Exercise and Mental Stability

How my rediscovered love for exercise saved me.

As I aimlessly scroll down Instagram’s ‘popular page’ I can’t help but notice the influx of female accounts celebrating their newly discovered love for the gym, alongside their toned physique. All achieved by nothing more than hard work, determination and a simple love for exercise. The movement from the unhealthy desire to be a size zero is currently in the past… and long may it last.

Witnessing these accounts continuously has inevitably sparked a ghost from the past. It is a ghost that has had me at my most vulnerable. This prevailing love for exercise may be a trend to some, but I can’t help but wonder how many other people does exercise hold a deeper significance.

Exercise has become imbedded into my lifestyle. It is part of who I am today and where I am today. It could be understood as perhaps a coping mechanism ... here let me explain, I will try to keep it short and sweet...

Little Back Story

‘Strength grows when you think you can’t go on but you keep going on anyway’.

2014 shattered me, the first half of the year shattered me physically and the second half of the year shattered me mentally.

On a dreary February night around midnight I was involved in a road traffic accident, it was deemed as ‘serious’ at the time. My body was flipped up into the air like a rag doll and fell lifelessly onto the bonnet of a shattered seven seater windscreen.

I was rushed to hospital and urgently seen to in fear that I could potentially be bleeding on the brain and left brain damaged. My neck was in a brace (incase of a broken spine) and I had countless X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans.

I’m pretty sure that the sight of a shaved patch with stitches sticking out of a once blonde head of hair now dyed dark crimson red with blood would mortify some, however this was the least of my worries, (other than the broken knee). I really did resemble a real life version of a zombie.

The Physical Recovery

The recovery was the easier part. Once you get to grips with using crutches it isn’t too bad. Who knew that I would be able to play limbo in the club at university? Not have to queue barely anywhere and have people constantly hold doors open for me. That’s the difference between a physical illness and a mental one, visual sufferance does not allow you to suffer alone and therefore the compassion and empathy follows.

Whether people were assisting me or not, I have always been a competitive individual and this really drove me. I refuse to be beaten by any physical challenge and aiming to walk again in my eyes was simply another physical challenge, a challenge I could cope with. I will never forget the day I was able to walk out of the hospital with crutches. I could physically feel the pressure in my left foot push onto the ground. The air felt fresher, the sky looked brighter and I felt ecstatic. I felt almost resilient.

The Mental Downfall, PTSD/Anxiety

The error I made was the assumption that once I was able bodied again everything else would disappear, almost like waking up from a bad dream. You’re still safe, you’re still secure, and although there was little bit of panic before you’re good to go again.

For example, I had no recollection of the incident itself until I actually got to hospital. Therefore, from an ignorant eighteen year old perspective PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) hadn’t even crossed my mind. How could I suffer from something I had no recollection of?

My symptoms included:

  • Severe anxiety, afraid of the unknown, making assumptions
  • Avoidance- avoiding situations incase of something bad happening and panic attacks
  • Negative thoughts and beliefs
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb

I would look at myself in the mirror while getting ready for a night out at university and see an empty shell staring back. How did something that I lived for and enjoyed so very much get to this? The excitement and carefree attitude had been drained from me. I would look at myself and feel anger, disappointment, detachment and shame. The music would be turned up and alcohol would be consumed as an attempt to dismiss this feeling. I wanted to feel my old self.

This feeling would attack me in waves and when surrounded by a roomful of people I would suffocate. My hands grew numb and tingly, my heart thudded out of my chest. I would feel increasingly vacant, distant, light headed, a difficulty in breathing.

Like a zebra being hunted by a lion in the wild, it was fight or flight.

I would desperately panic and race to the nearest exit searching for a space away from people where I could deeply inhale and exhale fresh air. Sitting on the floor made me feel more comfortable as I focused on clenching and unclenching my tingling hands.

I was sitting in my own shadow, I was the shadow of me. Lost.

Why intoxication made it worse

  • It heightened my problem
  • Created a false perception of happiness
  • Left me on a low, I felt x3 more anxious the following morning

Instead, I decided to join a new gym. The day of the accident was the day I excused the gym.

I’ll never take for granted my able body, I thought.

I initially joined this gym to go for my mental state of mind. During my first year at university the gym was a place to go when we was bored. This time round I had a real focus.

Mental advantages

  • Boosted confidence
  • Allowed me to escape
  • Release dopamine a genuine feel good factor, a real place to escape
  • Snap out of a negative trail of thought
  • Offered routine, followed by a lesser focus on intoxicants as I wanted to be able to get to the gym the next day.

Physical advantages

The gym gave me structure. My left leg was withered and weak still, I wanted to build it back even stronger and my stubborn nature drove me to become more physically able than any doctor said I could be.

  • My physique changed, I became more toned and my left leg is still my strongest leg!
  • Expel adrenaline and physical stress

Today I smile to myself as I use the squat rack, it feels as if my body has never been knocked down at all. Exercise has fuelled me with the strength I needed to help me get back to my old self and deal with the lingering anxiety.

Have you ever met a strong person with an easy past?

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