The Biggest Step I took to holding Depression at bay..

by Paul Holmes

Several years after my crash and lots of severe depression I realised that I needed something that was going to make me fit to return to society. Something that would give me self confidence, something that would help me feel good about myself, something that would  make walking down the shops a breeze and not like climbing Everest.

So what could this magic be? Well it certainly did not come in a child-proof bottle from the chemist. The first step was to rejoin the gym. The thing is, you do not need to go to the gym to exercise, you can walk the streets, use tins of beans as dumbbells or if you are mad enough, and I clearly wasn’t, you could cycle in the streets. No matter what, I knew that I had to exercise. I also knew how easy it would be to join a gym and never go back again. When I exercised in the past I had always felt good afterwards, physically lighter, I would be more relaxed and a much nicer person to be around.

I knew I had to do something so I joined. I got shown round the gym by a guy who looked liked he was the bass player from Busted. He was nice enough but seemed to be more interested in the ladies in Lycra pounding the treadmill. He showed me the forms, I filled them in, and then there was a little box at the bottom of the form asking me if I would be interested in a personal trainer. For some reason, I ticked it as yes, but I assumed it would be some sort of marketing ploy to see who would actually use one and thought nothing of it. Of course we would all love personal trainers, barking out orders and encouraging us to change our lives but, let’s face it, it doesn’t happen in the real world, does it?

So my forms all filled out, I was told I will get my membership card in a few days and said my goodbyes.

So, I am home, and the phone rings. A very young sounding man on the other end of the phone introduces himself as John. He is a personal trainer from the gym and wanted to know if I wanted to book an appointment to talk to him and start a course of exercises with him? I was gobsmacked, I was shitting myself. I was bad enough with strangers as it was but to meet someone and show them how incredibly ill I was, well that would be almost impossible. I hate meeting new people, I usually hate them and they hate me. I panicked and remembered I was going to go to Cornwall for a couple of weeks and this gave me a legitimate reason to say no. I would be able to say no for now and I would ring him back, which of course I wouldn’t.

While away in Cornwall I saw people surfing on the wonderful beaches of Perranporth. I saw people sailing and kite surfing; they were all fit, they were all healthy they were all happy. I stood there feeling like a pathetic fool who let life pass him by. Depression had gripped me and held me down for too long. I had used depression as an excuse for far too long. The stress and disappointment of being the lonely soul looking in from the outside had finally got to me. I needed to change, I needed a kick up the arse, I needed someone to grab my by the ears and shout, “For God sake, you are 40, you are over half way through your life, make a difference, take a chance, for fucks sakes be happy.” Well maybe not ears, as I would not hear it, but you get my point.

I returned from Cornwall and despite having two weeks of rain, the fact that I had been out of my cage for two weeks had done me some good. As I was unpacking the suitcases and emptying the wash bags we had taken with us I thought about that voice of John on the phone. He seemed chirpy enough, maybe I should ring him? Two days went past and I still had not rung. I was still doing the same old routine which was bordering on nothing with the odd shopping trip thrown in here and there for good measure. Then two things happened: firstly, I got an envelope through the door and it contained my membership card from the gym. Secondly, the phone rang and on the other end was John. I was sweating like mad, I was nervous, here was just a phone call sending me into almost panic. How can I commit to an appointment that I will be petrified to keep? I mean, I could barely walk last year and here I am discussing an exercise regime. It was as if my good half of my brain took over the conversation while the depression dealt with all the physical aspects, the pounding chest, the sweating, the shakes and the fear.

I hate the fear. It happens before almost everything I arrange, and nearly every time I go to something I wonder what the problem was. It’s almost an anti climax. This would be different. I would have to wear shorts and a tee shirt and get onto machines that probably would not hold my weight. It would be an embarrassment. How the hell was I going to get through all this? My calm side of my brain managed to make an appointment. This calm side was a recent thing that had happened. I could not even remember the last time I was calm or together. I always felt that the desire to be welltook over like a natural instinct; I knew this was what I had to do. So it was all set, I was going to have a personal trainer. Shit.

I did not sleep the night before the appointment. I was sitting downstairs at my usual time of 4 am with a cup of tea, worrying if this one cup of tea would give me stitch or cramps, or would I vomit?

