If teenager me could see the present me, she’d be horrified.

“You became a new-age hippie jock, you traitor!” she’d cry dramatically, then storm off in her pyramid-studded belt and spiked collar.

I’m quite different than who I was back then, and not just because I don’t dress like Sid Vicious anymore.

My life now has everything to do with my life then. I’m no longer that depressed, over-anxious girl who was sure she was alone in the world, but it’s because of her that I’m on this mission. The 30×30 Project to inspire hope through movement was born from my life’s struggle, and my mission to help others realize their own strength, inside and out.

Creating Change

2013 was a busy year for me. To celebrate the 30th birthday I almost didn’t have, I set out that Spring to tour North America, teaching donation-based bootcamps in 30 cities to raise awareness and funds for the suicide prevention charity, To Write Love On Her Arms. At each bootcamp, we focused on letting it all out through the physical outlet of the bodyweight movements. We yellled, we cheered, we cried, but most importantly, we left stronger than we came in.

I haven’t always felt this strong, just as I’m sure many of you have yet to realize your own strength. The tour never would have happened if I hadn’t lived the life I wanted to end.

In high school, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In addition to the constant anxiety that came with OCD, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was a hopeless waste of space. I isolated myself as if to fulfill the heart-breaking truth that lived inside of me: I would always be alone.

Over my entire childhood, I was never offered any hope to overcome this life sentence. I was told by counselors and doctors that this was the way it would be and I should basically just get over it, so I didn’t even try. I just knew I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t let other people know that there was something “wrong” with me, that I was defective.

I rebelled in high school from all the pain I was keeping inside, and it got worse as I got older. I started trying to self-medicate with booze and drugs, and I looked for the love I didn’t feel for myself in all the wrong places. Everything I refused to talk about festered inside of me for years, growing darker and heavier until in 2005, I just didn’t see the point of fighting anymore.

When I was 21, I was hospitalized for trying to take my own life. Being thrown into that prison of a hospital against my will was the wake up call I needed and the angriest I had ever been. I had been “living” this life, completely free to try to change it, and letting it go to waste.

When I got out of the hospital, I committed to trying. I committed to never going back. I started taking action. One of those actions included going to the gym… because, hey, I needed to lose a few pounds.

What I didn’t expect was to revolutionize my life through fitness. I lost 30 pounds, but the most dramatic change came in the form of my confidence and drive. Working out became my chance to shut out the world and concentrate on how strong I could be. I would push my limits in those workouts and leave feeling accomplished and powerful, which would translate to my life outside of the gym.

I had finally found effective channels to let out all that negative energy through my workouts and the therapy work I had started, and I began feeling strong for the first time in my life. After years of growing stronger inside and out, I became confident and, dare I say, happy.

I felt so strongly about how fitness had changed my life that I wanted to share it with others, and help them change their lives, too. I became a personal trainer and started Strong Inside Out, a blog to empower people to take charge of their lives through fitness and positive action.

Sure, there were days that I just didn’t even want to get out of bed. There still are. The difference is that I now know how to cope, and I never ever lose sight of this truth: Hope is real.

I grew up thinking I was alone in my pain, that something was wrong with me. I grew up thinking I couldn’t talk about these feelings, which only made them worse. If I had only been told that the way I felt wasn’t wrong, and that hope to overcome is real, I think a lot of pain and struggle could have been saved.

That’s why I started The 30X30 Project: to help all those out there who are currently struggling to find hope.

Taking Action

This time last year, I only dreamed I would have completed my ridiculously big goal. The tour was just an idea. I didn’t have the $18k I eventually raised from crowdfunding. I didn’t even know if anyone would donate. I faced down a ton of fear and doubt, just as we all do with hefty dreams.

There is no difference between what I’ve accomplished and what you can accomplish. All I did was start taking responsibility for my life and my happiness by taking action to eliminate what didn’t serve me, and go after what does.

If you’re reading all this, thinking there’s no way you could create such dramatic change, I’d like to prove you wrong. Here are the most basic steps to start strengthening your life from the inside out:

  1. Face it. The first step to creating any kind of change is requiring yourself to face what needs changing. I find that the most helpful way to do this is to start journaling. Try simply writing anything that comes to mind when you ask yourself, “What am I struggling with and why?” Keep asking “Why?” until you get deep and hit the heart of the issue. This is what needs to be dealt with.
  2. Deal with it. When you’ve gotten to the core issue, start mapping out actions you can take to start dealing. Write down anything that comes to mind and put a star next to the actions that excite you the most.
  3. ACT! The most important part of this equation is the actual DOING. You can journal and map all you want, but it won’t do you much good unless you make it happen. I know it’s scary. I know it might be hard at times, but you can’t keep waiting to start your life. You can’t keep hoping someone will do it for you. This is where you take the reins in your life and steer it in the direction you want to go, rather than going along for the ride.
  4. Let it out. While taking new, scary, life-changing actions, you might encounter quite a bit of stress. You’ll need an outlet for it all so you don’t end up a twisted ball of anxiety. I find that one of the best ways to release what doesn’t serve you is during physical activity. Don’t know how? Here are a few options:

● Come up with a mantra such as “I am strong,” and repeat it in your head (or out loud if you’re bold) when your workout gets challenging.

● Set an intention for your workout, such as “focus” or “peace.” Then concentrate on achieving that intention through your routine.

● Focus on your breath as you move through your workout. Let it be an active meditation.

Heavy stuff, huh? It doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple and easy as you want it.

This post comes from Amy Clover, a personal trainer, Greatist Ambassador, and creator of Strong Inside Out and The 30X30 Project. She toured North America in 2013 teaching donation-based bootcamps to raise awareness for suicide prevention. The views expressed herein are hers. For more from Amy, follow her on Twitter.