My Fitness Journey: Running from mental illness

Written by hannahlewis

It’s a bit of a paradox, really, gaining weight when you have Body Dysmorphia. It’s like you’re literally sat there watching your worst nightmare come true and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

I think the combination of the stress from the final year of my undergraduate study, the recovery from a psychotic breakdown and the convenience of ready meals amid dissertation stress lead to me gain a significant amount of weight. Due to me at first being in denial about my weight gain, and then thinking that if I wished it away it would just disappear, it wasn’t until I moved home from university I decided to take action.

Except I didn’t so much decided to take action, it was more like I was forced to. The breakdown of a relationship had lead to deterioration in my mental health, and before long all of the demons of my past mental illnesses came screaming back to haunt me.

I was emotionally distressed to such a degree with such drastic changes happening in my life that were out of my control, I knew I had to do something extreme.

So I faced my worst fears (because life couldn’t get any worse than it is now, surely?), and I put on leggings and a t-shirt which accentuated all my lumps and bumps, scraped my hair into a scruffy top-knot and approached the gym wearing no make-up. Now for someone who suffers with body dysmorphia, this was something like an Ultra-Extreme Worst Nightmare on Steroids: The Hellish Edition. If this wasn’t enough, I then had to proceed to become sweaty and breathless – both triggers that reminded me of that time when my panic disorder was out of control and I’d have panic attacks at the drop of a hat.

But I did it. And I surprised myself. There was something so cathartic about literally staring your fears in the face and pushing through them – a nice metaphor which I intend to use against my other phobias. The process of converting emotional pain to physical pain, and then healing from it, was a process that I took to help me get through my emotional distress.

Also, you know when you go to the doctor and they talk about exercise releasing endorphins and what-not? Well plot twist: they were right all along.

So here I am, three months down the line and three stone lighter. The physical effects have been a bonus, and learning to accept my body is now a journey I can recommence, as I know that I am doing everything within my power to make it the healthiest, fittest, and strongest it can be. And for that, I respect you, body.

Now of course with my history of obsessive and body-image focussed mental disorders I could see that there was a risk of me putting too much emphasis on the end-goal being centred on my appearance. Well, we all know how that could have ended, so I nipped that in the bud and decided to focus my fitness journey on something more positive. I am now using exercise as a means of training towards charity races to raise money for other affected by mental illness. That way, I take the pressure of weighing a certain amount, looking a certain way or fitting in a particular dress size.

I hope that by me overcoming my distaste for exercise, regardless of my history of mental illness, you can see that anyone can become fitter, stronger and ultimately happier.