Fight Klub Instructor and Yoga Teacher Rochelle Rosario talks about overcoming depression and anxiety
I became a yoga/fitness instructor to help others make a positive difference in their lives, in the same way as my instructors helped me. I’ve gone from living a life of depression, anxiety, drinking and smoking, to a life filled with happiness, peace, confidence, fitness (and teetotal since December 2016).
This was no overnight transformation and looking back I’m glad it wasn’t because, with something to aim for, that’s when your progress is more likely to be maintained. I’ve learnt to appreciate my dark times because, inevitably, those struggles are what gave me my strength and understanding now.
I’m not perfect, I have stretch marks and I still love desserts, but my life has changed for the better. With the information I’ve gathered in recent years about fitness, health and wellbeing, I can see my transition could have happened a lot quicker had I had the same information back then. It’s also very empowering to know I’ve got the ability to keep depression and anxiety at bay, and remain sober, just through maintaining certain lifestyle changes. It’s scientifically proven that exercising is great for your serotonin and dopamine levels (which relieves depression), and that it also releases endorphins which are your feel-good hormones.
By sharing my experiences and the knowledge I’ve gained, I want to help others improve their lives for the better, physically and mentally. That’s my goal, and that’s why I wanted to become a yoga/fitness instructor in the first place.
You can read more about my journey to becoming a yoga teacher here.
Another form of fitness I discovered last year is Fight Klub. It’s the other end of the spectrum to yoga, but for me it is the perfect balance. I’m not a fan of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), but with Fight Klub’s music and atmosphere you don’t feel like you’re training at all, more like you’re raving, and that’s why I love it!
Again, when I became teetotal and didn’t have the vice of alcohol, etc., to take the edge off things anymore, Fight Klub was a great release for me. Now I’ve learnt that if I practice yoga, meditation and attend Fight Klub classes regularly I don’t actually need a vice. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, I feel free.
You can read more about my journey to becoming a Fight Klub instructor here.
Finding the passion
I’ve been on and off with fitness all my life. From PE at school, along with some extras here and there like swimming, dance, netball, gym. But my rekindled passion for fitness came about when I started practicing yoga last year. I gave up my two vices of smoking and drinking in 2016, for my health. So, if I was feeling stressed or upset I didn’t have a cigarette or glass of wine to take the edge off things anymore. It was my best friend Lauren who recommended I try yoga.
I remember going to my first class with her. I didn’t know how to do any of the basic poses or even know the names of them, so felt a bit like a fish out of water. But at the same time I knew I wanted to go back. So I did.
I started off by going just once a week. Next thing I know, I’ve cancelled my gym membership and joined The Life Centre in Notting Hill. It has two studios with back-to-back yoga classes, pilates, meditation and more. I’m naturally an early bird, so I would go every morning before work. It was such an uplifting way to start the day.
I also began to meditate. I went to a few classes at a Buddhist temple and then downloaded the Headspace app to help guide me at home (I now use the Calm app). I didn’t notice a difference straight away, but I definitely noticed if I missed a couple of days. The main thing that sticks out for me is that I became less patient. The same thing happens now, and I only meditate for 10 minutes each morning. I think it is so beneficial for your health because it gives you quality time to be present and clear your mind. So when things do get on top of you, you already have the tools to practice patience and think things through properly before reacting and reaching for a drink, etc.
Don’t get me wrong – if I’m going through an upsetting time I won’t bother meditating, because I know my mind isn’t clear enough for it and there’s no point. Some people might disagree with me and think that’s exactly the time when you should be meditating the most; but I believe you should listen to what your body is telling you and if you don’t feel like meditating, or exercising, or whatever, don’t force yourself. Some days you do just need a duvet day, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Don’t forget that you’re human, it’s okay to have a meltdown. Just don’t unpack and live there. Cry it out and then refocus on where you are headed.
Depression and drinking – the vicious circle
In 2012 I married my first love and best friend, and I was so, so happy (our wedding day is still one of the happiest days of my life). But not long after, things changed and I began to suffer from depression. Things became worse and worse, and a year later we broke up. Divorce wasn’t ever in my thoughts – I married him because I wanted to be with him for life, forever and ever and ever. So when reality hit and we had to go through that, it was a devastating time.
