E is for Exercise

Note: This blog post, and the ones following, are Elizabeth’s personal story of living with schizoaffective disorder. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others who are also facing a mental health challenge.

In kindergarten at Southwood Elementary School in Mrs. Early’s class, we learned our ABC’s by learning about the Letter People.  My name is Elizabeth, and E was for exercise then…, but is it now to us?

A major part of recovery is taking care of our whole body, and that involves exercise.  Natural chemical reactions occur in the brain as we exercise, and we need these reactions to feel right or like our true self.  That’s what makes us feel good.

Yes, I admit I have downed my share of Oreos and brownies on lonely weekends in my apartment after I first graduated college in 2004, but exercise was always a priority amidst my struggles.  I know I was eating to soothe my loneliness, stress, anxiety, or other emotions.  Emotional eating was something that I dealt with shortly after graduating from college as my mental illness was first taking shape.  At times I felt powerless to control how I felt, so the food I consumed was a momentary break from craziness of my life.

Some people use alcohol or drugs to satisfy unfulfilled desires, broken dreams, loss of love, or boredom while others use food.  Food addiction is a major issue in this country along with lack of exercise.

To prevent emotional eating, I had to remember food is fuel, and serves an important purpose when consumed at ideal measures and levels.  I needed to stop viewing food as a way to quench my loneliness and enjoy a momentary “high.”  The food never took away the problem.  It was a temporary mask to hide my true feelings.  When I actually dug deeper, and sorted through my feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety I empowered myself to take control of the situation.  I could see how each part is linked, and I could see how I needed to take care of myself to truly feel like me again.

In the fall of 2004, becoming a Christian, volunteering, making new friends, and working hard were sources of love that I found as I attempted to remedy my situation.  My stress and anxiety were managed by lessoning my need for perfection in my life.  Maybe wanting to excel and be nearly perfect worked in college for good grades, but it doesn’t translate as well to the real world.  Having unreasonable expectations for yourself that are nearly unattainable can easily prompt stress and anxiety.  Pulling back on the reins and allowing yourself to make mistakes in a healthy manner makes life more livable.  Each mistake is not something to stress, worry, and dwell on for long periods of time, but more constructive milestones that keep us on track and fueled for the next project.

In short order, I trained myself to balance my emotions, stress, anxiety, my sweet teeth, and cravings with exercise.  All of these in moderation are best for us all.

Exercise is essential for a happy life.  Getting the body moving makes us sweat, and our brain needs the right cranial reactions to take place to naturally satisfy our mood and control our hunger.

We learn to eat when we are hungry, and exercise to keep trim and fit.

Some good forms of exercise are walking, yoga, pilates, Zumba, using elliptical machines, weight lifting, riding bikes, dancing, swimming, golfing, running or all other sports.  Group exercise classes are a great way to introduce exercise in your life as it is more of a social activity along with taking care of your body through physical activity.  Having others in the same class with similar goals serves as a support system, and can be very motivating.  Some of us may enjoy endurance activities such as training for half marathons, full marathons, or triathlons.  Training groups usually get organized that can keep you motivated all the way through to the date of your event.

The YMCA in Fort Wayne, Indiana is a great place to go for group exercise classes, working out with the other available exercise equipment, swimming in the pools, or playing a game of basketball in the gym.  I have tried some group exercise classes at the Parkview YMCA in Fort Wayne since moving:  Step n’ Sculpt, Tightening and Toning, and Zumba.

Parkview Health also offers a Health and Fitness Center that is hospital based, which has a full range of group exercise classes to give the Fort Wayne resident a variety of ways to exercise.  The Fort Wayne Running Club could be a good organization to get involved with if you are interested in getting connected with other walkers and runners or getting involved with various running events.

When we make the decision to want to take better care of us, we have to think about how each part we impact changes our mind; it’s almost like acupuncture.  Pinpointing areas to focus on relieves the body of stress and anxiety that builds up over time.  We need a release.

Our mind is like a muscle too.  We have to use it or we lose it.  We have to train our mind as we do our body so that we can function at tip top shape.

When you feel sluggish or have no energy it is because you are not training your body through exercise enough to make it function properly or get out the results you want.

For individuals with a mental health condition, weight management can be tricky.  For example, I gained thirty pounds very quickly for a period of time right after I switched to my current medication Fanapt in the fall of 2011, but it was not through lack of exercise or not eating right.

My medicine changed my metabolism, and that is often the case with many people.  It was one of the side effects of finding the medicine that worked the best for me, so I researched another medication that was supposed to counteract the change in metabolism.  My nurse practitioner would not prescribe it to me, but it was still great to find the right drug to take care of my mental illness.  It makes me think of a reason why people gain weight when they are in love because love is like a drug.  It feels good, and you forget about eating right and exercising because you have your love or drug.

Through hard work in slow increments over time I lost the weight, so that I would not gain it back.  For the last few years, I have been maintaining my health, fitness, and weight goals.  Currently, I am training for my twelfth half marathon, which I will run on May 6th in Indianapolis.

Moderation is key with most things in life.  Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.  Try a variety of different physical activities.  Keep it fresh.  You’ve got this!

We all need to take better care of us.  We need to feel the best we can, and exercise is a great way to get feeling better.  Now, let’s get up.  Move or be moved:  your choice.

About Elizabeth:

My name is Elizabeth Schmalzried.  I am from Wabash, Indiana.  I graduated from Indiana University in 2004.  I was a member of the Women’s Golf Team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) during my four years in college.  I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in March 2008.  I have been through a great deal with my mental illness, and continue to manage my mental illness in recovery.  I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in October 2016, and hope that my contributions to this blog will be relatable and help others who have similar struggles.  I enjoy working out, reading, listening to, and watching the news, golfing, cooking, volunteering, watching sports, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

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