I’ve sat down to write a post at least 17 times this month.
I actually started writing about four different topics, and managed to write a couple of pages on two of those. It’s not that I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to discuss or couldn’t figure out how to put all my ideas together, nor lack of ambition and motivation to write; posting at least twice a month was one of my goals for the new year. It’s now the last day of January, so you can see how well that went. But I did try, multiple times and multiple posts, and all of them are unfinished. Even this one, really.
I didn’t finish any of those posts because I was busy jogging.
In circles, even.
That’s not a metaphor – that’s me literally dragging one foot in front of the other in a relatively quick motion around my studio flat at least once a day for the last few weeks. Granted, I only made it about two minutes at a time, but when wasn’t jogging or trying to catch my breath because my lungs felt like they were on fire, I was walking as fast as my stubby legs would go and doing my best to not snag important pieces of me on the furniture.
Of course, it’s not like I just woke up one day and thought, “You know what my sore joints and chubby self needs on this cold winter’s morning? A run until my insides hurt!” I didn’t even really wake up with some sort of determination to be healthy, and the days I did usually resulted in me eating a cheeseburger for dinner because cheeseburgers make me happy… and happy is part of my mental health and wellness. How’s that for rationalization?
No, it actually started back around Thanksgiving. It had been raining non-stop and my usual back roads for my afternoon strolls were flooded, but I knew I needed to go for a walk just to keep myself from cabin fever.
While there was part of me that was genuinely keen on shedding the last of my lithium weight, especially since I wasn’t taking it any longer, I had sort of given up on actually losing weight as I had remained stagnant around 225 lbs for almost a year (after losing almost 40 in the year and a half prior). Because of injuries and hypertension, I was avoiding the gym, and because cooking for one person is actually kind of hard, I wasn’t really paying attention to my diet. I walked every day feeling better that I was at least somewhat active, and I figured I was okay as long as I didn’t start to pack it back on again, especially with the new medication that also came with weight gain as a primary side effect. Plus it was the holidays, so I knew I needed to be a little cautious as to what I put in my mouth.
But it wasn’t some quest for health that made me get up and move – it was the fact that I couldn’t sit still.
Now I’ve written before about the side effects of medication and my sort of life long struggle with weight, but this time the meds worked in my favor. I’d been off lithium for a few weeks and with my thyroid functioning properly, I was feeling less sedentary and lethargic. New blood pressure medication made my heart feel less like it was about to burst forth from my chest, allowing me to be more active longer without having to stop and make sure I wasn’t going to have a coronary. Moreover, the new bipolar medication didn’t seem to have the dulling effect that lithium did; my moods, though still stable and under control, actually allowed me to have real feelings. This included the extra energy often afforded by hypomania, the ‘manic’ side of manic-depression, now at a level I hadn’t felt in years.
I had to get up and move around just to get the extra energy out of my system.
I’ve been wearing a pedometer for a long time and averaged around 7,000 steps a day, slightly fewer on weekends or days off… this seemed kind of silly to me, actually, as those days off certainly should have lent me the extra time to be more active. I remembered hearing that 10,000 steps a day was ideal for some reason… No big deal, I thought.
But 10,000 steps a day turned out to be a little more difficult than I imagined, so I’d make sure I walked a couple of miles after work each day. It was sometimes a battle, but I did it!
Then the snow and rain began to fall… undeterred and now all the more stir crazy, I started walking in circles around my flat. Then walking wasn’t enough… So I started just upping my speed during the commercials, attempting to move a little faster without stepping on the cat. Then I turned it into a game: power walks for dating sites or prescription drugs, jogs for alcohol or IUDs, and sprints as fast as I could go for heart-wrenching, dramatic ads asking me to sponsor shivering shelter animals, and those seem to go on forever and ever.
Twenty five days out of the 31 in December, I hit the 10K step mark, and by the New Year I had to buy a new set of trousers, my first set of jeans in the size teens since 2013.
Slimming down to a new size and with the prospect of losing all of my lithium weight, I decided that I would look at the new year as a new chapter in pursuit of health. I didn’t make any resolutions about exercising every day or going to the gym (because it’s easier to keep resolutions you don’t make), but I wanted to keep up the level of activity that had me feeling better than I remember feeling in recent months.
Adding to that, I thought I’d work on some small steps in improving nutrition – starting with learning how to actually cook. As I’ve written about before, I never really got the hang of vegetables growing up, but I’ve experimented a lot in the last few weeks, trying something new each week only to learn I don’t hate them as much as I’ve always thought I did. I’ve cut back on sugar and processed foods, stopped eating out as frequently, and started being more label and portion conscious. I’ve also picked up a couple of free weights and started replacing some of my walking in circles to cycling several miles on a new recumbent bike strategically placed to be the best spot in my tiny little flat to play X-box or binge watch crime dramas.
