In May 2013, I was living the life I finally felt was my ‘truth,’ as a proud gay black man, until depression came on. It felt like it forced me underwater, and when I’d scurry up to the surface, I could only gasp for air for a brief, exhausting moment.
On billboards, in magazines, and in advertisements, there was a male beauty standards within gay culture that didn’t come close to what I’d see when I looked in the mirror: men with thick shoulders, slender hips, tight muscles, and white skin. It was an ideal I couldn’t avoid.
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I spiraled into a depression, feeling like I wasn’t worthy. The flatline of my feelings—how my depression took over—was instant and last for months.
I lost my appetite and, consequentially, weight. I wasn’t eating, to a point where my body began attacking itself. By the end of the year, I was close to 115 pounds.
I fought to do the most essential tasks, having to mentally psych myself up for hours just to take a shower. I found it increasingly challenging to be around my family and friends. The thought of socializing and making conversation was overwhelming. I attempted to sleep as much as possible because I wanted every day to be over.
The Catalyst for Change
One morning in December, I looked in the mirror and barely recognized myself. I was this soulless frame with receded gums.
A heavy darkness descended on me. Even though for weeks my appearance—and who I was anymore—had started slipping away from me, I realized that morning I would permanently become the stranger in the mirror if I didn’t do something about it.
I emailed my doctor requesting an emergency consultation, and was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety.
Through therapy, I realized I could control what my environment looked like to help cut out the inner negative monologue. With that, I knew I wanted to try alternative methods before I jumped right to medication, so I started studying what would strategically aid with depression, and one thing seemed clear: exercise.
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I started with exercising for five minutes, which turned into 20 minutes, which turned into 30 minutes, which turned into 45, which turned into an hour. Deadlifts, 30-second sprints, power-squats, and chest-press became a staple in my workout routine.
It took me about a year and a half to develop the muscle mass that I have today. I began my fitness journey weighing close to 115 pounds, and I now weigh 162 pounds. I attribute my weight gain primarily to anaerobic training which let me build lean muscle mass.
Training gave me a sense of clarity, encouraged me to get out of the house, introduced me to new people, and kept me active. It also simply made me happy. Exercise showed me that even if there is some mold out there for gay culture, I’m worthy even if I will never fit in.
While I did have friends and family that supported me, I realized that I needed to not rely on the approval of others. My mental health and confidence is about self-love, self-acceptance, and resiliency.
My sense of being happy, and embracing my body and the joys of who I am are the rewards of my struggle. I believe everyone should wake up every day and remind themselves that self-care, in all forms, is the best decision you can make.
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