How CrossFit Helps Us Heal

June 04, 2017 3 Comments

photocredit: Maria Rogers


When I found out I was pregnant, I could not wait to be one of those bad ass pregnant moms overhead squatting with a still semi-heavy barbell in my hand. I imagined crossfitting up to my due date and and making sure I had that same barbell back in my hands after my six week postpartum checkup.

Boy was I wrong...

As much as I've written about fitness, nutrition, health, and the body; I never quite expected mine to respond the way it did to my pregnancy; but worse, I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined the way it responded to postpartum motherhood. I know I'm not the first to say "every person is different, every body is different, and even pregnancy is different," but these words never really hit home for me until my own pregnancy. The nausea, fatigue, umbilical hernia (brought out by the pregnancy), back aches, sciatic pain, and the intense swelling that I experienced kept me away from my box. I hated it.

The way I felt, ached, and trudged about depressed me. I tried swinging kettlebells at home, going for walks, doing push-ups until my belly was too big, but nothing felt right. Pregnancy wasn't supposed to be this way for fit people, right?! 

So I made myself feel better about the way this baby took over my body by saying "It's ok Steph--you need this break. You've been working hard for years. Enjoy this time. Grow this human! When the baby is born, you get to start again from scratch! How cool is that?!"

This thought of starting new eased my mind. In fact, I could now write about bouncing back from pregnancy by using CrossFit as a means to help me lose the weight, restore my confidence, and turn me back into the hashtag-fitmom instagramming motivational woman I wanted to be.


So what happened when baby was born?

I'll spare you the gory details, but let's just say that a six-week recovery time was laughable. Two months postpartum, I tried taking a walk with friends and just that walk set my recovery back about a week. Three months post delivery (that's about double the recommended healing time), I finally felt able to re-start my fitness journey. Only now, I had what seemed to be a new birth-related illness standing in my way: postpartum anxiety.

If you're like me, you've heard of postpartum depression, but you may have never heard of postpartum anxiety. Most people, I've learned, either suffer it in silence or have never heard of it at all. This hormone-causing anxiety is a symptom of postpartum depression, and roughly 15% of women suffer some type of postpartum mood disorder – whether it's depression, anxiety, OCD, or psychosis.

If you've ever struggled from any type of anxiety, especially as a new mother, you know just how terrifying it can be: Imagine you want to go to the grocery store...but for the first time in your life, everything about going to the grocery store terrifies you.

What if the baby starts crying in the car and I can't comfort her? What if someone causes us to wreck and something happens to her? What if she starts screaming in the cart and I have to leave the store but I can't leave because I have a cart full of groceries? What if when we're in the store, someone tries to kidnap her? What if someone follows us home and mugs me and steals her?

I realize how crazy this sounds. My rational brain tells me I'm ridiculous for these thoughts. Just go to the store, right? But these thoughts emerge from no where and it's impossible to turn them off. This, friends, is exhausting. Mentally, physically, emotionally exhausting. The hormones that are causing the anxiety also cause poor sleep, constant stress and worry, and the worst part--visualizing the worst case scenario happening to the sweetest, most innocent baby girl whom I would die to protect.

Unless you've faced it, you don't understand. So this makes it even harder when people say, "just bring her with you to the gym!" Bringing my baby to my CrossFit box was out of the question. "I will not let someone else watch her. She's too little!" And "What if something happens to her? What if she gets hurt or needs me while I'm in a wod and the music is too loud and I can't hear her crying out for me..."


Was there anything I could do? A way to combat the hormones and knock the "crazy" out of my head?

Yes. Exactly what I feared could hurt her, could help me...

While my anxiety peaked at the thought of taking Brielle to a gym, I also realized that my quality of life was starting to taper off. I hadn't experienced exercise induced endorphins for over a year now. I felt weak--physically and mentally. I was letting fear control me whereas I used to feel completely confident and in charge of my life.

"This is not strength, Steph. You've built a foundation on being strong and now you've got to be stronger. For Brielle--your daughter--you've got to be mentally strong now!"

It took me five months to walk back into my CrossFit gym for regular (at least 2-3 times per week) workouts. Five months. 
My first wod back was terrifying. Brielle and I showed up for the noon class and she fussed the whole time. It was hot and I quickly realized that noon wasn't going to be our gym time together. The second time we went, I put her in her stroller and we ran the 400s together in between the swings and  wall balls.  Once I realized Brielle loved "running" together, I started going to more classes.

