The Dreaded E-Word
The task now, is to stop myself from sinking back down into depression. It's been a question of remembering - or rather, relearning those things that I discovered and knew in the years before medication. It's a question of discipline - sleep right (at least 8 hours, at the same time every day) - eat right (no refined sugar, limit the amount of caffine) but the single most important influence on whether I have a fairly upbeat and bouncy day, or descend into crying jags and snapping attacks at random people on a crowded tube:
I hate the fact that this is so. I hate it with every fibre of my lazy body - but actually, that's not true. I am not naturally lazy. I'm perfectly happy to walk - in fact, I often to prefer to walk instead of relying on public transportation. I enjoy dancing and playing musical instruments (often a somewhat physical activity - at least, it was before the Laptop became my primary instrument.)
Yet the moment someone mentions the dreaded EXERCISE word, I drag my feet like a recalcitrant teenager.
And therein lies the reason why. I went to school in the States, where, after the Kennedy-era administration enacted legislation governing school curriculums, all forms of exercise were turned into the dreaded SPORTS.
If ever there is a way to suck the joy out of physical movement, it's to turn it into an athletic competition full of pointless rules and combine it with a vicious winner take all culture that glorifies the winners and vilifies the sad, pale, pathetic computer nerds and bookworms that are invariably picked last for the team and lose every physical competition in which they are forced to participate.
Do I still sound bitter, 20 years later? Come on. You're talking to a woman who, as a teenager, intentionally got her foot broken at a punk show so that she could have a doctor's note off sport for a semester.
This legislation from before I was even born brought in rigorous physical testing for children during their most sensitive years. Like most private school kids, I was used to batteries of tests - the SSAT, the PSAT, the SAT and so on. I was used to acing them with one frontal lobe tied behind my head. But those physical tests that measured how many situps or pushups or pullups you could do, or how fast you could run a mile... run a mile? No fucking way could I *EVER* run a mile, not with M.I.A's Anti-Ginger League shooting guns at my feet.
The results of the SSAT and the PSAT and the SAT all came privately, in an envelope delivered to your parents' house. The results of the physical fitness tests, however, were posted publically in the gym for everyone to see. Kate St.Claire was on the 0th percentile for physical fitness. Never mind that I got a 99th percentile on every other standardised test they could throw at me, that 0 haunted me, as if they'd painted a target on my back and thrown me hogtied into homeroom.
I hate competitive sports. No, I don't hate them - I *LOATHE* them with every fibre of my being. Anyone who repeats that old trope "it's not whether you win or lose that matters, it's how you play the game" has never really lost - not repeatedly, every single time you try, until you finally give up - but no. If you don't go to gym class, we won't let you graduate, we will make you repeat the 10th grade over and over and over, no matter how brilliant your academic grades are - unless you spend a couple of Saturdays running - did I say running? - no, dragging yourself around the playing fields wishing that you could, actually, drop dead of exhaustion.
So if there is so much of a WHISPER that any kind of physical activity might be exercise or - worse - sport - my brain and body simply rebel and will. not. do. it. It's almost like I have to play tricks with myself to get it to work. Add music, and I'll bounce away. (This has been the biggest positive about getting an iPhone - the iPod part of it has been the biggest incentive to getting me to move since my ancient Sony Discman died.) Add Scenics - and the prospect of getting to look at interesting things and I'll walk for, literally, miles, without even noticing.
Perhaps this was an added bonus to coming off citalopram while I was in Cornwall. If there was one thing I did a lot of while on holiday (oh, apart from eating cornish pasties and cream tea) it was walking. Up and down hills, along windy coastlines, tramping all over castles and tin mines - I walked an average of about 5 miles a day, easily.
And walking is, seriously, the most effective anti-depressant I have EVER known, the only one that works every time, works both short term and long term. I'm not saying that doing it makes me feel fantastic - but if I *don't* do it, it's guaranteed that I will feel like shit. And so this is what I must hold on to. Forget those awful teenage competitions, forget the humiliation of the locker room ritual, forget those brainless bimbos talking endlessly about their diets and aerobics routines like steel-abbed robots.
Remember this: it is the ONLY thing that will keep your precious sanity intact.