I Was Really Depressed For A Few Months – Here’s How I Fixed It

I haven’t been writing because I haven’t been well.

The first four months of 2018 were some of the internally darkest I’ve had in a while, but I’m finally feeling like myself again and I’d like to relay how it all happened.

I’ll try to be brief so I can get to the good stuff and give you a list of resources and strategies that helped me get out this particular emotional situation.

 

THE PROBLEMS

Some of you might coin these as “first world problems”, and you might be right. But however petty or unimportant they may seem to outsiders, they all combined to have a tremendous weight on me.

If you perceive something as a problem, it is, in fact, a problem. If something feels wrong, it typically IS wrong. I’ll get off my soapbox now and actually deliver them.

THE FLU

Not much to say about this. I was extremely ill for a couple weeks in January and it was awful.

THE DOG

Brandon and I finally adopted a dog mid January (a few days before the flu hit) and by early February we had to find him a new home. He was literally the best puppy in the world, a super cute 6-month-old named Noodles. He was perfect for us.

But unfortunately, since it is in my nature to give him MY best, everything else in my life was suffering. Sleep was terrible, training was shit, my work was a disaster, and my relationship with Brandon (my boyfriend of 5 years) was feeling a bit strained (which literally never happens). While the entire situation might have worked better if we had a house and a yard, raising the pup in an apartment was not ideal.

After 3 weeks, it was apparent that I was not in a place to continue functioning properly if we kept Noodles. Making this decision was incredibly difficult. Brandon and I are dog people and we had been discussing this step in our relationship for many years. The fact that I couldn’t handle it was embarrassing, but it was honest.

THE SPORT

As of January 2018, I had spent just over two years training specifically for a chance to make it in The National Pro Grid League when my coach and I came to the realization that it actually no longer exists. After three seasons as America’s most popular functional fitness team sport, the business did not succeed and they have stopped it altogether.

As someone who has had some competitive or performance goal almost every year of her life since the age of six, this naturally left me feeling a bit lost.

In the past decade I have competed in cheerleading, bodybuilding, and powerlifting, but none of those peak my interest any longer as a viable option for me to work towards.

Crossfit is the closest thing to GRID, but the differences in energy system demands and overall work capacity would require me to train at least twice as many hours per day. This might work, except that my body hates me, which we will talk about in this next section.

THE INJURIES

Once we established the end of GRID and the end of my immediate competitive goals, it was time to finally acknowledge all the injuries that had been piling on for quite some time. I didn’t want to stop training, but I did recognize that continuing to train with these niggles was not ideal for long-term joint health.

I’ve had a shoulder “thing” for almost the entire time I was chasing GRID. I battled some overuse injuries in my knees in 2016, and in 2017 I actually had a small spill that I am convinced left me with a damaged meniscus. In late 2017 the shoulder problems traveled into my elbow, which had been the most painful thing early this year.

Rather than just living with these intense irritants every day, we decided with the help of my doctor that it would be ok to keep training at a lower place on the pain scale. We planned to scale back any time I got to a 3/10 instead of a 7/10. We had a plan, but this quickly failed.

THE COACH

While David (my coach) did everything according to what we discussed by lowering volume and giving my injuries room to heal, it just simply wasn’t enough. He’d drop my program down a few notches, and a couple days in I’d realize it was still too much. He’d tweak it all again, and I’d have to modify again. Because we work remotely, there was just simply no way for him to keep up with how much my body was changing, how much space I needed to heal, and how terrible I was feeling.

When instructed to “stop or modify when it gets to a 3/10”, it turns out that this had been happening every day with almost every movement for months and I had just learned to ignore it because I wanted to compete so bad. I felt like a burden on David, which really sucks because I wanted nothing more than to impress him with every ounce of my being.

It killed me every time I had to report that I was having to modify something. So much that I would sometimes push the pain a little more than I should just because I didn’t want to have to tell him about it. It was a vicious cycle of pain and shame that wasn’t letting up no matter how much I tried or communicated.

