Health, WOMEN'S HEALTH

WASHING MACHINE HEAD

Does your brain ever feel like it is on the spin cycle of a washing machine?
Some people refer to it as “crazy brain,” but I don’t care for that label. My partner refers to it as crawling out of his skin.

There are lots of reasons for this mind twirl. Full moon, mercury retrograde, too much sugar, not enough exercise, too much on my plate, too many lists, too much time on my hands, too much on the computer or on the phone, not enough fresh air, not enough creative output, not enough go within time.

I know myself well. I know that if I miss exercise for a few days, I am not myself and this creates havoc in my thinking. Exercise is the course correction without fail. Every time. An hour at the gym or an hour outside on a brisk walk in the brisk New England November air grounds me like nothing else and it is a habit I seldom break. But when I do, like this past two weeks of over scheduling, I notice fast.

What I notice is that it is hard for me to stay focused, I wake up after going to bed with a concise list and then find myself wandering aimlessly barely able to complete one item. Perhaps this is the result of an entrepreneurial brain; most self starters I know struggle with spinney head. Just too many ideas, too many sticky notes on a wall and this can be a recipe for feelings of overwhelm therefore not getting anything done.

I am the queen of lists and sticky notes. My brain is a busy one and I enjoy its momentum for the most part especially when I use it for the creative force it directs me to. But sometimes, like this past week when I went to a three day conference and I missed exercising for almost a full week with barely a walk, the ramifications are not pretty.

As I drove to the gym for my first 7:00am workout in a few weeks, I already began to feel peaceful. The gym is my therapy space. Not because I am one of those bad ass gym rats pumping iron and walking around with her abs showing, (these days they just show all the time when I sit down and look down and wonder what the hell has happened to my stomach, but more of that in some other self deprecating piece later). Going to the gym is like a community gathering. Most times it is many of the same people, mostly women, but also some men sprinkled throughout, and there is a familiarity, a comfort as we grab our spots on the floor or the cardio equipment.

I have two go to spots I usually take and they are in the front of the room.
I used to be the person who looked for the furthest back corner, the spot completely away from the mirror as I not only didn’t want to see myself in it as I struggled to catch my breath with every screaming beat to the rap music, but I also didn’t want to see everyone else. Back then when I first started dragging myself to the gym, I was always comparing my inadequacy and lack of fitness to all of the other chicks (usually skinny and blonde driving a Range Rover or something) who seemed much more fit than I surely would ever be.

But then something magical happened. I started feeling incredible. Forget about the shape of my body shifting, the discovery of muscles I didn’t know were there, the definition of muscles from the never ending burpees and planks that began rearing their beauty. I had mental clarity like I had never really had before. It was the biggest surprise from the workout and I started to depend on it as my mental equilibrium. And I began making my way to the front of the room, not so much to look in the mirror, but to stand up front and proud of my climb on the fitness confidence ladder.

There is all kinds of proven research on what exercise does for us physically- it lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and a multitude of other lifestyle ailments. I wish that the prescription of exercise would be one of the first courses of action for doctors to give to their patients complaining of anxiety and depression because for me, this has been a game changer for the past ten years. It is seldom that exercise becomes the go to remedy for the many people who struggle with this type of bubbling mind.

Washing machine head, my brain on the spin cycle, goes away from one hour of exercise. It never fails me. I always feel better after I exercise. My mind is clearer, my heart is happier. And this doesn’t have to be from an hour at the gym, it can be a walk on the beach with the wind blowing into my lungs; it is just movement, off the couch, away from my computer, my phone, my desk work and up and out.

No matter how much wine I have had or sweet dives into oblivion and all of its effects on my brain with the fogginess it creates, an hour of movement clears the cobwebs. Exercise saved me when I had breast cancer too. I am convinced that because I went to the gym, my recovery was as strong and solid as it was because of my fitness level before hand.
I used to think, “I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been, why did I get breast cancer twice?” But when I saw my resilience and my fast recovery, I knew I had to shift my thinking to gratitude for the fitness FOR and TOWARDS the recovery.

As a matter of reflection, the gym was part of my recovery because it became a goal for me to get back there as soon as possible. I had missed its silent camaraderie among my fellow gym chicks. We are friendly with each other, saying our morning hellos and our quick goodbyes as we run out to start our days in our sweaty workout clothes, but we don’t spend time chatting. We are all there to feel better. To roll our eyes when Kathy, our fearless trainer, barks another order out at us and says at the same time, “This next move is going to suck.” Yes, she says this and she means it and it does suck. But we all do it because we can.
Because we can. To me this is the significance of exercising regularly.

Because I can.

And as long as I can I will. Missing days makes me miss them now, not the other way around. In the past I would miss them because I didn’t feel like it, these days I only miss them because work or a too jam packed schedule didn’t allow the workout time. I am really going to make a conscious effort to improve that. I may not always be able to get to the actual gym, but there is always a walk on a blustery day to shake the garbled brain to a more serene one, movement is so important as I approach my real life mid fifties.

My partner, who is 72 goes to the gym every day. Every day. I am not kidding. He is my role model and my mentor for gym attendance and its value on the soul. When we went to Quebec a few weeks back, we both didn’t realize the stair factor. If you can’t do stairs, you can’t enjoy Quebec- that should be their tagline because to take the stairs is to really appreciate the landscape. As we blasted up and down the stairs for a solid week, as fit as I am, I still had a quickening of my breath. Not my partner, he flew up the stairs and I didn’t hear one speck of short winded huffing.

If that wasn’t a reminder to me that the gym is fitness security, nothing is. What I love about movement is that there is no time like the present.
All we have is the present.

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