I think I first realised there was something definitely not right with my mental health when I found myself crying uncontrollably in the middle of a HIIT class, barely able to breathe.
Rewind a few months and you would have found me happily chucking around weights and taking various classes at my gym. Needless to say, crying was the last thing I expected to be doing in that setting.
But it kept happening. Because although I was trying to deal (admittedly, quite unsuccessfully) with a recent bereavement, considerable work stress and general feelings of deep worthlessness, I kept forcing myself to go to the gym and expecting my body to perform at the same level.
Why? Because I’d got in in my head that exercise was supposed to make you feel better at times like that. It’s still held up as a way to ‘fix’ so many problems. Instead, I found that the harder I tried to be like my normal self, the worse it got.
It was too loud. Too bright. The presence of so many people crowded my mind. The draft from the air-con made my skin sting and prickle. And I found myself in tears, over and over again. Not able to concentrate on anything, not even the movements I was there to do because everything else felt like it was piling on top of me and the hardness in my throat made it feel like each breath was a battle. And yet I still turned up, still pushed myself way beyond what I should have because of a stubbornly fixed idea of what recovery should look like.
It took a while, but in the end I did get professional help with managing my anxiety. I’m now properly enjoying my training, not for its ability to suppress what I’m feeling, but for it’s ability to make me feel good about myself and what my body can do. The gym now plays a big part in keeping me balanced, but only because I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself for every workout to be perfect, to keep improving in every area of my physical health, without any consideration for my mental health.
I used to feel bad that my body didn’t respond ‘properly’ to something that was supposed to fix me. But I don’t need fixing. Nor do I need to chase after every possible remedy or aid. Instead my focus is on only those things that make me feel calmer, more in control and more positive about myself, regardless of whether those activities appear on some arbitrary list of anxiety ‘cures’ or accepted treatments.