on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

on learning to pace

A while ago I had a minor surgery for my infected cyst so I could not exercise the whole time, so I was raring to get back to it again. I never thought I would become a person to miss exercise. But there is something about having blood and oxygen circulating efficiently through my body, that my fragile body plagued with migraines and hormonal disorders can still carry me through prolonged physical exertion. There is a magical feeling I only started to experience quite late in my exercise journey: that I could complete an hour of aerobic exercise without collapsing into a heap.

I was surprised to learn that I could still retain most of my lung capacity even though I stopped exercising for a long while, that I wasn’t frantically out of breath. I somewhat settled into a slow enough jog, with my heart rate ranging from 120bpm to 150+bpm. I could not help but think about the many first times I tried to start running, where just a hundred meters was enough to make me feel like my chest was going to seize any moment.

The very first time I could make running a successful habit, I still felt terrible even though at that point of time I was running everyday for almost three months:

I don’t feel that discomfort in my chest anymore. I think it is a combination of increased aerobic capacity because of all the cycling I have done, and I seem to know how to jog at last? I know it sounds hilarious but I struggled to run slowly enough to jog. I was either sprinting too fast, or brisk walking as though as I was limping because I was too tired to run.

I also learnt to enjoy the meditative aspects of running, to just let my mind wander aimlessly while I jog and be curious about the thoughts that would pop up. I am guilty of doomscrolling, so running without a device chained to me is a welcome relief. Isn’t it strange I feel relieved of my phone yet I’m immediately stuck to it when I have access to it?

Every time I run I think about how profound the lesson of pace has been in my life. I have always been an all or nothing person (which I discovered later is a classic symptom of the borderline personality disorder) so it is either I am sitting all day long or trying to exert my body until it is on the brink of falling apart. This applies to almost everything I do: work, diets, habits, relationships. The concept of moderation did not exist in my life.

But last year I kept falling sick with a ton of regular exercise and a pretty strict diet, until I started having long dizzy spells. I learnt that both exercise and dietary restrictions can be stressful for the body. Most importantly, I learnt that something that worked for many people doesn’t mean it would work for me. I have come to accept that my hormones are ultra sensitive and they do not like drastic changes or even stress that would be typical for anyone else. Now I try to exercise alternate days and eat mindfully. It is still a long journey in progress, to be better at reading signals from my body, and to make better dietary choices for my health instead of succumbing to cravings. I give myself a break every now and then – will depletion is a very tangible thing for me.

I think I have finally stopped feeling upset about not being able to do the things that most people can do, or not being able to get away with the things that most people can get away with. Through a lot of trial and error I am still learning the boundaries of my body.

I have decided to go back on traditional chinese medicine (TCM) to manage my hormonal issues and migraines (which are inter-related). I tried to DIY for a long time and it wasn’t working. Many people are on long-term medication for their chronic issues, so why do I think I should be exempt from it? I am tremendously lucky to at least have something that helps – I frequent migraine and PMDD communities so I know that it is rare.

I still consider myself to be psychologically and emotionally imprisoned so I will rely on TCM to provide support for my body while I continue to work on those issues. I am also starting to meditate again, in an effort to improve my autonomic responses and my capacity to be less reactive.

Hopefully I’ll gradually doomscroll less. Change is paradoxical though. The more we try to change, the more what we try to reject in ourselves will hit us like a boomerang. So it is all about pacing, again.