I mean I played rugby after six pints of Guinness once because their front row had not turned up and boy did I vomit during the game. It was handy as no one would tackle me due to the stains down my rugby top. I may have even scored however due to the half time three pints I cannot remember. Would I vomit after these cups of tea? As I waited for the time to come where I would have to leave I played every bad scenario in my head. I imagined falling backwards off the treadmills, my shorts splitting and my arse hanging out as I bend over to pick up some weights. I had gotten used to having wardrobe malfunctions since piling on all the weight. Another legacy of my rugby days, apart from spewing up Guinness, was big thighs, steady girls. I used to play in the front row which means the fat ugly blokes at the front of the scrum who grab each others testicles to bind to each other while contesting for the ball. To be a prop you not only had to be able to grab testicles but also hold up huge amounts of weight as you smashed into the other side’s front row.

This meant big thighs, lumps taken out of my forehead and a bad back. Of course my big thighs just got bigger and fatter as more and more weight piled on thanks to those bloody steroids, anti depressants and doing absolutely nothing from one day to the next. This meant my thighs rubbed when I walked so my trousers would last about two weeks after the crutch would wear out due to the intense rubbing and friction burns of my legs. Of course I would not always realise this and there have been many a time I have been in the waiting room of some shrink or quack, innocently sitting there waiting to be called with my bollocks perched nicely between my legs being held by a bright pair of underpants. I had noticed it would never happen when I had underpants on the same colour as my trousers; I think its called sod’s law. So the reaction of someone sitting opposite me was usually an indication that the trousers had frayed and it was time to close my legs or cross them. Oh happy days.

Back to the gym. The really really worse scenario was I did not know how fit I was. Well I knew I was not fit, but not how bad. Would I have a bloody heart attack? I mean that would be the cherry on the cake after finally mustering enough strength to get down there, get changed, walk into the packed gym, have a panic attack then drop dead. Just my  luck. Oh well, here goes.

I pulled up in the car park, walked over to the reception, handed my card over and in I went. My stomach was churning, like a washing machine on spin rinse. Round and round it went; I had a feeling my tea and I were going to be reacquainted. I dumped my bag and personal belongings in the locker room. I forgot how long it had been since I had seen naked men spraying the most godawful deodorants all over the place. My eyes were stinging when I walked out but hey, I smelt good.

Then finally the moment I had been waiting for, I met John. A very young Greek Adonis of a chap who obviously works out and for some reason he could not stand still. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Together we looked like a whippet trying to train a Saint Bernard.

“Right, let’s head off to the office,” and off he sprints. I expected him to say beep beep before he walked. So we sat in this office and he asked me what I want to achieve, well that was a tough question. I just wanted to go home, but that was not on the agenda. I knew I wanted to lose weight, get fitter but most importantly please please please improve my state of mind. I did not go too over board about my depression. In fact I felt I hid it quite well. I was not sure if it was the best thing to do. I mean, I was worried that if he asked me what was wrong and what did I want to fix, I would not stop talking for the whole hour. Its weird because when you have had so much therapy you start talking non stop about yourself as if nothing else matters. In the real world you cannot do that. Other people do matter and, let’s be honest, they do not want to hear the ins and outs of a duck’s arse about your problems. I was there to work out.

Before I am let loose in the gym I get weighed, have my blood pressure taken and then my body  mass index is worked out. This is so we can see the improvements as time goes on; assuming I was to return that was. As usual the scales only went up to 22 stones; they did not have the freak size that was required to give me the exact reading I required. Being a 5 xl and a 54 waist meant I was used to everything being far too small for me. Café chairs, cinema seats, even modern day cars needed the front seats in to get my legs in; it’s a bloody nightmare. However I am making that right.

