It definitely feels – no, IS selfish and perhaps even self-aggrandizing to write about my relationship with exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are dying and unemployment rates are soaring. But I also know that not enough is said about the way in which shattered routines can lure out the nastiest and most virulent inner demons in all of us.
For many years now, I have struggled with an exercise disorder that, well, started off as an eating disorder that then morphed into one concerning exercise. In recent years, things have gotten a lot better as I slipped into a false sense of security with my exercise-filled week – I joined a dance group on campus that had training and rehearsals 5 hours a week, I took PE classes on my “off” days, and I went to the gym over the weekend. I made sure I was vigorously exercising every single day of the week. For a while, that made me feel like I was conquering my disorder. It made me feel as though I were on top of the world, like I didn’t have to worry about exercise anymore because my obsessive planner of a mind had taken care of my schedule for me.
As March rolled around and the Bay Area experienced the first tremors of panic, my exercise routine started fraying at the edges. First, our dance competition in April got cancelled, then all our dance practices got cancelled and our team instructors were no longer allowed on campus to teach. On March 16th, I made a last-ditch attempt to go to the gym only to be turned away at the door because all campus health facilities were closed in response to the spread of COVID-19. I remember going home feeling betrayed, devastated, and angry with myself for even caring that my exercise plans were derailed when the world is descending into pandemonium. But I wasn’t able to get my mind out of its well-oiled path of obsessing over exercise. Disorders simply weren’t made to be reasoned with.
March 18th was when the bay area went on lockdown, and I decided that I needed a plan to stay sane in order to be able to divert my attention to more important matters. I scoured the internet for workouts in dance, yoga, HIIT, Pilates, kickboxing and more. I set myself a schedule to do 2+ videos a day in order to bring some normalcy back into my life. Yet, instead of making me feel like I’m back to my original, over-exercised self, quarantine life has made me face my disorder like never before.
I’m still struggling – every single day. Have I exercised enough to earn my food? Should I just skip this one meal since no one is there to hold me accountable? Why do I care about exercise when people are dying? What if I were to go on two runs today? Can I push myself just a little harder today on this rep? Learning to be patient with myself as I tear my mind gently from these questions time and time again to focus on my own work has been an incredibly difficult but rewarding process. Every time that I am able to leave those thoughts behind – even if only for a little bit – and unscramble words on a page or write another sentence in my email is a small victory gained.
It is indeed shameful to admit – but I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to get my exercise obsession under control, don’t have a plan for how I’m going to get through the rest of quarantine with my unsustainable routine, don’t have a plan for confidently taking the reins of my mental health in my own hands. But writing this piece is a small first step towards a long journey of healing. My pre-quarantine self was drunk on a deluded, inflated mirage of a functional mind and body. It took COVID-19 for me to realize that it was but a delusion. It takes all the courage in me to admit that I am probably the most vulnerable I have been in years, but with this vulnerability also comes the realization that I am ready to start healing.
For those of you out there who are struggling with inner demons of your own but feel as though your struggles are too trivial and too shameful to be addressed – this is for you.
[submitted on 4/23/2020]