Missing movement

I've been on exercise restriction for the past two months as I try to get my weight back up where it needs to be, and the reality of it is that this sucks. I really miss exercising. I know I was struggling with an exercise addiction, and that some of this craving is not altogether healthy. But some of what I miss about exercise, I'm coming to learn, has very little to do with exercise itself.

First, let me set the scene of one of my usual workouts. I tied my hair back with a red bandanna. I wore ankle socks and running shoes. I had my keys, my water bottle, and my iPod turned on full blast. I started each workout with the same song. I've destroyed my knees and ankles through excessive exercise, but I've also probably ruined my eardrums, too. When I hop on the machine, I was usually edgy, twitchy, frenetic, tense. And then I started pedaling/stepping/walking/running/elliptical-ing and all of that edginess began to fade into the background. With each step, each push of the pedals, it faded further away. By the end of my workout, those stresses were X hours or X miles away from me.

At the end of my workout, I would let out a deep breath. I could breathe again. I listened to my post-workout song on my walk back to my apartment (I only let myself listen to this song if I completed the entire workout). It was my ritual: song, shower, PJs. OCD much?

While I was exercising, I felt untouchable, invulnerable. Not in the sense that nothing could ever happen to me while I was exercising, because I was voted class klutz in high school. Getting smacked in the face with a kickball in high school gym, such that my braces were jammed into my cheek and had to be yanked out was more than enough to prevent that delusion from ever returning. But untouchable in the sense that nothing could bother me. I didn't have my cell phone, so no one could intrude. The blaring music from my iPod literally blocked everything else out. I was in my own little zone in my own little world.

And that is what I miss- the distance from all of the things that are bugging me, that block of time in my day (or blocks of time, to be really honest) when I wasn't constantly obsessing over everything. I sort of loosened the reins on my brain and just let it wander wherever it felt like. Some of the daydreams were ED-related, but many weren't. Sometimes, I didn't exactly think at all. No one could need my attention because they couldn't get it. I was away from my phone and email and whatever it was could and would wait. All of the stresses, those things I needed to "fix," such as folding the laundry and cleaning Aria's litter box, were somewhere else. However sweaty and stinky and exhausted I was when I was chained to my exercise machines, I wasn't interrupted, I wasn't bothered, and I felt at peace. It was like Calgon had taken me away.

My cousin's wedding this past weekend was stressful, both in ways I've mentioned, and ways I haven't. All I wanted to do last night was go for a long, sweaty run and let the pounding of my feet replace the pounding in my head. And I couldn't. So I let the hot water in the hotel shower pound on my back and slow my racing heart, taking deep, raggedy breath after deep, raggedy breath. I felt better after my shower, but it wasn't the same. I had to take a step off the beaten path.

I know that part of me misses that almost constant movement and my body literally craves a physical outlet for all of my anxiety. And exercise did help me deal with stress in a healthy way at first, and that's what I ultimately want to get back to. In the meantime, I need to find a replacement for all of the non-movement-related things that exercise did for me.

Any suggestions?


Anon Mom said...

It's probably the cliched suggestion, but ... yoga and/or pilates. Your body feels like it has been tied to the machine or hitting the pavvement, but w/o the stress *and* with the benefit of mindfulness, relaxation, a sense of calm.

I'm the least likely person to "fall for" yoga and yogi-things, but I find myself sucked in everytime I'm able to force myself to go and sit with it long enough to get into it. Then by the time I leave, I feel great and it seems to stimulate thinking, ideas, etc. I still often find myself thinking I'm going to be bored ... until I get there.

Wouldn't hurt to give it a try ... even though it can't match that intensity and physical "getting away" factor that comes with actually walking off for miles and miles (or whatever your poison may be).

I would definitely join a class, though, vs. a home DVD ... part of what makes it good is the community and the calming, directive influence of the teacher. Yoga's ideas also underscore ideas of respect for your body, limits, boundaries, health, balance.

