Posted by: Jack Hope | Tuesday July 31, 2012

Exercise: It Just Didn’t Work

Dear Terry,

Maybe it’s the Olympics, or the summer heat or the contraceptives in the rain water but there seems to be yet another spat of Internet know-it-alls sounding off on antidepressants and the use of pharmaceuticals to treat mental illnesses. As is so typical with these tiresome outbursts, they’re short on facts and long on thinly disguised rhetoric that often repeats the same stereotypes of the mentally ill that they claim to represent.

It makes me so indescribably angry they way people twist and manipulate anecdotes and medical studies to paint a picture of people with mental illness as nothing more than drug addicted dupes.

The pious spout off about how the Depression cure is just exercise, a good diet and hard work. They continue to propagate the stereotype that the Depressed are ultimately just lazy. The implication that we’re just sitting around moping because we won’t get off the couch and go for a walk.

Well, here’s the brutal truth: it didn’t work. Diet and exercise could never have fixed this for me by myself.

I know, believe me, I know, because I tried and I fought and at best, all it did was slow and delay an inevitable and brutal decline.

You remember what I was like after Peter left. I through myself into my work, I started going to the gym, got a personal trainer, started eating healthy. For months I did it, the longest sustained period in my life where I have taken such good care of myself physically. I was in the gym five days a week, for an hour and a half. I ate well, cooking my own meals for myself. I took supplements like St John’s Wort.

And yet I would still be sitting at work and staring off into space, feeling this bottomless pit inside me open up.

And I still came home exhausted every single day and then couldn’t sleep. And when the alarm rang in the morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was constantly sick with a sniffle or cough.

The Doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with me. He suggested I might want to consider an antidepressant but I wouldn’t listen. I knew what those did to people, I was smarter than the medical man, I knew best for myself.

Eventually I found a new normal as the pain of loss eased. But just like before, it was a normal that was a bit little bit less than before. The recovery was less than 100% and I slid a bit further down the slippery slope.

The days of reckoning, the days that I needed to actually grasp what was happening to me, were delayed a bit more. The coming crash made just a bit more worse.

But hey, I lost 30 pounds so I must have been on the right track!

And now when I hear people spouting off the same ignorant garbage that I bought into for such a long time, it makes me so angry. Especially when they are ultimately hurting the cause of mental health and providing a legitimate veneer for the discrimination that many mentally ill people experience. I’ve even come across people who have suggested that banning antidepressants is the appropriate way to deal with this. Treating those with Depression as though we’re just another group of people abusing recreational drugs.

We don’t tell people with diabetes that they’re addicted to insulin. We don’t tell people with HIV that they’re addicted to anti-retrovirals. We don’t tell cancer patients that they’re addicted to chemotherapy.

Why is it okay to say that the mentally ill are addicted to their medications?

Despite everything I just said, diet and exercise are incredibly important to maintaining good health and with it, helping to balance mood and deal with mental illness. I’m absolutely doing everything I can to improve my health through diet and exercise.

But it’s not the answer for me in and of itself. It’s not the cure. There isn’t a cure, only management.

It’s just so frustrating to be buffeted by these forces in our society. The anti-pharmaceutical set who are convinced we’re pill popping addicts who are too lazy to deal with our problems continue to undermine the mentally ill. Big Pharma which has decided to convince as many people as possible that they do need some kind of medication, hence creating the appearance that Depression isn’t a life threatening major illness. And the ignorant and ill-informed who’d rather believe 30 seconds of pop psychobabble from the day’s talk shows then actually do some thinking.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on antidepressants or any other pills. I also don’t want to live in a country that uses internal combustion engines. Unfortunately, I’m likely doomed on both counts.

I do want to spend the rest of my life being productive and happy and giving back to the world. If taking pills everyday is the price of doing that, then I will pay it without hesitation.

I won’t go back to the way I was.

I won’t go back to a grey and dead world. I won’t give up the vitality that life holds for me now (and I’m not even at 100% right now!) and I won’t suffer through more lost years. It’s not worth it, especially when it would be in the service of ignorance and foolishness.

I won’t go back.




  1. Agreed ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on antidepressants or any other pills. I also don’t want to live in a country that uses internal combustion engines. Unfortunately, I’m likely doomed on both counts.’

  2. I really enjoyed this post!

    I don’t even think many people understand what “hard work” is when you’re trying to overcome depression. AH! IT’S EXHAUSTING! I’ve never worked at anything more hard in my life than making sure I can get up each day and not try and die!

    There needs to be grey area in using medication (and this is coming from someone who hates grey area). Some people will be on medication for the remainder of their lives, some will only be on it briefly and others will never be on it.

    What works for us will work for us and everyone else can shove it!

    • Exactly!

      And so much of this does stem from the stigma and discrimination faced by the mentally ill. It both feeds on the stigma and in turns reinforces it.

      Everyone’s treatment plans are going to be unique and different and that’s true for almost any kind of illness, simply because each person is different. And a treatment plan should cover all of these things, exercise, diet, medication and anything else that a person needs to be well again.

      In the end, it really frustrates me both how much I’ve lost because I didn’t pursue treatment at the right time and how much disinformation is out there, leaving more people in unnecessary misery.

      Life is hard enough as it is.

      • I said to the VP of Communications from CAMH I spoke to yesterday that medication is one of the things that is stigmatized no matter what you do.

        Life is hard enough as it is so I guess what’s a little more? 😛

  3. “I do want to spend the rest of my life being productive and happy and giving back to the world. If taking pills everyday is the price of doing that, then I will pay it without hesitation.” agreed!!! and really if ya think about it, it isn’t such a bad price to pay. At least we live in a time and place where we have access to meds. centuries ago we would have be institutionalized and left for nought. definitely something to be grateful for.

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