How joining a CrossFit gym saved me from my depression

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This morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My anxiety had me pinned down beneath the familiar comfort of my blanket. I felt paralyzed, stuck between wanting to stay in the safety of my bed, and desperately trying to get up and do something — anything beyond stare at the ceiling. Out of the thick fog that surrounded me, I heard a ping; a notification from my phone that drew my attention to the real world. It was a reminder about my workout of the day, a term usually shortened simply to “WOD.” All it took was reading this short list or exercises to rouse me from my stupor. I had work to do, and I wasn’t going to let my mental fog keep me from it.

I didn’t always have this little lifesaver. Before I ever stepped foot into a CrossFit gym — usually called a box— I was one of those people who vilified CrossFit as a cult-like phenomenon that wouldn’t outlive its sudden popularity. My mother fell victim to the trend after meeting a friend at work whose husband owned a box. She signed up, fell in love, and wanted me to fall in love as well. For months I pushed her off and denied her pleas for me to try it with her, even just once.

At this point in my life, I was not only at my heaviest weight but also at one of my lowest points in my battle with depression and anxiety. I wasn’t interested in failing again, and I wasn’t interested in listening to everyone around me who could see I was self-destructing. But my mother was relentless. She wasn’t going to let go of this CrossFit thing.

February 2015 was the first time I gave in. I let my mom drag me to a Saturday class, during which I felt like I was dying. Even so, it was addictive. Not in the unhealthy way that we normally think of addictive things, but in the way that I’d finally found something that would eventually make me strong.

It’s true that in the beginning classes I couldn’t jump onto a box like everyone else was doing. I could barely lift a 15 pound plate to my chest. And burpees? What were those?? I struggled my way through that first workout and was considering walking out after I threw up my lunch when someone leaned over to me, tapped me on my shoulder, and said, “We all started somewhere. You just have to keep moving.” At that moment, I was hooked.

My first one-on-one foundations class went probably the worst it’s ever gone in the history of the gym. I couldn’t do a burpee, so my coach made me do push-ups leaning against a box. At one point in the workout, I was so exhausted that I physically couldn’t stand. That had never happened before in my life. But instead of laughing at me and mocking me, which he could’ve done seeing as he was the epitome of fitness he reached out and offered me his hand to help me to my feet.

And since then, everyone in that gym has offered me a hand. I don’t think they know exactly how much they’ve done for me. They took a shy, overweight girl and helped her onto her feet countless times. They didn’t see my weight and turn away. They saw my struggle and offered a hand. They’ve seen me have panic attacks in the middle of a workout and coached me through them, whether it was by telling me how to breathe or just talking me through my panic. They’ve gathered around me when I was the last one left still working through the often punishing WOD and cheered me on. They’ve seen me go from being unable to lift a 35 pound bar to lifting above and beyond that, even with my weird shoulders that go a little too far back when I’m snatching.

They’ve saved my life, and they probably don’t even know it.

I know a lot of people think I’m crazy when I say I am a CrossFitter. And no, it hasn’t magically cured my mental illnesses or made me a super fit beast. But what it has done for me is help me wake up every morning, and realize that I’m still alive, and I’m still fighting. And it’s all thanks to CrossFit.

Monique Martin is an adventurous soul with a flair for life and all its challenges. While she enjoys crossfit and the great outdoors, nothing beats a good book and a better taco. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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