Laura Polacek Testimony

Leah Casciano

I grew up in a very active family. My brother, sister and I danced competitively from the age of 5 through high school graduation. Dance was, besides school, the focus of my life. I was at the studio five days a week, with competitions on weekends. When I went to college, I cut back to dancing only once per week in a very relaxed, unchallenging dance club. I NEVER exercised and spent my entire time in the library, often so stressed and anxious that I would oscillate between eating nothing and eating everything in sight. I constantly worried about due assignments, what to "do" after college, and anything you can imagine. After coming back from abroad my junior year, I was 15 pounds heavier, sedentary, and depressed. I no longer felt motivated to do much of anything, and I felt a disconnect from my friends I had left behind during my year abroad. It was at the start of my senior year that my friends introduced me to crossfit, and I was hooked. Finally, I had an activity that was challenging and welcoming at the same time, that pushed you to improve everyday and required precise technique, just like dance. I began going five or six days per week, and started noticing that I was sleeping better, and crying less in the library (which used to be a frequent occurrence). I lost the 15 pounds and began having interest in doing things again. Fast forward to my first job after graduation, and I was in a fast-paced, demanding academic medical center as a research coordinator. I had no idea what I was doing, and was terrified a mistake may harm one of our patients. At the same time, I had fallen off with crossfit, and was going once or twice per week at best. My depression returned, more intense than before. I did not eat, sleep, or make enough time for friends. I cried to my mom on the phone every night and had nightmares about work that would wake me in a panic. I had trouble concentrating and barely gave thought to "my future." After many drunken breakdowns while out with friends, I got myself into therapy, and quickly realized how important structure was in my life - consistent therapy, balanced diet, sleep, and regular exercise. It took me a long time to get a handle on juggling everything (you could say "adulting"), and the gym was always the first thing to be cut from my routine. I plateaued in all my lifts and made no progress in gymnastics skills. After some ups and downs, a period in a partial program for major depression, and a change in gym ownership (which brought stronger programming paired with amazing coaches), I finally reigned it in and have been going to the gym consistently 5 days/week for the last year. My numbers have gone up and my gymnastics have improved, with endurance slowly trailing behind. My family and friends have praised my physical transformation, but more importantly, they constantly point out how I seem HAPPY, which for the longest time was a concept I could not wrap my brain around, let alone strive to achieve. I am currently transitioning back to school for a graduate degree in clinical psychology, am between apartments, and do not know what to expect of the future. What I do know is that exercise (specifically crossfit) is the one constant I will work hard to keep in my new and busier life, because I never want to relapse to the life before I had that outlet, challenge, and community. I came across mental kilter today after browsing instagram, and was truly impressed with you, your mission, and all your testimonials. Crossfit always prides itself on a community of support, and you are taking it one step further by creating a space for those who struggle - whether with mental health, addiction, or something else. This was amazing for me to stumble upon, because oftentimes we don't talk about our struggles and how we have overcome them. We are flooded with images of elite athletes with perfect bodies, perfect technique, and amazing lifts. We celebrate those that win competitions and make it to the games, but do not celebrate those that have overcome their own demons through exercise, which in my opinion, is a greater accomplishment than any medal or cash prize. Exercise is a beautiful tool for improving and maintaining good mental health, and I am truly grateful that it has become such a prominent part of my life. Further, I am grateful for people like you that commit themselves to opening up that conversation about personal struggles and creating a support system for those of us that rely on exercise to help maintain our mental kilters.