Alone in the ring.
This is how it feels a lot of the time when you are battling mental illness, alone and constantly fighting. Constantly fighting, but no one has come to watch, they probably haven’t even noticed you are fighting. Lets face it you may not have even told anyone the fight was on!, but you have to get up each day and do it anyway.
Every day you wake up wondering if tomorrow will be the day you give up. The next punch that knocks you off your feet, will you have enough in the tank to get you back up again?, or will that be the day you just stay down. Defeated by the demons in your own head.
It is exhausting, It is suffocating. It is debilitating, and then someone says to you “Just go and do some excercise…it will make you feel better” and as much as it makes you want to swing a right hook in their direction for showing their obvious ignorance to the pain you are in, and as annoyingly irritating it may be to hear, they are right. It absolutely will.
Motivating the Unmotivated.
I know only too well now the difference between ‘not being bothered’ to go and exercise, and feeling so debilitated by misery and anxiety that it just feels something that it is physically impossible for you to do, and in the last three months of 2018, this is exactly where I was at.
I have exercised since I was 17 years old. Aerobics, Weight training, Spinning, PT sessions, HIT classes, you name it, whatever was going on in fitness I was doing it and in more recent years it led me to become involved in Crossfit. I am not going to go into the good and bad experiences I have had with Crossfit, maybe I will do another post on that sometime in the future, as that in itself is interesting, but mostly, I enjoyed it. I loved the physical challenge and also loved the changes that I started to see in my body with lifting heavier weights than what I had been used to. I have always loved exercise and if I missed a session or anything got in the way of me keeping a fitness routine, I became like a bear with a sore head. My point is here, if there was someone who was going to be able to get themselves to the gym when they needed it most, it was me. I didn’t find it a chore, I thrived on it. I loved it.
Looking back now I can see the slow decline of interest last year which led me to just stop going, and I can see now it was the start of the spiral into the darkest place I have ever been. I was doing a job that I didn’t particularly enjoy, I found it irritatingly stressful and by the end of the working day I was so mentally exhausted, I didnt want to do anything apart from come home and not talk or be around anyone. Now I know going to the gym at this point would have been the best thing I could have done and rest assured, I tried. I tried with every fibre in my body, but it just wasn’t happening, it seemed impossible. My depression was now in control of my mind and it was taking over control of my body too.
This is one of the main reasons I wanted to write this blog and share my experience with exercise. There are a lot of ‘Motivational speakers’ (which I am still in the process of writing my thoughts on separately), ‘Instagram influencers’, and all round ‘Jack of all knowledge but qualified in nothing’ types who have this mentality that you should just be able to snap out of it, mind over matter, no excuses.. blah blah. The most common thing to say “it’s all about mindset… its all in your head”, well yes you imbecile, that’s why it’s called a mental illness and THAT is what the problem is!.
I am reading a book at the moment about the power of the mind and how to manage it correctly in order to be successful and live a happy life, it explains how so much can be achieved by having the right mindset. The mind is such a powerful thing, so whilst respect needs to be given to what can be achieved when it is in full working order. The same respect should be shown to what can be affected when it is not functioning correctly because of an illness.
Back to it …but back to what?.
There is no getting away from it, exercise does help. The key is, or for me more recently the key has been finding the right exercise.
After my 3 month sabbatical from exercise!. I thought I would give Crossfit one last throw of the dice, bearing in mind, if I am honest, I hadn’t really been enjoying it since I moved. I loved my old gym and I missed it terribly. The new one was different and something just wasnt clicking for me. So after Christmas I went back, only now I was going back 10lbs heavier feeling like I ‘needed’ to go , rather than wanting to go , the passion I had for exercise still wasnt there, so it felt like I was just going through the motions, I was there because my jeans were tight, rather than enjoying the physical challenge and adrenaline rush.
A couple of weeks in I knew I needed a change. I would see the majority of workouts and just feel deflated, I couldn’t lift as much, I couldnt do as many push ups, double under’s were about the only thing I was still good at and they rarely came up!, so I wasnt getting any sense of achievement. I used to love the challenge of seeing how many rounds I could do, how fast I could go, and now it was just one big exhausting slog that I couldnt wait to get out of the way. I couldn’t get lost in the workout, it wasn’t providing me with an escape, I was exercising again , but it wasnt working, now what?.
It was during this period my brother had mentioned to me that he was having some sessions with a Boxing coach and why didn’t I give that a go. I thought about it, but didnt act on it with my usual enthusiasm. These days, any level of decision takes at least two weeks of procrastination, running through all of the reasons why I shouldn’t and thinking of all of the things that could go wrong rather than just biting the bullet and going for it as I used to.
However, when I finally did make a decision, I booked my first session and I don’t mind saying I was feeling a little nervous. When it came around I walked into the boxing club, bearing in mind I am female and probably a lot older than the usual demographic, add into the mix I was not feeling at my fittest and I had crippling anxiety, I wasnt prepared for the best outcome!. I had no idea how this was going to go.
Needless to say it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made, not only for my fitness, but more importantly for me right now, for my mental health and mindset.
It did help massively that I felt immediately comfortable with the coach, he is extremely professional and knowledgable and he got the first session just right for my level of fitness so that I had a great workout and left feeling like I had achieved something, rather than as I explained earlier, feeling defeated.
One of the major things I struggle with at the moment , is being able to focus, I am in a what feels like a constant state of anguish, trying to work out how to put my life back together. This anguish and internal battle was not going away when I was engaging in other forms of exercise. I have even been struggling to switch my mind off in Yoga too, however I very quickly realised, I think it was as I was walking out of my second session that I had just spent an hour completely focused on what I was doing. It had consumed me. The concentration level you need to have is like something I have not experienced in any sport before, and I absolutely love it. I love the physicality of it but I also I love that it has given me an hour off from myself. I now know every week I have an hour off to look forward to, I have an hour away from my thoughts, an hour away from turmoil, an hour away from anxiety and it feels amazing.
To coincide with this I have also gone back to basics, back to where I started at 17, which is to more of a traditional weights/bodybuilding program along with doing some RPM classes for cardio. I have cleaned up my diet and I now have some goals in place that I am working towards. I was so fearful of changing what I had gotten used to, but I realise now it is exactly what needed to happen.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got”.
Be Brave. Make a change.
Don’t be afraid to change something if it isn’t working for you. Particularly if you are working through a major transition or trauma in your life.
It is highly likely that what you are going through is changing you, and you need to change with it. I have only just discovered this myself. Until recently I kept on saying to my therapist “I just want the old me back” and I did get quite upset when she said, “You probably won’t go back to being that person”, but she is right, how could I go through what I am going through and come out of it the other side the same person?. Its impossible, and if I did, actually, what a waste it would be.
What the worst that could come out of changing up your exercise regime or adopting a new sport, trying a new hobby?, nothing at all. Dont be afraid to try something new, you may try it and find it’s not for you, or you may, like me, try it and realise that it could be a fundamental part in helping you to recover. Keep trying until it doesnt feel like trying anymore.
Love as always,