I didn’t want to surf; I just had no desire. That was a first for me. For nearly a decade, surfing had been the one constant, the one activity that I always wanted to partake in. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the most glaring sign that I was dealing with some form of depression. I still don’t know what brought it about, but there is a history of depression throughout my family history.
My experience with depression was relatively mild. It wasn’t impossible to get out of bed. For me, it was more of a general apathy and a lack of desire to do things. I rationalized it by saying I just felt like “hanging out.” It happened gradually, like air slowly being released from a balloon, and for a time I didn’t even notice it. Once I realized that I didn’t want to surf, however, I knew something was amiss.
We’ve seen that surfing can serve as a tool in coping with depression, but what if your depression is what’s causing you not to surf? In this regard, I found myself stuck in a paradox of sorts. Something that could help me was right at my fingertips (or more like the end of my street), yet I refused to reach out and grab it.
I’ve done some research and found that my situation was not all that uncommon. A study published in General Hospital Psychiatry in 2009 looked at a concept they labeled as the “Inactivity Trap.” Essentially, the study found that depression can put someone at greater risk for physical inactivity. It also noted previous studies had found that regular physical activity decreased the risk for depression. And there you can see the potential to get stuck in a cycle that feeds itself.
The government of Western Australia’s Centre for Clinical Interventions has a very simple visual aid to help understand the cycle of depression. Depression can lead to low energy, which can lead to decreased activity, which can lead to increased guilt and ineffectiveness, which can lead right back to more depression. I certainly fell victim to this cycle, and I remember the guilt of not surfing slowly becoming more and more overwhelming.
For lack of a better way to put it, I eventually snapped out of it. I became aware of what was happening to me and decided that I didn’t like the way I’d been living. I realized that I’d been out of the water for about three months, which baffled me, and I did something about it.
Every day I take conscious steps toward improving my mental outlook on just that single day. This ranges from eating the right foods to listening to the right music to staying committed to a morning yoga practice. However, the one thing that has bolstered me the most has been surfing again. Being back in the water has been huge for my psyche, and being without it for three months taught me a few things:
1. Surfing makes me feel good. I know this seems like an obvious one, but it was something I forgot or at least lost sight of. Having no desire to surf was a jarring experience in the end, and I am prepared to remind myself of what surfing means to me whenever I need to.
2. You can experience depression without even knowing it. I had a picture of depression in my head that was very different from what I experienced. You know, drawn shades, never leaving the house, the stereotypical extreme. Even as far as mild depression goes, I didn’t have it so bad, so I count myself lucky in the grand scheme of things.
3. Surfing is my main form of exercise. I can’t believe how much weight I put on while not surfing. Sure, general inactivity and attempts at comfort eating didn’t help, but eliminating surfing from my regular schedule had a dramatic effect on my physical condition, and it wasn’t a good one. During my first session back in the water, I was amazed at how weak my paddling was. My balance was fine, and riding a wave came back to me immediately, but my paddling remains subpar even a month later.
4. In a way, I’m glad it happened. Three months of struggle have given me a greater appreciation for simply feeling good. It’s not uncommon for people to take things like that for granted, and I definitely fell victim to it. Now I appreciate the smell of the morning air more than ever; the pastel colors of a sunset sky seem more brilliant than before. And surfing seems more of a gift than ever, even if I can’t paddle into wave as effortlessly as before. It’ll come; I’m just happy to be out there.