“Puppies are on fire and you’re the only one who can save them. You need to dash. Those arms and legs need to race and lift and carry then race some more and save the puppies.
If you needed to, if puppies were at stake, what could your body do? More than you think. It could do lots of things. It could save cute and furry little quadrupeds.”
I have clinical depression and anxiety, one of the results of which is that when I was at University I developed Binge Eating disorder as a form of self medication (along with smoking and drinking). I am obese and very unfit, I suffer from huge anxiety about exercise and thanks to a recent acute episode, I generally struggle to leave the house most days. Being around people is difficult, and travelling outside of my immediate area without being driven is nearly impossible, due to my anxiety. Although my mental health is improving through engaging with CBT, therapy and medication, self care around food and exercise is still deeply challenging to me.
Despite all this, on Monday I found myself walking a mile at 6.30am, rescuing a small dog found wandering on the street, getting a bus to another city, walking round said city, then getting a bus home. I did this because my friend had to get to a disability assessment, and I volunteered to help her do the travelling and navigating because of course I did. My metaphorical puppies were on fire.
The shock was that during the walk to her house, I noticed that I wasn’t anxious or tense at all - no stress and only a slight physical discomfort due to the uphill bits. I realised that I was in a completely different mindset, one which didn’t allow for anxiety that ignored fitness and just got the job done. That my body and mind were capable of that was an astonishing discovery.
Admittedly, I paid for it over the next few days. I slept for about 3 hours once I’d returned home, briefly popped out to the GP then slept again. Anxiety set in with force and physically I was wrecked. But when the need was there, when my puppies were on fire, I did what I needed to do and didn’t give up or falter.
One of the things about my condition is a tendency towards “All or nothing” thinking; the belief that if something isn’t perfect and complete then there’s no point in doing it. Incremental change and perseverance are almost anathema to that sort of thinking - if you can imagine a mind that wants to eat a salad and wake up at perfect BMI the next day, that’s something close to the way my mind wants to think about things. It’s something that CBT works on combating, but it’s a major barrier to pursuing and maintaining fitness and good health.
Knowing that when I need it, when puppies are on fire, I can push through that thinking and just get it done is incredibly empowering. It means that I have another weapon in my arsenal against the warped thinking that comes with my depression and anxiety. Knowing that “All or nothing” can be set aside when it needs to be, significantly reduces its power over me.
So next time my mind tries to talk myself out of doing a small amount of exercise because “there’s no point, it won’t change anything straight away so why bother”, I have an answer - it will change something; it will make it easier for me to race and lift and dash next time puppies are on fire. As James Fells says:
“Your body is more than your reflection. Your body can perform and experience things like showers and sex and warmth and exertion. It can make food and eat food bring people food. If you’re a lactating mother, you can literally make food. It can walk places and lift things and plant things and move things.
It can do so much more than give off a reflection, and it’s about time you appreciated that.”
This piece is inspired by an article by James Fell*, published on his website “Body for Wife”
*James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.
He’s also one of my favourite fitness personalities on Facebook, largely because he writes from the perspective of someone who has completely turned his life and body around, and isn’t condescending about it. You can read more about his story on his website.