 My blood pressure was surprisingly near normal, but of course my BMI number was the same as a walrus that had just eaten a double decker bus; it was not good, I knew that. Again that was why I was there. Having your own physical imperfection there in front of you in black and white could send me into a deep depression, even though it told me nothing new. It showed me how much this depression had damaged my health. My biggest fear was that it was not too far gone for me to get it back to some sort of normality. I mean I was looking at losing 10 stone. That’s 140 pounds, that was nearly two Johns. Depression makes you believe nothing good will happen and I have to admit I thought I was wasting my time, but John said in a very fast but calm way, “Beep beep , no problem, that will go, we shall sort it out.” He didn’t really say beep beep, but he said something that was quite different to anything that I had heard before. He said WE. I was going to go the gym and not doing it alone. He was going to be the kick up the arse I really needed. OK, I was going to be paying for it, but it was from money I never had before. I was actually getting someone who was going to change my mental state of mind. He was quite oblivious to how ill I am or indeed was. I am not saying he did not care, but he was looking forward at what I could achieve if I put my mind to it and all I was doing was looking back at all the shit that was holding me back. I had to look at the page in his clip board and believe that over time these numbers of weight, inches, heart rates and blood pressure would get better every month. I had to look forward, and that was before I did any exercise. It was bloody working.

So,on to the treadmill. I had to start a warm up; the machine started at a nice leisurely pace. Not too bad I thought. I can manage this, like walking down the beach. Of course this did not last; slowly he increased the speed. I held onto the handles for dear life. I pretended tobe cool, but the fact that I could not talk as I walked made it quite clear I was getting warmed up rather nicely. I assumed after the treadmill we would go to all the other torture machines that line the gym, but oh no, we are going to do circuit training. I remember circuit training from my rugby days, it always seemed easy as it was just a load of leaps and squats with medicine balls or hand weights, however once you got half way round you really knew you had a work out going on.

He must have really hated me because boy, did he hurt me. I throw medicine balls onto the floor as hard as I can, making a huge booming sound echo all around the gym. Making one of those things bounce so you can catch it at waist height is bloody hard. Then some step work with dumbbells, then lunges and then the god awful plank. It’s not just what you feel like when you do it, the plank is an exercise that is supposed to be good for your inner core muscles. They are called core muscles because when you exercise them you say “Core blimey that hurt.” Sorry, crap joke. You lay face down on the floor and then lift your body off the floor just using your nose and toes. Ok, not your nose, but your elbows, but it might as well be your nose. As you lift up every muscle in your body screams, “For fucks sakes what you doing?” and then you collapse in a hugepuddle of sweat on the floor.

“OK Paul, just hold that for five seconds.” Five seconds? Is he havinga laugh? He must really hate me.

As the workouts progressed I felt as if John had been bullied at school buy a big fat bald guy with a goatee and this was his chance of revenge. He really put me through my paces. He would handme a big metal ball with a handle on it and tell me to swing it between my legs and push my arms up in the air by just thrusting with my hips. It sounds easy enough, but after eight it’s killing you, your arms ache, your back and your buttocks are almost going into spasm. Because you are thrusting with your hips, he would shout, “Shag the ball, that’s it five more times, shag it hard.” Sex was no where in my thoughts and the thought of my tackle hitting this metal ball really didn’t do it for me.

This was a huge turning point for me. I did not have any shrink or GP telling me what to do, no pills or potions or indeed no group therapy, just a regular trip to the gym.

So here I was making huge steps. I am vegetarian, working out regularly and generally feeling better about myself. The anxieties had seemed to have retreated somewhat and my anger problems seemed to take a back seat. I was and am calmer and dare I say it, happier?

So it took a young whippet of a man to show me that physically I can achieve whatever I want if I put the time and effort in. Maybe I just got lucky with meeting John or maybe all personal trainers are like him, I do not know. All I know is that it works and I am glad it has happened.



Apologies for the long piece but I felt the turning point in my life needed a full explanation.

wow what a great read. You are very inspiring and I look forward to reading more. I think you have great guts to put this out there for everyone to see. Many parts of this resonated with me. Thank you Paul. Best regards Adam

Hi, Paul: First, what an excellent writer you are! Fantastic read. I agree, physical activity can aid in mental health, just as much as medication. Again, thanks for this and keep writing, NJC

Hi Natalie, many thanks for your comments. I really aprpeciate the support. Goodluck with your writing to. i know it can be a struggle, but its all worth it in the end.

 I shall look forward to reading more from you on your blog and book.

All the best


I really enjoyed reading Paul, keep the good work up it is the turning point for you, I wish you good luck, good health and lots of happiness.
Many thanks, I really appreciate you taking time to read and comment back to me. i wish you well too.
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Great read. I know I need to exercise more, much more and, as everyone here knows, for the mental, as well as the physical, benefits. Your example will hopefully get me going. Thank you
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