A Personal Narrative by Sabrina Fairchild
It was a battle of the titans: Me versus depression, insomnia and menopause. While the first two conditions can be suffered universally by all at some point in life, menopause is specific to women. And while it’s common knowledge by now that exercise reduces depression, improves sleep quality and manages symptoms of menopause, when all three of those conditions converge, the motivation and ability to exercise can be challenging to muster. As a Master Instructor (MI) for the Spinning® program, a university teacher of Sport Psychology, and an instructor of Yoga, Weight Training and Group Fitness, this is what happened to me. This is also a story of how I used SPINPower® to outwit (and out-power) the titans.
Pregnancy: A Change of Plans
It’s January, 2012. I had just turned 46 and had a sudden and shocking desire for the first time ever to get pregnant. This felt like a spiritual and emotional transformation, especially after battling body dysmorphia and a decade-long eating disorder in early adulthood.
Though after several months of heated discussions, my husband and I decided that we did wish to have a family. This eventually meant thousands of dollars in medical procedures, travel to Europe for In Vitro Fertilization, high doses of hormones, and me transitioning in my career to be at home more. I believed the universe had instilled in my heart the desire to be a mom, and we threw ourselves into the process 100%.
In August of 2012 I conceived naturally, but in October, I miscarried our son, Jonathon. After that it was determined that IVF was the best option. In April of 2014, while pregnant with Cory and Eleanor, it was discovered one of the twins was ectopic. To save my life, I had to have an emergency termination of the pregnancy and fallopian tube removal. In October of 2014, I lost Christopher and Noelle, and in March of 2015, I lost our boy Kyle. After losing all six children, my life slipped away. I became a mere shell of who I had been.
I was barely able to get out of bed and report to work. Doing basic housekeeping chores were out of the question. I couldn’t go to sleep and also awoke in the middle of the night. I ate unhealthy foods, and though I still taught seven group fitness and yoga classes weekly, I did not have the energy for my own workouts. I was 16 pounds heavier than before pregnancy. I wore baggy clothes to hide my weight gain as best I could, having no baby to show for my post pregnant body. I stopped praying, meditating, believing in God or trusting my intuition. Despite my personal struggles, I was still able to muster energy to present for Spinning®, but was uncertain whether I could continue.
In June 2015, I was diagnosed with insomnia, situational depression and the onset of menopause. With menopause came the awful thought that my life as I had known it was over. Though my husband and I investigated adoption, we were broke and decided to put an end to our quest to be parents. I felt I had nothing to look forward to. It was then I knew I needed to make a plan. My life, career and marriage were at stake.
Three-Pronged Approach to Healing
Aside from regular sessions with a grief specialist, I decided sleep was the most important issue to tackle because it affected everything else so much. After researching, I realized I was not alone with my problem. I found a 15-year sleep study on hormones that reported subjects with only five hours of sleep had higher BMI’s. This was associated with lower Leptin levels, which reduces satiety and increases appetite; as well as higher Ghrelin levels, which also increases appetite and lowers metabolism (Taheri, Lin, Austin, Young, Mignot, 2004). Research led me to the natural sleep aid Tryptophan. Studies have shown it is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin; brings on drowsiness, improves mood in middle aged women, and reduces depression all without strain to the liver (Mohajeri, Wittwer, Vargas & Hogan, 2015; Lieberman, Agarwal & Fulgoni, 2016). While this solution may not work for all – and it’s highly recommended that you consult with your MD personally – I am grateful it helped me.
Once I began to sleep better, I had energy to exercise, but still lacked desire. Teaching group fitness had always been motivating, but seven classes a week had done nothing to improve my depressed state. Since it was summer, I was able to double my “dosage” by subbing 15-20 classes and hiking twice a week. By fall I had lost five pounds.
According to research, in the general population, it takes 2 ½ - 5 hours per week of moderate exercise to see a change. While the most common exercise modality recommended is cardiovascular, an analysis of 27 studies showed that neuromuscular exercise (weights/yoga) were even more effective than endurance training in reducing depression (Nebikar, et al. 2018). In the end, you must discover what type of exercise (as well as how much) improves your well-being.
Training with Power
"For me, the right type of exercise has turned out to be training with power. In 2015, though depressed, I committed to working at World Spinning® and Sports Conditioning Conference (WSSC). It was then that I obtained my SPINPower® certification. This laid the foundation for what would play a crucial role once I found hormonal relief of menopause…"
Though counseling as well as improved sleep and exercise habits were helping me, my menopausal symptoms – mood swings, confusion, night sweats, edema, and disabling endometriosis – continued to challenge me. I was desperate to feel better, so I elected to use Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and that made a huge difference. Balancing my hormones led to another five-pound weight loss.
Besides regulating menopausal symptoms, HRT is also known to decrease heart disease and improve cardiovascular function during and after exercise (Patacchioli et al. 2015). However, the increased risk of breast cancer is real. A prospective followup of hundreds of studies world-wide between 1992-2018 found HRT users had from a 1 in 200 and up to a 1 in 50 chance of getting breast cancer, depending on the type of HRT and length of time used (Beral, Pirie, & Reevo, 2019). Anyone facing this decision must weigh the risk/benefit ratio and consider their medical history. No matter how much research is done, it cannot account for everyone’s experience.
The Silver Lining
It took three years for me to get to a place where I was ready to attempt new goals. While presenting at WSSC in 2017, I was inspired by SPINPower® workshops and knew that was my direction. In 2018, I was invited to become a SPINPower® MI, so I bought my own Spinner® Chrono and trained 2-3 times each week. This was when my body and fitness truly changed. I added Zwift and Training Peaks in the fall of 2019, which has increased the fun and motivation and helped me lose six more pounds. Not only that, I’ve gained the title SPINPower® Master Instructor.
Sabrina's SPINPower® story inspired us. You too? Here's what you will learn with your own SPINPower® Online Certification:
1. Confidently describe the benefits of power-based training to riders of all levels.
2. Explain why Spinner® bikes measure actual power and accurate, not estimated caloric expenditure.
3. Conduct ramp tests in class to help riders identify their Personal Spinning® Threshold (PST).
With this knowledge in your tool kit, you will be able to provide the most effective way to train on the market today. Join Lori and make power training a key ingredient of your success.
Bonus: Even if you don’t plan to teach with power, this certification will provide you with the knowledge and ride profiles to optimize your own training– whether that’s indoors or on the open road!
A Final Note from Sabrina
While there was no magic pill to transport me to a better mental and physical place, I found a multi-faceted plan of action made a world of difference. This started with me choosing life. It continues by me being consistent with the practices that I find to be healing. However, I want to say that the final stage was re-establishing my spiritual path. I slowly re-gained my faith in God by choosing to trust in a higher power again and finding purpose through helping others. Daily prayer and meditation help me identify opportunities to fulfill my purpose. Sharing this story is one of them.