Body of Evidence

In many ways our bodies are physical records of our lives both inner and lived. Areas of knotted fascia (the webbed connective tissue that keeps everything in place) may be the result of the time I fell off my bike as a kid. You would have thought it would have healed by now but no. The body keeps a ledger of missteps.

We all know the commercial with the pathetic looking puppy and neglected family–depression hurts…everybody. It’s facile but not wrong. Depression amplifies pain and distorts it (and perhaps adds some reverb and a little delay). Depression lives in the body as much as the mind. Pain, the accumulation of extra pounds and lethargy are all the real deal for a depressed person.

For me, this is the baseline level of pain I feel (when I’m not hypomanic). Add PTSD and anxiety and it’s a wonder I function at all. Depression, anxiety and hypervigilence tax the body’s autonomic nervous system–the system that regulates the body’s functions (like blood pressure, digestion and heart rate) in order to bring it into homeostasis.

When that system is clogged up with constant triggers to its fight/flight response it remains engaged–meaning the body cannot rest and repair itself. Adrenaline is dumped straight into the bloodstream and when that runs out, it’s cortisol, a hormone that among other things makes us hold on to fat. Gross

It was this what brought me to the ER this summer. I had so much anxiety, I was constantly in a state of hypervigalence AND I was depressed. It was like being tied to a chair while being tickle-tortured but without the fun. Right now I’m feeling the restlessness again, along with the heft of depression. It’s not yet a mixed-state but it’s about one state over.

For anybody else who has or is experiencing this special brand of torture here are some things I have come across that can be helpful if I catch it in time.

1. Creative therapy. Automatic writing, fast drawing, sculpting clay or putty, beading, singing, playing a musical instrument and whatever else is kicking around in there can draw the attention away from self and onto something tactile or sense-oriented in other ways. It only works if you can manage to divorce yourself from the outcome. It isn’t about making art, it’s about the act of creating and it doesn’t matter if it’s good.

2. Tense/Relax Meditation. This is the kind of meditation I can do in the midst of a mixed state, when mindfulness meditation is a no-go because of pain or restlessness.  First, center yourself within your surroundings. Make note of sensory data–what do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste? If associations pop them up, notice them but don’t hop on the train of thought. Let them fall away. Keep your breath grounded in your senses. Then tense your muscle groups individually, hold for a few breaths and relax. Notice the difference?

3. Move It. Honestly it doesn’t matter if you’re prepping for a marathon or cleaning the attic. Moving uses the extra adrenaline as fuel. It can be fun too–I like Wii Fit Plus Rythm-Fu, or putting on a record and dancing like a fool. Other ideas: jumping jacks? Shooting hoops? Walking around town? Yoga? This is where I often fail. The pain and stuckness become so unbearable I feel I can’t move. I suffer for it. I get mad at my doctor for suggesting it. But I have found that it works.

The point of these activities is to get out of the brain and into the body, even if it’s just for a few minutes (though longer l, definitely better). It’s about reconnecting with the body and feeling it in the moment, trying to let negative associations go.

That’s enough proselytizing. I’d love to hear input from others.


My Excuse? Exercise Bulimia, CBT and Realistic Resolutions

Over at Harsh Reality, Opinionated Man says:

I keep seeing these fitness blogs with their 2014 resolution posts. Many of them have the title “What is your excuse?”

Opinionated Man has some rather hilarious and perfectly valid “excuses” for not becoming a carb-obsessed, fatty hating gym rat.

I thought I’d address this resolution trend myself because I am aware that it started with mommy blogger “Fit Mom’s” abrasive challenge to women to stop being lazy. It was obnoxious. It stirred up a shit-storm of feminist furor which in turn incurred the wrath of muscle bound meat heads who think bagels are the work of Satan and anyone who can’t bench press a school bus is a newbie. Comment threads on top of comment threads full of haters.

Fit Mom irritated me, I admit. I am not jealous of her. I don’t want to spend five hours a day in the gym and have the entire world take note if I gain a half a pound. I also think the inner drill sergeant tactic is ridiculous from the standpoint of CBT, which actually has a body of evidence to support it. So yeah.

What’s MY Excuse?

Exercise Bulimia

Fit Mom is a self-admitted bulimic who believes she has conquered her eating disorder yet works out for five hours a day. I don’t know her and won’t pass judgment but I know for me, that much time spent working on my body would not be a healthy thing.

Exercise bulimia can be just as damaging to your body and mind as the purging kind. Obviously your body and the comparison of it (implicitly or explicitly) to other women is an obsession. I mean, go ahead, be a fitness instructor but you don’t have to taunt “fatties” (not my word, or hers, to be fair but one used frequently on comment threads regarding this publicity stunt) with your four recent offspring and perfect abs.  

Some of us have invested serious time and work caging the beast of our eating disorders and are trying to learn kinder, gentler ways to keep our bodies in shape. It was the confrontational stance of “What’s YOUR Excuse?” that irritated me. In fact it triggered me. I’m sure it did the same for others.

All I frickin want to do is work out, knock it down a size or two. I quit smoking 15 months ago (go me) and swore a blood oath to my spouse to disengage from my 20-year-old eating disorder. So I can’t starve myself and I can’t purge. To be clear, purging includes working out for six hours a day. Sorry Fit Mom, you could still be a bulimic. Just because you aren’t tossing your cookies doesn’t mean that the mechanism of the eating disorder isn’t active.

Having gone through CBT, every week is like a new year with resolutions and such. Sometimes my resolution is to do a half an hour of Rythym Fu on the WII TWICE this week and traipse through the ‘hood (which is a hilly rain forest) once. That is not going to give me six pack abs but it is an attainable goal.

Taping a picture of my face Photoshopped onto Fit Mom’s body and writing “What’s Your Excuse???” in bright red lipstick on my mirror or obsessing over a size or a number on a scale or a measuring tape is all crazy-making behavior and not likely to produce the desired result. I mean, like I said, Fit Mom does have great abs.