I was already depressed, with low self-esteem and hardly any confidence, and although deep down I loved my husband, I actually began to hate and resent him. It was a whirlwind of emotions and a vicious cycle – wake up, feel depressed, quick drink at lunch to get through the day and/or definitely drinks after work, smoking throughout the day too, come home late, drunk, conk out, forget problems. Next day wake up, feel depressed and hungover… and you know the rest.
I wasn’t living at all, I was simply existing, hiding behind this cloud of alcohol and drugs. I remember I spent Christmas Day 2013 alone in bed watching Toy Story, eating a bagel, and I was so depressed that I loved it, because that’s all I wanted to do. When we broke up the only thing that kept me getting out of bed was going to work; eventually that stopped too, because I felt so drained, worthless and ashamed. I ended up being signed off with depression. All I wanted to do was sleep all day.
My employers were really understanding, though, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without their support and compassion. I’m still friends with my manager from that time and I’ll be forever grateful for her and everyone I worked with, they have no idea how much they helped me through one of the hardest times of my life. Going to work every day was the only bit of stability I had in my life and I really appreciated that routine. I guess it gave me purpose too.
In 2014 I made plans to move to Abu Dhabi. I was so heartbroken after the divorce, I contacted friends who lived there and decided to move out there too so I could make a fresh start. So I left my job and made the move abroad, and I loved it! A fresh start in the sunshine, I was so happy!
That only lasted a month, though – not only was I still depressed, now I was depressed and lonely. A fresh start abroad also means a fresh start without the support and care of your loved ones. It made me realise that happiness really does come from within. I somehow thought that leaving the country was going to make me happy again, but it’s only temporary. I was depressed and running away from my problems, that was the reality of it.
I called my mum, who lives in The Philippines, and told her that living and working abroad wasn’t for me; but I didn’t want to go back to the UK just yet. I knew I needed more time away to work on myself. Straight away she told me to come to her house, and I did, staying there for six months. That’s exactly what I needed – I actually felt better after only a couple of weeks being there! I didn’t need to move abroad for a fresh start, I just needed some time away to work on myself, away from distractions and away from my ex.
Those six months in The Philippines were a real blessing, and I’m so thankful I have my mum and family out there, to turn to when I need them. Within the first two weeks of being there I finished reading Thrive by Rob Kelly. My therapist gave it to me in March 2013 to help me overcome my depression and anxiety (I used to suffer from panic attacks too), and I finished reading it in December 2014. That’s how much I lacked motivation. But as soon as I finished it I thought, I wish I’d read that sooner! It’s an amazing book and I’ve read it about six times already. It’s natural to go through highs and lows in life, and whenever I come across a low I’ll read the book again to help give me clarity and strength.
So after I finished reading it in December 2014, I read it again along with other books which helped boost my confidence and self-esteem. All this time reading and working on myself and spending time with family, and the local people and children (my mum lives in a small town where a lot of people come from underprivileged backgrounds), it really humbled me and put things into perspective.
Instead of thinking “poor me”, I turned it around and thought how blessed I am to have family and friends who love me and support me, and a home to go to, and food on the table.
Rob Kelly wrote in his book Thrive: “The thought that is in my mind right now, is it helpful? (And by helpful I mean: helping to create a wonderful, happy, healthy life.) If the answer is no, then change it for one that is or bin it!”
Another situation I turned around was the resentment and hate I had for my ex. It was no longer there, I let go of everything, as the only person I was hurting holding on to all that pain was myself. What’s done is done, it’s in the past, how am I bettering my life and moving forward if I’m holding on to grudges etc.? I’m not. I once heard that pain is one of the greatest catalysts for change and creativity. It’s a process, but we all have the choice and the power to turn hardships and heartaches into blessings if we want to.
Over time I learnt how to appreciate the positives and cherish the memories. Credit where credit’s due, and because of my ex I won’t ever have to suffer from trust issues – that is the biggest positive I always think of and shall be forever grateful for. Time really is the best healer, and we’re actually in a good place now, not best friends or anything, but we’ve definitely moved on and have nothing but love and respect for each other. Funny thing is, as time goes on I appreciate it him more and more, mainly because since we’ve broken up me and my girls have come across some right dicky donuts (!), and I just think “Thank goodness I’ve got my ex!” We still have our differences, hence why we’re not together anymore, but he has some amazing qualities about him which is why I fell in love with him in the first place, (and I always say to my girls (and myself), if my ex has those qualities, someone else does too, so keep hope!)
