ANIL CHAUHAN | 21 OCTOBER, 2019
How Running Helps Me Cope With Bipolar Disorder
When my mind gave up on me, I still had a healthy body left
It is the year 2019. I am 52 years old. I have suffered from bipolar disorder for the last 30 years - since the age of 22; year 1989. It has been a very long journey of suffering and struggle. But the great news is that this year - 2019 - is turning out to be my best year in my struggle for mood resilience.
And that is all I really care for - I want a stable emotional life now, and in the future. The ‘lost years’ of the past don’t really bother me.
Before I continue my story further, let me say that bipolar disorder is a collective name for a disorder that has many forms. Some of these are well defined such as bipolar disorder type 1, bipolar disorder type 2, cyclothymia, dysthymia, etc. Others may be more specific to an individual. So, bipolar disorder is not precise; it is rather spread over a spectrum. And my bipolar disorder might be different from your bipolar disorder.
My own personal bipolar disorder is bipolar disorder type 2, which consists of depression and hypomania. My episodes of depression have tended to be very bad and long, lasting weeks, and I have felt powerless in coming out of them. I also have had my bursts of hypomania, and they have been damaging too, but my mania has been less severe than my depression.
I am speaking about my bipolar disorder here somewhat in the past tense, not because I am out of it, but because I have not had a full blown episode for the past 8 months. This is an amazing new experience. I am going through the longest ever period of mood stability. And unless it is all because of the position of my astrological stars - the biggest enabler of my stronger mood stability now has been majorly the outcome of a regular workout everyday.
When my mind gave up on me, I still had a healthy body left.
And I have used my healthy body to pull my mind up again to some sort of better health. I run, I walk, I cycle. I try to do these activities everyday - often both in the morning and in the evening. I step out everyday, I move, I sweat, I raise my heart rate, everyday.
Any mental health sufferer will tell you what a big deal it is to be able to pull yourself out of bed and out of the house. I have now done it enough number of times which has made it easier to do it again. Having a goal also helps a lot. I have a goal of running 1000 kms in a calendar year. This goal pushes me to keep going.
But running is not an unpleasant activity that needs doses of will power all the time. A lot of times it is so exhilarating, and so much fun; that is the best part of the day. Similarly, walking and cycling too. Or any other form of physical activity.
Moreover, it is not just people struggling with mental health issues who need it. Workouts are good for everyone. It has been said that if exercise could be made into a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster drug ever invented.
Let me add here that, besides working out, I also observe some other disciplines without which I become vulnerable to triggering depression or mania. These are regular sleep hours, healthy food and regular baths. Family and friends are also vital supports. I also take a small dose of lithium everyday. Medicines should be taken only on a doctor’s prescription.
Improvement did not happen after just one burst of running, though even the first run gave a glimpse of the possibilities ahead. Durable benefit has happened gradually, and not always evenly. But happened it has, in the deep recesses of the emotional brain.
I am enjoying the experience of the longest period of mood stability right now. It has already benefited me in work and finances, and my close ones and friends will also start believing it is real if it carries on like this.
Technically, I am not cured (and I never will be). Rather, I am in remission. But, whatever you call it, it is a blessing.