Exercise, Bipolar, and the Battle for Self

Yes, I know. I hate hearing, reading and talking about exercise and my mental health. I get tired of my doctors suggesting more exercise to help battle the side effects of my medications. I despise listening to the doctors that have prescribed the meds tell me that I could balance out the weight gain from them if I only exercised more. The articles online telling me that I could improve my mood and overall health if I just went for a walk or run. I’m not a complete moron. I understand the benefits of exercise. However, when getting out of my pjs takes all the energy I can muster, exercise is the LAST thing on my mind. And then I catch a glimpse of the person I now am in the mirror. And I feel even worse than I did before. Even more embarrassed and ashamed of what I see compared to what I remember seeing before bipolar changed my life.

I didn’t suffer from bipolar, at least not in a way that affected me, when I was younger. Mine came on later in life. I was diagnosed in my 30’s. There were many life experiences that crashed together all at once within a few years’ time that changed things for me.

When I was younger, I played multiple sports, had friends, went out, was an average student, and was relatively happy. Playing volleyball, basketball and softball was really all I cared about. Playing sports was a way to break up the year, pass the time, and get me out of the house. My parents used this to keep my grades up, and homework done. I was an A-B student without effort, hardly taking a book home. In college I continued to play softball, and on campus basketball and volleyball leagues. I was in shape. Hated the running and sprints, and some of my coaches, but I was in shape. I got a job after college as a teacher. I coached volleyball and basketball and, in the summer, ran volleyball camps for high school students. Because of how I felt about some of my former coaches, I did the conditioning with my kids. They had to run; I ran. They did drills, I did them too. If I could do the conditioning and drills, they should be able to. Which is why at 30 years old I found myself in the middle of a basketball scrimmage with a torn ACL. Nothing gets the attention of a group of 8th grade girls faster than their coach crying and screaming the F word in pain. Thank god for no social media. LOL.

In the two years after my ACL injury I finished my Masters, had a long-term relationship end, had a student I was close to get killed in an accident, experienced some major discrimination and bullying from my boss, and my mother was diagnosed for the first time with cancer. To say that life changed dramatically from what I had worked so hard to create was an understatement.

After a complete breakdown which included hospitalizations, ECT, having to leave teaching and coaching, multiple medication trials, and eventually moving back home for a year. I have spent the past 7 years in a relatively manageable state. Here’s the problem with feeling “normal” or somewhat normal. I sometimes have the mental stability to remember who I was before the storm. I loved teaching and coaching. I was good at it. It was who I was. Then all of a sudden just surviving the day became who I was. Just getting dressed. Remembering to eat. Trying not to give in to the dark that was constantly pushing on me. I struggled to just take another step some days.

And now? I am stable. I work hard to be that way. I keep my mental health appointments and my doctors’ appointments. I take my medications and communicate any issues I feel I am having. I monitor mood more then I want to. I am more aware and awake than I have been in years. Which also means I can remember my life before bipolar There are days I wish the meds would just numb everything. I don’t want to remember before. But here I am.

I still have many bad days, and weeks. But I keep going. I have to realize it’s time for me to exercise again. I have to try and reframe it away from my years of being an athlete and coach. Those memories right now are painful. I hope there will be a time that I’ll look back on teaching and coaching with fond memories and not with pain of loss. I’m not there yet. I’m still trying to figure out who I am now. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a coach. So now who am I? Right now, a survivor. I’m just trying to get through another day and make it easier and better than the one before.

So, what’s my plan? I have put a positive reminder on my phone that wakes me up every day. It says “You got this! Get up! Walk!” And after I have my coffee I get dressed, I get up, and I walk. I’ve started pitifully slow compared to what I used to be able to do. But I’m not the me I used to be. I have a treadmill at home, and I started walking. Slow at first for just 5 min, then 10, then 20. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Just one foot in front of the other. It’s a goal. It’s better than just sitting down and wishing things were like before. Do I like the person I am now? Not always. Do I wish I was thinner? Who doesn’t? Do I cuss the entire time I’m on the treadmill? OMG yes! I hate it so, so much. Am I ever going to run a marathon? I hope not LOL. But, and it pains me to say this since I know my therapist is probably reading this, I feel a small sense of accomplishment. Sometimes the smallest steps can lead to big things. Make a plan, take a step, be proud of your effort. It’s ok. Perhaps somewhere along the way I will find peace with the old me. And if not. Well, at least I can say I tried.

1 Comment

  1. This is one of the most fantastic posts I have read from the Bipolar Baker. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable, for sharing your story, for showing up today, for being brave-hearted, and courageous.
    The path you walk is a path for survivors and warriors. My wish for you is to hold your head up high and own your story. Rise above the stigma like you would a stinking rival basketball team. Your value and worth cannot be measured – believe it.

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