If you know me personally, then you know that if there is anything else in the world that I love as much as health and fitness it’s film.
I’m at the movies at least twice a month, and I have been mesmerized by “movie magic” ever since I can remember.
I am fascinated by the process of character development, and to me, watching a great actor perform is like a looking through a window into the depths of the human soul – some performances can make us cry, while others can make us laugh.
Once or twice in a generation, however, there comes an actor that can make us do both; and for over 30 years Robin Williams was that actor.
Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Death To Smoochy, Insomnia, Night At The Museum, Lee Daniels’ The Butler – these are just a few of the films in his vast body of work, but they are the ones that I grew up watching and cherishing.
They are films that forever left an impression on my life.
While I am deeply hurt and saddened by his death, I am even more devastated by the circumstance in which he left us.
Almost 1 in 15 American adults suffers from depression.
1 in 3 of us go through depression, panic attacks, or anxiety at least once in our lifetime.
Symptoms of depression range from a depressed mood or a loss of interest in pleasure, as well as changes in functioning such as problems sleeping, loss of appetite, a decrease in energy, lack of concentration. and a negative self-image.
Depression can also adversely affect the course of common chronic conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
It’s a debilitating disease that can make you feel helpless, worthless, and all alone.
I know these effects firsthand, because I have suffered from depression and anxiety for over 10 years.
I started experiencing social anxiety around the age of 18.
I couldn’t go anywhere with large crowds of people without sweating profusely; you would think that I had just finished a strenuous workout by the way that my clothes were covered in perspiration; it got so bad that I remember sitting in church one Sunday with my parents, and having to walk out in the middle of the service – it’s a horrible feeling and one that I hope not any of you ever have to experience.
At the age of 20, shortly after learning that my parents would be getting a divorce, was the first time I can remember experiencing an episode of depression.
I was very angry and hurt, and was not speaking to my father at the time.
I was disoriented with my life, and not really sure where I was headed.
I dropped out of college and spent the next 3 years working in the restaurant business.
I started taking prescription medication shortly after, and remained on them for about 3 years.
It was during this time that I also had to move, along with my mother and sister, out of the house that I had spent most of my teenage years in.
Needless to say, it was a very tough time for myself and my family; I can remember days when I couldn’t even muster up the strength or the desire to get out of bed.
I spent many weekends alone and sacrificed a lot of my social life for a very long time.
This, coupled with my battle with social anxiety, led to depression; and although not many people knew it, I was going through one of the hardest times of my life.
I am now 28 years old.
I am off any kind of prescription medication, and while I do think depression is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, I do think it is 100% manageable, and can be done so by natural means.
I have studied what kind of foods help with positive brain chemistry, and I have taken note of the actions I take on a daily basis that help me feel at peace within. as well as those that do the opposite, and lead me back into sadness.
Scientific research has shown a direct link between diet, depression, and anxiety.
95% of the body’s serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter responsible for your mood, is produced in your gastrointestinal tract.
An estimated 80% of your immunity is produced in your stomach.
A poor diet and lifestyle – which causes damage to your gut – could be one of the reasons you suffer from depression.
Naturally, one would want to consume foods that heal the gut and help the body produce more serotonin.
An anti-inflammatory diet void of processed foods, grains, and sugar is the way to go.
You should look to consume copious amounts of organic fruits and vegetables, and make sure you are getting plenty of Omega 3 Fats, which have been shown to combat inflammation in the body.
You can get these fats naturally by eating wild caught salmon, grass-fed beef and butter, and pastured eggs on a regular basis.
Coconut oil is a dietary staple of mine and also has extraordinary anti-inflammatory effects.
Look to maximize your Vitamin D levels by getting 20 minutes of direct sun exposure daily!
Most of us are deficient in this important Vitamin and this can also cause depression.
Get your levels tested by your doctor and find out if you are low; a D3 supplement may be in order.
Lastly, make sure that you supplement with a high quality probiotic.
As mentioned earlier, up to 80% of our immune system is in our gut, and without these beneficial bacteria, it will not function properly.
Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of exercising daily.
Also, when you exercise, your body releases chemicals called “endorphins.”
They trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to that of morphine.
Lift weights, run, walk, sprint, dance, play a sport – just find 30 minutes in your day to break a sweat.
I know that exercise has been a huge part of my life and has helped me get through a lot of tough times.
I would not have been able to deal with my depression without it; and it was a major factor in my decision to become a personal trainer.
Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood.
Lack of sleep can make you feel stressed, angry, sad, and just mentally exhausted.
Try to get a minimum of 7 hours per night.
Take steps to try to improve your quality of sleep.
Adopt good sleep habits like not eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed and turning off the computer and television; try to read a book or converse with your partner, instead.
In Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, he state’s:
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears to another human being or to unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”
Search deep down inside of you and find your “why.”
Ask yourself how you can make this world a better place, and then, go do it.
I can honestly say that the times I am most at peace with myself are when I am helping others.
On the contrary, the times I feel most alone and susceptible to depression are when I am focusing solely on my own interests.
That is the main reason I became a personal trainer, and why I started this blog.
There is not an “antidepressant” in the world that can make up for the feeling you get from helping those around you.
I don’t know if I will still be a trainer 30 years from now.
I don’t know if I will still have a blog.
I don’t know where I’ll be living.
What I do know for sure is this:
I will still be doing my best to make the lives of those around me better; if not for their own good, then for mine.
Robin Williams was an amazing individual.
He helped millions get through life with his work, including myself.
Somewhere along the way, I think he might have forgotten that.
He might have forgotten that millions of people depended on his incredible talent and amazing personality.
He might have lost sight of his “why.”
He will be missed, greatly, by all of us, and if there is a lesson to be learned from his death, it is this: no amount of money, fame, alcohol, or drugs can numb the symptoms of depression.
If you suffer from even one of the symptoms I listed above, please get help.
I would have never been able to fight back against my depression and anxiety if it wasn’t for the help of my family and close friends.
Confide in them, and do everything in your power to conquer this horrible disease, starting with the steps listed in this post.
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
One of my favorite Robin Williams’ quotes has to be from Dead Poets Society.
He says, “No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
This is absolutely true!
I am here to tell you that YOU can change the world with your ideas and words.
Don’t give up on the amazing person you are, and I beg you to please find your “why,” if you haven’t already.
It’s never too late; and somewhere, someone out there is depending on you to find it.