A Powerlifters Struggle with Depression
Written by Tara Duncan


This is based on my own personal experience and others’ experiences may differ. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, please get help and consult a medical professional. 

Hi, guys, me again.

Well, a version of me.

That’s because my depression has relapsed and when that happens, I don’t really feel like me.


This may surprise some of you, that I have depression. Most see me as a bubbly, happy, slightly silly, awkward potato of a human, because I am— that’s me in my best and happiest form. But it’s not my only form.


We talk a lot about mental health and the gym here, and how for many, training is a way of dealing with mental health issues and stressors.


But for some, it’s the only way we feel like ourselves in a time when nothing else feels right.

Let me explain. I recently found out I have recurring severe depression and anxiety. I knew I had depression and anxiety, I mean, I’m a serial crier and overthinker, and I’ve been on medication a few times over the years. Initially it took a while to accept the diagnosis and the idea of taking medication because of the stigma associated with depression, but eventually, it became necessary for me to accept it. I mean, if you have diabetes, if you have cancer, if you have any illness or sickness, you take medicine, right? Why would taking medicine to fix a “sick” or “broken” brain be any different?


The problem was, I didn’t realize how severely I do have it. Despite the times I didn’t feel like me, despite the times I felt the depression wash over me like someone was literally covering me with a heavy weighted blanket, despite the times I sat at my desk crying while doing my work without really knowing why, I thought it was mild. Because, I reasoned with myself, I still woke up, I still go to work and do my job extremely well, I still train, I still take good care of my child. So of course, it couldn’t be THAT bad.


Not that bad until it was. Recently, it was by far the worst it’s ever been. I was still doing those things above… going to work, taking care of my child, training, but I was doing pretty much nothing else. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to see anyone, not really. I didn’t want to really text or talk on the phone more than necessary, even with those I love the most. I’m typically very social but if I went out, I had to force myself to go because although I didn’t want to leave myself, I cared about the people I was supposed to go out with and I knew I’d have a good time once I was there (I always did). I pretty much just wanted to be on my couch when I wasn’t at work or training. Not because it brought me any relaxation or relief but because I just had absolutely no desire to do anything that typically makes me happy. It wasn’t necessarily about being sad, I was just an extremely unmotivated, uninterested, numb version of me.


I kept this information from my family, from my very best friend, from everyone but two close confidants. I was embarrassed. Who wants to admit the dishes are piling in the sink and you haven’t vacuumed because you just CAN’T? Who will understand that? I didn’t live in filth or anything, but it just took so much motivation and energy I just didn’t have to do the bare minimum, that anything above and beyond that was unthinkable.


This was all happening and getting worse slowly and then a big trigger happened. It was at this point I plummeted to my lowest. On top of everything I just described, I now felt worthless. I now felt like I offered nothing to anyone. I was bringing everyone around me down and maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here. The thoughts came faster and more often, and they wouldn’t stop. Not every day, not every minute, but I’d have a bad day for no specific reason and these thoughts would be overwhelming.


Here’s where I need to really break down depression for you to understand this. I was never in any real danger; I never actually wanted to nor would hurt myself. I could never do that to my parents and family, and more importantly to my daughter. I could never leave her wondering why she wasn’t enough for me to stay.


But the thing about depression most don’t understand is it’s not about sadness. It’s a common misconception because when we are sad, we say we are depressed. But actual clinical depression, yes, you may experience some sadness but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is you’re numb, you almost feel nothing. That’s because your brain is actually broken. You can’t just cheer up. You can’t just be positive. You can’t just snap out of it. You can’t because your brain literally does not function correctly. I’m not a scientist or medical professional, but basically, your neurons are not creating or processing serotonin and dopamine correctly. It’s not a matter of the glass half full or half empty, it’s a matter of you threw the glass against the wall and it’s been shattered.


And the thing is, at least in my case, the part that makes you feel super crazy is that there still exists the logical part of my brain, even when I’m overthinking any given situation. The part that says, “Hey, calm down. Everything is okay. You’re blessed, you have a great life, a beautiful daughter, a fantastic job, people who love you, it’s going to be okay.” But the other part of your brain, just can’t connect the dots. It just won’t stop. You know you’re off; you KNOW you’re overthinking, you know you’re inventing things or situations that aren’t even there, but you can’t stop. It got to the point where I almost wished I were so mentally ill I didn’t even know it because at least then, ignorance is bliss.


Plus, there’s the part where not every minute is tortured. There are times in the worst of it I was legitimately happy, legitimately smiling, laughing. I still loved everyone I always do. So when it comes over you like a blanket for no real reason, you’re back to feeling crazy, because you’re like, “But why, brain? I was fine!” I could be happy one minute and crying without knowing why the next.


