Ben Russell, Expert by Experience Group member for Equally Well UK

So, the problem with hearing voices is that they’re distracting. Either whispering to me that I’m a failure or roaring, literally roaring, that I deserve to die. Some days are just awful. Cue exercise, my knight in shining armour. Whatever the universe throws at me, to the days that I can’t stop the buzzing in my head, or to the others where I am hanging over the abyss, teetering on the precipice, exercise is the answer.

The old adage is that to have a healthy body is to have a healthy mind. And this, in practice, is true. The voices, I think, are a form of energy, burning hot when I’m idle or at a loose end. But to exercise is to lift the lethargy and the self-hatred. Voices that scream to be heard diminish to whispers. And even when they don’t, when they tell you that you’ve failed, that you’re a loser, the best way to prove them wrong is to push onwards and upwards.

What does exercise mean to me, as a schizophrenic? At the least it’s a tool that I use to control my illness. But at its most profound, it’s so much more. Quite simply, it’s the difference between facing the darkness or running from it. From facing your fears or shrinking from them. From getting back up or staying on the ground. To put it bluntly, if I didn’t have exercise I don’t think I’d be alive now. Its impact cannot be overstated. I am here today because I decided yesterday to stop being a victim to this illness and to instead face it head on, and this is all thanks to exercise.

It’s even more important in these days of Covid-19 and furlough. In my experience, too much time on your hands can be deadly if you have a mental illness. Too much time on your hands amounts to too much time in your head, ruminating on things. Ruminating happens when you’ve nothing to do, when you’re not occupied.

I get overwhelmed when I don’t know what’s happening. In the past, I’ve dissolved into panic because I had no structure. I like to know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. This is fine usually, because I work, but it’s harder to manage now that I’m furloughed. I’ve never had so much free time. I have to do something, anything, to while away the hours. This was more difficult a fortnight ago with everyone only being allowed to exercise for 1 hour a day, but things are better now that some of the restrictions have been lifted. I go for long walks, which are something that someone of any level of fitness can do. Even doing 10 minutes is better than nothing, and the more you do it the easier it will become. And the real bonus for those with serious mental health issues is the fact that exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, bearing in mind that weight gain is often the side effect of taking antipsychotic medication. And anything that has the potential to make you feel better has surely got to be worth trying.

Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen