Finding Peace and Recovery Through Fitness | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Finding Peace and Recovery Through Fitness

By Julia Christopher

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I was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 14 after witnessing a gruesome motorcycle accident. Following the incident, my anxiety grew; I suffered from daily panic attacks, and I was even taken out of school on several occasions. I fell asleep to nightmares of headless family members and scenes of someone dying over and over.

The trauma was becoming too much for me. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I would write in my journal that I was contemplating suicide and detailed how I planned to hurt myself. I knew I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know what else to do. I just wanted the pain to end.

Eventually, I was sent to an inpatient facility to receive help, and it saved my life. I began therapy and a medication regimen, which I followed for years — but my anxiety and depression returned, and I needed other interventions.

I was able to shed the “mental illness cloud” above my head when I discovered a love of working out, nutrition and wellness. These lifestyle changes completely transformed my life. I was finally able to cope with my anxiety and see the world from a different perspective.

After taking control of my health, I returned to school. Between my commitment to my education and my passion for wellness, I grew a confidence I never knew I could have. I began powerlifting and competing in bikini competitions, eventually realizing I wanted this to be my career. I became a personal trainer and now, I run a gym. I also host a mental health-focused podcast called “It Could Be Worse.”

My journey to recovery informs all of the work that I do. I remind my clients and gym members struggling with their mental health see that they have the capacity to be brave, beautiful, confident and happy in their skin and with their minds.

The struggles we’ve faced in the past simply make us stronger — and we all deserve to have happy and beautiful lives. I hope my story can help those struggling with mental illness realize that your challenges don’t make you “broken,” and you don’t have to lack confidence. You can be the best version of you.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).