Exercise and Mental Illness

Having recently moved house, I found myself stupidly broke after paying higher rent plus deposit, so I had to cut costs wherever I could. That meant suspending my membership at Premier MMA, the gym where I train in KTX kickboxing and jiu jitsu (these guys are incredible by the way – check them out if you’re local). I’ve always known it does me good on so many levels to have regular (even daily) exercise, especially in helping to manage my symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. But I thought to myself, ‘What harm can a month off do?’ and besides I didn’t really have another choice unless I got into (more) debt.

At the end of that time, I can say without doubt that a month makes all the difference. The consequences of not getting regular exercise have reminded me that the slippery slope to ill mental health is never far away. I started eating horribly, which of course made me sluggish and lethargic. I regained some of the weight I was so proud to have lost after coming off the anti-depressants I’d been on for over a year. I was drinking more. And inevitably I had a few wobbly phases where I did get depressed again. My sleep patterns became even more erratic than normal and I found myself practically nodding off at work, almost crying with tiredness. I have no doubt that if I had continued with my regular exercise regime, the absence of medication would not have been a problem. So I’ve learned an important lesson there.

But here on the other side, having learned the crucial importance of a structured, guided exercise regime and ready to start training again, I’m keenly aware of my own privilege. My symptoms are nowhere near as bad as many sufferers of bipolar/borderline disorder. I’m able to hold down a job where the boss and the team around me are incredibly supportive and genuinely look out for me. I make enough money to cover a gym membership most of the time. But others aren’t so lucky. It angers me to think how people with mental health issues and other disabilities are constantly stigmatised, ignored and shoved down the list of government priorities, FOR NO REASON.

But, all is not lost. There are some wonderful writers around who have dedicated themselves to raising awareness and campaigning for change on issues involving all aspects of mental illness and in particular bipolar disorder. I’d really recommend you follow the work of Charlotte Walker and Natasha Tracy for great writing on what it’s like to suffer from mental illness, how to support those have it and the obstacles they face in every day life.

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