We all have heard that we should exercise regularly. Many of us come up with excuses why we don’t exercise like I don’t have time, I’m too tired after work, it’s boring, and so on. When you have depression, you struggle with fatigue, lack of motivation, and decrease in energy. This makes getting out of bed or out of the house to walk seem impossible. What you can’t see is how walking and exercise can help you feel better.

Shot of Sleepy girl trying to hide under the pillow.

     Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have been out of work and will be unable to return until after my surgery and recovery. I’ve sunken into a depression. On most days I enjoy working. As a cashier of twenty-five years, I have many regular customers. Some of my customers I see daily and others on certain days of the week. There are also co-workers I enjoy seeing when I work. I miss them all. I wanted to work up to my surgery date, but that didn’t work out. I hate sitting around home. Working helps keep me busy and keeps my mind from wandering. When Not working, I have too much time for my mind to run wild.

     Just two years ago I went through breast cancer and had to have two major surgeries within three months. Now I must go through back surgery. For a while I was having surgery every two years. When does it stop? I don’t understand why I can’t work. If I can’t work, then I have nothing. What reason do I have to get up in the morning? What will I do all day while my husband is at work: Sleep, watch television, and sulk in my self-anguish?

     For a little while after I was told I couldn’t work, I found myself crying, worrying, and deeply sad. I cried in my husband’s arms and was afraid I was going backwards. I even asked my hubby if I needed therapy or to be hospitalized. I thought I was losing control over my illness and I was falling back into that dark hole of depression.

     My husband looked into my eyes. “You’re not going backwards. You’re just going through a bad spell. We can get through this together.”

     The only way I figured I could get out of my depression is to work on losing the twenty pounds I needed to get rid of for surgery. I made plans with Denise, my friend and personal trainer, to walk. With my back injury, the only exercise I can do is walking. I made it my goal to walk every day if the weather is good. If Denise were unable to, I would walk with my dog Esther. One way or another, I would lose the weight.

     The best thing about walking with a friend is being able to confide in each other. Denise would tell me about her frustrations with work and other things going on her life. I confided in her about how I was feeling and how frustrated I was that I couldn’t work. Walking became more than just exercise; it became therapy. I walked and talked out my emotions and frustrations. It was freeing and my depression began to lesson.

     Denise started coming up with more challenging places to walk than just my neighborhood. One day we walked at the local dog park. When Denise was a kid, it wasn’t a dog park. She and her friends her played in the trails. She took me through many of the dirt trails, telling me stories about things she did when she was a kid. We walked over creeks, up hills, and down hills. I was sweating by the time we were done. The next time she took me to a place on the west side of Erie called Asbury Woods. This place also had trails in the woods. These trails were more of a challenge. The hills were much bigger.

Asbury Woods

     We stood at top of a hill and Denise looked at me. “Remember what goes down must come up.”

     I walked down the hill while Denise ran. Denise waited for me at the top of another hill. She wasn’t even breathless, but I was huffing and puffing. I put all of me into walking up the hills. I wasn’t just working my muscles I was physically working my emotions and anguish out of me. The harder I pushed forward the more the knot in my stomach eased. The only thing in my mind was, “I can make it up this hill. I can’t give up.” I had no room in my mind for negativity.

     Last Wednesday I got a paper and a form from my job that scared me. I thought I was going to lose my job. I was afraid I would never be able to see my customers again. I began to worry. The next morning Denise took me to work to have personnel explain the form. I still couldn’t help but worry.  

After we left our place of work, Denise decided at the last minute to take me to a new place to walk. She told me it was fifty minutes away. I had no idea where she was taking me, but I agreed to go. It was better than sitting home thinking and worrying. She drove me to Maurice Goddard State Park. The park wrapped around a lake called Wilhelm. Paved trails went through wooded areas around the lake. We started walking the trail backwards. Wooded stakes marked each mile we walked. When we reached the ten-mile marker, we knew we were walking the trail the wrong way. I kept track of how many miles we walked with my Fibit.

By the time we hit four miles, I was starting to get a bit sore. When we hit eight miles, I began to wonder if I could chicken out and walk back to the car, but turning back would only take longer. My feet and legs were screaming at me. They were telling me they had enough. I had to keep going. By the time we hit ten miles, it was all I could do to keep walking. My feet, legs, and back ached. I felt like my feet were broken. I began to wonder if I could go on. I wanted to sit down and give up.

Denise walked a little bit ahead of me. “You’re doing great. You can do this. If you keep talking about anything it will get your mind off the pain. Just four more miles to go.”

Bikers sped past us. I wanted to knock one off and steal his or her bike. I searched my mind for something to say to distract myself. I saw a bench and I talked about how it was calling my name. I sat periodically throughout the walk, but it did little to ease my increasing pain. By the time we hit the one-mile marker and my Fibit hit 12 miles, I wasn’t sure how I was still moving. I just kept telling myself, “You’re almost done. You can’t give up now. You can do this. Just finish the mile and walk one more mile to the parking lot where we parked.”

Hunger and thirst were part of my drive to finish, but determination was the biggest part. When we made it to the parking lot to Denise’s SUV, I was thirsty, exhausted, hungry, in pain, and proud of myself. I never though I’d be able to walk fourteen miles. I went from worrying about losing my job to being proud for making it fourteen miles around a lake. I did it! I made it! I was so proud of myself. Walking was my therapy. I totally forgot about the form from work and my worries while we walked.

in the background the big lake is what we walked around.

If you’re struggling with depression, find a friend to walk with. If you can’t find a friend, take your dog for a walk. Even if it’s to the end of your road and back, it’s good therapy and good exercise. Each time you walk go a little bit farther. Keep increasing the distance. In time you’ll be surprised how far you can go and how much it helps you mentally and physically. Get out of bed, get dressed, and walk. Come on, you can do it!

Walking is helping me physically and mentally. My surgery is October 21 and I have already loss eighteen pounds of the twenty I need to lose for surgery. Walking is helping me stand above the hole of depression, with my arms up in the air like a champion, within the light.

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