THE JOB

After being a bodybuilding coach with 3D Muscle Journey for over 2 years, the social pressure finally got to me. The 3DMJ guys have been my heroes for half a decade. Everything they stand for in our industry is of the highest level, and I am honored to exist amongst them as part of the team.

But honored as I was, I also became emotionally exhausted. I tend to elevate the “3DMJ Coach” persona on a ginormous pedestal, and I was killing myself trying to stand on it. If you ask the men I work with, nothing I did was ever “wrong” in accordance to what they expected of me. But the fact that I sometimes had to hold back my opinions or water down my feelings or “perform” for an audience or camera in a way that a 3DMJ coach should was eating at me.

While it had been building up for a while, by January I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to be publicly responsible for being a pillar in the natural bodybuilding industry. I respect that community, that sport, and my colleagues too much to give any less than 100%.

I knew all of this internally, but was dying inside because I didn’t know how to relay this to the rest of 3DMJ. I was terrified, ashamed, and fearful of letting them all down.

THE ACNE

When I went to the doctor for my flu medication in January, I also told her about some small breakouts I had been having on my cheeks. I never had acne growing up, so it was kind of freaking me out, even if it wasn’t too noticeable.

She told me it was pretty classic hormonal acne which happens to a lot of women in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. She told me that starting birth control can sometimes help, so I started taking that as soon as my flu medication was finished.

Within a few weeks it was obvious that my birth control didn’t help my face, and was in fact allowing it to get worse. I had never in my life been embarrassed of my face without makeup until this year at the age of 32.

Of all the problems listed, this is definitely the least heavy for me, but it still wasn’t real cool. I had to come to terms with the fact that maybe I cared more about what people think than I previously thought I did. Its was just another thing in life during this sensitive time to questions my beliefs about myself.

THE IDENTITY

So as far as I could tell, there were a number of disconnects in who the fuck I was.

I was an unhealthy ‘health and fitness professional’, a dog person without a dog, an athlete without a sport, and a bodybuilding coach who doesn’t want to do bodybuilding.

Hopefully you can all see how this could boil down to quite the identity crisis, so I’ll just leave that there for now and we can get into the less crappy stuff.

 

THE SOLUTIONS

Rather than listing these in accordance to the problems above, I’m just going to give them in the order in which they happened.

Obviously there is overlap in the timeline, and obviously some solutions could positively contribute to many (or all) of the issues above, but I’ll do my best to be linear about it.

1 – LOSE ALL EXTERNAL (AND IMAGINARY) EXPECTATIONS

This is honestly the biggest and most important step that allows all the others to happen.

I care way too much about too many people and their opinions of me, so getting rid of those self-induced expectations was the only way create space and start handling my internal business.

Noodles (the dog) was so precious and I wanted to raise him perfectly. I continually put his needs before mine 24 hours a day, so I knew he needed to live somewhere else. We found him an amazing new dad who I personally interviewed and we still keep up with him via Instagram all the time. His life is great and I’m at peace with that.

David (the coach) was someone I had spent years of my life trying to impress every single day. I did this via our shared training program document, via text, and on Instagram because I knew he followed my training videos. I wanted to be picked for his GRID team so badly that I was hurting my body and my future in the process.

I believe it’s what every competitive athlete would have done in that situation, but I was no longer a competitor. Therefore, it was really stupid and I had to let go of that relationship. I have decided I will not be coached again until my strength is completely back and I am at least 95% pain free. (I anticipate this taking at least a year and a couple surgeries, but I am in no rush.)

My fellow 3DMJ coaches are my family, and having them think any less of me is one of my biggest fears in life. They have given me so much over the years, and it would crush my soul if I were to ever disappoint them in any way.

But, as previously discussed in the “PROBLEMS” section, I needed a major shift in my responsibilities. I should be forever honored and grateful to be named one of the five coaches, so how the fuck was I supposed to tell them I didn’t want this huge opportunity anymore? How was I supposed to shed this huge burden and relieve myself of the social expectations that our industry impresses on the leaders of this team?

