Mental Health – Putting the Fit back into Fitness
For a while now I’ve been encouraged to write a blog about mental health and my experiences and insights of living with a serious mental Illness. I have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder type II, Major Depression and Generalised Anxiety. It has been a roller-coaster journey which has certainly shaped me into the person I am today.
So here goes…a small window into my story…I grew up a local boy in a small coastal town in Oamaru NZ, trained as a carpenter. I then moved to Melbourne when I was 25 years young and worked across many fields of work. It was in Melbourne that I was diagnosed with Bipolar and Major Depression. Since then (20 years) I have been hospitalised around 18 times due to the severity of my illness, suicide idealisation and suicide attempts. I recently moved back to Oamaru in 2018 to be closer to family, sadly leaving behind my wife of 9 years and our 6yr old boy – more about my history in a later blog though.
About 4 months ago after my latest psychiatric hospital admission I reflected over a couple of weeks at what I could do, invest in, change, or reinvent any areas of my life that would minimise anymore hospitalisations. One of the clear areas I identified was somehow bringing back my love and passion for fitness. It use to play a big part of my lifestyle, triathlons, running, cycling.
Man it was hard at first, I huffed and puffed for two months until I got into a rhythm and regular routine. It’s been a long hard process that has required more discipline in my slow days and restraint in my fast days, but now I find I swim, ride and run on a regular basis. Sometimes I enjoy it and sometimes I just do it because it is a routine and I know it’s good for me. Either way it is having positive benefits on my mood and stability overall.
The interesting thing about all the fitness is that for so many years I was so unwell that I could hardly exercise at all and I was so inconsistent with my training that I weighed 10kg more than I do now and just felt horrible. The Bipolar and Depression at times had me in a very deep and dark pit. Incorporating regular exercise into my lifestyle this year is one of the rungs in the ladder that I use to climb up, get re-focused and bring about mood stability. It can take time but that’s where the routine helps.
I don’t usually do things by halves, it’s either all in or not, but I have learnt to embrace that part of me and channel my energy into important things, like the half marathon I just signed up for.
I received this fancy running top the other day as part of signing up and it has which has on the back “I’m sweating for mental health”. This ‘T’ is more than just a training shirt to me, it represents the importance of being active, something I know that has helped me – sweating a little is good for you! Secondly, this shirt is also a handy conversation starter. It breaks down barriers and stigma towards mental illness. Wearing this shirt tells people that I’m a runner and I also suffer and support people with a mental illness.
I’m not ashamed to talk about my experiences, my journey and I genuinely love connecting with people, listening, having conversations and sharing experiences.
This all helps to spread the message that it’s OK to talk about feelings and more importantly it’s OK to actually have them. The power to ask “R U OK?” (www.ruok.org.au) and genuinely listen and not just ‘hear’ is one of the best things we can do so our friends and family don’t feel alone or isolated.
The Mental Health Stability Ladder
I’ve created this ladder concept which has 2 stabilising supports interlocked with 6 movable foot/hand holds just like the gorilla ladder you get from Bunnings. I call them the 6F’s & 2C’s of my mental health wellness plan. Fitness being one of them. (I’ll share the other 7 moving forward).
Mental Illness does not have to be whispered about or discussed in closed groups. The aim of my blog is to spread the word that a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact it can be a teacher of how to become a more loving, compassionate, authentic person. That there is hope and that friends or family members are not alone in their struggles.
BTW I’m blown away by the financial support and encouragement I’ve received from friends and family in Oamaru, NZ and Australia in regard to raising awareness and funds for mental health by running the Dunedin 1/2 marathon on Sept 1st 2019. I’m just shy of reaching my target of $1500 with 3 weeks still to go. I feel proud to be able to contribute these funds to such an important and lifesaving cause. You can check out my sponsorship page via the link below, read the weekly updates and make sure you scroll to the bottom to see the photos I’ve taken while training in and around Oamaru.
My Fitness quote of the week:
It is my hope that someone might benefit from me sharing my story or someone you know might benefit from reading it so please share and pass along. We can bring HOPE to others through our vulnerability and willingness to bring about genuine, honest positive change.
Have a great week ahead, and remember it is quite possible that this week you will lock eyes with someone who is in emotional pain or distress…have a think about how you will respond?
Take a listen to this throw back song from the Rocky IV movie “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. It’s my motivation/inspiration song I use to gear up for some of my harder Fitness challenges. An old’e but a good’e. Feel free to crank up the volume.
Doing it tough? I encourage you if things have been a struggle lately then find a quiet place sometime this week and listen to the follow song:
“You’re Gonna be OK” by Jenn Johnson. I’ve added it to my HOPE play list for those times when I’m struggling to just keep my head above water.
- How would you honestly rate your current fitness active? (with 5 being ‘I’m all over it’) Do you want to move up a notch or two? Could you start this week sometime?
- If you googles ‘up and coming fitness events in my community’ could you possible find an event you could set as a goal to work towards, even if it was just a community walk!
- If things are just tuff at the moment and you’re in survival mode can you imagine what a hot shower or bath would feel like against you skin, your face, your back, your torso…could you manage just this one activity to accomplish in your day?
Your fellow LIFE companion,