Hope you find something that helps with that antsy, anxious state ... Anon Mom

now.is.now said...

I feel the EXACT. SAME. WAY. as you do about exercise. That post perfectly describes my experience with exercise too. I was also put on exercise restriction for a while and I really missed it. I'm not on exercise restriction anymore but, due to running a tad too much, I now can't run b/c of an injury and I feel that same longing for the stress-busting, peace-inducing, zoning-out effects of exercise.

Someday soon you'll be able to exercise again. And you'll be able to enjoy those same benefits. You'll just be more reasonable with yourself this time. You'll let yourself listen to the post workout song no matter what. You'll let yourself vary the lengths of the workout. Sometimes you'll feel like a long and hard workout, so you'll do that. Other times you'll feel like a slower more calm workout, so you'll do that. The days of exercise will return. :)

Anonymous said...

As one who hates - HATES! the word "exercise", my first suggestion is that you ditch both the word and the concept. You feel good, physically and mentally, when you are moving. It's natural. Our bodies are made for motion, our hearts are made for pumping. But there is no reason it has to be hard or painful or punishing or forced. I run most mornings- outside, slowly, for as long as I am enjoying it (or sometimes, only for as much time as I have before I have to get ready for work). It helps me to wake up, energizes me, and is my time away from everyone and everything. I never use an iPod, never take a cell phone, never carry a water bottle or anything else. Any of that would be an unwelcome distraction. While I run, sometimes I think about a project I'm working on or a question I've had in my mind, or an unresolved situation, and often come up with an idea. Sometimes I allow my mind to just wander and listen to the birds, the wind, my footsteps, my breathing, cars going by, etc. When I do that, I get some of the benefits of meditation along with the benefits of physical activity.

So my suggestion is to go easier on yourself. Think of what you ENJOY doing, the thing itself, not the feeling of having "done something good" afterward. Even if it's just walking outside ( which is another thing I do, usualy in a different part of the day)- enjoy the feeling. You might find it much more calming and restorative if you got rid of the blaring music. If you like riding a bike, take a leisurely ride- it's not a race. Or, maybe you'd prefer to crank up some music and DANCE.

How about swimming? It can be very refreshing and restorative and, if you want, you can surely get a full body workout swimming laps in a pool. And it's no impact, so less likelihood of injury. It, too, can be relaxing.

Yoga is another thought, but it does not, at least for me, get the heart going and blood flowing the way running does. Maybe if you did "Hot" yoga or power yoga it would but none of that appeals to me. However, I do a short yoga routine (as much as I have time for) most times after I run.

Tiptoe said...

I can understand your frustration. I've felt very similarly with exercise. There is definitely a missing endorphin high as well as "zoning" out period that feels unmatchable.

I must say that since I've sort of been on my self-imposed exercise restriction the last several months, it hasn't been as horrible as I would have imagined. I've done some pilates and yoga dvds (I find yoga still very slow for me). The interesting thing is that there really is a sense of wanting to be more balanced with the whole exercise regime. There is a desire to just be at more peace with it rather than killing my body over it.

This is of course not to say that I may be feeling differently a month or two from now, but this is what I'm feeling. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you can get through this tough part of not being able to move your body in this way, it is a testament to you that can get through this. And then in the end, hopefully, be able to renew your relationship with exercise. After all, you have one body, and beating it to death with exercise only really accomplishes?

Some other thoughts: what about some kind of simple group dance class? Maybe belly dancing? I know a lot of people who like zumba, but that may be too aerobically inclined for what you are looking for.

hopeful mom (formally sad) said...

I go for a long drive with my music loud. I am still be detached from the world of electronics and interruptions and singing along as loud as I want keeps me focused on lyrics rather than problems. At the end of an hour or so I am exhausted and hoarse, calmer and ready to focus again.

