Why exercise has helped me or rather how it is helping me. Everyone knows about the health benefits of exercise but when we have TMS, this can be a daunting task. I want to share what I did and why exercise has helped me in ways that I couldn’t imagine. I won’t go into the health benefits of exercise, you can google that for yourself. Rather I’ll just start with my struggles and how they eventually lessened. When my TMS was at its worst I was not exercising at all. I was either in pain or felt overwhelmed. I had heat phobias, MCS, weird rashes, panic or anxiety plus weird eye movement problems and as many know hard exercise can trigger a panic attack. I started walking after reading Sarno and Steve Ozanich’s book. My ankles and knees would hurt, my back would be tense or I would have stomach pain or head pain. I could still do a lap around the block though. Besides the pain, the exercise really allowed me to focus on something other than my body. I was outdoors and just getting out of the way was critical. I did this for months with little progress. As I practiced the TMS recovery tools my walks got longer. Eventually I could walk 3-5 miles, usually broken up into two sessions one in the am and one in the pm. Maybe most people can’t do this but starting somewhere is key. I started to love walking, since I felt like a prisoner at home being let out. A year went by and I was probably a little better but still felt lousy 50-70% of the time. I thought maybe I could start something a little more intense. I truly wanted to believe my body was healthy. This was difficult. I didn’t really believe it, something structural had to be going on. I always had this moment when the exercise got difficult, I would bail. I tried weights. It was too hard. Eventually, I bought a Yoga DVD and used my body weight. This was perfect. It kept my brain activated on the movements and not my body per se. However, I always felt like I was going to pass out, but I never did. My muscles were tense and I was not very flexible. But after i did it for a year! I started to have less groin pain and less of a stiff back. This was a whole year of yoga 3 times a week and walks every other day. I would come home and some nights I would be in so much pain I would be lathered with icy hot or bengay. I would take huge amounts of CBD oil before bed. Eventually the CBD had zero effect and I would up the dose but nothing. Toward the end of the year I tried Yin Yoga. This is mostly based on doing only a few movements but being in them for extended periods of time. This challenged my urge to jump out of discomfort. It helped train my brain to accept my sensations and emotions that came up. It was a first realization that I was over focusing on my body and trying to train it like an athlete instead of really focusing on my emotions and my reactions to pain. I decided from them on to try mental exercises as I did physical exercise. Afterall it was neural pathways and thinking that got me here why not focus on that. So I got a bike trainer, which I attached to my road bike. I started with doing 5 min ride sessions. Sometimes I would pedal as hard as I could to see if anything would happen. Besides feeling ill nothing spectacular happened. I would be wiped out from a 5 min ride and would have to lie down. After 3 weeks I was up to 13 mins. It would still wipe me out and I would have to lie down for an hour at least. During those moments of physical difficulty I did notice many emotions come up. So I started visualizations. I imagined my self as a strong person both physically and emotionally. Sometimes I cried after a ride. I would picture my imagine strong self picking up and carrying my weak self. The weak one eventually morphed into a backpack on my back and some of the feelings lessened. I did these visualizations over and over and over. Sometimes I would picture myself back in high school when I ran track. My brain would often try and focus on negative imagines such as myself lying in the middle of the track being trampled and I would imagine myself as the referee blowing the whistle and making everyone stop and pick my weak self up and then switch my imagined self to a time when I felt strong. The image was of myself back in high school swimming with my friend. We were young and strong and could swim for 200 yards to a buoy. Other times I pictured what felt good, which was digging my feet into hot sand and letting it spread between my toes. I realized I had so many good memories that I could use. I didn’t know if this was right but it was very helpful. These visualizations for me became key to break through these barriers of feeling weak. They would illicit emotional releases and often ended in crying. I always felt better but sometimes I felt afraid that I had pushed myself too far. I was still concerned about structural things with my body. After about 3 months I noticed small but profound changes. I started to have less anxiety and shorter durations of pain. I started to notice the world around me more. I was finally up to 20 min rides. One day I decided to go to the gym with my fiancé. This was a huge challenge since I had developed phobias. It wasn’t a full agoraphobia but I certainly felt embarrassed and nervous about my rituals. My workouts were worse in the gym and I had to start over with walks but I kept up the visualizations. After another 2 months of walking at the gym I decided to try weights for the first time. I used the machines since I was unstable in my ability to hold free weights. I started with very little weight and just wanted to get used the feeling of the motion. I didn’t notice a difference so I upped the weight. My workout ended with feeling like I would vomit and pass out and back spasms. I guess my brain wasn’t ready for that. I kept at it. Every day I felt like I was run over by a car and would lie outside on a bench or in my fiancé’s car feeling horrible until it would subside after 30-40mins. I was only able to workout for 12-15 mins. Still I pressed on and eventually after 5 months I could do 20 mins and feel like I was run over by only a small car this time. When I finally started Alan Gordon’s program and saw the correlation between outcome Independence and Claire Weekes acceptance i started to make progress. Another 3 months I started to feel stronger, less triggered, and the pain started to be more erratic and less constant. I felt I was onto something and was liberating myself. I still had lots of fear and I still kept up the visualizations during workouts but they were no longer about my weak self but instead about reinforcing my strength and belief that nothing was wrong with me. My brain often inserted bad memories or would try and negate this. Some days before going to the gym I would have the worst vertigo or leg pains or groin pains, sciatica, back pain in and on taking turns every day. I knew now this was all bulllshit so I was either going to pass out and be one of those people who falls of the treadmill due to my vertigo or TMS would show itself as false over and over. I never fell. Sometimes during my run I would feel like I couldn’t breathe or a small blip of vertigo but I said oh well I don’t care if I make a scene and they have to drag me out. I was done believing this lie. What workouts did for me. They made me face a fear ever single day. It made me interact with people. It challenged my notions of my self whether I thought I was physically weak. It made me feel very very uncomfortable and pain at times. This lessened my panic and anxiety since I knew the sensations of those are created by adrenaline. The paper tigers. To endure 40 mins of discomfort for hours of lessened anxiety and pains was worth it. It wasn’t easy but what else was I going to do? Stay at home and continue to google symptoms? No more. I started to notice that challenging things in life were much like the challenges at the gym and as I practiced acceptance things became a little easier. To this day my workouts aren’t perfect but I now can do 35 mins on the treadmill and 20 mins of heavy weights and when I feel overwhelmed I just notice the feeling and accept it and move on. If my brain is particularly afraid that morning or if I had a blip of pain then i just see it as more practice and conditioning. Bilateral stimulation is part of almost any workout. It is postulated that is tied to moving emotions and memories stored in the long term part of the brain to the working memory. I can attest this to be true for myself. Which is why I would become overwhelmed and emotions would come up. Old memories of hurt and old beliefs. As I exercised and changed my beliefs and even changed those memories things felt as though they were leaving my body. Fear was leaving. I often imagined fear being a gas leaving my body as I ran and an I would light it on fire and blue burning silhouette of myself just in front of my would be evaporating as I ran through some difficult emotions. EMDR is said to have this effect for people. Lastly Steve Ozanich’s book was very inspirational for me to become physically active again. I still have things to iron out but i feel great about my progress so far.