Exercise and Mental Health…

The last year has been overwhelming for many people. There is a growing mental health epidemic. Young and old are experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness and despair at high levels. I have been negatively affected over the last year. Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts plagued a large part of my life. It was hard to keep going. Getting out of bed took a monumental effort. I have missed lots of work due to these mental health problems. But, I have managed to walk back from the edge a couple of times. For the last couple of weeks, I have started to feel a sense of calm and balance. The loneliness has made way to self-love. The anxiety has evaporated into acceptance of uncertainty. Depression has eased into positivity. Suicidal thoughts have no place in my head anymore. This may change in the future. I am happy to accept the moment. I have got to a level of inner strength that will see me through. I don’t think for a second I have “cured” my mental health issues. I don’t think I ever will. But I am content despite them. The question is how? How did I turn it around?

Last year was tough. Some really dark periods resulted in me having a nervous breakdown. It was scary. I was lonely. My mind was chaotic. I was sure I would drown. I thought I was too weak to fight it. I went to the doctors and got some medication. I’d fought against using medication when I’d experienced depression previously. But this time I was at a loose end. The meds helped. They trimmed the peaks off the mania and slowed the crashing lows. The chaotic thinking eased. The world became more welcoming. That was in September 2020. By December I had started to ween myself of the meds. Reducing the 20mg Fluoxetine a day dose to every two days. And then three days. Until finally, I stopped taking it altogether. I had no adverse side effects. I thought I was in the clear. I thought the breakdown was over; life had other plans. Two events, one work-related and the other an ongoing wait to finalise the purchase of a house, slowly began to ramp up the stress. I thought I would lose everything. And once again, I began to slip into uncontrollable thinking. I fought for a couple of months. I tried everything; meditation, talking to others, walking. But nothing seemed to help. Soon my toolbox was empty. My waking thoughts were plagued with worry. My sleeping pattern reversed. My nutrition was non existent. The lack of food meant a lack of energy. Bed became my safe haven. I would wake and think what’s the point in trying? So back to the doctors I went.

I asked the doctor to put me back on 20mg of Fluoxetine. He was hesitant to. I explained that I just needed them to control the chaotic thinking. Hopefully, the clarity of thought would allow me to get back on my feet. He agreed but explained that once life had calmed down I should look to come off them. I agreed. This was in April 2021. So back on the meds, I went. One 20mg fluoxetine a day. Nothing really happened for a while. Initially, my sleep pattern became even more irregular. My short term memory got worse but not life-changing. Slowly, I began to come back to life. I tried to get going a couple of weeks after started the meds again. My energy levels were still low. I just kept trying to stay positive. It is extremely difficult to when there is a bombardment of negativity swirling through my mind. Any glimmer of hope was soon consumed by the torrent of anxiety. Eventually, it calmed down. I would wake in the morning expecting the carnival of chaos to start but it didn’t. I would wait but it never happened. For months I had been waking to instant negativity but after 60 days of fluoxetine, it subsided. I began the day with some positive affirmations. Saying “what will be will be.” “I can only do what I can do.” And “the only things I can change are my outlook and my diet.” The days got brighter. I would have porridge and banana for breakfast. Then I would take my meds. Along with the fluoxetine, I would take cod liver oil with added vitamin D. I read that omega 3 and vitamin D help improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. It had to be worth a shot.

My sleeping pattern was still a bit erratic. I started to get more energy as my appetite improved. Then, one day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a run. I started small. A lap of the park. After a couple of days, I tried a mile. When I could do a mile comfortably. I started walking another mile. And then running as far into the second mile as I could. I had no plan to compete or anything. It just seemed like the right thing to do. The medication gave me the foundation to build upon. It gave me the clarity to make the right decisions. The negativity was replaced with self-support. If I couldn’t jog as far as I wanted one day, I didn’t chastise myself. I just put it down to a bad day. I started sleeping better. Instead of waking up at 11am and then slagging myself for wasting my day, I started waking at 7am. I’d have a coffee, banana and a pint of water. I’d wait for an hour. Do some stretches and then go for a run. Rain or shine. The 1 mile became 2 and then 3. I’d come back have my meds and have some tinned mackerel and poached egg on toast. It sounds so trivial but it was huge. The routine made a difference. I started looking forward to running. I started feeling happy. Then I pulled my hamstring.

I accepted that it was part of life. I rested for a week, iced it and compressed it. I was grateful it wasn’t torn. Again I started slow. Less than a mile and then built up to make sure it was okay. I just kept doing that every morning. I have been off work so I have had time to do this. When my situation changes, I will have to fit exercise around my work schedule. This routine has enabled me to find some balance. Exercise in the morning makes me feel like I have already won. It can’t go downhill from there because I’ve already achieved something. My diet became more healthy. More lean meat and fish. More veg. Lots more water. I lost weight and felt sharp. It is incredible how things can change. Also, how the simple things have an impact on my wellbeing.

Left – Total distance and total time Centre – Average mile Right- Date

To be clear I ran a lot last year during the lockdown. But as depression slowly robbed me of my energy the frequency of my runs declined. Until eventually they stopped altogether last October. So when I restarted this year I hadn’t run for nearly six months. I weighed 13st 6lbs. And I am 39 years old with love handles. But I endeavoured to persevere. I just thought that something is better than nothing. Any movement is better than wallowing in self-pity.

Running enabled me to push through the mental blocks that had kept me trapped in my own head. Every distance I went further than I thought I was a minor victory. I got up to 6 miles and vowed to run 10km a day for 10 days. Why? I have no idea really. I am conscious of manic episodes but this isn’t one. Maybe it’s to see how far I’d come. To show that my mental and physical toughness has rebounded from the doldrums of depression. I’m glad to say it has. Today is Thursday 24th June and so far I have run at least 6 miles for 10 days. I will get to 10 days of 10 kms but that won’t be until Saturday. I feel great. I will have to rest one day to protect my legs. If you see below I didn’t run on the 20th of June but I went for an 8-mile walk with a friend instead.

Left – Total distance and total time Centre – Average mile Right- Date

I wouldn’t advise trying to run that many days if you don’t run at all. But I would advise starting slowly if you can. If you can’t run then start another form of exercise that’s applicable. It has really helped me get back to a place of balance. Accompanied with a balanced diet, good sleep and plenty of water it really is the recipe for a balanced life. I don’t feel like I’m running from something. I feel like I’m running for something. That something is mental and physical health. Going to the edge and being out of options in life has taught me the importance of wellness.

If you are in the doldrums then there is a way back. Today I ran over a road bridge that had a rail line underneath. Last year I stood and wondered if it would be fair on the train driver if I jumped off. I was in the pit of despair. Seven months later, I felt stronger than ever as I passed over. I’ve tried everything in my life to find balance. It is the simple things that work for me. The things that people told me to do years ago but I couldn’t believe them because they were cheap and simple. How could something so simple be effective? Well, it is!

Now, I eat well, keep persevering and exploring new places whilst out running. I reward my hard work with treats. Because I’m worth it and so are you.

Charlie.

9 thoughts on “Exercise and Mental Health…

  1. This is such an important topic! Exercise, especially outdoors or with others, is so great for mental health and I am glad it has helped you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes it is surprising how the simple things make a huge difference. Even a walk in nature can make a huge difference. Just stepping away from the artificial and into reality reminds me that amongst the chaos there is beauty. In the simple things lies peace. Have a great day 🙂

      Like

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