Personal trainer Jane describes how exercise leaves her and people she coaches feeling invigorated and able to live effectively with bipolar disorder through strenuous medicinal activity

Ever since I can remember, I have loved being active.   I danced, rode horses, played netball and hockey, and started going to the gym when I was 14.  This passion for being active led me to become a fitness instructor at the age of 18 (pretty much as soon as I was old enough to qualify).   Fitness drives me, and I have always taught my group exercise classes alongside my day job.    

After a shocker of a year a few years back, which is when my manic episodes became more frequent, and I also burned out, exercise remained my saviour.  I decided to do my yoga training (to help develop myself) and took the step into the unknown to become a personal trainer, full time, which meant taking a brave step and leaving my office job.

I have always believed movement is key - the endorphin release is amazing, and it is a great way to increase energy; I always drummed this into my clients.  However, it is only recently that I have truly believed for myself that movement is medicine, prior I used it as a way to punish my body.  

It probably was not until my late 20s (now early 30s), that I appreciated what exercise could do for my body and mind.  Prior I would have binged eaten, then torn myself apart by exercising.  I have shifted my mindset to rather than sit and eat to distract myself from my emotions and thoughts, then beat my body up, I go out - walk, run, or hit a BodyAttack or spin class. 

Whilst they - the Drs, therapists etc suggest sitting with the emotions to identify what is happening, we know it isn’t always possible.  I don’t know about you, but if I cannot find the answer to my behaviour I get so frustrated (in a depressed state, I have been known to beat myself up and criticise myself for not being good enough and thinking what is the point, whilst having to pretend to the outside world I am coping).

I had been diagnosed with depression (2015 but had episodes in my early 20s), anxiety (again experienced when younger but diagnosed in 2018) and it’s recently at the end of 2019 that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type II and Borderline Personality Disorder.  It felt like finally I had some explanation to what was happening.  I could explain the depression, but the mania was something else - I thought I was just having a fantastic time, and tried to explain it as I was just having a good few days even though I felt untouchable.  It was only when I wasn’t sleeping and felt I didn’t need to, and the feeling as though I was on cloud 9 and was up for anything, and smashing personal bests in the gym that it was suggested I should speak with the doctor and then the Mental Health team.   I had no idea there was Type II Bipolar, and then to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder was confusing but it made sense based on the symptoms I experience.  However, of course I still find it confusing, especially as nothing is ever that black and white - some of the Bipolar symptoms interlink with Borderline Personality  i.e. intense emotions which lead to the hypomania and depressive episodes.  As I can act impulsively and find it very hard to trust people; I have to know where my comfort/safety network is.

Exercise allows me to focus; setting new challenges for me and growing, seeing what I am capable of rather than letting my state of mind bring me down, and because of this drive I have it encourages me to try to get the 8-9 hours of sleep I need to function at a decent state.  When I feel like I cannot move out of bed, I find it hard to motivate myself but I have to dive into my tool box and remember how it feels to move, even if it is just going out for a walk and focusing on my breathing - being present.  It is reminding myself what pleasure I get out of this and that sense of achievement that I have done it.  

I am grateful for Bipolar UK and the eCommunity to share what I am experiencing, but I truly hope that sharing my experience of  how I deal with bipolar and BPD helps you.  We are never alone, and I honestly can say since sharing more about my diagnosis with those who can relate on the eCommunity, I have realised so many others are living with this illness. We have to speak up more about mental health and remind ourselves that our mental health is important and needs to be helped just as if we had a headache or a broken limb. 

My Instagram account is: @activewithmee