If you’re struggling, this post is for you.
I know what it’s like to wake up and be disappointed to have survived the night. To want to crawl out of your skin just to escape the pain for a few seconds. To give up.
I also know what it’s like to rise up out of that darkness and experience joy and freedom in spite of mental illness. By sharing my story, I hope to help you realize that there’s another way to live. You just have to fight for it.
From the beginning, I felt like much of my life was not my own. For years, I gave up my power to my clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because I was never shown a way out. I had support from my family. I had access to therapy, medications and self-help books galore. But I didn’t take ownership of my life until it got so bad that I had no choice.
I had always thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness, an admission that something was horribly and irreparably wrong. All the time I was struggling through middle school, high school, college and beyond, I held my pain inside. Of course, it came out in bursts when I got too full to contain it, which earned me the labels of “problem kid” and “crazy girl” in school. I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and I tried to fill my lack of self-confidence with love from others — usually the ones who didn’t love me back.
My mind was in a constant state of chaos. Finally, I reached a point where I just couldn’t see anything but a future full of the same … or worse.
So I decided to end it. At twenty-one years old, I decided to kill myself.
When I was hospitalized under suicide watch in 2005, all my choices were stripped from me. My schedule was rigid, with no exceptions. My activities were mandatory. My medications were required — and I didn’t even know what they were or why I was taking them. I couldn’t make any choices.
Once I was released from the hospital, I realized I had every choice available to me, even if I didn’t think there was a way to succeed. I could choose to seek help. I could choose to listen to my support system. I could choose to fight. I decided that I would at least try to change my life. And I did try. But I failed a lot.
For years I rode a roller coaster up and down: trying and failing, trying and failing. But the crucial difference was that every time I fell down, I got back up. I stayed determined. And finally I found something that worked: exercise.
When I started working out consistently — for reasons unrelated to my mental health — I realized how much stronger I was getting inside and outside the gym.
The behavioral work I was doing with my therapist became more effective because I could focus for longer periods of time. My confidence and sense of self-efficacy strengthened as I accomplished more and more physical goals in the gym. After a good workout, I was more mindful throughout my day — which allowed me to become more aware of my defeatist thoughts, thereby giving me the power to change them.
My entire life changed when I finally realized how revolutionary fitness could be in my life. I knew that I had to share my story because if I spoke up, one person out there might discover movement as their lifesaver, too.
In 2011, I started Strong Inside Out — a site to help people become stronger than their struggle through fitness and positive action. Instead of using shame and guilt to inspire a healthy lifestyle, Strong Inside Out focuses on the mental benefits from movement: hope, confidence, mastery and courage.
Since then, I’ve taken Strong Inside Out on tour to fundraise for the suicide prevention charity To Write Love on Her Arms. I created a mindset-based workout program to help people suffering from depression and anxiety. And I experienced shifts in tons of people who felt just like I did before I chose to live this life.
Even with everything Strong Inside Out has accomplished so far, I still have so much more I want to give. I never would have known I had so much love inside if I hadn’t found my fight through fitness.
I am proof that life never goes so wrong that it can’t be made right again. I am proof that “life sentence” is an opinion. I am proof that strength grows from vulnerability.
If I leave you with one thought before you move on with your day, it’s this:
Refuse to give up your power to any thoughts, criticism or diagnoses that convince you otherwise.
Amy Clover is the force behind Strong Inside Out, a site that inspires you to overcome any kind of struggle through fitness and positive action. After struggling with depression and suicide, Amy turned it all around with the help of consistent movement and adopting a proactive mindset. She created the Strong Inside Out Bootcamp workout program to help people with depression and/or anxiety get — and keep — moving in a struggle-specific, supportive environment. To learn more about Strong Inside Out and get a FREE 10-minute workout to lift your spirit and your butt, click here! You can connect with Amy on Twitter & FB.