Gloves on to fight depression

5 June 2018

University of Waikato social science student Melanie Bach.

Each time University of Waikato social science student Melanie Bach puts her boxing gloves on and steps into the ring, she faces more than one opponent. Diagnosed with postnatal depression when her son was born 15 years ago, Melanie refused to fully acknowledge the condition. It took ex-All Black John Kirwan’s depression campaign to make her stand up and be counted. “He was talking to men who suffer from depression and don’t put their hands up,” she explains. “He spoke of pride and he stared right through the TV at me. That was my moment of realisation, because I knew I had a lot of pride.”

After years of medication and counselling providing varying levels of relief, Melanie found herself a virtual recluse, and in desperation joined the local gym. “I did not join the gym to do boxing, I joined as a last ditch effort to save myself,” she says. At the gym, Melanie soon learned that she needed to develop a strategy to keep her focussed, and prevent her from slipping back into a habit she describes as “bubble-wrapping” – shutting herself away from the world.

While many take up boxing to hone their physical strength, Melanie’s goal was to learn to manage her anxiety and strengthen her mind. She says she has undergone a massive transformation and admits that her TGA BOX Health & Fitness gym mates have witnessed her stamping her feet, laughing, crying, having panic attacks and swearing like a trooper. “Boxing is extremely confronting and these guys have seen me at my most raw,” she says. “They are amazing and I can’t thank them enough.”

After many classes and hours of training, Melanie says that boxing is now her world and it provides the outlet she needs to keep her depression at bay. “I feel like a totally new person and I’m loving the new me,” she says. Indeed, so motivated is Melanie that when the opportunity came up to participate in charity boxing tournament Clash of the Corporates, she knew there was nothing holding her back. She was also drawn to the tournament for altruistic reasons as the proceeds go to a children’s charity. “The Princess Project is all about preventing child sex trafficking and that really speaks to me – a charity that takes pre-emptive measures,” she says.

Melanie is grateful to the University of Waikato’s Sport and Wellbeing group for sponsoring her participation in the tournament. Associate Director Tina Pentecost says that a key focus for the University is the improved wellbeing of students and staff. “When Melanie contacted us to request sponsorship for the tournament, we agreed to support her in this goal by covering the entry fee,” she says. “It was great to hear she was taking such positive steps in regard to her wellbeing and in particular using regular exercise as a means of managing her anxiety.”

Melanie won her tournament bout by TKO in the second round, but she insists the outcome was not what really mattered. “Most of us boxers have forged friendships, and my bout was against a friend. There was no nasty bashing, we were both there to have an experience. Although my opponent didn’t win, it doesn’t make her any less of a winner.”

With the boxing match behind her, Melanie is investigating the circus and wants to learn fire poi or aerial silks. “I got such a high off controlling my anxiety that I want more and more,” she enthuses. “My bucket list keeps growing!”