Exercise, the free antipsychotic

When I was three, I received a Fisher Price tee ball set for my birthday. The tee sat on a plastic home plate. You could detach the tee and set the ball directly on the base. There was this pump that was attached to the base, and when you stepped on it, the ball shot up in the air and you were supposed to hit it.

There is a picture of me playing with the toy, which I thought was the coolest thing ever.

That toy was my favorite and it foreshadowed the rest of my childhood. I started playing sports as soon as I was old enough.

I’m decently athletic, and I played everything in middle school and high school.

Girls’ athletics was first period, so we had the bulk of our practice time before school. Practice often started at 5:30 am and would end around 8:30 am. We also had games two nights a week.

My last two years of high school, I took as many dual credit classes as possible. I often wouldn’t go to bed until midnight, and I’d wake up at 5:00 or earlier. I averaged five hours of sleep a night during my junior and senior years.

I believe the ungodly amount of exercise kept me sane. I didn’t sleep much, but I never had trouble sleeping because I was so exhausted from all the physical exertion.

It’s a miracle I didn’t have an episode in high school considering how little I slept. I rode the line of mania pretty tightly. I was always wired. I was tireless, and I got a lot of playing time.

Once the softball season ended my senior year, I signed up for a boot camp at a nearby church and did that from 5:00 to 6:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. I also went in for the athletic period and played whatever sport the off-season teams were playing.

I bought a DVD workout program, which involved at least 45-minute workouts six days of the week. Eventually, I graduated, which is when I started running two or three miles every day (usually at the hottest part of the day).

I dropped weight I didn’t need to lose because I was exercising four hours every day and not eating as much as I should have given my activity levels.

I was likely trying to distract myself from trauma from my senior year and exercise was the best escape. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol. Not me, I became addicted to exercise.

I went to the dentist at some point that summer, and I was told I needed my wisdom teeth taken out sooner rather than later. Ever the procrastinator, I put it off until the last minute. By the time I scheduled an appointment, I had to get it done four days before I left for college.

Because of the surgery, I was unable to exercise for a week.

I spiraled into mania six days after my surgery.

There are many reasons why I had my episode when I did. I was anxious about school and being away from home; a close friend passed away; unaddressed trauma and shame. It was a perfect storm, and my ace was unavailable to me.

I unenrolled from college and moved back home with my parents. I had to take a semester off. I took it off in every way.

I wanted to exercise, but it was boring and took too long. I vividly remember putting in my DVD workouts and giving up before it started because of the disclaimer that takes an entire ninety seconds to play.

I also remember getting up at 4:00 am one morning ready to run. One of my parents slept in the same room as me for the first couple of weeks because I was a flight risk. My dad was in the room with me that morning, and I asked him if we could go on a run. He asked what time it was. When I told him, he said to let him sleep for forty-five more minutes.

Time was weird back then. Five minutes felt like five hours, and five hours felt like half a second. There was no logic to the direction time ran for me. So, telling me to wait for forty-five minutes was extremely cruel.

I woke my dad up again and said it was time. It’d only been ten minutes (I didn’t realize this until I looked at the clock; it really felt like forty-five minutes had passed). He told me to let him sleep for a bit longer.

Eons went by. I couldn’t bear it any longer, and I begged him to get up and run with me. I knew he wouldn’t want me to do it on my own, and I thought I was being considerate to make sure he was on the run with me.

Finally, he got up and we went on our run.

I lasted about three minutes then got bored. I asked my dad if I could run straight home. I promised I wouldn’t go anywhere else, just straight home. I cannot imagine my dad was pleased by the turn of events. Though, I do not remember any anger or resentment from him when he told me I could go home.

That was probably one of my last attempts to exercise that fall. I rode my bike occasionally. For the most part, though, I was sedentary.

I went to a school closer to home the following spring, and I continued my lethargic habits. I gained fifteen pounds in less than a year. I felt gross and lazy. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was in bed as long as humanly possible before classes started.

I was getting dressed after a shower one night, and I suddenly became aware of my body. I realized I’d gained a lot of weight and I felt gross.

Interestingly, I have no memories of what I felt or looked like the previous summer when I was in such good shape. It’s as if I had no concept of what my body looked like until I realized I was getting a little chubby. I have no memories of my body during high school or earlier.

I decided to start exercising again that night, and I stuck to it. I lost the weight relatively easily and I felt a lot better. I exercised in the mornings because I could use the common room when no one else was awake. Soon thereafter, I discovered exercising at night helped me sleep.

I was exercising two or three hours a day again, and I felt good. My sleep was amazing during that time. Bookending my sleep with exercise was magical.

I’ve gone through brief spells of less activity over the years, but I’ve never quit exercise completely. Exercise is vital to my mental health, and I do it even if I don’t feel motivated because I know it’s good for me.

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