Another thing I’ve learnt recently is: When you love, love like you’ve never been hurt. Taking your past relationship hurts into your new relationship will sabotage it from the beginning.
I know so many of us do this, myself included. I noticed when I read it that it really resonated with me, and made me look at things in a different light.
Ditching the drink
I used to be sick, a lot. I suffered from gallstones for over 10 years and had my gallbladder removed in 2014. Although I didn’t feel the stomach pains anymore, I was still being sick. By 2016 I’d had enough and decided I needed a lifestyle change. I gave up smoking in September with Allen Carr Easyway, gave up drinking in December, and started yoga the following month.
2017 was a real transition year for me. I learnt so much about myself and my needs, physically and mentally. For example, I noticed every time I ate meat or fish I would become ridiculously bloated and suffer from indigestion. So in February, I became vegetarian. I’ve learnt to listen to my body, and if it doesn’t like something, I’ll cut it out.
A month later I cut out caffeine. Where I wasn’t drinking alcohol I would have a Red Bull or Appletise in a wine/champagne glass if I was out, and wow, that Red Bull got to me. It wasn’t so much about keeping me up, I could still fall asleep ok, it was the waking up raring to go just a few hours later that was the problem, when my body definitely needed more sleep. Something inside me said this isn’t good for you, so I cut it out. No more tea, coffee, Red Bull, Coca Cola, etc. The only thing I’ll have now is a green tea, which does contain a small amount of caffeine, but because my body is free from it, one cup of green tea is now my pick me up! Not often, usually before a night out or if I’ve got jet lag. For a morning cup of tea I like a caffeine-free vanilla chai, cinnamon or mint tea.
Cutting out caffeine wasn’t easy, it took a good two weeks of feeling very, very tired, but as soon as you overcome those first couple of weeks (it could take less by the way, it depends on the individual) you feel amazing and full of this natural energy.
With all these changes my health improved more and more. I’ve only been sick once since January 2017, which is such an achievement for me. My mental health has also improved. As much as counseling, reading and having the support of my amazing family and friends helped me through some really dark times, I really do believe your lifestyle effects your mental health too. Like I said before, exercise is great for your serotonin and dopamine levels (which relieves depression) and it also releases endorphins, which are your feel-good hormones.
Quitting smoking, alcohol and caffeine has definitely helped me live without a crutch, which makes me feel stronger and more confident. Yoga and meditation helps my mind live in peace – no more overthinking, yay! I’m also more conscious of eating more fruit and veg, and organic foods. I still have my desserts and treats, but alongside lots of nutrients my body feels healthier which makes me feel more motivated, productive and, again, more confident.
I do have stretch marks and wobbly bits (the photos I upload are at good angles!), but over the years I have learnt that looks don’t mean much if you’re not happy within yourself. I look back at photos of me years ago, and yeah, I made an effort with my hair and makeup, but you can see in my face I’m depressed. I bump into old friends now and the first thing they say is I’m glowing, and it’s not just my highlighter! Looking after your health and overall wellbeing is so important. There’s only so much that make up, filters and material things can do.
Keeping depression and anxiety at bay
For me the answer came from a mixture of things. Sobriety, meditation, yoga, Fight Klub, reading, talking to loved ones. I remember when I first overcame my depression in December 2014. I was so happy and thought “Yes! I won’t ever have to feel like that again!” Boy, was I wrong!
Although I haven’t suffered from depression since then, I have felt depressed. Hardships and heartaches have occurred and I’ve had plenty of duvet days along with plenty of tears, and I realised just because I’m over my depression doesn’t mean I should stop reading books and working on myself. If you signed up to run a marathon you would be training every day, eating right, not drinking as much. When the marathon day comes and you complete it, it’s a huge achievement, and you think “Yes, I’ve done it!” Then you go back to your pre-training days, not working out as much, not eating the right foods, drinking more. What happens? You go back to your old self. The same thing happens when it comes to depression/anxiety/low self-esteem. You have to keep up that maintenance.
