I have rapid cycling bi-polar disorder with bouts of anxiety.
Depression robs the individual of any appreciation of the future, of possibilities and changes in circumstance. Perceiving that you are having a bad year begins to narrow down to a bad month, week and then day – every day. Apathy builds, there are often no aspirations beyond the next meal. The ability to plan ahead or set ambitions beyond short term goals becomes almost impossible.
Being treated for depression involves receiving medication to initially stabilise your condition so that an assessment can be made. Beyond initial diagnosis a holding pattern is established, neither getting worse or better but always taking medicines. The medication lead to increased weight gain, a passionless existence devoid of highs and lows and a remaining apathy.
Unhappy with being out of work, unfit with seemingly no chance of changing circumstance I decided to give boxing a try. I'd previously had some personal training at another gym and knew that I needed to get out of the house.
Boxing for me has been transformative.
I can remember being three stones overweight (technically obese) and trying very hard to complete ten press-ups all the while being encouraged by Lee Haskins (a European Champion). That is the way it has always been - no posturing, posing or aggression from any other member in the gym. I find the other boxers (both professional and amateur) really kind, courteous and humble. They don't drink, they train hard and genuinely encourage all abilities just to work up a sweat and enjoy training. The gym is the real deal - pictures of past and present champions adorn the walls - I've also met a few when they have come to train.
There are some key ingredients to boxing that make it an ideal springboard for getting back into good health.
1. Achievable Goals
It starts with a personal war against the clock. Each round lasts three minutes with one minutes rest.
You start out feeling sluggish and out of breath you begin to realise just how long three minutes is. I remember not being able to count past 11 punches on the bag when doing 21 (you punch the bag 1,3,5,7,9,11 etc time up to 21). A simple drill that is both challenging, exciting and exhausting. It is you verses the bag and the clock. After about two or three weeks you begin to see an improvement.
The trainers make the goals short term and achievable calling out "are you telling me you can't last another 30 seconds?". You start to get some self belief - of course you can last thirty seconds, then a minute, three minutes then three rounds. Eventually you realise that you have lasted the hour and you feel great.
The achievements are personal to the individual - do not require the validation of others and performance measurably and incrementally improves.
It's brilliant - the punches are accessible to all and in theory straightforward to execute. I have two degrees and have always been amazed at how difficult it is to remember a five punch combination. You feel like a champion when you first start to put a combination together - it is exhilarating.
My training alternates between technique and physical fitness and every two weeks I have been introduced to something new. If your brain is distracted by learning new things you often don't realise just how much hard work the body is doing. Last week I learnt how to do sideways mini-hurdles and the week before it was bouncing a medicine ball off a tractor tyre.
As a sporting activity it is accessible to all. I have always been made to feel really welcome by everyone I have met in the gym. I know it is a place I can go to work things out - you literally work away your troubles by hitting the bag and I always leave feeling calm and relaxed. Everybody always asks how your training is going - I found this really encouraging when I first started going to the gym.
Boxing has given me back a lot of self belief and restored confidence.
I have been training at the gym for over three years and currently receive two hours a week of personal training. I am no longer on medication, I have a full time job in a new successful career and can and do run over mountains for fun.
I am still bi-polar, I still have bouts of anxiety. Boxing is my therapy – I can hit the bag when anxious or work out my depression through the natural release of endorphins and calm my mood when excitable through challenging training.