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Barbells Saved My Life: Dealing With Depression Through Fitness

No matter what country I’m in, I always try to find a local CrossFit box or olympic weight lifting academy to ground myself in.  It’s a great way to make friends, exercise cuts stress in half, and there’s a certain level of satisfaction that comes with putting over +140 pounds (64 kilos) above your head after a long day at work. Although I’ve grown out of CrossFit (it doesn’t agree with my asthma), I’ve found a new passion in Olympic Weight Lifting ever since I pulled myself out of the darkest experience of my life. Dealing with depression through fitness made me the person I am today.

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Long-time followers of Wander Onwards know that from the Winter of 2013 to Spring 2014, I was struggling in China emotionally and physically.  After having my visa CANCELED in China, I had to shell out over 3,000 USD to pay for a new apartment and visa WHILE I was bedridden from Salmonella for two months.  Out of work and down on my luck, I gave up for a while and stayed in bed for weeks.  I was depressed; and its taken me months to admit it.

 That’s when I discovered Olympic Weight Lifting.

It was an extremely slow process. I’m not naturally flexible and it has taken me 2 years to even learn how to squat (somewhat) properly.  We were lifting in a space smaller than most people’s living room, but even though we had to share space and equipment, there’s no doubt that barbells brought me out of my depression. I started Wander Onwards to talk about real stuff (with pretty pictures) and I’ll be damned if I don’t tell you the WHOLE story and not just the highlights.  Because mental health is a serious reality; and wandering warriors fear nothing.

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There’s something incredibly powerful when it comes to lifting as a woman. Whatever your body type, whatever your experience, you can pick up a barbell and move.  Every hour more that you apply yourself, you’ll move forward in your lifting career. Even if you inch by at a snail’s pace, you’re still moving forward.

At that time in my life, the barbell was the only thing that was moving forward. But it was enough to move me forward.  I found a reason to get out of bed, leave my house, and believe in myself enough to try this incredibly difficult thing that was completely outside my comfort zone.

There was no “end goal” in sight either; I did it for the love of myself and the belief that, if I can put up 140 pounds of metal above my head – I can do anything. 

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Looking back on my time with CrossFit Resistance in Los Angeles, California, I can say with confidence that every CrossFit stereotype was shattered. You had everything from former-fat kids to world-wide wanderers (I’m both!) lifting together in the pursuit of happiness and nothing more.  Unlike many other affiliates, money was never an issue and they were willing to work around people’s’ schedules and needs.  I was only in town for two weeks, and instead of charging me for the full month of Crossfit, I was offered a reasonable weekly option instead.  Lifting has often been seen as a sport “only for the rich,” but here that’s not true.

They took me as a stray and brought me into their fantastic community just because. After lifting all afternoon, a few of us would go to lunch or take naps in the children’s area and it reminded me of what a family should be like: inclusive.

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Barbells saved my life. They helped me believe in myself when I was alone, sick, and 3,000 miles away from my family and everything I knew.  If you’re struggling with something, I would 100% recommend that you pursue olympic lifting as a way to find value in yourself; and at the very least, remind yourself that you’re not alone.  Wander Onwards is dedicated to the journey; both the good and bad parts.  There will never be a perfect plan, but that’s just half of the fun.  The road is perilous, but once you come out of the darkness of the tunnel, there’s nothing but sunshine.

Check out more photos like these on Instagram! It’s my fav.

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About Vanessa Elizabeth

Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.

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  • As the previous commenter said, I’ve never lifted either, but exercise, especially running and in the past dancing, is a great way for me to get out of my head and feel better about myself. I haven’t managed to make running a permanent part of my routine, but whenever I “restart” I’m always pleasantly surprised at quickly my strength and stamina increases. It’s a great ego boost, not to mention how good I feel after each run.

    -Danielle
    http://www.solongusa.blogspot.com

  • While I have never lifted, I had a very similar experience with running. It made me realize I am such a stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for, and truly changed my life. It also taught me to just put on foot in front of the other, especially when things feel tough. Everyday, I am thankful that I went for that first run and then kept showing up for all the ones afterward!

    • That’s really all you can do! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story :]