My face lit up as I read my coach’s message on WhatsApp. “Your progress is impressing me a lot. Imagine you in January!”
Every Sunday night, he sends me my programming for the week. Every Saturday, I send him feedback on my progress. In the thick of it, I struggle to see where I’m improving. I know his training is paying off, but I have a terrible habit of focusing on my failures and never remembering my victories.
So when he told me he was happy with my progress, it gave me pause. I have been progressing after all. I’ve been Rx’ing most of the workouts in my new box. I’ve hit three new PRs in just the past two weeks. I’ve been more consistent and focused in my training, despite a pretty hectic travel schedule. Plus, I finally feel like I have more energy.
I don’t hear a lot of people talking about mental health in Brazil. It’s certainly not as well understand as it should be in the US, but I generally see more campaigns about awareness and education here than in Brazil.
Culturally, because of the emphasis on being in groups and being accepted, Brazilians tend to be more likely to go with the flow, even at their own expense, if it means being part of the group. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that there aren’t many campaigns about mental health, which requires a certain level of vulnerability that tends to be, essentially, a “first world problem.”
For me, in Brazil, it’s exceedingly clear to me that I do not connect with or mesh with the culture. In theory, that seems relatively easy to deal with: be yourself, ignore the rest, and carry on. On a day-to-day basis, it’s actually very lonely and confidence-eroding: because I’m attached to certain truths from my culture, I struggle very much to find emotional validation from people around me who do not share those same truths.
Over time, it wears me down quite a bit. After a few weeks, I find myself more irritable, grumpy, and just generally cranky. I don’t feel homesick per se, but nothing seems to appease my frustrated attitude. I want something but I’m not quite sure what. I feel perpetually uncomfortable and I’m quick to snap at others.
After a few months, my frustration turns inward. I feel tired, but I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m going through the motions. Sometimes it feels like the days pass without my being fully aware. It’s hard to find things to get excited about and I don’t really want to do anything.
In a country as difficult as Brazil, it’s hard to explain why I feel depressed in specific terms, but when is it ever that simple? I wish I could point to one specific thing and say “That’s it! That’s the culprit.” It isn’t, though. Instead it’s this vague haze of frustration and disappointment that hangs over every task, every errand, every conversation, and so on.
Depression, we know, manifests in the body. It can cause fatigue, headaches, a weakened immune system, a sensitive stomach, period changes, and other unexplained aches and pains.
When I talked with fellow athletes at my box about going home, they laughed as I did a little dance. I was excited to go back to the US, to the more disciplined classes, to having access to all sorts of equipment and seminars and supplements and sports medicine doctors. However, what I didn’t account for what how my mental health would affect my training and progress.
At home, I sleep better, I eat better, and I have more of a social life, even if I miss Gustavo deeply. I’m immersed in my own language. There are people around me who share similar values, who laugh at my jokes, who share their concerns, worries, and fears with me. My relationships in the US are deeper and not just because of a shared language, but because of a common understanding of personal values ⎯ many of which are culturally-driven, something I never realized until now.
So with that simple compliment from my coach, it hit me how much happier and healthy I’ve felt since I’ve been home and how significant that is. When it comes to training, I feel more focused, quicker to recover, and more confident in my capabilities.
Imagining myself in January has a bittersweet ring. I know I’ll be so much stronger and so much better than I am now. But I also know that, soon after, I’ll feel that erosion. It’s temporary, but it’s a hard reality for the two of us now. Thankfully, I have someone who’s understanding to help me through it.