I walked into my first spin class a very depressed woman. I’m not exaggerating—just a week before accepting my new position at FFC’s Oak Park location, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My battles for mental health are the result of genetic pre-dispositions and having grown up under the spell of a hyper-controlling and abusive father who is currently serving a prison sentence for a felony domestic assault.
I came to FFC during a major depressive episode—I almost didn’t even accept the job when Larry offered it because I didn’t believe I could thrive in a new atmosphere, especially one in the fitness industry. I, like many of my fellow depression survivors, fall into ruts of inactivity. Couple that with some bad body images, and you’ve got one very anxious couch potato in a gym full of people who are actively living their lives. Obviously, I accepted the job—with the encouragement from my husband—and I’ve loved working in Oak Park’s Local ’84, making connections, and catching that active energy from my coworkers that I couldn’t quite find within myself.
It has been about four months since I sent Larry the email to accept the open position, and I’ve experienced a change in my GAD, depression, and PTSD symptoms. I give a lot of credit to the positive working environment that FFC provides, but I also have to give credit to the first spin class I attended with Amy O’Dea. (Full disclosure: some credit must also go to my therapist and psychiatrist and their diligence in getting me on the correct mix and dose of medications.)
On a Wednesday morning in April, I walked into Studio 1 (very tired after losing many hours of sleep to anxiety over my first spin class) to fulfill my New Employee Orientation requirement to take a group fitness class, and was greeted by a highly energetic instructor, Amy. She was genuinely happy to be there and equally excited to help me set up my spin bike.
Related: how exercise helped save FFC Lincoln Park employee Nicole Achille’s life.
As members trickled in, my heart raced—I’d like to think it was because I was pedaling and I was working up a sweat, but I was also experiencing a rush of cortisol from neuron to neuron… and I was feeling quite anxious. I wish I could remember every little detail of that first 45-minute class, but the only thing I’m sure of is that my legs kept moving.
For years, every time my sister was visiting from DC, she would try to get me into a spin class with her. Every time, I turned down her offer—largely due to the anxiety triggered by trying something new. Now, I can’t go a week without fighting with that red resistance lever.
In that first class, I was convinced I would fail. I truly did not have faith in my body; I didn’t believe my legs could carry me through the class. “Focus on the beat, and trust your legs,” I hear Amy repeat that affirmation several times as she leads us through various drills in the subsequent classes I’ve taken, and it’s still much easier said than done. But that day, when I finally listened and allowed a little trust of my legs, a few tears crept from my eyes. I wasn’t in pain, and my chest didn’t hurt. Yet there I was, pedaling hard against the heavy resistance and fighting even harder against the urge to cry.
“You woke up today. You made it here,” Amy likes to remind us at the beginning of most classes. To some, it might sound like cheesy “fitspo,” but for me, it’s a reminder that I’m alive, that I made an active choice to participate in life, that I can move my body, and I can trust myself.
I cried in that first class, not because the drills were too hard, but because my body had proven my brain wrong — it had proven my GAD, depression, and PTSD wrong. Every day I get to test my limits – whether it’s spinning or returning to strength training – in combination with correct medication, my heart heals a little bit more. I’ve regained a trust in myself that lessens the power that anxiety, depression, and PTSD have over me.
“Your mind will give up before your body does,” so I choose not to believe my struggling mind when she tries to convince me I can’t keep going. Instead, I keep pedaling, keep breathing, keep living.
Post written by Rebekah Frese, FFC Oak Park local ’84 Cafe attendant.
Rebekah is an Iowa native who has found a home in Chicagoland. Her hobbies include swinging kettlebells, trying to take her pet bunny on walks, and playing logic games. While on breaks at FFC, she’s preparing for the LSAT in hopes of starting law school next fall. You can find her on Instagram: @freser_.