I never thought I’d be one of those people who would say fitness changed my life. But here we are. I’ve exercised almost every day for the past five years and I don’t want to imagine a life without it because it makes me so unbelievably happy.

It all began with a Zumba class. I trudged along with my mum to a Saturday morning class and discovered the endorphin rush that comes from using your body to move. Really move. I couldn’t get enough of it and I’ve never looked back.

I found a structure to my day which I so badly needed.

When I was diagnosed with depression was told to take some time off work and that turned into almost an entire year of unemployment. Taking time off was absolutely the right call, as I needed some space to let my medication kick in as well as attend regular counselling sessions.

Apart from that and a weekly appointment with my GP I didn’t have much scheduled in my day. I would often sleep for more than twelve hours a night as my body and mind recharged, but when I was awake I would regularly go to fitness classes.

Booking into a Spin class at 7am just didn’t work for me. I was too tired and unmotivated in the morning, but by 5pm I was often full of nervous energy and felt the need to do something productive. I would book ahead to confirm my spot and this meant I was loosely committed to attending the class or I would have to pay a small fine. This worked wonders for me as I was held accountable in a small way for getting out of the house.

I ended up going to between 5-7 classes per week and it forced me to get dressed, socialise with others and get out of my own head for an hour or so. I know people will think that it’s crazy I found the motivation to do that when I was depressed, and I don’t really have a full explanation for that. I just did, and I’m so grateful for that.

I lost my identity and created a new one

Being off sick from work made me feel very vulnerable. The stigma around depression is still so rife that I wasn’t strong enough to tell most people why I wasn’t working. This led to anxiety in social situations because I felt I was going to be caught off guard at any moment and have to explain what my job was, or admit that I wasn’t working at all. I thought without a career title I had nothing to say.

Everyone has their own way of coping with depression, and I found fitness particularly helpful in my darkest moments. When I started going to fitness classes regularly, I tested out every different one I could find. I did Spinning, Zumba, Body Pump, Pilates, Yoga, Metafit and many others. I became quite knowledgable about strength training, fat burning and was also very physically fit. In fact, I was the fittest I’d ever been and that gave me a new sense of identity.

I felt I belonged to the fitness community, even when I couldn’t get out of bed before midday or keep my house clean. When I couldn’t stop crying for days or find the courage to talk to others, I still felt part of a world where – even if just for a few hours – I could thrive. In a fitness class I was just like everyone else. I was fit and able on the outside even if I was crumbling on the inside.

fitness classes changed my life depression

I suddenly realised that I could change my future, and take my career in a new direction.

Putting my career on hold to focus on my mental health was a huge decision. At the time I thought I would absolutely return to my career in catering to be a manager again. After a few months of being off sick, I realised how much my work life had been contributing to my unhappiness.

I wasn’t built to handle the stresses that came along with managing a team, thinking on my feet and having a vision for a department in an industry that ultimately I had no passion for. It’s not to say that everyone needs to be in love with the work they do, but I couldn’t hold a position of authority in a place where I really didn’t care about the outcome.

After going to fitness classes every day for a year I had the idea that I’d like a career in fitness. I knew most of my class fitness instructors by name and many of them encouraged me, and offered to let me shadow them when I started training.

I started off by looking at the options available. To take a group fitness class I would need to do the Exercise to Music qualification. Although I was interested, I was nervous about the idea of standing in front of a room full of people and remembering a routine whilst keeping in time and correcting everyone’s form. I wish I’d had the confidence to go for it at the time but I just wasn’t ready mentally.

The thought of training people one-on-one seemed way more approachable so I signed up for the Level 2 Gym Instructor course and passed. Not only was I pleased that I’d passed the exams, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come in terms of my confidence.

I did the course over five weekends in a place I’d never been before with people I’d never met. I finally realised that if I was brave enough I could do all the things that I’d been afraid to do because of my anxiety.

Since then I’ve moved to a new city 300 miles away from home, found a new job, secured writing work and taken my blog from a hobby to a real passion. I honestly believe that I owe it all to that first step in the right direction when I did a Zumba class. My only hope is that one day I have time to go back and do that Exercise to Music course and add another string to my bow.

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