Anyone who has ever experienced even a low level of mental illness will likely have been given advice about how to lift their mood or stay healthy, and a big part of this is often around being physically active. I was diagnosed with depression when I was around 15 years old, and have suffered with anxiety and self-harm intermittently throughout this time.
My poor body-image was a big problem for me growing up, which led to me using exercise as a way for me to control my weight. Exercise was not a positive thing for me, and any benefits that may have occurred on a physiological level with endorphins and the like were overshadowed by my highly self-critical brain. Exercise had become yet another way for me to judge myself, to punish myself, another way for me to fail. So exercise as a positive influence was a bit of an alien concept for me.
It’s been a long, hard-fought battle to turn exercise into something that gives me strength rather than something that holds me back. And honestly, I still have bad days, with that voice in the back of my head telling me that it’s still not enough. But I’m definitely on my way to reclaiming exercise as something purely positive for myself. Something that has been absolutely crucial to this has been finding sports and activities which suit me. I needed something where I didn’t feel under pressure to perform, as I found was the case with team sports. I needed something with a purpose other than getting fit, because otherwise it became too easy for it to become a weapon for me to use against myself.
And I have found this ‘something’ in Krav Maga.
“Getting out and doing exercise (…) is now an integral part of how I manage my depression.”
Krav Maga is a self-defence system originally developed for the Israeli Defence Forces, and I loved the idea of it immediately, but worried about finding somewhere to train that would be able to accommodate my mental health. In October 2013 I joined Krav Maga Worldwide Bristol, and haven’t looked back since. I have found a club which is supportive, inclusive, and committed to empowering people. I have a wonderful group of friends there who don’t hold it against me or judge me when I’m having a bad day and can’t really talk much. And the aim of the game is to get home safe, not to win anything or achieve a certain personal best. I’m totally in control, and I love it.
For me, getting out and doing exercise was at first a way to boost my mood and improve my self-esteem, and it’s now an integral part of how I manage my depression. Going to class gets me out the house when I might otherwise try to isolate myself, and also has been massively empowering.
I feel so happy that I persevered in my search to find a way to exercise which was compatible with my mental health, and I hope you will also read this and keep searching for the sport that’s right for you- Remember, one size does NOT fit all, and that’s fine!
If you find Jessica’s story inspiring Mind’s new Get Set to Go website has lots of similar examples and tips for getting that mind and body boost from being active.