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“Exercise Saved Me”: My Mental Health Journey

by in Lifestyle on 10th October, 2019


I have suffered from mental health issues for as long as I can remember. Even in primary school, I just found life too overwhelming. What I didn’t consider though was that my diet and lifestyle didn’t help – I bunked every P.E class and I lived on fried chicken, ramen noodles, frozen food and concentrated juices in abundance. 

I was never hugely conscious of the physical state of my body, but I got a free corporate gym membership and I thought I’d give it a try in late 2016 – I’m a sucker for free things, what can I say? I did a circuits class and I came out bouncing off the walls – for the first time it what may as well have been forever I felt energetic, not lethargic. I was genuinely smiling even though I thought I might throw up because I was so unfit. But I carried on going for the high I felt after class, and that made the chore of going worth it. With exercising came eating slightly better – I’m still pretty bad, having “cheat days” about 3-4 times a week (LOL welp) but I make more of an effort to get my greens in and I feel better for it.

It was later in 2017 that I looked down and realised I no longer had a pot belly, and I won’t lie, I was chuffed about that. But it truly was an afterthought. Not every time, but on many occasions, exercise has stopped or at least delayed me from closing the curtains and burying myself in my duvet and my misery, and my class instructors have been the best motivators and mentors.

My personal Saviours

Shout out my Zumba teacher Jessie – she’s full of such vibrant energy and smiles, it’s contagious. I have two left feet but I carried on going back to her Saturday morning class as it always starts my weekend off with the right energy. Not only is she an amazing dancer and a slice of sunshine, but she runs her own blog that focuses on self-love, self-care, and self-worth –Here

And Camilla, my yoga teacher – she has such a tranquil, patient energy – when I first met her, she made me want to be a yoga teacher just in the hopes that I could one day make people feel the way she makes me feel. Her class was so good, in fact, I attended her Divine Feminine workshop where she gave me healing crystals and gorgeous incense sticks to take home – I’ve got really into them since too – they help to calm me and keep me balanced. The smell of sandalwood in the morning fills me with joyous energy… at least until I start my morning commute.


There’s no shame in seeking help for your mental health

Talking to your family about your mental health

just because suicide is haraam doesn’t mean we should pretend it doesn’t happen

Lastly, my pilates teacher Karen is incredible. She’s helped me grow – literally – my limbs are longer, and I actually have collarbones now – well, I suppose I always did, but the point is I feel my posture has almost transformed. She ends the class reminding us of how important your breathing patterns are – every inhale is a rebirth and every exhale is a death – with every exhale, you have the power to decide to let go of whatever doesn’t serve you, and you can start again. That reminder is one I need, frequently.

By no means did I intend for this to be a preachy “just go to the gym hun!” post. But honestly, I’ve been on antidepressants, I’ve isolated myself in bouts of serious depression, I’ve put myself in situations I shouldn’t have been in because my self-worth was non-existent and that made my depression worse. I’ve had countless counselors and I personally didn’t find any of them helpful in the long term if I’m honest. Some professionals will advise you talk to friends and family who can support you, but as a depressed person, I can confirm that the last thing you can feel like doing is confiding in friends when you already feel like a burden.

The gym was just something that helped me in those times. It’s also a great way to force yourself to have time off from looking at a screen, whether it be your phone or laptop, as that can make you feel worse. So I don’t take my phone to the gym with me. For an hour, I am distracted, I am sweating, I am focusing on the task at hand, and I leave accomplished and buzzing with endorphins. And sometimes, that short-term feeling is enough to get you through.

Mainly though, this post was to say thanks to my class instructors – they’ve helped me no end in kicking ass, physically and mentally. I owe them chocolates (or something nice that healthy people eat – I’ll let you know what that is when I work it out).

Maz Halima

Maz Halima

Maz Halima is a freelance writer and media researcher who has written for the likes of Buzzfeed, Gal-Dem, , , Burnt Roti, Sisterhood, and others. Her area of interest lies in identity, politics, mental health, travel, and poetry. You can read more on her website: