I have never been an avid gym goer or an insanely fit person who runs up mountains. I was more of a person who had to have a reason to go for a walk but would always strive to live a moderately healthy / active lifestyle, since I love outdoor sports hiking / cycling / skiing with severely lazy recovery days in bed avec domino’s pizza. Like so many people I struggled body confidence, but I was well aware it was my own fault via diet and neglect.
*Avec is fancy French lingo for “with”.
Following my skiing accident in 2017 I wasn’t able to do much but walk short distances and exercise with my physio, Julio. This, you’d think, would have caused a lot of weight gain however, I made a conscious decision to take care of my nutrition while I was house bound so I remained pretty much the same size. My fitness however was down the pan. I had visible muscle loss and weakness in my right leg and was unable to straighten my knee which caused instability when I walked which lead to pain in my hip / sciatic nerve, back / herniated disc and all the way up to my shoulder.
Coupled with being incapacitated and the indefinite sabbatical from my company I found myself lost and without purpose starring into the existential doom. I felt too stressed to enter my office (The Graveyard of My Achievements), too guilty to play a video game as that’s not very productive and too heartbroken to look at social media. I would sit in my window and watch the world go by while trying to straighten my leg. Happy days.
I got my leg straight enough and said no to surgery then I was given the green light to exercise and train my leg! Problem is; When you’re depressed.. Do you ever wanna leave bed? Never mind exercise.
I had a skiing trip coming up which my physio told me I shouldn’t go on – but who listens to professionals?! I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to perform and ski with my friends so I made a promise to myself to work on my fitness and nutrition to make the mountains my bitch!
COME AT ME TIGNES
I started slow and worked out around 3-4 times a week for 30-50 minutes at a time with a manageable calorie deficit of 300cal(I realise now I should have eaten surplus to build muscle but let’s be real… I was obsessed with fat loss). During the first two weeks I became obsessed; I managed my marco nutrients diligently with My Fitness Pal and tracked my workouts with my Fitbit. I had nothing else to do and this was for positive change right? Everyone says exercise is a good thing? I was fixated on calories in / out and I soon got out of hand and I started to over-train and under-eat obsessed with seeing results. I would sit in my window and habitually watch “Before and After Weight Loss Transformations” on YouTube for encouragement (takes a lot to admit that pathetic fact).
It got to the point where I didn’t eat back my calories burned and I would be deeply saddened if I ate more than 1200cal (The calorie target according to My Fitness Pal). This was simply not enough nutrients to sustain my training. I started going to the gym for 2 hours at a time 6 days a week and soon progressed to 7 days a week, working out at home before the gym and not taking recovery days at all. I became grumpy all the time and couldn’t sleep… But exercise is good for you right? I was doing too much for someone who spent a whole year barely walking –Of course I was going to crash. I soon introduced a recovery day and a re-feed day to my schedule to attempt to address the problem. Problem solved right?
At the time I thought I had found happiness. Whether it was due to brain chemistry following exercise, accomplishment or simply having a purpose I thought I was happy. Reflecting on it now I was definitely punishing myself, like some kind of self-harm.
I would say cruel things to myself to continue; You don’t deserve to eat that Paula. Burn 200 more calories Paula. One more circuit, come on you fat fuck.
I wasn’t helping my depression but masking it with a purpose, goal and distraction.
- Purpose: Get fit as fuck for skiing
- Goal: Perform / Wear a bikini confidently
- Distraction: Ignore your dying career
Tignes came and went and I was so exhausted I was barely able to perform at my best. My partner warned me not to overdo it and well, guess I am too stubborn. When we arrived home I felt no drive to exercise now, the goal had come and gone and I was left sitting in the window again.. A couple weeks went past and I thought fuck it, let’s set a new goal and start it all over again!
Any person with a higher IQ than a glass of water will tell you over-training leads to injuries, but to me I wasn’t over training; I know plenty of fit and healthy people who, I assume, do more. One day, I was running on the treadmill for a 5K warm-up before I started my circuits and for a second I thought about my physio therapist Julio telling me I was doing too much too soon, he even thought it was too soon to be skiing… He may have been correct.
I started running off balance because I was compensating for my weaker leg and felt a niggling cramping in my hip, lost balance and felt instability in my knee. Unlike running outside, you don’t just stop… you have to step off or wait for the treadmill to slow down and I tried to run it off. Bigger fool me. Luckily I only felt like I had strained a muscle with a burning sensation around my calf. Turns out I sprained my co-lateral ligaments, Achilles tendon and my soleus muscle. Great.
The problem is.. My birthday was two days later and I had organised a ski trip with my friends which had cause a little drama so far so I couldn’t cancel. I felt foolish for injuring myself and didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by cancelling plus if I’m honest I didn’t want to miss a day skiing or admit I had hurt myself. I spent a day icing it and hiding how difficult it was for me to walk..
skiing on a Busted leg
My ankle was the size of a grapefruit and I was struggling to mask my limp – but I figured – a ski boot is like a splint yes? Skiing felt surprisingly fine, I simply applied ibuprofen gel and took plenty of pain killers #AllTheAntiInflamitories. At the end of the day I took my boot off and realised with terror the real pain in my knee over my MCL. Fuck fuck fuck.. can’t afford another torn ligament, don’t want another 10 month recovery.
Long story short(er) I went to the doctors to find I sprained my ankle compensating for my weak knee and I sprained my knee compensating for my ankle. This left me completely incapable of walking. Bye bye gym!
So, Can Exercise Cure Depression?
Yes, sort of. It lifted my immediate mood when I would complete a workout. But! This could have been a change in brain chemistry as a result of exercise OR it could have been the sense of purpose / goal, accomplishment / muscle gain or the elation of simply being able to use my leg again. The darker side of this is I simply took it too far and used exercise as a punishment or self-harm which isn’t healthy for your mind and didn’t fix my situational mental health. Problems were still underlying no matter how heavy I lifted or how fast I ran.
The benefits of MY experience and the injury is realising the problem of masking / ignoring my problems and being thankful the injury could have been a fuck-tonne worse. I’m grateful it was only a temporary gammy leg and not a more serious injury which could have potentially reversed my entire recovery or cause more damage.
The lesson learned here is do not rush recovery, do not cut corners to fitness, do not distract yourself or literally run from your underlying problems. I became obsessed with fitness because it was better than facing the reality of my problems and I guess I realised from this experience is I never do things half-assed; it’s either FULL STEAM AHEAD or full-stop-broken.
So in conclusion, I am clearly a total fucking moron.
If you also reached this conclusion, don’t hesitate to tell me so in the comments.
I’d love to hear about your injuries and fitness experiences to see if you developed the same obsession as me. I am not naive enough to assume I am such a unique snowflake and the only one who thinks this way.