I just received a thank you message about my recent Instagram posts regarding my experience with depression, and that message both warms my heart and makes me cry at the same time. I don’t want anyone to feel the debilitating and destructive effects of depression, but I also find comfort knowing that I am not alone and that my experiences help others. I have had clients who deal with eating disorders and/or clinical depression themselves, and they say I tend to be the only one who actually understands them.
In seeing what a reaction I got from making those couple of posts, I am going to continue to put myself out there by writing and talking about it more, both on Instagram in Instastory vlogs and posts as well as on my website in my blog. In all transparency, I really would like to actually have motivational or empathy-type seminars for people in the bodybuilding or athletic industry to attend and have a safe place to listen, learn, and share. This industry is a double-edged sword: it both saves us and destroys us, especially those of us with depression. My extensive competitive experience combined with my years of teaching, public speaking in front of groups of 100+, and designing and running workshops in the corporate and education sector have certainly paved the way for me to be able to get my thoughts out to others in a professional, empathetic, entertaining, helpful manner.
Here’s what I do know: Most friends don’t understand depression. Most relationships include someone who doesn’t understand depression. Rob Thomas’s song “Her Diamonds” expresses this perfectly as he described his wife suffering through bouts of depression while he sat by her side waiting but not fully understanding. It doesn’t mean people don’t care. But when someone doesn’t understand something, it often feels like they don’t care. It can create a lonely feeling, one of despair. A cocoon with a warm sticky interior. Depression scares others. It’s an unknown. It’s not like a cold where a person sneezes: a symptom one can point at and say, “Aha! I know how to fix that!” and offers a liquid that curbs the sneezing until something physically tickles nose hairs or a germ sneaks its way in again from someone who didn’t wash his hands before grabbing the doorknob. Those diseases are tangible and fixable. But depression. Sigh. Depression is stealthy. Quiet. Sneaky. A thief. A Ted Bundy type of criminal. A person with depression looks and feels normal (whatever normal is), and then voila! Suddenly depression seeps in, this sticky goo oozing into the soul and covering whatever unicorns and sprinkles existed in the day.
I know how to put the boots on and clomp through that goo. I hate that I have to do it. But I know I do it better know than I used to. Honestly though, it’s exhausting. The amount of mental and emotional energy it takes to walk through the stickiness sometimes depletes me of any mental and emotional energy I need for other things: work, creativity, competing, dating, basic conversation in public. I don’t think “normal” people understand this. So I want to share it. I do feel a need to state the following: I won’t ever commit suicide, though in all transparency, I have had days in my past in which I entertained the thought like a DJ entertaining a rave crowd. But I like glitter and my puppy and Doritos and Game of Thrones and a slew of other cool things in this world too much. And I have this uncanny ability of partitioning my mind and seeing in the same moment that I hate myself and hate my body and hate my face and hate my life that none of that is true, and I don’t hate anything except these stupid little critter chemicals my body is producing all on its own that are infiltrating my mind and wreaking havoc on my sanity. That constant fluidity of awareness between the two worlds helps me hold on and keep plodding through the stickery that threatens to bind me through and through. For I know all of life is cyclical. Where we end is where we begin and where we begin is where we end. It all comes around and happens again. Everything in nature is a teeter totter. Up and down. Over and over. But once in a while, balance certainly finds a way.
The special thing? Because balance doesn’t occur every day, when it does arrive, it feels like that first sip of Diet Coke, shaking your brain awake and making you giggle and want to take another sip, see another day, continue fighting your way.
Picture is from January 2017 - My Off Season.
I feel like my headphone wires. Tightly woven. Tangled. A hodgepodge of entrapment. The only thing that alleviates this mental madness of peak week is...actually peaking. Stepping on stage. That is where the unraveling begins. Bit by bit, step by step, pose by pose. It all flows.
How did I get here? Don't you ask that when you reach into your gym bag or purse and grab your headphones? Don't you ask: "I put you in there untangled, wrapped neatly. How did you manage to get yourself into this mess?" I ask myself the very same thing. I put myself into the gym in college in this nice, neat little package called, "trying it on for size." I guess I didn't realize just how literal that statement would become as each year I altered, trimmed, expanded, sculpted my birthday suit...the one suit that only I alone can sew.
Bodybuilding is a specific, detail-oriented, selfish "sport." It requires a person to put everything into nice, neat little boxes in order to chip away each day. Bodybuilders are walking, talking, breathing "slash-and-burn" bodies. We rage pain, anguish, fire unto our muscle fibers and our souls. One section at a time. Burning and resting. Smoldering and holding steady before walking away to lay waste on another section of our smoking bodies.
