Depression and boosting self-confidence: Extreme efforts don’t last

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At the end of sophomore year, I started running near campus. I had gained weight at college. Somehow I forgot that my eating habits needed to change from high school. Those two hours of basketball practice every day, five days a week really made a difference! Imagine that. My interest in that fall semester basketball course was an effort to help me regain focus of being physically active.

I had never been interested in running as its own activity; I hated it as a form of conditioning in high school. But I gave it a chance anyway. Somehow, I came to enjoy the rush of adrenaline, well, after the “I hate myself for doing this” wave passed.

When I got back to my parents’ house for the summer, I was more emotional and moody than usual. Everything seemed to be taken more personally. Eventually I agreed to see a counselor and begin that kind of therapy again. I started taking antidepressants once more, a new medication. One of the side effects was loss of appetite. It certainly worked that way for me, which seemed to help with the weight loss goals.

The counselor asked me to keep a food log. Looking over that now, I’m surprised at the choices. It’s not that I was eating super healthy. I wasn’t. Fried foods remained part of the rotation. I just ate much less than before. I certainly wasn’t getting the balanced nutrients I needed, though. The medicine did curb my appetite because I simply wasn’t very hungry. There were times when I actually skipped a meal at work because I didn’t have time for a break. Skipping meals just isn’t normal for me.

It’s no wonder I felt sick a few times after running four or five or six miles. No wonder why I had that shaking episode in the shower. There was no concept of a pre- or post-workout recovery meal, or even a protein shake. No idea of the need to fuel the body in preparation for an intensive workout.

I didn’t carry water with me while running. I must have been super dehydrated. I don’t know how I finished those runs because now I take water with me everywhere. But I did carry a CD player. Good priorities, right? (Yes, I was that crazy person running with a portable CD player. I had to have music to help keep my mind occupied.)

I lost the weight I wanted to but using extreme, unmaintainable means to achieve that goal. I hadn’t just fallen for the lie that the only way to reach my goal was to be restrictive, using exercise almost as a punishment for eating. I also wrongly concluded that being thinner would bring self-confidence.

I’ve struggled with self-confidence most of my life. Nothing I did ever seemed to be enough or seemed to bring a lasting sense of assurance.

I wrongly believed that my worth and my value were tied to my appearance and health. But a person’s worth isn’t based on anything you can put a number to. It is NOT linked to

  • Income
  • Value of your house
  • Hours spent in service
  • Languages spoken
  • Books read
  • Popularity
  • Awards and honors received
  • The bathroom scale readout

My worth, my value is not based on anything that can be quantified. It’s just there. By nature of being alive and human, I have value. There’s nothing I can do to earn it or change it.

There are, of course, external attributes that we can possess that may impact how pleasant we are, or successful, or how others view us. But these are changing, in constant flux. At our very core, though, we have worth. (For more on this topic, check out The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn Schiraldi. It’s quite helpful.)

What amazes me is that I felt unlovable and unlikable a lot of the time, especially after gaining some weight. And yet. And yet, during sophomore year when I had those exchanges with “G,” I wasn’t super skinny. Clearly he saw something in me beyond my body type and weight. I wish I noticed that part more at the time.

So the antidepressants were my “happy pills” in some ways to better cope with the chemical imbalance. To a degree there was a boost in self-confidence, some satisfaction in working hard and seeing results. Rejoicing in needing a belt. But that boost can only be temporary, fading once the structured routine falls apart. And it will. Because it’s unrealistic and unmaintainable.

Receiving compliments about my weight loss progress was met with a visible smile and yet internally, there was sadness. I was uneasy about receiving this attention. Compliments once again focused on the physical appearance, reinforcing that my worth seemed to be only skin deep.

When my extreme efforts fell apart, there was shame, and, to a degree, the feeling that I was back at square one. I felt like I had what I wanted and yet let it slip away. Failure.

It wasn’t failure, though. I was working from a broken plan.

But for about 8 months at least I kept up with my running routine. And I began playing basketball more regularly with “D,” which turned out to be a great way of siphoning off the emotions that built up inside.

Diving into my faith more has helped bolster a more lasting and grounded sense of worth and value. I’m learning to appreciate who I am at my core. And writing about my past and sharing about it on this blog also helps me put things in perspective. To see the mistakes as very human mistakes instead of end-of-the-world failures. They can’t be failures or absolute defeat because I’ve kept pushing forward. They were mostly temporary obstacles. Hitting an obstacle is not the same thing as giving up. It just means you have to find another approach.

Connect with me on Facebook. When not sharing links to blog posts, I’m offering resources for Sensory Processing Disorder, other aspects of living on the spectrum and communication. 

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