Feeling your heart beating – Exercise and Mental Health

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If you’d have told me 5 years ago that I would fall in love with the gym and it would become a kind of therapy I would have laughed at you. I was the clumsy kid who was awful at sports even from the first year of school…I look like a chicken when I run. I also get red, sweaty and gross whenever I do any sort of exercise and so when I tried to go to the gym at my college and beautiful skinny girls were draped over machines posing rather than working out I decided that maybe I wasn’t meant to  do sport, that’s cool. In fact I was more than fine with that fact.

Fast forward to when I found horse riding, I’d been told exercise was really helpful for people with depression but, let me tell you, in my darkest times I just saw myself as a chubby teenager with dodgy knees, you don’t like yourself and you don’t want to be around other people. I basically could go to the school gym, then the college gym, full of kids who couldn’t stand me and the thought of exercising in front of them sent me into a tear filled panic attack at 16. I looked into sports in the first year of university and found nothing that interested me, honestly I think I was so anxious about everything I didn’t let myself even think  about joining a team. By second year I felt more comfortable, signed up for horse riding and fell in love. I worked hard, only ever missing one lesson because I was sick and would always come away feeling lighter. That was a solid 30 minutes of the week where my troubles disappeared I had to work on my body, the horse’s body and making them work together. This was my first taste of exercise making me feel mentally and physically better in a long time.

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When I broke my spine and knew I probably wouldn’t be riding again it broke my heart. Not only had I lost the connection with the horses and my hobby, I’d lost a way to make my mental health better. I was scared, on a lot of painkillers and not ashamed to admit that I did slip back into depression after the accident for a long time. I’d gone from feeling like Jessie the Cowgirl, ready to try jumping and hack across Richmond park in the near future to the news that riding wasn’t going to happen. I still don’t know. It wasn’t until I was fit enough to start going to group physiotherapy in the rehabilitation gym that I found another way to get the hormones pumping and kick my negative thoughts back into gear.

In physio gym no one cares what you look like, everyone has their own struggles and a lot of us had pain while working out. Everything was very slow and most people were 15 years older than me and above. I could try and get into some kind of groove again under the watchful eye of a physiotherapist so my spine didn’t freak out, that was all the way back in November. Now I try and go to the gym weekly, I have the best gym buddy and although I’m still not very fast I’m getting there step by step. I left the gym after a session today with the biggest smile, in part because of my dazzling company and the other because I was covered in sweat and happy that my body had gotten a workout (my back can only sometimes manage a light walk but today, thankfully, was not one of those days.

Feeling my heart beating reminds me I’m going to be ok, just like the Sylvia Plath quote – ‘I am, I am, I am’. Sometimes you just need reminding that your head doesn’t control everything, because on a day here or there it can feel like that. I know that for some reading this, they might not be in a place where they feel they can exercise, getting out of bed is difficult enough and I understand, I’m not here to be preachy, just to say I was like you and keep going. Exercise isn’t going to have this result for everyone and it’s not the only thing I use to keep myself going, it’s’ a combination of talking, writing, exercise, being creative and working… keeping busy.

What helps you guys? Do you exercise or spend time doing something else? Let me know!

 

Be sure to check out my other posts for Mental Health Awareness Week on the home page!

Todays mood update: Tired and a little overwhelmed this afternoon due to a flat visit but right now I’m feeling pretty chilled out and happy, the gym session obviously worked!

Let me know what you think!

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