Exercising with PTSD


I'm Anne, not new with FB, but so far I have been hesitant to start a discussion here. I'm not native in english, which did not help either. But since I started replying here and there, mentioning a few things about PTSD, I felt I had to introduce myself a bit more. Hesitant once more, because I don't want to be that person who keeps nagging about mental issues. But I know that is mostly my own judgment about myself and my disorder.

So I have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and this has been a struggle since I was young (and had never heard about PTSD). The disorder manifested itself as depression, eating problems, black outs, memory loss and an inability to keep a job or to maintain relationships. I avoided professional help, so a proper diagnosis was only made when I lost everything I had: relationship, roof over my head, job, friends. Only when I wanted my life to be over and noticed that my body kept going on and surviving, I reached out for help.

It took me years to be where I am now: a middle aged woman in her own appartment, receiving out patient treatment. I still have a long struggle ahead of me and try to cope as well as I can with PTSD symptoms every day, all day long.

In 2013 I started working out with FB. just after I moved in my first home in two years. I had not really moved for ages. Working out was and still is my way to escape from the flashbacks, fear, self hate I inherited from my past. But there is more to it.

Repetitive trauma teaches your body and mind to disconnect and over the years mine have become really good at that. It helped me survive. Unfortunately, reconnecting is not that easy. I have learned to dislike and ignore my body at a young age. So it seems normal to me that I can't feel hunger, pain, fatigue. The FB mantra - listen to your body' is unachievable for me, at least for now.

I try to maintain a strict schedule to make sure I eat three meals a day, but it is difficult to keep myself to it. Trauma therapy makes some symptoms temporarily worse, I keep forgetting things (including eating, running errands) and the depression and lack of self esteem make it even harder to eat, drink and sleep properly. Part of me does not have the desire to live and feel my body, as that body feels 'guilty'. Often, if I feel so angry with myself for not being able to do something with my life, with my talents, for not working and for just 'nagging' about everything without finding a solution, I just want to punish my body. And I often use HIIT or strength training to do that.

Long story, but the bottom line is that, with PTSD, my relationship with exercising is as complicated as my relationship with my body. When I exercise, it is difficult to listen to my body and find out my limits. Another thing I found out the hard way is that my mind associates an increased heart rate, sweating, panting which are normal when you exercise, with fear. Often, especially after therapy, this may trigger flash backs. I have experienced that my body, with its senses and muscles, stores more memories than my mind. When my body starts reliving the past, triggered by something that I did not even really notice, or by something unexpected (someone ringing at the door, a sound, a smell), I'm hardly aware what year I am living in.

In spite of the pitfalls of exercising, I don't intend to stop. Workout time is time to forget that I have a disorder. And it is the only thing I have left. I'm incapable of maintaining friendships, hobbies or other meaningful activities. My body shuts down when I try to be among people, responds with extreme fear if I only try to make conversation with a neighbour. I don't want to miss those 45 min/day of forgetting that I am ill, of not counting the hours and minutes and wanting the day to be over or dreading another one to begin. So that is exercise for me.

I was moved by the support and encouragement here within this community. I am aware that my struggle is mine, and I am not expecting to find a quick fix for my struggles here. But maybe there are others out here who recognize what I am rambling about. Anyway, it felt right to share a bit of me here. And I wanted to express my gratitude for this site and this community. 💐