about nutrition and generally eating better.