About four weeks ago I woke up, got dressed and looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me.
This person who was once happy, fit and young at heart, had aged, looked tired and had moved towards 220 pounds on the weigh scale. Everything in that persons life looked completely out of control. All of it.
Because most of it wasn’t in this person’s control. Her husband left. Lost the house. Abandoned the children and insisted she was the ill one, not him. He didn’t need help, she did. He left. He lied. And then he took his own life. She didn’t have any choice in the outcome. He died by his own hand.
Now she’s left here, cleaning up the mess and sorting through the emotional baggage that has become a metaphor for the weight around her waste, the bags under her eyes, and the unkept hair. The bags of chocolate chips and days of laying on the couch in tears have caught up with me.
Fuck this. This is NOT who I am! And though I may not have control over much of this life, I do have a say in bettering my own health. That morning I added to my own self care to the list of small steps I can take to keep my promise to my husband who was taken by bipolar disorder.
The stress the disorder caused in our family was now being worn inside and outside of me. My therapist believes the last few heart breaking years has taken a toll on my own mental health … in the form of Post Traumatic Stress.
These memories I wake with most mornings, the flashbacks of moments I had forgotten, the replay of irrational arguments, and seeing the suffering in his eyes and the fear on his face, the words exchanged with family; are all part of a larger problem and I need to find peace from it.
So I’ve started Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR in short. I’m writing, and practicing mindfulness. I’m doing what I can to heal my own brain.
That morning was a turning point for that girl. Not just physically but mentally. I made up my mind to go to the gym and start investing in my health. I stumbled. A lot. At first I just started the couch to five k, three days a week on the treadmill… twice while running I cried. I imagined the emotional pain leaving through my feet and the pieces of my broken heart coming back together as my heart rate increased.
Then, one evening I was reading a study about Veterans who had returned and been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The study was simple, yet fascinating.
In short, the study looked at the effects of aerobic excercise on the brain of people who were affected by PTSD. Trauma decreases the volume of the hippocampus which controls emotion, autonomic nervous system and memory. Aerobic excercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus and aid in emotional regulation, nervous response and aid in better memory. The study concluded that those Veterans who had included regular aerobic excercise in their PTSD treatment were less likely to relapse, and recovered quicker than those who only took medication and attended psychotherapy.
So, I switched it up and interval sprinted instead. The first week I just about died. The second I noticed I was feeling better, tired, physically, but better, and then I noticed a change in my moods and overall feeling.
On my sprint days, I imagine anger. I let it energize me, when I feel like I want to quit, I dig deep and find the red zone; the anger I feel about him being gone, about how his sister treated me over the last several years, about the mental health system’s continuous failures, about suicide, and above all the hate I have for bipolar disorder and I use this to push for a few more sprints.
When I’m done, the anger subsides, the sadness is still there, but it’s dissolved atleast for a while. For a few brief hours after, I feel better.
I’m doing what I can to heal. As much as I wish I could sprint past this stage of my life I can’t. I know this. I can’t ignore it either. So, I’ll just have to keep moving forward and metaphorically sprint through the grief, slowing down when it’s too much, but always moving forward towards healing.