Picking up the barbell felt empowering again. Realizing I still had some strength was all I needed to keep me going, and watching my baby girl smile and giggle at me while I struggled through those runs?! Well those moments have been the most motivational ones of my life. Every two or 400 meter run I have taken with her, has filled me with a sense of pride, hope, and accomplishment. I can do this for her! I can conquer fears for my baby girl!

CrossFit is more than a gym. I've written about the sense of community and the overwhelming love of family and friends that you can find in a CrossFit gym. But now I'm starting to realize it's even more than that.

Personal growth and development is built inside our boxes.

I've always believed a great, wholesome diet combined with consistent exercise can help cure many physical illnesses and diseases. But what I'm seeing now is that the toughest battle I've ever faced (and this is no exaggeration), is getting easier to conquer by showing up for just "one more wod." 
And while I've always known that exercise helps reduce stress, relieve anger, and be an outlet for depression; I guess I've never really been in the shoes of someone who needed it for more than a mood-boost or the obvious physical benefits. Now, I can physically, emotionally, and mentally feel a unique difference in my day when exercise is involved.

Mental health is and should be just as important as physical health. You can't have a healthy body without a healthy mind and vice versa. Being strong on the inside is many times tougher than being physically strong; however, the more I learn about health and fitness the more I learn that mental wellness should rate as high a priority as physical health. Seeing things from this new perspective is making me realize that health and wellness isn't just important for feeling and looking great, it's important for being the best people we can be.

We all have goals of being better people and I need to be a better mother than an anxious one.  My new motivation stares at me from a stroller when I push her down the sidewalk in the 400 meter run that I used to loathe. I'm building a new kind of strength these days and while my road to recovery may be long, CrossFit is taking me there, one wod at a time.

This is a guest post from Stephanie Walker, a CrossFit and Health Coach who believes everyone deserves to be fitter, healthier, and happier. Stephanie is the author of The Total Health and Fitness Makeover, and is passionate about helping others transform their lives through fitness and good foods--just as she did her own! You can follow Steph on InstagramFacebook or Strongfigure.com.





3 Responses

Steph
Steph

June 06, 2017

Sara—
Meds are definitely something I’ve thought about—in fact I would like to do some research on the different kinds available. I’m very interested in something that’s a bit more natural, something that doesn’t have to be taken every day, and nothing with adverse side effects. I haven’t sought out meds yet because for the first three months, I didn’t know what I was facing was a “thing.” I thought I was just nuts in the head! Once I started talking to other moms I realized that postpartum anxiety is real, and I’ve been reading more and more about it since. Fortunately, as time goes on and I get out and do things (especially workout) I do feel better. I feel much better now than I did the first three months, even though I still have some moments here and there. My midwives do screen for PPD and I answered all their questions honestly but I think they look for depression more than anxiety. I did tell them that I felt anxious and they said if it was getting in the way of my day-to-day activities to come back in. I have never had anxiety before, so when they said this I thought, “I’m fine…I can still function.” I didn’t realize that I already wasn’t functioning well. (Side note: I’m not depressed—and I have definitely not missed out on bonding time with my baby—she is my world!) One thing I really want to do is help bring awareness to our society that PPA is in fact a “thing” and that women (and their families) shouldn’t be left to figure out why this happens to mothers after childbirth. If I had known going into this that anxiety could happen and was armed with info (including lists or research on meds that help) then I could have perhaps stopped this sooner. I know I will get better—whether through meds or exercise, prayer or affirmations—but I would also like to help others overcome similar situations or better—help prevent the anxiety before it starts!

Heidi Pomfret
Heidi Pomfret

June 05, 2017

Thank you for sharing this – Im an Ob/Gyn and an avid crossfitter as well – I think all too often athletes who get pregnant expect WAY too much from themselves – different bodies react differently to pregnancy – and you do the best with what yours gives you. Also, a huge thanks for putting words to peripartum anxiety and depression – so scary and unreported and hard- keep talking ladies – let your doc, your partner, your coach, your boxmates know what is going on – what you need!

Sara Ryerson
Sara Ryerson

June 04, 2017

As a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in reproductive psychology, and an avid crossfitter, I am thrilled to see this post. Obviously NOT for the author’s experience – I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It’s absolutely debilitating, illogical, and terrifying. It’s critical to seek professional advice, and OB/GYN’s should be screening their patients. Of all the mental health problems, postpartum anxiety and depression are among the quickest to resolve with medication. This author didn’t reference this, but I have worked with women who have suffered and missed bonding time with their baby because they were trying to “willpower” through and thought medication would hurt them. Every person must decide what’s best for them, but please consider evidence-based, scientific treatment that can give you your life back. Best wishes to the author – thank you again!

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