My Itch to Exercise

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It’s like being locked between four walls. Each with subdivisions, and a double locked for between you and the world. The windows open by a crack, through which you reach your arm, cigarette in hand, and squeeze your face out as much as possible to get each cheeky puff. They say you’re not crazy, but detain you in a psychiatric ward against your will. If I’m not crazy, why am I here?

In the distance people are screaming, or laughing and the alarms go off regularly, indicating a crisis somewhere within the building. As long as the attention isn’t on me I can finish this cigarette, make another cup of lukewarm tea in my plastic cup, and have another to pass away the time. To begin with, bouncing between the walls isn’t an issue. On admission, there was always something to pass the time, and in fact, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Hypomania made life a brilliant world, tinting my view with rose spectacles. Even in a ward, I was having the time of my life.

As I get better though, the boredom, frustration and irritation of being locked on a ward against my will begins to come alive. I’m stressed yes, but I just want a very basic thing – to go outside. To go in the sun, and go for a run. I want to choose what I have to eat, and I want to be able to go to the shops without having to ask permission and agreeing a time to be back by, like when you go out to play as a child. But I can’t, because I’m detained for a reason I don’t quite understand. So I pace. I pace up and down the corridors, and around and around in circles in the living area. I piss people off, but I can’t help it. I need to move. I need to burn this nervous energy. I need to be productive for my sense of purpose.

“You seem agitated, would you like some lorazepam?”
‘I’m not agitated. I’m walking.”
“It looks like pacing to me. Just come and ask if you want some lorazepam”

Walking has been pathologized to pacing. If I were on the outside, and I walked for a few miles it would be deemed a healthy behaviour, as getting some exercise, but here, here it is ‘pacing’. I move to dancing in the TV room, and doing exercises in the dining room when no-one is around. I have so much energy to be burnt, and so much frustration to be let out. Originally they said I was hypomanic – but now, now I’m just irritated.

After coerced medication increases, and PRN negotiations I calm down over the period of a week or so. And now I am pacing, not because I have so much energy, but because I am itching to get out from these walls. I am itching to not have to listen to the injection being forced on another helpless person. I am itching to go out and about, and slot into society as if I’m a normal person, to utilise my coping strategies that I have at home – running, swimming, raising my heartbeat to my 80% and pushing, pushing myself to go further, better, faster. Itching to feel the burn and to feel the pure satisfaction as soon as I make it to the top of the hill. I just want to exercise.

For me, exercise has proven to be one of the most useful tools I have acquired during my recovery. Whether I’m over excited with extra energy, or feeling knots and tangles of stress within my abdomen, exercising has given to me what no medication or therapy could. A constant outlet wherein I rely on no-one and nothing else but my own mind and body. An outlet wherein which I can push myself through pain to make goals, and become a stronger person for it. An outlet wherein I have structure and purpose within my own inner world. A focus wherein which I can take my mind away, and process my emotions and experiences whilst I’m cooling down with an endorphin rush to release the pain and stress of it all.

Which is why, regardless of my down days I will continue to lace up and hit the road. It’s something, that on the outside of those four walls enclosing the psychiatric unit is a healthy, balanced and positive way to manage stresses.

Immediate Benefits from Exercise:
1. Better mood upon arriving home
2. Immediate sense of achievement
3. I can process my thoughts and feelings on the cool down walk afterwards
4. I get to see some lush sights on my runs – think sunsets and beautiful skies
5. It gives me a greater appreciation of where I live, and how my life really is.

Longer Benefits from Exercise:
1. I can manage daily stress much for effectively.
2. I am a happier person overall.
3. I eat healthier because I’m aware of my body’s health and needs.
4. I have a better body image and self esteem.
5. I have a healthy focus in my life outside of work.

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