Well luckily, my gateway to confronting all of them exists within my dear friend, Eric Helms. Not that he is any more important than the other three gentlemen, but he is one of the best verbal communicators on the whole freakin’ planet and our schedules align pretty well when I am in dire need of an impromptu Skype session. He has the right vocabulary for every scenario, a rare emotional radar for deep empathy, and a repeated front row seat to some of my previous minor freak outs so he knows what he’s dealing with.

It only took and hour or two of crying and conversing with him to come up with an honest way of addressing the problem and addressing the team.

At our next group meeting, all four of the guys heard me out and we agreed on how to move forward so that all of us could continue to grow comfortably within the company.

Up until this point in February, 25% of my 3DMJ time was spent coaching and 75% of it was operations- and marketing-related. We officially made me the “Director of Operations” and set a plan in place to slowly shift me towards a 100% focus on the business and development duties.

My coworkers, my athletes, and our 3DMJ community as a whole never made me feel like I was bad at my job. They were never anything but supportive, positive, and happy about my work. But holding that position didn’t feel honest and it didn’t align with my interests. To say I feel more secure and free since that change is a huge understatement.

In summary, letting go of Noodles, David, and the pressure I put on myself as a coach has been life-changing.

2 – GET THE RIGHT BOOKS, ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

I’m always consuming and absorbing — books, articles, audiobooks, podcasts, social media posts, people, conversations, you name it. If I’m around it, I register it.

This is often a blessing in that I am never bored and tend to pick up on things pretty quickly.

This also often sucks when I’m trying to sleep at night but my mind is going a mile a minute about what happened throughout the day.

Either way, good or bad, I know I am highly affected by these inputs.

If I read dark stuff, I think about dark things. If I hear an inspiring story or watch sports of almost any kind, I am inspired and interested. If I scroll through trashy Instagram feeds, I get angry.

Because of this reliable tendency of mine, I know I can ninja hack my brain in the right direction if I just find the right stuff.

Here are some tools that helped me this time around to recalibrate who I am and who I want to be:

The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Termsby Danielle LaPorte – This is kinda woo-woo and a little too feminine for my usual taste, but damn I love this lady. She acknowledges intense situations, stokes the right fires, and asks the right questions to help you get some clarity of your own. The entire thing alternates between instructions and workbook pages. I really enjoyed all the exercises in this one.

Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers – This isn’t about “how to make millions and get anything you want”, it’s more like “how Derek thought critically about what he wanted, made decisions based solely on that, and just let shit happen til he was in a position to create the life he wanted”. Derek founded CD Baby, sold it for millions, and now lives every single day within his own guidelines. In life, there really are very few actual rules. Society just makes us think there are a whole lot more. The book is super short, so once you’re done you should read his entire website. It’s amazing.

The Most Successful People Are The Ones You’ve Never Heard Of (And Why They Want It That Way) by Ryan Holiday – This is actually an article, not a book, but it hit my at just the right time. Since 2012, my livelihood and income has been dependent on whether or not enough people knew about me and my endeavors on the internet. It had been ingrained that making more money meant you had to be known by more people.

But over the past couple years, the longer I’ve been with 3DMJ, the less “famous” I felt that I had to be. The other gentlemen I work with have been online since 2009, they are highly regarded coaches, athletes, and scientists, and they are rightfully leaps and bounds more internet famous than I am. I have not only grown to be ok with that, I actually prefer that.

With 3DMJ, I work in the background, making the websites, podcasts, daily operations, and team social media accounts tick. And honestly, that’s what makes me the happiest. I thought that letting my online presence die down would not be ok with the guys, so I forced myself to care for a long time. It turns out that they value my behind-the-scenes work and general happiness much more. When I finally read this article, let it marinate, and got up the courage to ask the guys if they cared about me closing down most of my social media accounts, they were actually thrilled. Not because we might lose some overall brand presence, but because they could tell this shift would make me feel less pressured to be a character and more free to be myself. They were right 🙂

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow – Judd is the dude who made Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and whole lot of other phenomenal films. Back before he made flicks, he wanted to be a stand-up comedian. As a teenager, he would use his high school radio show as an excuse to interview comedians that would perform at the club where his mom worked. This book has transcriptions of those old conversations from 80’s, recent personal interviews, and everything in between. There are word-for-word interviews with Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Steve Martin, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Rogan, Mel Brooks, Rosanne Barr, David Sedaris, and a bajillion more.