About a week ago, I dragged all 216 pounds of me one foot in front of another in a gentle run for an entire commercial break. I nearly died right after it and spent the next three segments of Law & Order debating as to whether I should call 911 – but I was proud of myself for achieving something I was pretty sure I hadn’t done since I was a child.
I’ve more or less always maintained that I was not born to run (sorry Bruce Springsteen). As a kid I was a top sprinter and often picked second or third for games that required short distance speed, but cross-country sounded like torture. I loved to toss a football and Frisbee, but avoided anything that didn’t afford me the opportunity to stop and breathe regularly. By the time I was in junior high, serious bouts of pneumonia left me terribly asthmatic and sickly, which meant I was usually excused from physical education during the years when healthy habits could have been developed.
Truthfully I think I can count on one hand times since developing very real breathing issues, both exercise and anxiety induced, around age twelve that I’ve managed to run more than a couple hundred consecutive feet:
- Trying to make sure I passed the mile at my new high school, impressing a teacher who believed my asthma was a joke. (After I blacked out he changed his tune).
- Sprinting three blocks after being creeped out by a strange noise when out on my evening walk my senior year of college.
- Through the Beijing airport in an effort to catch a flight to Kazakhstan during a 20 minute layover
- Last week when I put on my hoodie to hide my face and jogged around the block at night so no one would notice how ridiculous I must have looked.
- And every day since then… mostly around the house, but around the block a few times when the rain let up.
Yesterday, I dragged all 211 pounds of me to the store to buy yet another smaller set of jeans. That’s exciting.
I feel healthy and stronger and more optimistic about my overall wellbeing. I feel like I’m taking better care of myself than I have in years past, and that being aware and concerned for my physical health is also a huge step for me mentally and even spiritually, as I believe God cares about our whole being, heart, mind, soul and strength.
I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t go back to a point I brought up earlier about where all this sudden drive, determination and energy came from – largely because it means that my current exercise and diet endeavors probably won’t be sustained as much as I hope. I could be wrong, but being rather aware of how I’m feeling at any given time is one of my better traits.
I’m on an upswing, a manic high – and am pretty sure I have been for awhile. With it comes a stirring and restlessness that I can’t seem to get out of my system, no matter how hard I push myself, how many laps I run, how long I cycle, how fast I walk; it’s pent up to a level that makes me feel like I might explode if I can’t release it. So when I can’t run or walk or cycle, I fidget and move around and talk (or in this case type) so fast I can’t keep up with my thoughts.
I’m not talking about the sort of rush a couple of energy drinks might give you to finish writing a term paper, or a prolonged adrenaline or caffeine rush from a couple espressos.
Imagine feeling like there’s lightning coursing through your veins so intensely that you can’t help but move around, and your thoughts no less rapid, and you will do whatever it takes to get those feelings out.
It’s probably the most complicated part of my disorder, the most difficult to convey and, as is the case at the time of this posting, alters my ability to focus so much that I can’t even get the words out to describe it anyway.
As it starts, I get to a point where I’m more energetic, more productive, and generally a lot more optimistic, outgoing and engaged. This usually translates into more creativity, extroversion, and generally feeling good about myself and my future. Above all, this sort of ‘up’ is a state I look forward to when I’m down in the pit; I know that the dark times will eventually end and it won’t be too long before I’m back on top of the world. …But then trying to keep up with the mania gets exhausting, only I can’t sleep. Light and noise begin to become overbearing, and all of it becomes too much to handle, so I try to regain control, often in less than healthy ways. I find myself embarrassed and ashamed by how it affects me. It’s the part I try to hide, and the part that makes me feel the most ‘sick’ or as though I am going crazy. And then I start to slump.
In the decline, all of the motivation and drive and new adventures, like my quest for health, start to taper off… at least for a little while, until the whole thing happens again.
I really, really wanted to write about that. I spend so much time talking about the other sides of my disorder, but not nearly enough about how the manic side works and how I’ve learned over the years to make it work in my favor, including choosing healthier outlets to cope with symptoms of this manic high.
But right now I can’t sit still long enough to really explore the deeper side of it, so I’m more or less going to leave at as is…
Give me another week or so, then I ought to be back to normal. Well, except that whole healthy thing, I’ll try to keep that going, make it a new normal. Sounds like a good idea.
Mission Adventure Quest: Below 200 lbs by spring!
Challenge accepted. For now. We’ll see how we feel next week.