In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing experiences and perspectives from our FHITfam and community to help promote awareness, empathy and understanding. In this blog post, we spoke with frequent FHIXer and this month’s FHITspiration, Alex, on how she’s staying strong, FHIT, happy, and healthy in quarantine.
Fhitting Room’s vision "to help people realize their strongest self" extends beyond just physical health -- there's no question that mental and physical health work together and are equally important.
Below, hear from Alex as she recounts building healthy habits along her mental health journey.
FHIXer Alex, far left.
My name is Alexandra Clayton and I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. GAD is a severe version of anxiety that interferes with daily activities, and manifests physically, often without provocation.
This struggle started about two and a half years ago. I had a health complication from a procedure that should have been fairly routine. I was one of those “this may happen but it is extremely unlikely” cases. I got really sick and ended up in the ER in and out of consciousness until the doctors figured out what was wrong and stabilized me. I didn’t know at the time, but what my body experienced that day changed my life forever.
When you have any type of traumatic experience your body remembers how you felt. Your body tries to protect you from danger. When it feels too hot it causes you to sweat to cool you down, when it feels in danger, fight or flight kicks in and your heart rate can jump which in some cases causes blurry vision. However, these reactions happened to me on a daily basis, completely unprovoked. My body takes over, thinks something is wrong, and reacts accordingly.
Anxiety for me is a full body experience. I became scared of daily tasks and even just leaving my apartment. Every time I would finally talk myself into leaving or doing anything, my heart rate would jump all over the place and I would feel like I couldn’t breathe or see straight. I would have these continuous panic attacks daily, a few to the point where I would faint. I truly didn’t think it was ever going to end, and it swung me into the most depressed inactive period of my life.
I was convinced it had to be more than “just anxiety.” I'm pretty tough and there was no way that this was “only anxiety." Doctors ran multiple tests and I wore a heart monitor for a month just in case, but everything kept coming back normal and showing signs of “just” a panic disorder. I started thinking I was actually crazy. I distanced myself from anyone trying to help and fell into bad habits of relying on the drugs I was prescribed and drinking pretty heavily was my only way to feel social and “normal” again.
"I found fitness as an outlet and it saved my life."
January 2018 I looked in the mirror and saw a shell of myself. I hadn’t worked out in over a year (which I barely did before), I looked sunken from stress and abusing my body to the point where I completely broke down. I decided to make a change. I made a promise to myself that this anxiety would no longer control my life. I needed to fight for the life I wanted and to find a healthy way to cope with my crippling anxiety. I found fitness as an outlet and it saved my life.
This is where Fhitting Room enters my story. In June of 2018 I walked into the Fhitting Room studio on the Upper East Side, already soaked in sweat, because my anxiety did not enjoy new situations out of any comfort zone. I looked at the back wall to the left as I walked in and saw these ball things with a handle, and kid you not I actually almost left. I instantly thought that I was [in] way over my head, started to feel my anxiety come on like a wave taking over my body.
[FHITpro] Dennys must have noticed the deer in the headlights look and asked me if I had ever been there before. He gave me the first timer run down, I didn’t say much other than I was really new to all of this. I didn’t like telling anyone about current health problems. “Hi, I’m Alex, and sometimes I pass out randomly don’t get freaked out” wasn’t really how I liked to open conversations. However, that day for some reason I felt comfortable enough quickly mentioning it, saying how I might have to sit down etc., and Daury and Dennys almost in unison said, “We’ve got you, don’t worry, we’ll keep an eye out,” and they did.
I don’t know if they realize how important it was that they made me feel comfortable that day. If they didn’t take the extra time to talk to me, I honestly might have left. They made me feel safe, which is extremely important to someone who struggles with anxiety as severe as mine. Just knowing that the people in the room are keeping an eye out and seem to genuinely care was really moving to me, not all studios are like Fhitting Room.
I was hooked on getting my FHIX ever since, and continued to take class consistently after that day. The entire staff and the way they coach with knowledge and passion impacted me greatly and I learned something new every time. I got stronger, my form got better, and that helped my confidence. Mini panic attacks still ensued; anxiety isn’t something that just disappears, even when practicing good habits. I honestly used to lie to Dennys all the time and say I ran to the studio, when truly I was pouring sweat because I was scared I was going to pass out in class that day. Fhitting Room makes you feel like family from the moment you walk in and every step in between.
As I got more and more in shape, I felt more and more like myself again. My mental health was being aided by this physical health and that motivated me to keep pushing myself. Fhitting Room made me realize that I wanted to help people the same way the Fhitting Room coaches had helped me. Fhitting Room is a major reason I got certified as a trainer and began my own fitness career and I am truly grateful.
"A lot of people are experiencing their own form of anxiety right now because their way of life has aggressively halted, their structure and routine is disturbed."
COVID-19 has created an unpredictable and scary time in the world. I realized pre-pandemic that my anxiety does a lot better with a routine and structure. When I’m in an uncomfortable situation my body will think I’m scared or in trouble, and it will trigger. A lot of people are experiencing their own form of anxiety right now because their way of life has aggressively halted, their structure and routine is disturbed. My life has already taken a few flips like this before, so I have tools to cope, even when it flares up during this time. I am pretty open about my struggles and am glad that people have reached out for support. For anyone who is new to this feeling of anxiety and is struggling with their mental health during this time, I know how truly terrifying it can be. It’s been described to me recently during COVID as rocks sitting on their chest, tightness of airway, stomach issues, blurry vision, all of these I lived with for years.
Some advice I can give or ways I handle my anxiety. Breathe. Settle your breath in and realize that it’s still there even [if] it feels harsh, heavy, and constricted. Check in with your breath and get some fresh air. If you’re not alone, tell someone you’re with to feel safe. If you are, try to call someone or do something other than sit in one spot and dwell on it. When I’m really scared I will call my sister or Dad just because they’re pretty naturally calming people. They know at this point to just try to talk about other things and catch up and then I don’t feel so alone. That will sometimes stop my physical symptoms going mental. Get a FHIX in or a walk or anything to sweat some of the anxiety out of your system. Getting my FHIX was a tool of mine before all of this and continues to be during. Your mind is constantly going, let it connect to your body for an hour and shut off and shut out the rest of [the] world, your worries, and thoughts. Fitness will help you give your mind the break it needs.
Thankfully even my severe panic attacks tend to be far more manageable thanks to fitness and places like Fhitting Room. I know that my physical fitness and mental health go hand and hand, and I truly believe that everyone’s mental health can benefit from physical activity. You will NEVER feel worse after working out and will feel especially amazing after having your FHIX at Fhitting Room. There is nothing, no drug or substance, that has worked better for me than fitness. I do still have prescription drugs just in case but they have turned into once-in-a-while affairs versus highly dependent everyday use.
COVID-19 has made a lot of people sit with their un-faced anxiety for the first time ever. Know that you are never alone, there will always be people to help. Anxiety is POWERFUL, it can mirror symptoms of diabetes, seizures, and even now in this time the breathlessness caused by COVID-19. Try to create some structure in your pandemic life but allotting “you” time.
"Stay strong in this time, stay kind, and stay FHIT!"
For me, that “you time” is scheduling in my weekly FHIXes, journaling, and enjoying my coffee on my patio. Paying attention and caring about your physical health will only help your mental health, and I swear by that. Stay strong in this time, stay kind, and stay FHIT!
Thank you for sharing your story, Alex. Your bravery and strength make you a true FHITspiration in our community. We are honored to be a part of your FHITness journey both in mental and physical health.
To read more from our Mental Health Awareness Month series, check out these blog posts: