Exercise Addiction

I can already tell I’m going to need more weekend after this weekend is over. Despite taking yesterday easily, I feel completely spent this morning. This is life with chronic illness. In the dreary, freezing wintertime, it’s not as difficult to fight my inner drive to move and “do” things every waking hour, be it work, exercise, errands, or some other form of productivity or energy output. When the weather is uninviting, I can convince the inner voice that everyone in my family has, which nags us to be active. I see the same exact behavior and mindset reign over any balanced attitude or respect for what’s best for the body (when it’s rest) in each of my family members. Whether they recognize or own that struggle is not something I’m privy to because for some reason, it’s not something we openly discuss, or when we do, it’s in the pointing fingers, you-over-exercise-I-don’t kind of way. That in itself doesn’t seem too healthy, but we all have our own battles in life and this blog isn’t the ideal space to explore those of other people. That said, it would be so helpful, in an ideal world, if one of my family members shared their struggles with this and ways they’ve prevailed and times the dark side won. I feel more connected and human when I feel like others whom I love.

Anyway, it’s easier to listen to my body and rest when I need to because I don’t feel like I’m really missing anything by staying sedentary inside. However, with far nicer weather, like the hints of springtime that have been sneaking out over the past few weeks like yesterday afternoon, listening to my body’s need to rest is much harder than following the marching orders of my physical activity-loving brain, which encourage me to push my body and get up and out.

Yesterday, I faced this dilemma and had to use my healthy logical brain to talk down the voice that typically governs me to exercise. I had a busy, productive morning of working and I took a long walk because I’m unable to run right now. Walking is a healthy compromise because it gets me outside in the fresh air, allows me to move and lubricate my achy joints without hurting them, and keeps energy output to a minimum because my walk pace is a gentle stroll whereas I run like a prized racehorse.

In the afternoon, I ran errands and did more work. The sun came out and I felt the inner urge from my heart to take another walk. I wanted to spend more time outside and be more active. Not only did I feel cooped up in the house missing the warmer temperatures, but I actually felt guilty being so sedentary and not doing more exercise and taking advantage of the weekend recreation time on a spring-like afternoon to be active. I think that guilt is the difference between a normal person and someone trying to overcome an exercise addiction or unhealthy relationship with exercise. I definitely had an exercise addition during my long fight against anorexia and for many years after my relationship with food normalized. I still struggle at times as indicated by the feelings of guilt and frustration that I couldn’t be more active yesterday because I didn’t feel well. That said, I’ve made one monumental step towards “recovery”: I don’t deny that it’s a problem I struggle with and I don’t pretend I’m not tired or that my body would be better served resting when that’s the honest assessment of how I feel. These are two hallmark symptoms of exercise addiction, especially the inability to truly listen to your body and objectively assess its needs. I still have work to do in terms of establishing a healthy relationship with exercise and not demonizing inactivity nor deriving too much value and joy from exercising.

My healthy brain beat out the addiction side yesterday afternoon. I was tired and honest about that fatigue and the need to rest to take care of myself. I watched the sun shining outside while I stayed indoors working on a puzzle and taking it easy. In all honesty, it upset me a little and I felt disappointed that I wasn’t up for more activity, but I stayed firm in my resolve to give my body what it needed, even if my mind felt it needed something else. Today, one day removed, I feel glad that I did the right thing, but I am aware it’ll be a daily battle for some time. Like any addiction, it’s not easy to change and there will be growing pains, especially since this is a mindset I’ve had my whole life and one embodied by most of the people closest to me and that I admire. One day at a time.

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