We are seriously excited to bring you our chat with Amy from Strong Inside Out. We won’t give too much away, except to say that you’ll be glad that you scrolled down the page and read this incredible woman’s story. We came across Amy on the world wide web over a year back and have been big followers of her work ever since. If you want to hear from somebody who has been through the lows but has come out the other side stronger and better than ever, she’s your girl!
First off, can you tell us a little bit about your story and why you started Strong Inside Out?
Strong Inside Out is a movement that encourages people to “become stronger than their struggle” through positive action. Fitness and personal development changed my life. Now I write about how you can use the tactics I’ve developed to rise above your struggle so that you can live the life you want.
I started Strong Inside Out because I wanted others to experience the transformation that I did.
In high school, I lived in a constant state of hopelessness. I didn’t know what was wrong with me until I was diagnosed with clinical depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.). When I asked what could be done about it, I was thrown prescription drugs and condescending therapists. I was told that these disorders were my life sentences; I’d just have to learn to live with them.
Being a victim of bullying, I tried to be “normal” and hide it for the first few years. I didn’t want to give other kids one more reason to single me out as different. Ignoring my issues only made the symptoms worse. Soon, my anxiety and depression was so uncontrollable that my life spiraled out of control. I used drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships and food to numb out the intense emotions I didn’t know how to face.
In my early twenties, I got so tired of running away from my life that I decided to end it. The next day, I was placed in a psyhiatric hospital under suicide watch.
I soon realized that this way of “living” wasn’t really living at all. I was getting through every day hoping that I wouldn’t wake up the next. I was wasting every moment I spent on this earth wishing that my life was different; cursing the universe for plaguing me with mental illness. Thinking this was was getting me nowhere fast. So I started considering another way…
What would happen if I at least tried? If I at least attempted to live my life in spite of these disorders? If I refused to accept these “life sentences” that I’d been given?
I decided to at least try, and devoted the next few years to my personal development. It was a roller coaster of trial and error, landing me almost as low as I’d been in the hospital. The difference was that this time, I stood right back up, no matter how badly bruised and beaten I felt.
It wasn’t until I felt the physical and cognitive effects from consistent exercise that everything clicked for me. I found that the stronger and more resilient I became in the gym, the better those qualities followed me into my real life outside of the gym. The techniques I was learning from my therapist started sticking, my mindset started shifting, and my life did a complete 180.
Now, I’m a fitness personality, mental health activist, motivational speaker and a true believer that you are stronger than your struggle. No matter how dark it seems, there is always a reason to fight.
Apart from the obvious physical benefits of exercise, what does it do for your mental health and how do you use exercise as a tool for recovery?
Exercise is as important to me as any life-saving medication. It is the only way I’ve found to relieve the symptoms of my disorders without nasty side effects. I have a minimum amount of movement that I do every week, and I’m also sure not to overdo it (which can provoke the depression and anxiety).
Working out helps me clear my head, increase self-efficacy, have fun and release tension. Some of my best ideas have come to me on the running path. When I dedicate time and energy to nourish my body physically, every other part of my life benefits.
What advice would you give to those people who are experiencing mental illness and feel like the last thing they want to do is exercise?
Start small. When I first started working out, it was walking for 10-15 minutes at a time. When I felt ready to run, I started with 1 mile. You don’t need to do hours of movement in order to feel the benefits. The 10 minutes that you work out today will help you feel more confident in pushing yourself just 1 minute further tomorrow. No workout is too easy or short in the beginning!
Apart from exercise what other techniques and practises do you do to care for yourself both mentally and physically?
Meditation is a big part of my life; I spend 10-15 minutes every morning in stillness, then ask the universe how I can be of use for the day. Being of service is of utmost importance in my life. I find that when I begin focusing too much on myself, I start feeling separate from others and fear begins to seep in. When I am of the highest good for all, I feel “right,” like I’m in my power.
Having experienced clinical depression what do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about mental illness and recovery?
It’s common that when people hear “mental illness,” they are met with discomfort… maybe even fear. For many of us, the term holds negative connotations. What most of us don’t know is that an estimated 350 million people in the world suffer from depression alone [source]. It is much more common than we think, but much of the stigma that surrounds mental illness is the idea that it’s so rare. Statistics show that if you know 4 people, one of them probably has a mental illness.
To challenge this mindset and encourage our society to help those in need of recovery, we must shift our reaction to those who struggle to one of love and compassion. The simple act of letting someone in your life who has a mental illness know that they are supported and loved can be extremely healing.
What does your morning routine look like?
I wake up around 6 am naturally, then meditate for 10-15 minutes. Then, coffee. 🙂 By that time, my husband is usually awake and we’ll have our first coffee together. Then, I go about the rest of my day which includes writing, emailing or Skyping with my Coaching clients, and of course, movement.
What’s for dinner tonight?
Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken, roasted butternut squash and sauteed kale with garlic.
Sweet or savoury?
I have a MAJOR sweet tooth!
What new skill would you love to learn?
I’ve been half-heartedly working on my handstands for 2 years now to no avail. I’d love to finally be able to stick one on command.
When you think of the word successful who’s the first person that comes to mind?
Danielle LaPorte. I love her writing and business as a whole.
What are you proudest of?
My 30×30 Project Tour that I did in 2013. To celebrate the 30th birthday I almost didn’t have due to my near suicide, I crowdfunded over $18k to do a 30-city tour across the U.S. and Canada to teach my fitness bootcamp for suicide prevention charity. It was the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had, and I didn’t wait for anyone to “give me permission”; I just did it.
Many people in our community who experience mental illness often avoid trying new things because of a fear of failure. What does ‘failure’ mean to you and how have you used it to get where you are today?
I can totally understand that fear. Though I still battle it every day, I’ve come to realize that failure is a learning experience. If I never fail, I’ll never grow. I never would have discovered this life that I live now if I hadn’t failed a bajillion times on my climb up from the darkness.
One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson: “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
Feel the fear. Do it anyway. It takes one win to prove to yourself that it’s worth it. I can tell you from experience that it is.
What advice would you give to your 20 year old self?
I wrote a whole letter to myself here: The Words I Needed To Hear When I Was Struggling.
What words of wisdom resonate with you?
“How can you rise, if you have not burned?” – Hiba Fatima Ahmad
Finish this sentence. I never thought I’d…..
…be the hero, not the victim. Making the choice not to be anyone’s victim (not even my own) was a major life-changer for me.