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!

Remembering the good.

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If you haven’t guessed already I love pictures like the one above. I love words and slogans and nice backgrounds. I guess it’s because sometimes I don’t have the image that says what I want to say or sometimes I don’t have the words to say how I feel. It’s because of that I use Pinterest a lot because sometimes the words I need are already there. I don’t use the quote I picked today because I think I’m this brave, strong person. I’ve always said I’ve simply got on with my life the best I can.

I’ve thought a lot about the accident in the past few days, about my spine. This isn’t because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, more because I’ve been in pain again and there’s nothing more frustrating. When my doctors say the scans look normal and my physio says there’s not much he can do and yet I’m still in pain a lot of the time. When I’m in the awkward part where I still can’t walk too far or stand up for long periods of time and have to explain that I’m recovering from a spine injury. When I have to call venues and explain why I need a seat and they have to decide if I’m ‘disabled enough’, because I’m not officially registered as disabled but at the same time I’m still struggling so much. Don’t get me wrong I do not want another label at all, but sometimes it’s what other people want so I can get the help I need at concert venues for example.

So while I was feeling pretty down about this yesterday, I had a conversation with Ali about how I was feeling and why. He reminded me that while the accident was shitty, awful and did change a lot of my life, a lot of positives came out of it too. I was reminded of these again when I went to see Joe tonight.

  • I’ve got a new appreciation for my body when it’s healthy
  • I’ve gotten better at taking me time and not doing things I don’t want to do
  • I’ve learnt a lot about friendship
  • I’ve got a much better relationship with food, portion sizes and exercise
  • I met Alice, who has come to be a great friend and support to me, I would never have set foot in a gym if it wasn’t for the accident
  • My relationships gotten stronger
  • I have a new sense of understanding when it comes to physical disabilities
  • I got a job I love that I might not have applied for if I hadn’t been spending so much time online when I couldn’t move
  • I got a lot of reading done
  • As a result of the reading I finally embraced feminism and found a new passion

There’s a lot there and I think, as with anything that changes your life when you don’t expect it, there’s a lot to deal with. Sometimes I forget all the positives because I’m just having a down day, that’s all. I worried about writing tonight’s blog because I have had people in the past saying I think too much about my spine, that it takes over my life. Then I shook the thought off because of COURSE breaking your spine is going to have a huge impact on your life, it changes everything for at least the first year – two years after it happens. I no longer care about the ignorant or negative people who don’t try and understand or make throwaway comments because my spine and how I handle it is a part of my life. The good, the bad and the ugly.

If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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After a fatal car crash that leaves 17 year old Mia barely alive, she has to make a choice to live or die, after being certain she has lost both of her parents. As she watches her family and friends come to terms with the disaster as she separates from her body she needs to decide. Will she let go and follow her parents into the unknown or fight to come back

As with many other people I became aware of this novel because of its film release, at the time it hadn’t been released and I haven’t seen the movie as I write this. I’d heard good things about the novel and so I decided I’d pick it up and give it a go. It’s certainly a difficult novel and at times can be slightly graphic. We’re guided through the novel by Mia herself as she struggles to watch the rest of the day unfold. All she can do is watch and listen. Her family, friends and boyfriend are all willing her to come back and it’s up to Mia to decide if that’s enough for her.

Although I like the idea, the novel didn’t particularly stand out to me. The novel is fairly short and sways between the present and past and gives us a good insight into Mia’s life before the accident. I found it hard to connect to the story, of course it made me sad, but I didn’t feel a deep rooted connection to Mia or the characters around her. That said, I did feel an incredible connection in relation to how she felt about her music and the prospect of being a musician and this added to the sense of tragedy. If anything I would have loved more insight into her love of music and her hopes and dreams, although maybe this was intentional.

Forman questions something that few of us will even consider thinking about, would you chose to live after losing so many people you love, if you had the choice? Many of us would instantly say we’d choose life, but would we? This is not the first novel of its kind, however, it is the first for young adult readers, it makes them think. I makes the reader consider a life without their loved ones and the choices and sacrifices that are made every day. I wouldn’t say that the novel is morbid in that respect but it deals with death in quite a straightforward way, for Mia it appears to be more of an escape. It also raises the question of  life after trauma. We have no idea how Mia will be affected by her injuries if she decides to live. Will she play Cello again? Will her dream of going to Juilliard be snatched away from her as her parents were? Is her younger brother Teddy, whom she adores, still alive? As I said it is a novel full of questions and what if situations.

If anything I’d say that the book could have been longer. Although well written, there was so much crammed into the book that at times I felt rushed through. I wanted to know the smaller details, memories and possibly more about more minor characters in the novel to give them a bit more life within the novel. Also what about afterwards? If she decides to die, does she meet her family? If she lives do her dreams come true? I guess to an extent this leaves us to make up our own minds but I wish this was included in the novel.

I give this novel 3 stars ***. I liked the idea and found Mia to be a nice character but failed to interact with her as a person. I also found that I was hungry for more at the end of the novel and felt that it could have had a better ending or more to it maybe? If you’re looking for a shorter read that raises questions then If I Stay may well be for you but I simply found that there was too much left unanswered at the end.

