It was the 28th of January, 2019. Eighteen days earlier, I had written a blog post about feeling blue. The four weeks or so leading up to that had been difficult and dark ones. I had spent many days in a state of low motivation, low energy and low productivity, although thankfully I was familiar enough with being depressed to know that it didn't define me, and that it would pass.
I didn't expect it to pass the way it did.
I had agreed to run a 2-hour dance marathon class at the end of January, on a public holiday as my BodyJam community does almost every year. Honestly, I didn't want to do it, and I was dreading it as the day drew closer. My care factor was so low I didn't start putting a playlist together until the day before, when I started to feel the pressure of needing to get organised. Two things kept me committed to the event - knowing how much the participants enjoy it every year, and remembering how much I enjoy it every year.
However, as I walked into the studio that day, I didn't expect to enjoy it at all. I was tired, lethargic, and quite frankly feeling resentful about being there at all. The commentary in my head was "why can't everyone just leave me alone? I wish I could hide, I wish there was a secret room I could disappear into where they can't find me". As people started to arrive I said hello to them, but then tried to look busy setting up the sound system to avoid getting into any conversations. I just wanted to get this thing over with so I could go home and back into my proverbial cave.
At last, we got underway and I started to go through the motions. During the first song I remember thinking how lucky it was that I'd been doing this for long enough that I could go into automatic pilot and still pull it off. In the second song I looked over at my friend Erin, who had agreed to partner with me in teaching the class that day. I remembered all the times we had danced together in the past, and was suddenly filled with gratitude for her presence, knowing that I didn't have to carry the two hour event on my own. I looked out at the studio filled with people, and at that moment my friend Emma ran into the room, another instructor I hadn't seen for months and wasn't expecting to see that day. As I jumped down from the stage to give her a hug hello, my feelings of gratitude compounded and I started to think this event wouldn't be so draining after all.
About an hour into the class I remember thinking "hey, I'm actually managing to get through this... although I'm sure I'll crash as soon as I get home." Yes, depression certainly sets us up for patterns of pessimistic thinking! In my pessimistic mode I never would have expected what was about to happen.
It was the last 15 minutes of the class. I had planned a high energy finish for the event, a crowd-favourite block of choreography I had taught many times before and knew like the back of my hand. Part of my reason for choosing it was to minimise my preparation - so in fact I hadn't even listened to the music the day before. So when the familiar sounds of the songs filled my ears and resonated through my body, I was transported back in time to the moments I had shared this music and this movement with others. I remembered being in Sydney to present at my first national group fitness conference, the thrill of dancing in front of hundreds of participants. I remembered the many clubs I had visited and the groups of people I had taught this to. And I remembered the people alongside me - my community of instructors, many of whom, like Emma and Erin, had become dear friends as well as colleagues.
That's when the rush happened. The music, the memories and the movement all coalesced into a massive rush of energy that moved from the base of my spine to the crown of my head. This bolt of electricity brought in another wave of gratitude so strong it felt like my whole body was taken over by it - and it was. Tears sprang from my eyes and there I was, crying with the pure joy of the moment. I suddenly felt aligned, connected, myself again. In that moment the depression lifted, not to return.
After the class my friends asked me what had happened. "You were teaching a great class, we were all having fun - and then suddenly your energy lifted and it was like whoosh, it took us all to the next level." I realised that what I had felt was not something I had experienced alone. The shift had not only been transformational, it had been visible.
Later at home I cautiously explained to my partner what had happened that day. "I don't want to be overly optimistic, but it's gone. The depression just disappeared in an instant and I feel like myself again. It's never happened like that before." It was true - my past recoveries from bouts of the illness had been gradual and slow, never like this. I had always rolled my eyes or felt resentful when somebody would say "snap out of it", and now I felt like the impossible snap had actually happened.
It has been almost six months, and while I've been busy, sometimes tired and sometimes sad, I haven't had any further bouts of depression. It has made me reflect on why this time was so different. Certainly there was a heavenly mix of factors that made up a peak experience for me on January 28th. However in the weeks prior whilst feeling low, as I blogged about on January 10, I had also for the first time not resisted or shamed myself about being depressed. So the transformation was not simply a "snapping out" moment. It was an accumulation of many months and years of practicing various cognitive and emotional strategies that had made me mentally fit - fit enough to recover quickly and completely from illness.
This isn't to say I will never fall ill again. A friend asked me recently with genuine curiosity "so if you say you have good mental fitness, how come you were so unwell at the start of the year?". My response - "even the most fit person can still get sick every now and then". Our mental health, like our physical health, is not merely the absence of disease. It is made up of a rich tapestry, which I have been reflecting on and unpacking since January 28th. Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing with you what I have distilled from my reflections - a model of mental fitness that has shaped how I now live. It is my hope that by synthesising my experiences and strategies, I can help others navigate their way towards wellbeing and mental fitness with greater skill and ease.
Bek is a psychology educator and group fitness instructor who is passionate about uniting the worlds of physical and mental health together. Stay tuned for her upcoming TEDx talk titled "Mental Fitness; The Next Frontier", which will be shared with Smith & Wellness subscribers from September 2019. Go to smithandwellness.com to subscribe if you are not already on our mailing list!