Unfortunately, with my terrible lurgy at the end of January, RED ended with more of a fizzle than a bang. I did make an effort to do some kind of exercise every day, but for a week I was too ill to do any of the things that I would normally count as a proper exercise and thus there are things like “walk to shop to buy Day Nurse” “ten minutes of yoga stretches” and “Feeble Cycling” recorded on my exercise calendar.
I would brush over this altogether and try harder in 2020 but then I thought this was actually quite a good analogy for mental health related matters and that there was a blog post to be made after all.
When you are well, it is pretty easy to go out and do some exercise every day. If you have a bit of a cold (or mild depression, or just having a bit of a shitty time), it gets a bit harder but if you push yourself to do some exercise it will make you feel better and you will be glad for it. But if you have the flu (or a full on major depressive episode or are suffering from psychosis) you may be physically incapable of going out for a run. Even lacing up your shoes might feel like an insurmountable task. And how is someone suffering from auditory hallucinations supposed to follow a parkrun course? Do they really want Jillian Michaels showing them the way to enlightment through kettlebells? If someone has a serious mental illness, they need more help than just exercise, and in fact exercise might overwhelm them, just the way trying to run a half marathon when you have the flu might.
The other point I want to make is that exercising every day is all well and good if you have a lot of free time (which could be the case if your mental health is preventing you from working, or if you are quite isolated, I suppose) but for me the biggest stressor in my life is the fact that I work long hours and too many days per week and adding another obligation to a day that already seems too short just makes life even more stressful. I don’t really feel I got any mental or physical benefit from exercising on those days – it just ate into my time for sleeping or writing, which are also things people need to do to look after their mental health.
In summary – I think it’s far more important to plan quality exercise related activities that you enjoy than to commit yourself to a military regime where you MUST exercise every day, and I think it’s important to realise that self care has its limits and that sometimes people are incapable of looking after themselves. This is a subject close to my own heart, as I have a close friend who suffers from psychosis and the help and understanding she gets is inadequate to say the least. I think we have got better at being understanding towards people who are suffering from anxiety and depression in recent years, but I also think people suffering from psychotic illnesses aren’t afforded the same understanding. The stereotype of a mentally ill person is feeling sad, staying home, reaching out and wanting help. The reality is that some mentally ill people are roaming the streets, shouting gibberish, putting themselves in danger and not having a clue that there is anything wrong with them. You can’t invite them to parkrun, they might set fire to the finish tokens and trip up the other runners – but of course you don’t want to NOT invite them to things because then you are excluding them because of their illness. Sadly I think until mental health services start helping those who are too ill to help themselves – really helping them and not just medicating them to keep them quiet those with the most serious mental health problems will never be able to get their lives back.
I am grateful every day that I have my physical and mental health and that I can enjoy running.