 

Review by Chloe Metzger

Spine Issues

I thought I was done crying over my spine, I guess not. Today has not been a great day in terms of my spine, what started as just sadness and anger turned into almost being quickly taken into hospital to be hooked up to pain relief. I honestly thought that with the physio, gym sessions and other things I was on the mend, although I was still in pain I thought the excruciating part of it was gone but it’s very much alive in muscle spasms. While I’m on a lot of painkillers, I’m on nothing for my muscle spasms and currently my back and all around my hip is rock hard because of it.

I’ve had to pull out of a show again tonight which I hate, I hate letting anyone down and I hate not being able to perform, possibly the worst part of recovery. I’m miserable with not being able to easily play shows. I thought this part was over, I hoped this was a thing of the past. I was getting ready, about to go load up the car when simply walking around the flat I felt a sharp pain and that was it I was out. The pain was awful, Ali and I tried to wait it out, resting and then trying to walk again but I couldn’t. I was in agony, limping heavily and sobbing. I wasn’t going anywhere tonight. That started about 4 and a half hours ago, I’m still in pain but it feels more manageable now.

On Monday, I finally made the decision to leave the Horse Riding society after talking to my mental health mentor. I really wasn’t coping mentally or physically very well and the society was what was stressing me out most, I had to let the members know today and I am not ashamed to say I cried after posting:

Hello Everyone,

I’m writing this with deep sadness. As most of you will know I was in an accident earlier in the year, breaking my spine. I’ve still got nearly 2 years of recovery time and will probably never ride again. While I’ve loved being a part of the society and your president lately my mental health has deteriorated along with more struggles and nerve damage due to my injury. It is because of this my medical team have said that it would be best for me to step down as soon as possible. Thank you to everyone who rode with me, made me smile and was a friend. I will always love this society and hope that I can still be a friend. I have handed in my notice meaning we are looking for a new president asap and I leave you in the capable hands of Daniela and Amy, while Amanda will be back from leave when she can (please contact them in relation to any questions, queries, rides).

Thank you so much for everything.

Chloe

A lot of people commented saying they were sad to see me go, to say thank you and a lot of people to say that I was brave. I still don’t think I fully understand why I’m brave? Because I was honest about the reasons? Because I stepped down to look after myself? I certainly don’t feel brave. I worry I’m letting everyone down, that if anything happens to the society it will be my fault. I worry I’ll lose friends. Now it’s done though and I really need to focus on my studies and try to remember my time with happiness, not tears.

 

10407210_10153613102758206_918236493107446324_nHappier times at the society

I still have a long way to go with my spine and tonight’s reminded me of that. I’m so lucky to have so many amazing people around me caring for me and helping me carry on going forward when times are hard. I don’t know what the future holds in terms of recovery, I’ve been told around 2 years for successful recovery but I’m not holding on to that as a solid date, after all when it first happened I was told I had a 6 week recovery, laughable now. Almost 7 months down and who knows how many to go but I will keep going, I’ll just need a little help along the way.

What have I done this summer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the expectations of summer today and for the past few weeks. As we creep closer to September and the evenings start getting darker that little bit earlier summer is scampering away before our very eyes. While I was lying on the bed at my appointment yesterday, as my physio was telling me to slow down and not push the muscles too hard something in me snapped. NO! I wanted to scream in my head, No I’m done, I want a summer do over, I want to go and explore the world and write books and go all over London. Just give me a do over. But I was sat slowly trying to pull my knees towards my chest and having my reflexes checked every week to make sure that I wasn’t getting worse. I was waiting on doctors appointments and adjusting medication levels every few weeks. What the hell was I going to say once I got back to uni?

Almost on queue my anxiety  kicked in today, with a days of depressive thoughts too. What if everyone just ignored me when I couldn’t keep up or go on nights out properly? What if I just sat in the corner while everyone talked about how awesome their summer plans were and how they were glad they spent their last summer before graduating having fun and being young? All I could say was that I fractured my spine, got to go in an ambulance and slept a lot.

So I got sad, got angry, and tried to convince myself getting out of bed and getting dressed was going to be a good move. I threw on some clothes after a while and scraped back my hair, intending to take some pictures of Kingston in the sun. The short story is that it didn’t happen, the long version includes a lot of muscle spasms and swearing. So I moped even more and did housework. Now I bet you’re thinking why do I want to read her moaning about life being sucky, WAIT, this bits almost over, I promise.

I thought the words, what have I done this summer? After waves of negativity I had a lightbulb moment, I managed to get my spine to heal back together. I realised how awesome and amazing my body had been this summer. I might not have done anything that other people I know will have done like a trip to Australia or going to Reading Fest, but my body has managed to piece itself back together and escape never being able to use my legs again.

