I was just taking Luna (my dog) out for a walk when I started thinking about exercise.
Exercise is important for everyone but, looking back, bipolar disorder has really had an effect on the role exercise has played in my life.
For example, when I am depressed it is extremely difficult to do anything, let alone take on the daunting task of exercising. Near the end of the depressed episode I just had I started doing yoga to try and make up for my lack of motivation to exercise. I found that yoga is a fun, energizing, and strangely relaxing way to exercise that I hadn’t tried before. Even doing yoga exercises that weren’t particularly challenging, I could only maintain a level of concentration and strength to complete about 30 minutes or so while depressed. But hey, every little bit helps right?
Today my thoughts were geared more toward the combination of exercise and mania. I was thinking back trying to discern if and when I experienced manic episodes as a child or adolescent, and looking at my exercise habits at different periods in my life is a way I’ve found of getting a grasp on when these episodes occurred.
When I am experiencing mania I generally have an overwhelming amount of energy. A tingling, pulsing feeling almost like a hum invigorates my entire body and it is extremely difficult and uncomfortable to sit still. In my teens I had no real idea what the feeling meant, just that when I was experiencing it I needed to exercise intensely to feel any sort of relief.
Through my late teens I spent an extraordinary amount of time hiking with Chloe, the yellow lab you can see here on the left. Chloe was an excellent hiking partner, and really any amount of energy I was willing to expel she would match it.
You can also see Violet in the photo (the pug on the right), my family had three other dogs besides Chloe -three pugs (which included Violet). Violet was willing to go on walks for a while (the other two pugs were much too lazy for longer walks) but in her middle age gave in to being a wiggly, wrinkly home body.
Really, the two dogs in the photo here do a pretty good job of representing my manic episodes and my depressed episodes. Chloe the lab was great for big, energetic bursts, while Violet was an excellent cuddler, able to meet my gloomier, couch potato needs. Unfortunately, both dogs passed away of (extreme) old age in 2010.
It was also lucky in some ways to have grown up where I did.
Our house was a mile at most from an incredible state park, and half a mile from the beach. Some days Chloe and I would leave the house like a bullet from a gun and hike 8-10 miles before heading home. Eight intense miles of uninterrupted hiking was usually what it took to feel a shard of relaxation and some degree of resignation in my body.
Needless to say, I was in pretty good shape at the time!
I’ve heard similar stories from some of the bipolar acquaintances I’ve made, stories about biking 40 miles without realizing it just to relieve the overwhelming urge to “go”, or people going for a run only to realize that they’ve somehow run all the way to the next town or city over without tiring.
Like many of the traits that coincide with bipolar mania, I’ve found this extreme energy both to be a blessing and a curse. On one hand there are times when I am able to complete physical feats I am not able to accomplish otherwise, like hiking 10 miles without breaking a sweat. As long as I am exercising in some way, the hum of energy inside of my body feels amazing, and coupled with the endorphins of a long work-out I can wind up having a great exercise high while getting fit!
That said, there’s definitely a darker downside. Both from what I’ve experienced and what others I’ve spoken to have told me there doesn’t appear to be any way to attach this energy to a specific time of day. If and when it occurs it does so seemingly at random, and it is incredibly inconvenient for it to happen at, say, 2 o’clock in the morning. That may not seem like such a bad thing, but when it happens and the need for exercise is so completely overwhelming that one can’t sit or stand still (let alone sleep) it can be very dangerous. Depending on where you live, it may not be safe to be biking down the road at night or jogging down the streets if you’re in the city. Doing so might result in being mistaken for a prostitute (true story, though I don’t know any prostitutes that wear sweatpants) or much, much worse.
Most of my life I’ve considered gyms to be totally ridiculous, because why run inside when you could just run outdoors? For the sake of this situation though I’d highly recommend a treadmill or stationary bike, even one of those big red exercise balls -whatever it takes to be able to expel that energy in a safe environment.
Plus, it’s really frustrating to have jogged your way to the next town over and have the energy burst dissipate. Trying to figure out how to get home in that situation makes having access to some exercise equipment at home or at a nearby gym priceless.