If you’ve been a reader of my blog since the beginning, you’ll know that I’ve had a complicated relationship with exercise in the past. Abusing my body with exercise became something I couldn’t control, just like restrictive eating. It was compulsive and obsessive and something I didn’t enjoy at all, I just felt like I had to do it. I’d do it rain or shine, when it was snowing or storming, when I had a cold or a fever, was tired or just wasn’t feeling well.
I did crunches and leg lifts, ran on the treadmill or outside, walked everywhere I could and tried to be in movement constantly so as not to waste an opportunity to burn extra calories.
When I started to really take recovery seriously I decided to listen to my doctors advice and stop any and all exercise other than using my legs to get me where they absolutely had to. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and probably made my anxiety worse for a short amount of time, but I knew it was something I had to do to get better.
Previous times when I wasn’t fully committed to recovering I still exercised as much as I could, trying to hide it from my mom because I knew I was doing something detrimental to my health. I remember how I would walk to work in the ice and snow and then cry to my mom, telling her how terrified I was that I would just collapse on the sidewalk from heart failure. And yet I couldn’t give myself permission to quit.
I’m a very all or nothing person. Things are either black or they’re white- the gray areas scare me so I pretend they don’t exist. So when I quit exercise I figured I was quitting for good. And eventually I became scared that if I took even a short walk, I’d become obsessed and addicted again, that I wouldn’t be able to stop.
When I reached a stable weight, I was pretty frightened by what that meant. I told the doctor I didn’t want to know my weight because who knew if that would send me into a tailspin. My stomach felt sick and my chest tightened at the thought of what this news meant, because up until I met a safe weight I had mentally been alright with eating pizza and ice cream, even learned to enjoy them again. Did knowing about my higher weight mean I’d start restricting again, running again, abusing my body again?
Thankfully I can look back now and tell you that no, it didn’t mean much of anything. I didn’t start exercising or restricting, though I could have. I just kept pushing forward and doing the same things I had been up until that point. I knew that I could go on a bike ride or a long walk and wouldn’t be depleting my body of the extra stores it had, but I’d had such a fraught relationship with exercise in the past that I didn’t even want to dip my toe in, could barely even think about what giving myself permission to exercise again might look and feel like.
Through a series of small events that really have nothing to do with me, I decided to try running again. In some ways it was a tribute to a tragedy that happened to a young woman who lost her life while running, to show solidarity and pay homage to her. I still think about her every time I run, and she’s really the reason why I attempted to run again in the first place.
My first try was more of a walk than a run, I think I got maybe .15 of a mile in before I could barely breathe and just walked the rest of the way. Last week I successfully ran a mile without stopping and it was cool to see that I could do it, however I haven’t done it since. I know a mile is nothing, but I had to push myself to hit that mile and it felt good to be doing it for the fun of it rather than because I was trying to burn off calories.
I never thought I’d run again, and definitely not for fun. I just didn’t think I could do it mentally, and be able to do it in a healthy way, without overdoing it. I usually go out for a run a few times a week now, but only when I feel like it. I had a cold last week and today was the first day I felt well enough to get out for a run. It was so strange to feel sick and just rest, to not be thinking about how I was going to fit some exercise in, even though it’s been so long since I’ve forced myself to exercise.
Though years have passed since I last intentionally exercised, the first time I ran I still felt shame about going for a run. I felt like I had to sneak out and just get it over with, which was a mindset I had previously when I was sick. The body remembers, just like the mind remembers. Digging deeper into those emotions and feelings, I realize that exercise still feels like it should be a punishment, and something I shouldn’t be doing. It’s gonna take time to show myself that it’s something I can do healthily and for fun, but for now I’m going to stick with it, because I want to, not because my sick brain is telling me it’s something I have to do.