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I realised that it was pretty awesome that I’ve gone from needing help to get out of bed, to walk even the tiniest bit and helped out of the bath every time (now it’s not as often) to having the independence to go to work and my physio appointments without everyone being anxious about it. I’ve learnt to deal with doctors and have a love for nurses. I’ve learnt that I can handle levels of pain I wouldn’t imagine and that if my determination ever needed testing this would do it. I didn’t back down on going to Athens or performing at Basingstoke Live, as people keep telling me I’ve been pretty bad ass.

I still have a long way to go, more appointments, more physio and having to adjust my plans but your body healing itself is a pretty awesome thing and it even makes me forgive the stretch marks that have caused me so much upset lately. Even with all that and the chance I’ll never be able to ride again/ it will be too much of a risk, the experience has made me grow, as cheesy as it sounds. I’ve picked myself up from lows I never thought I’d have and I’ve seen the beauty in the people around me.

So that’s what I’ve done this summer, how about you?

Spine Update: 15 weeks in

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Now and a few weeks ago

So here we are, it’s been 15 weeks since my accident and 13 since I found out that the pain was actually a compression fracture and severe bruising on my spine. Ouch. After a stack of doctors appointments, tears, physio and recently having tiny needles stuck in me in what they call acupuncture. It’s been 15 long weeks and I’m still not really anywhere near the end.

I’m still taking pain meds, still in pain and not able to walk far and walking isn’t a good idea either. It sounds like a lot of negatives but I’m not completely bummed out, I’ve realised that there really are some amazingly supportive people around me and I really am happy. I don’t know if I’ll go back to riding, it really depends on what the surgeon says, I’m more focused on making sure I don’t do any more damage to my spine. Nothing is worth the pain and nearly losing the ability to walk.

I just wanted to write this post as a little update for all of you who asked after me and tried to cheer me up or sent me bits and pieces. I’ll keep posting updates when I hear something, I have pain clinic at the end of the month and hopefully I’ll be seeing the Neurosurgeon sooner rather than later (although they’ve been really messing up with it and I feel quite let down). I’m also still trying to do a little physio and any fitness I can, I really hope that changes soon.

Thank you again to everyone, I really couldn’t have done it without you all.

I miss fitness! My thoughts on ‘being brave’ and keeping going.

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Now I’ve said before that I’m not a health and fitness fanatic. If there was an option between a healthy snack and something covered in chocolate I’d bite your hand off for the chocolate. I made some healthier choices this year, I walked to uni most days (unless it was a Thursday morning, early starts after a late night are not a good idea), I swam occasionally and for the first time in my life I embraced a sport and did it every week. I’m also stubborn and have a rebellious streak. Normally if someone told me that I wasn’t allowed to ride I’d prove them wrong and get on, going twice as fast. I can’t do that right now.

To say that all this stress hasn’t been easy is an understatement. It’s not in the way that people see it. I keep getting told that I’m brave, that I’m so inspiring. To be honest I find it incredible that people are so sympathetic to me fracturing my spine but 6 years of mental health problems didn’t get any cards or bravery speeches, but that’s another blog post. I mean yeah I suppose to other people they really can’t imagine just getting on with life after breaking a vital part of your body, but do I feel brave? No. I just feel like I’m getting on with it. It’s something I spoke to my parents about the other day after people were told about me and just were amazed. It was nice and they were lovely people but I just said to my parents, wouldn’t everyone just get on with their lives? Apparently not, but I was raised to just battle on through.

So after yesterday’s post it’s clear that I’m still up and down, still getting there. Today a low decided to hit. I think it’s post festival blues, combined with stressing about the future and being tired from my back pain. It was relatively normal stuff and I wasn’t miserable or ‘meh’ all day, it was more when I was alone. I realised that the things I’d normally do when I feel bad, I couldn’t do and it just made me want to curl up under my duvet and cry. I didn’t. I finished the book I started reading last night and spoke to a few friends.

I never realised that exercise was something I’d miss, but then again I suppose you don’t until it’s something that you can’t do. I want to do some sit ups to get rid of a little excess weight, I want to sign up to gym, run around with the kids at work, swim without worrying I won’t be able to get out of the pool. Hell I’d like to be able to have a bath without worrying that I will get stuck!

The one thing I have though is writing, writing this or songs or fiction. I have to get out of the clouded stage before I can write anything but I can feel it lifting more and more as I type this. I am struggling a little bit with my exercise and little walks to clear my head. I suppose it’s one of the biggest challenges to my mental health it’s all the things I’d usually avoid. If I try and search for a positive in all this I suppose I can see that I’ve been there once and even though I’ve spent a good amount of time on my own, I’m currently missing my friends like a limb and I deal with physical pain every day I’m getting through it one day at a time.

I know this is a long blog but I can almost bet anything that someone out there will read this and understand. That someone will understand the both freeing and unnerving feeling that I have to go through this low without my normal strategies. I’m ok though, really. I have a good few days lined up and for once I can remember that these lows don’t last forever.

Thanks for reading guys, as usual I’d love to hear from you. Oh! And thank you to every single one of you following me on twitter, another 100 followers in the past few weeks! It really put a smile on my face!