Posted by: Marie | August 3, 2009

(117) Fear during physical activity

Post #117
[Journal entry written to my therapist on Thursday, April 2, 2009]

Hi, Dr. Barb –

In the past few weeks, I have been adding some weight training into my exercise plan. I have had a really rough time doing it – for whatever reason, I dread doing it like I would dread going for a root canal. I forced myself to do it a few times, but then I went into a moderate nosedive and just couldn’t force myself to do it. The frustration at feeling “stuck” grew until I ended up under my bedcovers. So, I cut myself some slack and took a break from all exercise for a day (except walking to work) – then it became two days – and it was heading towards becoming three days.

Flower by Martin Chen

Flower by Martin Chen

The weight training is not hard – I know how to do it, it is easy to do, it is not even that physically challenging – I was starting out very gently. But, the same feeling I get when I attempt the weight training is the same feeling I get when I attempt the yoga/pilates stuff – and the same feeling I get when I think about doing visualization during a therapy session. The dread is so great that I’m almost sick to my stomach. I don’t know what makes those activities so dreadful for me – as opposed to walking, hiking, two-stepping (dancing), etc., which are very comfortable for me.

After missing those two days (and almost a third day), I asked myself what it would take to get back into the exercise – my answer was to take away the part I dreaded so that exercise could become an enjoyable part of my day again. So, that is what I did on that third day – and I was quickly able to get out from under the covers, drive to the gym and get back on the treadmill.

I don’t want to risk loosing momentum with my exercise – so, for now, I’m going to focus on the treadmill – and hiking later this month. At least I’m getting good aerobic exercise – and I get some resistance from elevation gain and carrying my backpack, and I get some flexibility from stretching my leg muscles at the end. I would rather stick to the more comfortable stuff than to risk shutting down totally as a result of forcing myself into a triggering situation.

I’ve been paying close attention to “what I fear” when I am attempting yoga-type activities or weight training. I think I have figured out why some physical activities are very uncomfortable for me while others are not. I think it has to do with the quickness with which I could react to a physical threat, should one appear. (Logically, I know the chances of that happening are extremely slim, but I don’t know how to turn that “radar” off.)

I am comfortable when I am standing up and in motion – because I could easily step into a defensive position or take defensive action. I’m not comfortable when I have to lie down or assume some other “compromising” position – I feel too vulnerable – like I couldn’t get off the floor/bench and into a defensive position quickly enough. The discomfort is increased when other people are nearby.

For example, I get a sick feeling whenever I walk through your “exercise” room en route to your “therapy” room. I see all that exercise equipment and I know you use it with your clients. I dread the day you are going to take me into that room and direct me on how to “exercise”. I feel like I won’t have a choice about it — that if I don’t do what you want me to do, I will be labeled as “non-compliant” and you will dump me.

This theory also helps explain why I am not able to sleep if another person is in the room/bed with me (my mom, sisters and best friend excepted to some extent).

It might also be why I have to be sitting up (reclined against the headboard) as I start to fall asleep, even at home in my own bed. I can lie down, all the way, only when I am a few seconds from falling totally asleep (or after I have dozed off for a few minutes).

If I lay down as soon as I go to bed (when I’m wide awake), I feel this overwhelming urge to sit up – I feel like I’m going to suffocate, like I’m under water. So, I sit up – and I turn on the TV so I can distract myself from the unpleasant sensation similar to falling asleep while sitting in a bathtub – as I relax and fall asleep, it feels like my body is sliding downward and my head is “slipping under the water” – sometimes I can feel my body/brain fighting to stay above the waterline, fighting for air.

Once I feel like I’m all the way under the water and my body is no longer fighting for air, then I can shift to a prone position. (That sounds weird when I read it back to myself!)

The same is true if I wake up in the middle of the night – I have to sit up for a while, until I get sleepy again.

Furthermore, I think I get triggered specifically when I am directed how to move – and, in general, when I’m told how I should say, think, do, etc. I feel like I’m out of control and might have to do something I don’t want to do.

With the visualization you have suggested, the idea is uncomfortable for me because, in addition to being in a “compromised” position with another person nearby, I would be losing awareness of my surroundings and would be having to follow your lead – I’d be out of control. I think that is why the visualization feels “impossible” to me and why I’m still not willing to try it.

– Marie

Quotes 029


  1. I totally hear you on this one. I cannot have a guy stand behind me as I sit in a chair. Sneaking up behind me is a near cause for killing someone – only if it’s a man. I’ve given up fighting against the need to move and turn a long time ago.

    Hope you are doing better and back at your usual exercise routine.

    • Thank you, A, for sharing how you have been impacted by the same . . .

      Isn’t it interesting how our bodies remember so much, even when our minds refuse . . .

      – Marie

  2. A good friend of mine is currently processing body-level stuff. She is very insightful and articulate and up to now words have worked. But now if she or others use words she just gets a voice inside her screaming, “You don’t get it!” Big stuff and she seems to be getting to the end of it.

    So I have some idea about what you are talking about in this post.

    • Hi, Evan –

      So, if she isn’t using words right now, what is she using?

      – Marie

  3. Hi Marie,

    It sounds as though you are making a lot of connections to these triggers and they are abuse and the need for hypervigilance. The body remembers, as you said.

    I wanted to say that exercise is a trigger for abuse survivors. Any kind. So it is good that you have found some things that work. Just keep at it and stay confident that you know what your limits are right now. You have a right to say yes and a right to say no. Good for you.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.


    • Hi, Kate –

      You make several good points! This has been an ongoing challenge for me because it is in my nature to be physically-oriented. So, being triggered by physical activity has been a double-whammy for me.

      Thank you for you insight!

      – Marie

  4. I also can’t sleep in a room with other people. I play hockey and when we go to touneys I have to have my own room. I’m sure everyone thinks I’m stuck up. But I just can’t share. I’m not sure why. At least now I know I’m not the only one with this mind set.

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      There was a comment recently from David in which he spoke about maintaining boundaries in sleeping arrangements. He said it so well . . . I encourage you to read what he wrote. I like that he gives himself permission to have those boundaries without apology.

      You most certainly are not the only one with this mind set.

      – Marie

  5. Thank you Marie, I never thought that it could be something I could and should honor or have respect for. I always think that I am just weird. Thanks for showing me another way to consider.

    • My pleasure, lostinamaze!

      I had never thought about it that way, either. I’m glad David shared it with us.

      – Marie

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