Rhiannon writes about the delicate balance between triggers and exercise, and knowing how to keep tabs on both.
- Rhiannon Long
Very often with a mental health disorder, we become aware of our ‘triggers’: things we know might make us feel vulnerable, lonely, or a little like we’re losing the control we had over our illness. When we learn what they are, it can become easier to avoid situations in which they might occur.
What happens, though, when triggers aren’t quite as clear cut? This is a difficulty I encountered when it came to physical exercise.
I love running. I love the release it gives me after a stressful day. I love the fresh air and I love the childlike joy of overtaking dog-walkers, cyclists, and even fellow runners. When I became ill, however, this once joyful hobby became dangerous. If anyone’s tried to run on an empty stomach, they’ll know how tough it is; imagining having run on a stomach that’s been empty for days. Instead of being something I looked forward to after a hard day at uni, it became another ritual, another strict rule to add to the list which I didn’t feel I could miss. And perhaps worst of all, it became another weight-loss technique.
In all honesty, its success as a weight-loss technique was doubtful – but in my mind, I couldn’t afford to skip it. When it comes to disordered eating, these rules are often nonsensical and based on pure fiction. But to sufferers, that doesn’t make them any less worth adhering to.
Whilst I’m fully and happily cemented in my recovery now, this is still an area where I have to proceed with caution. Although I can no longer run due to a back injury, I’m now a member of a gym. I regularly attend classes, work out with my flatmate, and, while it’s not the same, get my running release on the treadmill.
Personal fitness is something lauded as generally positive; everyone is advised to take some form of regular exercise, and the benefits on your body, mind and sometimes even social life are well-known. But having what could potentially be a trigger to set me back down that dark path also come highly recommended by professionals can be tricky and downright confusing.
Instead of treating it like a regular trigger and avoiding it altogether, I’ve found simple awareness to be the most successful technique. I’m not going to deprive myself of exercise, but I’m constantly keeping tabs on how often I do it, whether it encroaches on my life, whether it becomes a fixation, and, most importantly, on how it makes me feel. The minute I see signs of it being detrimental, rather than beneficial to my mind and body, I’ll know to cut back.
For now though, I’ll keep running, getting stronger, and going further.