Once you are off restriction I second the idea of taking up group dance. Something with complex figures such as English or Scottish Country Dance will keep your brain occupied while you meet new people. English is less aerobic and easier on the ankles. Think of it as walking with style.

Alissa said...

I feel the exact same way about exercise. Especially with the music. I've had to cut back for the same reasons as you. One thing I'm finding seems to calm me is tearing through a stack of old magazines (Real Simple type, not fitness mags!), cutting out words and making poetic collages. I put on my music, go in a separate room of the house and make a big mess. It does seem to put me in a zone, where I can forget about how anxious I am. Its not the same, but its the best distraction I've found yet

Sarah said...

When I was on exercise restriction, I begged to be allowed a few walks every week. My doctors finally relented, provided that I checked in with my mom before and after the walk (or went with someone) and kept it to 20 minutes. These were sometimes my only saving grace. I would grab the dog or a friend or my dad or my sibling and try to enjoy nature. My parents live in the woods so I would just listen to the birds, feel the sun on my arms, watch the sunrise, and I found I was able to get lost in these things. Could you do the same thing, perhaps taking an evening walk with your mom that is not focused on calorie burning but on catching up or something along those lines? Walking doesn't burn that many calories if you keep it to a reasonable amount of time and a very moderate pace, but it gets rid of anxiety so much to be in the outdoors.

A second idea-reading. You mentioned that you get lost in a book. Why not read in a hammock, by the pool, by a stream, in a coffee shop...wherever you feel able to relax and enjoy your surroundings?

And, cliches are sometimes right. Yoga. The NYC Ballet Workout DVD is GREAT at relieving anxiety, too.

J Jordan said...

Have you ever considered doing art or crafting? Drawing, painting, even scribbling then coloring in the scribbles? Knitting, cross-stitch, crochet? You can do most to music, and you get a product when you're done. Its a different sense of accomplishment, and your body (well, hands) are still busy.

I know you have some artistic ability- look at your jewelry!

Carrie Arnold said...

Wow- thanks for all of the suggestions. I would like to start a yoga class, as I did (very gentle) yoga 3x per week in treatment after I was medically stable, and I really enjoyed the Gumby feeling afterwards.

My ultimate goal is to get a bike so that I can go riding outside, and to get back into swimming. Both of these activities were favorites when I was younger, and I don't have an unhealthy attachment to them either. My therapist thinks that I should probably stay away from machines and their blinking red lights for some time to come.

Hopeful Mom,

I think I would be okay at dancing as long as I didn't require a partner. My coordination skills are minimal, but I can do more hip-hop type stuff. I've thought about taking up Irish dance- I love the dance and music even though ethnically speaking, I should be dancing the polka in lederhosen.


I love walking, too. I'd love to do some day hikes in the Shenandoahs, etc, when I get healthier. I'm not real keen on doing a lot of camping per se (ie, I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling from taking a crap in the woods, but if ya gotta go, ya gotta go), but I love being outside.


Indeed I do crochet! It's one of my favorite portable hobbies, as I can't really take a lot of my jewelry-making stuff with me.

Anonymous said...

Definitely yoga once you're given the okay. It was all I could do for the better part of a year, and although I swore I'd never be the "yoga type," I now love it and how I feel in my body while I'm doing it.

I can relate to the "in the zone" feeling you get from exercise (my addiction was running outside). Now that I am back to exercising, I do group classes because when I am with other people, it becomes less obsessive and less isolating (which makes it harder to become disordered). But, it takes a lot of self-control to walk by those machines and their red blinking lights!

Reagan said...

Oh my gosh- I tripped over the kickball in middle school, totally wiped out, and maybe (yes!) cried a little in front of everyone! Thanks for making that come flooding back!;)

But, yes, I totally second the yoga suggestion. I had never done it before until a few months ago, and now it is what keeps me sane. There are different types, of course, but I like the breathing + movement approach of these guys: http://www.raviana.com/

Anonymous said...

