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Autism: Mental Health and Exercise

06 Aug

It isn’t the easiest thing for a person with low energy, chronic foot pain from being born with club foot, and chronic lower back pain… it isn’t the easiest thing to talk myself into exercising.

When I am camping at the lake, it is easy enough to do something each day. I have to walk down a steep hill to get to the lake. That is where we get our water for washing dishes, and where we have to swim if we want to get clean. I have to be clean, so I will swim. I like swimming – it is talking myself into it that is hard. I get ear aches if the water gets in my ears, or if my head gets cold. I get a sore neck from holding my head out of the water. So I wear a life jacket – but I do swim, and I do feel the muscles in my legs working. Then I have to walk back up that steep hill. I am out of breath and tired at the top, but it feels good.

If it isn’t too windy, I will go kayaking on the lake. I really like kayaking, though I never tried it before this summer, and didn’t know. If I can talk myself into it, I go kayaking, and I feel really good after. Afterwards, I am almost always hot from the workout, and will go swimming. Then there is the climb up the hill. I am tired, but I feel really good.

It is easy to get exercise when I am camping. When I am home, it is a lot harder. A lot of days it is hard to go outside. The neighbours are so close. I might consider jogging, or in-line skating, or riding a bike (if it hadn’t got stolen) but there are neighbours, and I hate feeling like I am watched. When my anxiety is high, as it so often is, the thought of even going outside can seem insurmountable. So most days I would walk the dog in the evening, and (while I am not working, and can do it) clean my house for maybe half an hour a day. Not enough. It doesn’t do anything for me.

I tried the Wii, and it was okay sometimes, but it isn’t enough. It is hard to get motivated. I am so tired, and so achy most of the time, and I just don’t do it.

Then my counselor asked me to get something tight to wear around my waist for deep pressure (it calms me) and weights that I can carry around for the same reason. I took a gift card that my bosses gave me last Christmas, and went shopping. I bought ankle/wrist weights ($14), a tension band for yoga or something ($4), and a stomach wrap ($9). I brought them home, hoping they would help.

The weights calm me when I wear them, so I keep them on most of the day. The stomach wrap (I think it might have been for weight loss or something, I don’t know, I bought it for the pressure) both calms me, and helps with my back issues. I wear that most of the day, too. It makes me sweat (I guess it is supposed to) and I don’t like that feeling, so I wear it over my t-shirt.

Now I run on my re-bounder for 40+ minutes every day, while watching one of my shows on Netflix. It is automatic, I think of my show, not so much what my body is doing. I wear my weights on my wrists during that activity, because I find my feet hurt too much if I wear them on my ankles then. I keep my wrap on, it helps lessen my back pain. I feel really good after, and highly motivated to clean my house every time. It is a good routine.

After cleaning, I still want to move, so I turn on my favourites from YouTube, sit on rubber mats I had from my daycare days, and do rowing exercises that were recommended with my tension wrap. My mind focuses on worship music, as I sing praises to God. My body moves on automatic, and I row for 30+ minutes each day as I am lost in my music. When I get too tired and achy, I start my back stretches that I learned while in my construction classes. The music plays, and I feel really good – even on dark and rainy days!

I don’t have to think of my neighbours during these activities. No one is around to watch me but my son (the only person on earth who doesn’t cause me performance anxiety, and doesn’t come to watch anyway) I don’t even think of the activities, except to start them. If I can push myself to do them, it feels so good, and it really does help to focus and calm me. I wish I had known this before – but then when I am working, the anxiety paralyses me, and I couldn’t have kept it up anyway. It is only now, when I have no choice but to be home, that I could add this into my routine long enough to see the benefits.

Exercise is something my psychiatrist advised, and I know at my next appointment, like my last, she will ask me if I am following through. “Yes? What sort of things are you doing?” she will ask. It is harder to come up with excuses as to why I am not doing it, than it is to find ways to comply… and the secret that I have found? It does help.

When I am unmotivated, depressed, anxious, perseverating – it helps to exercise. It takes me a long time to convince myself of that. It can even feel impossible some days. But it does help.

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