There is a sense of futility in this. When growing crops--fertilizing and tilling the land--the job is never done. Eventually that section of earth will recover and be ready for seeds to plant and growth to flourish. And so we, just like the farmers, repeatedly come back to destroy the area again. The ultimate Phoenix Rising. It begs the question: "How do you know when you are done?"
I do. Know. I don't.
How does a painter know he is done? How does a writer know she is done? There just comes a point when the artist must stop, breathe, step away, clasp hands together, and say with finality: "This is it. It's all I've got. It just must be."
Hence the futility. Hence the tangled wires. Hence the need to unravel, pack up, and do it all over again.
I hope I unravel well. I've taken my time, my little fingers working nimbly to pull a wire through this hole and thread the other wire through that hole until all the knots are...not. And I. I...am.
I truly am.
I vividly remember a morning commute to work from earlier this year. As I sped down the Dallas North Tollway, I noticed something in the distance doing somersaults and barreling down the left lane towards me. It looked like a brown paper bag. With paws. Wait. Those actually were paws. Attached to a bunny. An actual bunny. On the Tollway. A place where cars careen at 80 mph. That bunny pitter-pattered down the lane, racing and tracing the yellow line of the inside shoulder and steadily facing my car. Its paws pushed its cardboard brown body along the cement surface, maintaining a feverish pace.
I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. What was this bunny doing on a three-lane highway that had zero shoulder space? How did it get onto the highway? Never mind that. How did it get across all three lanes of traffic to reach the most inside lane without being splattered by revolving rubber tires?
But here’s the question that lurked in my mind like a monster beneath a child’s bed at midnight: How would the bunny get off the highway? That thought haunted me for days.
I’ve been competing for almost 18 years. For a few of you reading this, you were in diapers and babbling with a toe in your mouth when I first applied a coat of Dream Tan to my body and then sprayed myself with Pam Cooking Spray to get that golden glisten that would help me bake to perfection if I stood in a skillet. I get asked by my parents, “How much longer will you do this?” To which I respond, “Until I’m done.” The honest truth (as opposed to the alternative truth) is that I just don’t know when I’ll get off the competition highway. At this point, I don’t think I know how. I’m like that bunny in the left lane, sprinting into oncoming traffic, knowing at any moment I could be run into the ground, and still fighting to get to my destination…wherever that may be.
I’ve fought hard this current contest prep to figure out my root motivation. I preach to others: “Find your motivation. Write it down. Return to it when you hit a wall of doubt.” Luckily, a healthy lifestyle is easy for me. I eat six meals a day all year long. I train in the gym all year long. I check my biceps bulge all year long. I am bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is me. I’ll never be free. But I still can’t determine that deep-seeded motivation factor to boil my blood and stir my heart in 2017.
When I was an amateur and fighting for the seemingly elusive IFBB Pro Card, my obstinance toward my goal to earn that pro status and stand on a pro stage drove me day in and day out. The year after I earned it, bringing my best to the pro stage and showing that I deserved that pro status drove me further. But this year, I seem to be in neutral. Don’t get me wrong. I’m putting in the time, effort, and sacrifice necessary to bring a quality physique to the stage. But I can’t yet figure out the “why” of what I am doing this year.
I’m not sure if it’s a bad thing. Think about that bunny. I just don’t think that bunny knew why he (or she) was on the highway nor where it was headed. It just knew to stay in the lane, avoid the lumbering, loud obstacles in front of it, and keep running. Once it got to where it was going, I’m sure it figured out why it was there (provided another driver behind me wasn’t texting and subsequently smashing the fuzzy bunny in the blink of an eye). I just need to stay out of traffic’s way and harm. For me, that means avoiding comparing myself to others who might be five, six, seven, or eight weeks out and shredded to the gills already. That smashes me every time. Imagine it. A head-on collision between my esteem and other competitors’ supposed social media appearances. Can you see the fur flying and the guts sprawling on the pavement? Can you feel the lurch and bump of the tires over my confidence? Even as a pro, this examination of other competitors and comparison of their progress to my own is a debilitating act that will render me unconscious, flattened, without a pulse. I’ll never find my motivation that way.
I needed to write this in order to remember this. I tell everyone else these words. I am my own coach. It’s about time I take care of more than just my nutrition and workouts and start giving myself a dose of my own pep talks.
I still wonder where that bunny is and how it is doing. I have faith it survived. I do. As I know I will too.
Jodi Leigh Miller is a Women's Physique IFBB Pro with experience in all divisions. She is a record-achieving power-lifter, posing specialist, certified trainer, life coach, and author. She is an experienced, knowledgeable, multifaceted phenom.