Be careful with yoga! I am an avid yogi, but I have to be super-careful not to do it for ED reasons. I find myself tempted to seek out "vigorous" classes, power yoga, etc...and with any class, sometimes if I don't feel I have had a workout, I do a run afterwards. That's my tendency. So I actively have to tell myself, "Yoga was FINE, you don't need anything else today."

The philosophy behind yoga, though, is very opposite from ED behaviors, etc. So if you can tap into that and not the obsession with physical activity (exercise), it's a great activity. If you feel yourself getting competative with your ED self, then be careful.

Good luck...I totally know what you are going through.


chylo said...

Have you thought about treating yourself to a massage? Or learning some self massage stuff?

That helps me get the same connected to my body, break from the world effect I got from exercise. There's this thing called a backbuddy that I LOVE (for trigger point release) and I'm also a fan of foam rollers for stretching.

It sounds silly/simple, but if you can really force yourself to be mindful of doing self-care/self-soothing type things (giving yourself a pedicure, doing an exfoliating treatment, etc) you might be able to get some of the same calm sans joint/body damage.

I had multiple fxs and had to seriously cut back/cut out exercise for a while, and I was going stir crazy. I kinda hated everyone's suggestions for how to stay busy/sane at the time, but eventually a few things were helpful.

Running was carved out, protected "me" time. When I couldn't run, I had to consciously make the effort to give myself "me" time.

Anonymous said...

The key to recovery is learning to feel. You're doing well.

I dealt with severe compulsive exercise as well with my Anorexia. Not engaging in these behaviors was hard, not because it was habit (I really didn't like making myself go to the gym for hours) but because I needed it to numb out, focus, and get those heavy weighing emotions and thoughts out/off of me somehow. It worked, that's what sad. However, it was temporary and did nothing to fix what was going on for me.

You're right, it's not about exercise at all. When my behaviors were taken away from me I began feeling things I didn't want to feel and I didn't have the coping mechanism to handle the emotions I was experiencing. However, that was the point.

Take this time to nurture yourself. When I was in this phase of exercise withdrawl, my dietician and therapist both said it was still a sign I should NOT be exercising (for awhile). It was during this time I learned new coping mechanisms that were beneficial and nurturing to my body. WOAH! now THAT was a new concept for me!

I would take daily walks with my mother or a friend and talk while I was "exercising". I spent lots of time talking transparently to both my therapist and dietician about how I was feeling. For me, I got my mind re-stimulated by engaging in a stack load of books and writing some about the thoughts. For me, my compulsive exercise was my coping skill to deal with things that had caused me pain that I didn't know how to handle or talk about. Not exercising brought more of these to the surface and made me face them.

Exercise never looked the same for me. Today, over two years later, I DO go to the gym AT TIMES, but it is different - it's healthy. I go to classes, do many walks, and very light weight lifting for my bones. I changed my mindset from "oh my gosh I HAVE got to work out" to "my body needs this in moderation".

I think our society's over-emphasis and distortion of exercise also makes this process difficult for us.

Virginia said...

Have you considered trying a meditation group? "Sitting" is almost the opposite of exercise, yet people who practice it gain many of the same mental benefits that exercise brings.

I agree with Anonymous's caution about yoga — if you decide to try it, look for a "yoga for wellness" or "yoga for relaxation" class, and share your exercise addiction issues with your teacher before you start.

IMO, it's good for everyone to learn how to relax through stillness as well as through movement.

Anonymous said...

For the anxiety (I am a terrible pacer) my RD had me get one of those huge exercise balls. You can sit on it and gently move and bounce while reading or watching TV doing crafts or use it at the table for meals. Sure doesn't solve the whole anxiety thing in the long run, but it has helped me a ton. Especially when I wake up in the middle of the night and catch myself pacing for hours on end. Now I block the entrance of my bedroom door with the ball to push me to remember to move on that instead of pacing.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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