How Powerlifting Saved Me from Myself

May 16 2017

heather connor

Our next guest contributor is Heather Connor. To expand our topics during Women’s Health Week from the body to the mind, Heather asked to share her story about mental health:

Picture the upside-down world in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” Put yourself there… It’s dark and you’re alone, trying to find a way to escape, knowing at any second the monster, Demogorgon, could emerge. Now imagine that place being your mind and the monster is your own, inescapable anxiety…

My name is Heather Connor and what I described above was my reality before discovering my cure. I am currently the #1 ranked 47kg/103lb raw powerlifter in the United States, and I suffer from the mental illness of severe anxiety. Stay with me as I tell you how the sport of powerlifting saved me from myself. I will start with the sad, and end with the happy.

Since the age of 17, I have battled severe anxiety as a result of trauma I experienced at a very important time in my life developmentally. Within one week, an abusive relationship put me in the hospital for 9 hours and my grandfather passed away. My anxiety overcame me. I suffered from extreme weight loss, developed sleep apnea, which kept me up countless hours of the night, and became afraid to enjoy everyday life because of crippling fear and uncertainty. Doctors prescribed me medicine, I changed my diet, tried new hobbies, but nothing truly fixed me on the inside. Then, in one of my attempts to find a new hobby, I discovered powerlifting – my saving grace.

I began powerlifting in 2015, and in the time that I have been doing it, I have found my haven. I found a place that allows me to escape everyday life and focus solely on me. It’s in training where all my stress disappears and whatever may have previously upset me is no longer relevant. Powerlifting is what introduced me to my current coach, Arian Khamesi, who brought structure to my life. With his help, I have seen so many places and have met hundreds of inspiring people who have helped me along the way. I have found that in the powerlifting community, no one allows you to feel alone. No matter what it is you are going through, whether it is depression, anxiety, a breakup, not performing your best or simply weight cutting and feeling miserable, the community will ALWAYS have your back.

heather connor overcoming anxiety

It’s in this sport that I have found the people that not only are going through the same thing as me, but they are able to help me overcome it. I know that if I am feeling down, I can call or text someone from clear across the country and they will make me feel better. I made a post on Instagram not too long ago before the Arnold Sports Classic, smiling, but talking about the effects of anxiety and how just because I am smiling doesn’t mean that I am okay. That single post led to countless people reaching out to me about how thankful they were that I said something, that they too suffer the same way, and many of them use powerlifting as an outlet. Being open about mental health leads to people talking about their coping methods and the steps they took to better themselves, which helps everyone.

Powerlifting is so much more than a hobby when you can recognize the positive impact it has on quality of life. To this day, I am healthier than I have ever been. I no longer need medication to help me function on a day-to-day basis. If I am stressed, I hit the gym. If I start to fall back, I have my coach and my powerlifting family to pick me back up. In this sport of Powerlifting and all who are involved, you will never be alone.

When “I” is replaced with “WE” illness becomes wellness. – Shannon Alder

More about Heather:
Heather Connor is from Holden Beach, North Carolina. She is an international strength and conditioning coach and a very active traveler. Other than powerlifting, she spends her time surfing and spending time with her family. Heather’s next competition will be the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) Worlds in Minsk, Belarus. She hopes to bring home the gold medal for the USA.