Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exercise Induced Depression

I'm often hard on myself. I get mad at myself if I run a race slower than I wanted to, despite 90 degree heat, massive hills, or some other totally valid reason. I get pissed at myself for having a low mileage week, even if I'm tapering for a big event. I get exasperated at myself for gassing out on a 50 mile bike ride, even if my previous longest ride was only 25 miles.

I hammer myself emotionally for really stupid reasons.

I'll curse myself for not spelling "address" correctly (too many double consonants!). I spew vile vitriol at myself for tripping over a sidewalk. I bash my head against a wall (figuratively) for putting my shirt on inside out. The most trivial thing in the world will make me feel worthless.

Part of the reason for this is Exercise Induced Depression.

I Googled that phrase and it's a real thing; not just something I made up to sound smart. Working out for a really long time can mess up your hormones. It will deplete your blood sugar. It may leave you tired and less able to deal with stress. The cumulative effect can leave you feeling depressed.

Sometimes it feels like this.
Art: Hercules Killing the Hydra by Cornelis Cort

It's ironic (I'm convinced there's no actual correct way to use that word, unless you're a 16th century bard) that something that's supposed to help alleviate depression can actually cause it. Part of the problem is that I often exercise too much. Of course I tell myself that I'm a lazy sack of shit and I should do even more. But my rationality has long since flown out the window.

When I feel shitty about myself, I tell myself logically that there's no good reason for it. I pushed myself too hard, didn't eat enough, and drank too much coffee. But when you're in that state, "logic" doesn't really help. I can tell myself that I'm totally fine and life is great. But that doesn't magically make me feel better. And of course when I'm already angry at myself, I won't just allow myself a piece of cheesecake, even though it would probably make me feel a million times better.

Which only compounds the issue. I may be 2000 calories under budget for the week and losing weight faster than a mountaineer with a broken leg trapped in the Peruvian Alps, but because I'm already cranky I won't let myself eat a snack. I quit drinking recently, which means I really should eat more food, but it's been a difficult adjustment. I'm really glad I quit drinking, but I do miss feeling overflowingly cheerful, even if it was only temporary.

Exercise Induced Depression is a physiological condition. But it gets all tangled up with emotional depression. You're never sure which is which. And one can exacerbate the other. If you're not careful you can tumble into a self-hating spiral, one whose only cure is a bucket of ice cream slathered in caramel sauce and peanut butter cups (true story).

But besides eating food, a lot of things help. Going to bed early, which I've been doing the past couple weeks, helps. Weightlifting helps; it pumps you full of sexy hormones without burning up all the glycogen in your body. Taking a break from my desk or whatever I'm working on helps. And weekends are always great for all those reasons.

Pump me up with sexy hormones plz!

My days get into a cycle. I'll feel low because of the exercise I did the previous couple days, then I'll exercise and I'll feel good for a few hours. Then I'll feel down again the next day because of the exercise. It's not a great pattern, I admit.

You may be yelling at your monitor now, "just exercise less and eat more you idiot!" Sound advice my friend. A few years ago I was a fatass. My pattern then was similar, except replace exercise with drinking and eating. I would stay up late snacking and drinking and would feel awesome. I wouldn't want to go to bed because I was enjoying the high too much. And then the next day I would feel hungover and lethargic. Rinse, repeat.

Once I started losing weight and getting fitter and stronger, I loved what I was seeing, and didn't want to stop. So I kept pushing myself harder and harder (and still do), so I could keep seeing those delicious gainz. And now I'm at a point where I can't rewind. Not just yet anyway.

Some day I will. And I'm OK with that. I have a goal in mind for my weight, and I should achieve that within a month. After that I can increase my food budget, so that I have plenty of calories for my next marathon. And after race season ends, I'll do another lifting challenge, and will likely eat more to put on some weight.

Real men have a bit of heft.

A big challenge, for me, is that this is all still pretty new to me. I've only been thin for a couple years. I've only been exercising on a daily basis for about a year. I've only been sober for less than a month. So I'm still adjusting. We humans are slow to get used to things.

And I have to accept that.

I'm pushing myself hard now because I've made a lot of progress and I now see what I'm capable of. And I'm learning a lot. And there will be a point in the future when I find a balance. My expectations will be more reasonable. I'll be OK with failures. My goals will be less lofty, because I will have achieved most of the ones I have now. I will still strive to conquer new challenges, but I will give myself more time to do so. I will learn to enjoy the process.

And I realize all this. But as I mentioned above, you can't really logic away your feelings. So I'll continue to be crazy, for now. I'm not ready to take a break just yet. But just knowing that I have the power to guide my life in whatever direction I choose is empowering. And even though I may be angry at myself in any given moment, I just have to remind myself that it's not permanent. As a whole, my life is constantly improving.

Even though it's a large mountain to climb, at every point of the way I can look back and see how much I've already climbed, and that's inspiring. And I realize, you know what? I don't really have that much left to go. The summit is within my reach.

Ending the post with a bang! </cheese>

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