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My Exercise Obsession Saved Me From Crippling Anxiety

Growing up I hated gym class. I tried. I tried to like volleyball and dodge ball and sit ups and the sit and reach. But I didn’t. My family tried to keep active, but in reality, we didn’t do near enough to keep up with the amount of fast food and soft drinks we had fallen on as our schedules became too busy to cook and commit to a workout routine.

Then without really thinking about it, I decided I didn’t want to drink soda and sports drinks to replenish the electrolytes from the sports I wasn’t playing. I didn’t want to eat fast food any more. I lost weight. I stopped being the chubby kid at school. But I became so anxious in high school that I finished my last two years online. Even though I wasn’t facing the stress of going to school on a daily basis, the anxiety stuck to me and I couldn’t shake it. I was afraid to leave the house. Afraid to try new foods. Afraid to touch the mail or anything that came in it. I was afraid. And therapy wasn’t helping.

More: Are you addicted to the gym? When exercise becomes unhealthy

Instead of turning to medication, I turned to exercise. I wasn’t thrilled with the way my body looked and I definitely wasn’t thrilled with the way I was feeling. I needed something to dedicate myself to, a routine, a sense of control.

I started slow, back jogging in place in front of the TV. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. Finally an hour. It felt good.

While it wasn’t a cure (spoiler alert: it’s still not), I crossed item after item off the list of things I was too afraid to do. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted more of the feeling of my bare feet pounding into the carpet. I wanted more of the endorphin high.

More: My anxiety attacks chased me out of my job, relationship and country

I began playing active video games and bought workout DVDs. All of this basically amounted to interval training which changed my body for the better as well as my mind. I’m not tired all the time. I’m barely ever get tired in fact. My anxiety finds itself at bay most of the time, allowing me to lead the life I want for the most part. I feel good, I look good, I have confidence. I am comfortable with myself in mind, body, and spirit.

But with all of this comes a routine that I cling to as though my life depends on it. It is my life. It is part of me. I have worked out through pain and injuries and illness. I have canceled plans in order to get my workout in. it’s an addiction. An obsession. And it’s something people don’t understand.

I get strange looks, nasty comments and have even had people not want to be my friend. I get asked how much I weigh and if I eat. It is a mystery to people why I can’t skip just one or two workouts. While I have tried to become slightly more flexible in order to get the most out of life, skipping a workout isn’t as simple as it sounds. One workout can turn into a lot more. And for me, not exercising means an abundance of anxiety.

In a world where everyone is addicted to something — alcohol, tobacco, drugs, shopping, food — isn’t my addiction the better option? It makes me a better person and it’s not hurting anyone else. My two hours of exercise five days a week isn’t just about looking good (though that is a bonus), it’s about mental clarity. It’s about happiness. It’s about showing anxiety and the world who is boss. And perhaps mostly it’s become about being in control of something, anything.

More: 25 thoughts women with anxiety have at the gym

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