Be still, my butterfly mind

You know those times when your brain just won’t switch off? 

Thinking, always thinking.  The never ending to do list nagging at the back of your mind. Must dos, ought to dos, got to get dones.  Work life imbalance.  Thoughts like a butterfly, landing for a moment or two and then flitting to the next thing. 

This is when I know it is time to go to the gym for a while. 

Counting the reps.

Focusing on technique.

Getting the breathing just so.

Planning the next set.

Music in my ears.

There’s no time for the to-list here.  No space to think about work emails or domestic chores.  Time to re-set, breathe, find my calm.   Just me and the weights. 

And my brain, still again. 

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Exercise, mental health, and me

It’s a Friday afternoon in June 2016. The end of a long week of business travel, including flight delays and lost luggage. 5pm could not come soon enough.  I went home expecting an ordinary kind of evening but instead my marriage ended.

A few weeks later I moved out of my home, taking almost nothing from the dozen or so previous years.

Then a few weeks after that, my dad got diagnosed with cancer.

Then a few weeks after that, my mom got diagnosed with cancer.

Then my wonderful boss left meaning my job changed over night.

And then my brain stopped working.

Rewind.

It’s April 2016 and I am doing my first ever triathlon. Not a bad achievement for a former fat girl.  The following, my first half marathon – the longest I had ever run.  Then in June, before the night that changed everything, my first Tough Mudder.  Two and a half hours of gruelling running and obstacles.  I loved it.

I was at the peak of my mental and physical health. I felt amazing and I was confident in how I looked, possibly for the first time in my life.  Exercise was everything.  My diet was focused, I was totally committed.

Back to August 2016. One night I went to bed, packing my gym bag for the morning as usual, laying out my kit.  My alarm went off at 5.30.  Something wasn’t quite right.  I didn’t get up.  All day.  I told work I had a stomach upset.  Because what else do you say? I told my girlfriends something wasn’t right.  A few hours later, on my doorstep, Julie. With food and wine.  She slept on the sofa and watched me.

I didn’t know then but this was the start of a dark period in my life. Depression and anxiety.  One of the worst things for me during this time was that my desire to exercise disappeared over night.  That thing that was part of who I was, wasn’t.  I went from exercising twice a day to barely moving off the sofa. I lost a lot of things during those few months, and exercise and fitness was one of them.

When you are depressed, people tell you that exercise is a good thing. And it is.  But wanting to do it, finding the energy and the motivation to do it….  That’s something else entirely.  What I wanted to do every day was sit.  Or lie down.  Not run or swim or cycle or lift some heavy stuff.  But for the love of a good man, I might never have moved off the sofa again.

Fast forward.

It’s the Spring of 2018. The Black Dog is mostly vanquished.  The anxiety looks to be a permanent addition to who I am.  The good news is that the exercise is back.  Not at the level it was before, simply because time is more of an issue now.  But if I could I would.  The simple joy of moving, lifting, stretching, cutting through water.  The feeling you get when you put on your kit, get the bike out of the garage, accelerate from a walk into a run.

I read an article this week that said research shows that resistance training weight lifting can be good for your mental health. That is certainly the case in my own experience.  I can’t lift heavy but it makes me feel great all the same. And when the days are difficult, it takes the edge off.

I miss the fitter, thinner, stronger me. I lost her for a while.  But she is in there somewhere.   I did it once and I can do it again, older and wiser this time.  And this time, the exercise isn’t just about getting physically fit but its mental health benefits too.

See you in the gym.