Sweat is dripping out of my hair. I’m hidden from prying eyes in the back bedroom of a ranch house that has seen better days. Now would not be a good time to call. You see, I’ve just performed an exorcism. On myself. On my treadmill.
There are various moods that take hold of me from time to time. Some of them are mildly amusing, such as when I talk to myself in research mode or start singing mock opera lyrics when I’m trying to resolve an argument. “What… does it mean to youuuu… when my mouth is moving and sounds are coming oouuuutttt?” Most of my moods are disagreeable, to others, but also to me. I don’t want to hang out with myself. One of these moods is “the snit.” This is when I feel irritable, like there is a stress hormone saturating my body. (This is probably true, and it’s probably cortisol). The snit is nobody’s fault, but if I don’t steer clear of other humans, some of it may splatter on them like hot grease. Another disagreeable mood is the way I feel on a cloudy day, when I’ve burned through too much unstructured time and started to feel listless and bored. Too much sitting tends to make me headachy, and thus, grouchy.
One of the biggest surprises of my life was learning that exercise is a reliable mood elevator. It always works. It works in the rain, it works when I’m sleep deprived, and it’s even worked when I started out with a headache. I have gone to the gym so tired I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and emerged after a full cardio workout feeling like a million bucks. When I work out strenuously several days a week, my resting mood is about a 9 out of 10. This is why cranky people hate athletes. We’re so cheerful you want to kill us all. It’s like we’re having better sex (true) or enjoying how we look in workout clothes (probably false) or like being fit actually feels that much better (true). The trouble is that it’s easy to adjust to this super-excellent feeling. Then, if anything happens and you can’t work out for a few weeks or months, you start reverting to your baseline mood. It’s like the last third of Flowers for Algernon.
Experiencing this spectrum of baseline moods is a sort of metaphysical puzzle. Which of these is the real me? Is it true what they say, that the runner’s high is just like any other drug? (One of the most absurd fallacies ever). In a sense, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that I know which behavior packages result in which states of being. If I can choose between chronic pain and fatigue with misery, acceptance with fortitude, or happiness with enthusiasm, then I can make an informed choice. I can realize that it is a choice, that I have a choice. I didn’t consciously choose chronic pain or illness, but I do choose when I am blissed out.
I don’t enjoy being in a snit. I don’t enjoy feeling crabby or cranky or irritable. I don’t enjoy that restless, mopey, cabin-fever feeling. I lived alone for years, and I didn’t enjoy those feelings when I was by myself. Now I’m married, and I have to multiply my emotional environment by someone else’s. A snit is no longer just a snit; it’s a 2x snit, or more if we have guests. Negative moods become more costly, to myself and to others. I’d rather not… inflict myself on other people. The prospect is even more unnerving when I consider that other people are just as entitled to their own snits as I am to mine. It becomes a scenario of exponential growth.
“Normal me” has a baseline mood of about 7 out of 10, while Workout Me hits a 9. Past Self of the fibromyalgia, four-day migraines, and thyroid disease lived at around a 4. At that time, I thought perky people were dumb and annoying. Honestly, I feel like becoming an athlete has made me smarter. I sleep better, and it may be nothing more than that. I can definitely attest to improved concentration sustained over longer periods. I’m better organized and more productive, measured by projects completed. I’ve become someone whom my own Past Self would totally hate. All I can do is look back at her and ask, “So, how’s that working out for you?” I’ve exorcised that dissatisfied, jealous, irritable, sarcastic version of myself, jettisoned in the same way I’ve eliminated my credit debt and cleared my clutter. I have everything she ever wanted, which of course is why I would annoy her so much.
The best thing about a treadmill exorcism is that it only takes 30 minutes. Walk in feeling bad, walk out feeling fantastic! The endorphins are great and the natural analgesic effect is even better. The time and effort involved are pretty minimal. I went to the garage and cut out a board to put across the arms, so I can prop up a book or my laptop. Sometimes I watch true crime shows or skim Facebook. Usually I read a library book. In other words, I do exactly the same things I would have been doing if I were lounging around on the couch. The only discernible difference to me is that doing the treadmill barefoot makes your feet all black, so I have to wear shoes. Better to tie on my shoes, though, than to be in such a snit that I want to throw them at someone.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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