Running – and in the end, shamelessly crawling – up and down the stairs of the Landfill hill (quirky name, eh?), I could feel the vibration of every cell in my body. I could feel the clothes sticking against my back from sweat and rain. I could taste the salt of the perspiration dripping down my face. I could feel the thump-thump-thump of my running shoes against the wooden stairs, and the slick metal of the railing against my fingertips and palm. I was, and we were, at home in our body. I had regained agency, I was my own subject instead of the usual blurry object. I was, and still am, alive.
Post-work-out endorphins put my brain on overload as though it were in need of its own physical exertion. I began to think of how important physical exercise, and furthermore, taking my body to the edge of its ability, was for maintaining bodily consciousness and for warding off those more or less occasional pits of dissociation. And so I ended up here, babbling my virtual voice away.
Dissociation can become so severe that one has no agency over one’s body. We have been in this situation many an occasion, dangerously so, sometimes falling into its grasp in the middle of a busy pedestrian crossing while the traffic lights are about to change. Dissociation, for me, makes everything within me uncomfortably idle. I can feel the emptiness down to my neuronal circuits. When I tell people about this state, and how easy it is for me to sometimes fall into it, they become frightened. How do you help someone who is, mentally, in limbo? I am always quick to answer: strong stimuli. An incessant noise, a big switch in temperature, a sharp tactile experience; stimuli strong enough to awaken the body yet not too strong as to startle.
Subsequently, physical exertion serves as an important self care tool. What do you do when you can’t hear the sound from the television, or when the screen of your laptop isn’t bright enough? You turn it up. So when I feel myself lose touch with my body, or feel myself drifting away without someone else stepping in to take care of things, I try to ’turn’ my body consciousness back up by moving myself. Tapping my foot – which I do constantly out of habit – or scratching my thigh or biting my cheek or walking a bit faster.
Keeping to a schedule of physical exercise, or physical exertion (which demands a lot of caution, by the way), accompanied , of course, with other stimulating activities, has really been good for us. The variance of my level of mental and body consciousness stays within safe limits this way. Having a rich natural environment around me, we have a ton of free forms of exercise available to us, which I remind myself to be thankful for. The world of mental health is becoming more and more pharmacological. Maybe the reason why I take a couple kinds of medicine instead of a dozen is, in fact, the amount of physical exercise I take part in in my daily life.