Breaking Down and Out: Anxiety and Fitness

TW: EATING DISORDER

I was diagnosed with anxiety at the ripe young age of three years old. Every therapist I’ve told since then has always given their condolences for this, but this pity apology is never one that I can accept. Mental illnesses are not one size fits all. Neither are people. Growing up, I was put on various anti-anxiety medications, tried every kind of therapy under the sun, and looked into every single outlet to try and make it disappear. It is hard to accept that mental illness isn’t something you can just halt.

I observed at a young age that my anxiety affected my relationship with my body. I didn’t begin to notice my body until other people began to point out what they perceived to be wrong with it. I’ve always been a petite person, but in previous years I saw myself as skeletal. Puberty gifted me a new type of stress that came tied with the bright red ribbon of body dysmorphia. Some days I was engorged and swollen round like an overinflated balloon, others I was a leafless tree with rigid edges and sticks for limbs. This was not the world’s perception, but the reality of self from my point of view. I grew into my body, but my mind did not seem to fit the size on the tag. I became an embodiment of anxiety and for a duration of time suffered from bouts of binge eating and purging.

After coming to the conclusion that this method rendered ineffective, I underwent periods of self-starvation and privately abused exercise as an unhealthy vehicle for weight loss. I recall one year after Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house, I promptly went into the bathroom and did crunches on the rug until someone disrupted me with a knock on the door. It is a detrimental state of mind for someone so young to succumb to. In time, I bettered my relationship with food and am endlessly grateful I never progressed into such a severe eating disorder that I risked my life. Nevertheless, the more I consumed, the more I despised my appearance. Every instance I exercised it was with the intent of having a more delicate frame or being more beautiful and never concerning self-care. This ate me from the inside out for years.

At this moment, my relationships with my diet and body have blossomed and bloomed. Just as every flower can drop a petal, they are not perfect, but they are right what I need. It took eons to arrive at this point, but you grow through what you go through, and I desperately needed to grow. March bullied me. This is a lie I tell myself sometimes, but the truth is rather closer to me letting it. Being forced out of a place I had burrowed into and made home was hard-hitting. Landis Hall was a hard love to lose. With the hustle and bustle and color and bliss of campus life stripped off my canvas, I spiraled into an anxiety episode I had never experienced the likes of in my life. I have perpetually remained at odds with my mind, but this was the hardest I have ever fallen. Personal insecurities and COVID distress and financial burdens clawed themselves beneath my skin and I shattered. Only forgoing my bed for the few shifts I worked, I was decaying, solemnly sitting empty in my bedroom wasting away the days watching mind-numbing programs to escape facing myself. I felt utterly alone. This was a strenuous time because it came as the whole world was adjusting. To my knowledge, we all felt entirely alone. How to be there for others when incapable of doing so for yourself? It was inescapable even in the presence of most loved ones. Bless the few with the ability to help ease my burden.

sad and alone girl breakup Photo by _Mxsh_ from Unsplash I began seeking a job following the conclusion of that semester. I had applied for over a hundred scholarships but was unsuccessful in winning any, so I structured a strict schedule of working 10 hours a day, six days a week, to save up money designated towards rent and bills for my sophomore year of school. This was the interruption that forced me out of bed and drove me to recognize my urgent need to start caring for myself: body and mind. I established a stringent routine and had a set agenda for every day of the week. Wednesday through Saturday, I awoke at seven a.m. to exercise for an hour, utilizing videos from Chloe Ting and Pamela Reif, showered, got dressed, ate eggs and peanut butter toast with fruit, and went to work. I returned home from work at roughly 10:15 pm every evening to chat with my boyfriend, family and friends, and then went to bed and woke up to do it again the following day. Sunday and Monday were approximately the same at my other job. Tuesday’s were my designated day for relaxation, resting and laughing with the people I cared about. I realized that a fixed time for self-care had a positive effect on my relationship, my friendships and the relationships I cherish with my family. It’s impossible to be happy with others if you hate yourself.

This was an intense way of life, but such discipline forced me to implement exercise in a way I enjoyed. I grew to relish in life’s joys and was conferred the outlook that each moment matters. I began to look forward to my workouts and was absolutely thrilled when I moved to my apartment in August and had access to a gym. Since August, I’ve been learning how to weight lift and recently hit a personal record of a 90-pound hip thrust. I work out five to six days a week, and I adore it. Writing this has encouraged me to review the progress I’ve made. Exercise has taught me to love my body and does wonders for my mental health. I love my body because it’s my strong foundation, and it carries me through my ethereal life of beautiful places and feelings and people. Despite having goals for my physique, my aim is no longer solely my appearance, and I never restrict what I eat. I love my mind the same and do my best to nourish it and attend to its needs. Consistent exercise doesn’t eliminate my anxiety, but it helps me manage it in a way I never thought was possible. It has revived me and made me feel whole. I will forever be grateful for Chloe Ting’s YouTube videos for starting me on this journey, and grateful to myself for taking a leap of faith. Do yourself a favor today. Set some time aside to move your body, or rest it in a way that makes your heart feel at peace, even if only a little. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and in a few months your mind will thank you.

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