So now, just because I’m not depressed anymore doesn’t mean I should stop meditating, or start drinking again. If I want to maintain that feeling of being in a peaceful place, I need to continue the work. Like I said earlier, for me it’s a mixture of things like meditation and Fight Klub. Whatever it is that works for you, keep it at!
Author Gurmukh wrote in her book Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful (which I’m reading as part of my pregnancy yoga teacher training): Know too that choosing to be positive is a process, something you do over and over again. It’s not as if you will reach a point at which you will say, “Okay, now I’m fixed, now I will never know pain or anger or confusion.” It is the doing over and over again. It is called a living “practice”.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course in life we experience ups and downs, and with those downs I sometimes have that depressed feeling again, and there are times where I do get anxious. It’s just about having the right mindset and patience to push through those times.
The right mindset: Everything in life is temporary. So if things are going good enjoy it, it won’t last forever. And if things are going bad don’t worry, it can’t last forever either.
For me it’s a completely different experience going through painful times sober. You have a clear head, feeling every emotion for what it is without any distractions of drinking, etc. So all you can do is feel the pain and cry it out. As much as it hurts, I believe it is the healthiest, most constructive way to move forward, because you’re not bottling it up. How can you move forward without letting go first?
Embracing hurt can actually empower you in the long run. I remember when I first stopped drinking, all these unresolved issues and feelings from my past reappeared and I had to deal with them head on as I was no longer suppressing them with alcohol. It was a tough time but an amazing lesson learnt, and it ended up giving me the tools I need to deal with any hardships that I come across now. So now if I feel any hurt and pain I simply feel it, I don’t try and put on a brave face and hide it, and I remind myself that everything happens for a reason, everything in life is temporary and ‘this too shall pass’. I also remind myself, the comeback is always stronger than the setback!
The return of the craving
Setbacks happen. During my Birthday weekend last year, I was in a bar celebrating with friends, and just before I arrived I got the news that my best friend Jaded’s uncle passed away in the Grenfell Tower fire. She and I are so close, and I really felt her pain; hearing her cry over the phone was heartbreaking. I still went to my birthday drinks as planned, as I didn’t want to let my friends down, but OMG, being surrounded by alcohol during that time was a real test.
In the end I thought “f**k it, I’m going to have a drink”. Then I went in the toilets alone, holding back the tears and had a word with myself, I remember saying in my head “Rochelle, if you have a drink it won’t just be one, you’re going to have 10 and still feel rubbish, if anything you’re going to feel worse, it’s not worth it!” So I talked myself out of it, stayed for a bit longer, ended up crying, went for a walk with my other best friend Lhara, and then she drove me home (thank you Lha!) I woke up the next day still feeling upset, but so much better for not having had a drink, because that really wouldn’t have helped anything.
There have been a few other times, usually when I’m feeling overwhelmed, but other than that I haven’t craved alcohol, drugs or cigarettes at all. When I’m happy I don’t think about it, and if I’m upset I usually want to have a nap (I love a nap), or even go for a run, because exercise is a good release for me now. Of course, we’re all different – some people might turn to cleaning, reading or calling a friend, but I do believe there are alternatives to emotional drinking, smoking, eating, etc. it’s just finding out what works best for you.
Making lifestyle changes that last
Mindset is everything. Stay true to yourself, follow your gut feeling and listen to your body. I’ve been excluded, I’ve been called boring, I’ve lost friends, and as much as things hurt at first, in hindsight I can see that by staying true to myself and what I believed in, it’s now made me happier, healthier and stronger than ever, and has made me appreciate my loved ones around me even more. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.
By the way, I’ve also had friends see me and witness how far I’ve come, and it’s inspired them to give up drinking, etc. They try it and they don’t feel a difference. It’s not just about being teetotal – there are so many trials and errors you have to go through to become strong, happy and confident. It took me years!
A healthy lifestyle definitely helps, but remember: one step at a time. You could try a new diet, a new fitness regime, then move on to counseling, then meditation. Try everything and more, and in different orders – there is no perfect plan. A lot of it really is about experimenting until you find what works best for you.