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!

Workouts and Willpower

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Work it!! 

For the last 6 weeks I’ve been trying really hard to get fitter and healthier. As soon as I was told that I was allowed to attempt a little more exercise I wanted to work on it. I went to physio religiously and only missed one week because I had the sickness bug and wasn’t allowed to. I’ve never really had the kick up the butt I needed before, but after the accident I had a huge appreciation for, you know, a working body.

Now I’m at home it would be easy for me to say ‘oh well! I’ll just start again in January!’ and then eat everything, ignore my routine and then cry in January. I refuse to forget my progress. So, a few weeks ago I called the biggest gym enthusiast I knew and asked if he could be my gym buddy once I was home. This morning I was picked up by my Gramps and we headed to the gym for my induction and his work out.

It is very weird that my Gramps is so much healthier than me and while I was being shown around, he was on all the machines! Eventually I got started and we were doing some of our exercises side by side. It’s nice because we’ve always been super close, to the point where I wouldn’t sleep as a toddler until he’d come home from work, so having this to do just the two of us was nice. Hopefully I’ll get at least 2 more sessions in before I go back to London.

I left feeling energised and really proud of myself. No one forced me to go and work out today I wanted too and felt so good after. My new gym buddy was pretty pleased too. If 16 year old me had been told I’d love the gym she would have fainted (I’ve never been sporty at all, riding was the only thing and, well, you know how that went).

Now, the other thing I need to work on over the holidays is not over indulging on sweets, chocolates, my Mum’s amazing cooking and my sisters delicious baking. Over the past few days I’ve been very good. I’m using my app and still eating my recommended amount of calories but it is hard. I don’t want to just not eat but at the same time I don’t want to seem rude. It’s a tough balance and on days like today sometimes I don’t want to eat because I know I’ve done so well, then I quickly remind myself that I’m not getting into that cycle again. I’m doing this the healthy way or not at all, hence why I won’t have any scales in my flat.

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Mine and Summer’s Gingerbread House…looks so yummy!

My willpower is being pushed to the limit but so far, so good. I feel healthy, happy and actually really accomplished that I’m sticking to something I’ve found so difficult in the past. Unlike a lot of the ‘new year, new me’ types that will head into the gym January I’m not doing this to lose that big of extra weight or because I ‘should’, I’m doing it because I’m really proud of my body. After all the healing and growing new bone after so much damage (some of which may be permanent) I’m going to treat it as well as I damn well can.

 

The Gym: Let’s do this.

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This morning I crawled out of bed after being awake for most of the night. I was tired, nervous and excited. After 7 months of not being allowed to push myself, of having to watch for signs that my legs were giving up and tense doctors appointments I got to go into a supervised gym class with a physio instructor. I wrote about my body  and its changes this week as well, which had such an incredible response from all over the world. I knew I had to write about this too but I was so nervous. I really didn’t want to have to stop after a few exercises or for my leg to go completely numb so that I fall over.

I turned up in my matching gym clothes and was the youngest one there, mostly OAPs, one man who I’d say was in his 30s with a leg injury and a woman in her 30s who came in later. To say I was self conscious was an understatement and when we started warm up I started to panic, it was painful and I couldn’t keep up very easily.  As we moved on to the machines I needed a little bit of help going through my routine.

For now it consists of 2-3 minutes on each machine/ activity and I mix them up with how I feel:

Cross Trainer

Exercise Bike level 3

Balancing on a ball board (I don’t know the proper name for this)

Marching while doing weights on a trampoline

Holding my balance on an exercise ball while lifting weights

Sitting on an exercise ball and catching a ball that is either thrown to me or I catch after throwing it at the wall

Rising on my toes (aided) holding and going back down

While this week I had to do them in burst and I could only do each one once in the session each week I will build this up and by the end of my 6 weeks I should be able to do all of them a few times in the session! I left completely covered in sweat, tired but really happy. I finally felt like I’d achieved something and although I was pretty sore I was ok, I could still walk which was a bonus. I had about an hour to get back, have a shower and be on the bus to uni, believe me a shower has never felt so good in all my life.

My next stop was the university doctor, again. I have reviews pretty regularly for my medication and generally how I’m doing. This time it was another increase in medication, this time to help me sleep. The pain in the day I’m pretty much stuck with and just have to take both the good and the bad days, do my physio and wait it out. Not sleeping because of the pain is an entirely different thing, if I don’t sleep it affects my mood, I quickly get very depressed and lose all motivation to do anything so making such I’m not kept awake all night is a priority. My dose of both my Dihydrocodine and Gabapentin have gone up at night and I have another check in two weeks.

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I also made it through my lecture without falling asleep too although I wasn’t really myself. All aside this spine focused day has given me some hope and don’t tell anyone but I actually quite liked going to the gym to start my day. When I have a bigger place/ am better I would definitely like to get a Cross trainer for me at home. So that’s the start of my gym time done and I’m kind of looking forward to next week although I may change my mind on that tomorrow…