My important takeaway from this was hearing the way all of these legends manipulated through projects and career paths. Every one of them is known for a number of publicly-acknowledged leading rolls and specials, but they all do just as much behind the scenes and/or less notably. While all comedians, they are also writers, directors, producers, voice-actors, investors, hosts, musicians, inventors, and so on.

My personal identity stresses seem to matter a lot less when I realize that I have done, and will continue to do, a lot of different things in life. Just because I previously had the labels of “competitor”, “coach”, or “YouTuber” or “online fitness entrepreneur” does not mean that is a label I will continue to have. I can make up my own labels. I can make up my own jobs. I can choose what I care about. And all of it can change over and over. Other than when I actually die, nothing is ever final in my life. I find it quite comforting.

3 – MAKE YOUR WORLD

With my refreshing reminders that all of this shit is just made up anyways, I “changed my identity”.

(Well, parts of it, anyway.)

My fellow 3DMJ colleagues and I decided to call me the “Director of Operations” of 3DMJ because it feels the most honest.

I decided to slowly back away from being the sole podcast host of 3DMJ because I don’t like feeling in charge of it. (As I’m writing this, the podcast change is in the works and will become more noticeable in the near future.) I will still produce the show as part of my job, but I will not be heard on it as much.

I decided to shut down two of my three Instagram accounts I had been running for a couple of years because they were characterizations of who I thought people wanted me to be. Now I only have one, it is under my name, and I put whatever I feel like putting there. Because it started as a “online fitness education” type of account back in the day, my lack of care has caused it to lose a lot of followers. That’s cool. My friends still follow me and I follow them and it’s a nice way to stay in touch. It makes me happy now instead of stressing me out.

I decided to do be my own coach for a while and make my own decisions with my training and my body. I still follow strength programming templates from David, but I do not have to answer or report to anyone. I follow at my pace, listen to my body, adjust and modify as needed, and add or subtract in accordance with my goals for the week and how I’m feeling.

I decided to research the relationship between birth control and acne. After three months on a pill that did not help my skin, I spent a couple weeks gathering some insight as to which potential switches may be useful, and asked my doctor for a prescription change. As I’m writing this, I have been on the new one for almost two months and have seen a definite improvement. My acne is not completely gone, but my face is definitely much more clear than it was before. I am taking notes and staying in control fo the situation because my comfort and confidence is important to me.

Lastly and most importantly, I decided to change my world in my head. Nothing in the past few paragraphs in itself is life altering. Most people wouldn’t even notice. But the common thread is that I am doing things that make me feel in control and honest.

The agony of early 2018 was caused by the pain of pretending. It was the pain of trying to be who I thought I needed to be.

The truth is, nobody cares.

Nobody cares about my job title, my Instagram accounts, my injuries or my skin.

And since that is true, I should just make it all up to match what I want and what I feel.

4 – REMEMBER THAT FIXES ARE TEMPORARY, BUT THE WORK IS TIMELESS

Four months of depression and four months of putting myself back together may seem like a lot of time.

Reading, thinking, and journaling for hours on end is a lot of work. Nobody will ever see that work. I will never be recognized for that work — but that’s the most important kind of work I could ever perform in my life.

I say that because being ok with who you are is a form of happiness that everyone should fight for.

And the bittersweet fact of it all is that I know I will have to do it all again. Probably many times over, at least every few years. So I better get good at it and treat it like a job. We all should. Because it’s a skill that will always be handy.

THE FUTURE

While I sincerely wish dark periods never happened like this, it’d be stupid of me not to acknowledge and prepare for them when they come in the future.

So I guess the post is just a record for me to refer to the next time I hit a wall in life.

And hopefully some of you reading this could get some reminders, resources, or general entertainment from this long ass piece of writing to help you get through your own things.

If you’re here reading this sentence, please know that I appreciate you.

xoxo,

AV

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