Improving mood by HEALTHY exercise

I wrote a post not so long ago about returning to exercise (sensibly).

Today, was a sweltering hot day. I got up in a particularly nasty mood which was lingering since yesterday. Nasty thoughts raced through my mind:

I take more from this world than I give back

The world is against me; no one wants to be friends with me

What if…what if I have failed me exams? Them why have I bothered to recover?

The stress of my exams, coupled with the fact that they are now almost over and I have no friends to go out with (causing me to get depressed as the brick wall hits me in the face that leads to the inspection of myself in order to find what defect I have that prevents me forming more social contacts).

Normally I would look at challenging those thoughts as I have learnt to do in therapy. But sometimes I am caught off guard and just cannot think of any challenges. The answer, I have found, is to think in advanced (when I’m in a better mood) of negative thoughts that may occur, and write challenges to those thoughts. Then, to simply look at that piece of paper when those thoughts occur.

I shall post challenges to some of these thoughts in another post.

Anyhow, on with today’s story. So, I am in a  really negative state, and decide to look up the swimming pool timetable. I get my swim gear ready, decide to go with my granddad (who I see infrequently), pick up the courage to challenge myself (will people look at me and my body and analyse it as much as I do?) and simply go. It’s a sweltering hot day and I can’t wait to get into the water of the indoor pool.

I ensured that I did not overexercise by the following:

  1. I made sure the exercise was not intense. There were no self-imposed goals or targets to meet.
  2. I made sure to take care of my body, which is still recovering from my shoulder operation, and my general lack of fitness by taking regular breaks. I listened to my body: if it told me to stop, I stopped.
  3. I talked to my granddad, so added a bit of socialisation; the focus was shifted from calories to having fun.

I came out after 2.5 hours, and was amazed that my mood had lifted. It’s honestly like a miracle, a magic, quick-fix “pill”. Perfect. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, and I certainly noticed the positive effect. The negative thoughts have died down.

I plan to incorporate gently exercise into my routine. A pleasant swim once a week might make all the difference.

One thing is still missing: eating a tiny bit more to compensate. I just don’t feel hungry. I am arguing with myself now: should I or shouldn’t I? Part of me feels I did not burn that much (I swam far less than I hope to or used to pre-anorexia). That I can just ignore it and move on. It’s just a one off, right? But the logical part of me knows that if I slip back, it will be all the easier for unhealthy exercise to creep back in when I am least expecting it. On second thought, I might grab a something, even if it’s just an apple to make up for it (well, I ought to be eating it anyway considering that I’ve been eating less over the past few days, although I ought to eat something more substantial). It’s not worth slipping back. I need to hold myself accountable. If I want to exercise, I need to ensure to do it healthily.


Getting back to exercise

I’m at a weight were I can exercise again after my exercise was previously restricted. Fantastic!

But with the decision to start exercising comes responsibility for my actions as I used to over-exercise, waking up before 6am to fuel my compulsion to burn calories, and also a variety of choices to make.

Physical implications of Anorexia have prevented me doing my favourite sport: swimming

I had a physiotherapy appointment not too long ago and have got the all clear to start to exercise again.

To give you a bit of background information I have suffered from an unstable shoulder and recurrent dislocations, the first being caused 2 years ago during a skiing accident. Since then, I began to diet, developed anorexia and become malnourished which compounded the problem, and I started to dislocate it all the more frequently. This has led to a restriction to the type of exercises I could do, and impacted my life greatly. It was a great source of almost unbearable pain which got progressively worse, and which had a huge impact on my life.

To count to date I have dislocated numerous times;

  1. skiing accident mentioned earlier
  2. when moving a box (needed to go to A&E)
  3. when engaging in compulsive exercise by going swimming (A&E trip again)
  4. when tripping down the stairs at a train station (relocated itself)
  5. when falling into water from an inflatable ring pulled behind a speedboat (A&E — an air ambulance even got called out which made me feel special [for the wrong reasons])
  6. when I fell onto my shoulder when my bed collapsed (A&E)

Most of those dislocations are a blur of memories that I barely recall — the sound of paramedics, the tingly feeling in my libs whilst being on laughing gas, the confusion and delirium when waking up from a bolus of IV ketamine, the pain and the comfort of friends and family, the sterile smell of a hospital setting, the morphine-induced hallucinations — and finally, the last incident when I had to be anaesthetised, was the final time I dislocated my shoulder.

Since then, I have had a shoulder operation (anterior shoulder stabilisation) to fix the tear in my ligaments (as I now have three pins in my shoulder). And so, as the rehabilitation carries on, slowly but surely, my body is recovering from the physical impact of my eating disorder.

Would things be different if I hadn’t starved my muscles away? Could I have prevented it? I don’t know. Perhaps the physio would have worked better in the earlier stages if my muscles were stronger. Perhaps I just had a physical weakness in my shoulder and my illness simply exacerbated it.

But now, I have the choice, as my physio says, to get back to swimming. This brings on challenges in the following ways:

  1. How do I ensure I exercise gently and not over-exercise once again?
  2. Where is the line drawn between “excessive” and “normal”

Exercising for the right reasons

I need to ask myself the following questions with regards to exercising again:

  1. Why do I want to exercise again? Do I secretly hope to lose weight? Or it is because I enjoy the activity?
  2. Am I capable of increasing my food intake and responding to hunger signals in order to compensate for the calories burned?
  3. If I do lose weight for not compensating enough, am I willing to gain it back?
  4. Am I prepared for the dial on the scale to increase if I turn more of my body mass into muscle?

I have yet to answer these; some of the questions can only be answered after I try it.

Exercising is a challenge for me: it brings back memories of  weight loss, of the obsession of doing x lengths in the pool, of my eating disorder.

I need to be responsible for my actions, and deal with any consequences involved. I need to exercise for the right reasons only, and not exercise because it fuels my anorexia.

Exercising alone vs exercising with others

I was recommended to join a team sport by my treatment at CAMHS. I was advised solitary activities would be dangerous territory. But alas, my shoulder prevents me from doing sports like netball, and so do financial constraints. I cannot find many who are willing to exercise with me either.

Therefore, in a way, by doing something like swimming I feel I need to be all the more cautious as it was, technically, against the advise of my old treatment team. They may have made a fair point: it is hard to judge what “excessive” is when you have suffered from an ED, and other “normal” individuals can add a sense of perspective.

I shall let you know how my journey to incorporate exercise into my routine works out. I might not be ready yet, but we shall see how I will turn out to deal with this.