A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Exercise

I am 60 pounds overweight and when I look into a mirror I have trouble accepting it. I know that it is common for many people suffering from schizophrenia to be this overweight due to the medications, but that is of little comfort to me. I’m not miserable about it, but I do withdraw from social contact because of it and I no longer even consider having a romantic relationship. My voices have told me that I have to lose the weight because it compromises my health. My bad cholesterol is too high and my good cholesterol is too low. I am just in the danger zone for having a stroke or a heart attack. What I need and have needed since I became psychotic is regular exercise. Exercise is not only good for reducing bad cholesterol while shedding pounds, it is good for reducing depression.

I suffer from depression; this is also common for people who live with schizophrenia. This past spring I had a reprieve from it. My spirits lifted, I had a lot more energy. I started working on projects that might give me added income this year--painting portraits and doing craftwork. I joined an artist’s group online called Artid and posted examples of my art work. I got a good response. I was hopeful. Then over the summer I lost my momentum and gradually stopped working. For a week I smoked cigarettes again. My motivation level sank. I stopped painting, exercising and cleaning and I distanced myself from my online friends. Luckily my friends have been very patient with me and I’m still in contact with them. I decided that there was something I could do to help myself: join the fitness center at the university in town. The benefits were obvious: to get out of my house, to be around people, to improve my mood, to reduce my cholesterol and to lose weight.

On Friday I went to the athletics office and paid for a six month membership. On Saturday, armed with my iPod and a bottle of water, I headed for the fitness center. It was late afternoon and there weren’t that many people there. The ones that were there were young and fit. I was the only overweight middle aged person there, but that didn’t stop me. The fitness center is large, much larger than it was a few years ago when I was still in school and took an exercise class. I headed for the treadmills. In front of the treadmills were multiple TVs. I chose to look at CNN while I walked at a 3 mile an hour pace. I walked for 40 minutes and then switched to a stationary bicycle for 20 minutes. I kept up a steady pace, but didn’t force it. I did this same routine again on Sunday. I skipped a day to go out to the bar with my brother and then on Tuesday I again went to the fitness center. There was no available parking, so I parked a 10 minute walk away at my brother’s house. This time there were more people, one man in his 50s and a young woman who was somewhat overweight, the rest were once again young and fit.

I have no illusions about losing weight quickly. I know it will take a year of consistent work to lose the weight I’ve put on. I’m trying to look at going to the fitness center as a lifestyle change, rather than as some punishing quick fix. So far, I’ve been enjoying the change. It gives a little structure to my day and gives me something to focus on, a goal to strive towards. More important than losing the weight is improving my general sense of well being. So far, that’s been the case, but it’s too soon to tell if I will commit to the change or veer away from it once again. This is the test: to see if a regular exercise program can in fact dispel depression. If I stay aware of the process and prove to myself that it does, I’m more likely to stick with it. It’s not a solution to all my problems, but it’s a start.

For those of you out there newly diagnosed with schizophrenia who are starting to take anti-psychotic medications like Zyprexa and Risperdal, please consider joining a fitness center or getting regular exercise in some other way. I wish I had done so before I put on all this weight. In the long run it can only help you. I guess that goes for all of us. Exercise is a must.

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