But as if all of that weren’t enough of a clue perhaps, we were dealing with something a bit more severe, what finally did it is when I caught myself thinking about how I’d hurt myself if I did it. I didn’t want my daughter to find me, I didn’t want her to know I did it, so it had to be an accident. But I didn’t want some kind of accident that put it on anyone else, like a crash or something. I was in the middle of pondering that when I suddenly stopped… wait. I don’t even want to do this. I don’t. I just want to stop thinking about it. I want my brain to stop, I want to be me again. I don’t want to be gone; I want to be me.

That’s the day I texted my friend and said I needed to see a psychiatrist. I’d only ever seen therapists and been prescribed medications by my primary care physician. But if I was this bad after even upping my meds a few months prior, I needed the experts, the people that specialize in this. I needed to make sure I was correctly diagnosed and make sure I found the right treatments because I didn’t want to lose me again.


So, I called and made an appointment, filled out a bunch of forms, I went in. My doctor was very kind, listened to me. At the end of the appointment, I tearfully asked if she was sure I just had depression and anxiety or if there was something else. She paused, and said, “Yes, it’s definitely just depression, you’re not presenting as bipolar or manic depressive. But… you know how you keep saying it’s mild?”


“Well, yes,” I said. “I mean, I still go to work and do a good job, I still function.”

“Yes, you’re high-functioning, but honey,” she started. “On the assessments, severe depression is a score of 14 and you scored well above that.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, okay.”


Turns out to anyone close to me who knew what I was dealing with or had experienced my changes in behavior, this wasn’t really a shock. It was really only a surprise to me, but honestly, hearing it out loud was kind of a relief. Because now that we knew what we were dealing with, now we could really work on fixing it.


I started to think back on the last few months and what contributed to the thoughts I was having. Why I was able to do some things and not others. I figured out that for me, the reason the gym was so important is was because it was the last piece of me that was still there. Maybe it was because I was hiding how bad it was and people would figure it out if I stopped training or maybe it was because subconsciously, I knew if I stopped, I’d be doing nothing, and I maybe would have slipped farther. It wasn’t the cure, I still needed treatment and help, but it was a lifeline I desperately needed without even knowing how badly I needed it.


That’s why I’m sharing this now. I know for so many of you, for us, the gym is a lifeline. But it’s not the cure. If you are struggling mentally, if anything you just read sounds like you, you may need more help. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. I promise you, when you finally make the decision to get help, it gets better almost immediately. I’m not saying it won’t be a struggle, I’m still working to find the best treatment for me which includes trying and weaning off different kinds of medications, fighting with insurance for different treatments and a hell of a lot of tears during talk therapy, but the relief I immediately felt knowing the decision had been made and I was no longer alone was palpable.


But I’m not going to lie, just because I made the call doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Right now, there’s a lot of places where mental health therapists, counselors, psychologists’ patient lists are filled. It can be difficult to even get an appointment, much less get through the work you must do on yourself.


It can be costly, even with insurance. And don’t get me started on the hoops you have to jump through to even get insurance to approve treatments. I’ve now tried 7 different medications, am attending talk therapy, and I STILL can’t get the treatment I want approved. It is really frustrating, especially having to come off and on different medications just to appease insurance. Your brain can be put into a tailspin; mine has. Just when I thought things were going to be better, I find myself back at what feels like square one: irritable, disinterested, feeling like anything other than myself, feeling like I lost myself, like the real me is trapped inside but I can’t quite get to her.


But we’re powerlifters, right? We know how to fight for that rep. We know how to grind through. So, you have to be your own advocate, fight for yourself. You may literally need to fight for your life. Research providers in your area. With many therapists on waitlists, it may be easier to get telehealth appointments where you talk to someone via Zoom. I’ve done both in-person and Zoom appointments and hey, it’s something. So, what if I cried in my car outside my job on lunch, I got seen and I felt better afterwards. Many places have sliding scales so you pay what you can afford if you’re un- or under-insured. See if your insurance has a patient advocate that can help fight on your behalf. Be frank with your doctors, be honest with everything you’re going through and if they won’t fight for you and your treatment, find someone who will. It’s not going to be easy, I’m learning the hard way, but it’s going to be worth it.


I promise you, you’re not alone. And even when it feels like no one understands you when someone you love suggests you’re so blessed and should just be happy, instead of getting mad, be happy that they don’t understand because you love them and don’t want them to feel this way.


But there are people like me who do understand. And I’m always here if you need it.

1 comment

  • Monica Rockström: March 23, 2022

    Many thanks for sharing so openly! Really nice to read so well explained, without complications. Many similarities…..Many years

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