Wednesday 1 March 2017

Not only does exercise benefit your body, but it benefits your mind as well

Pete is a postgrad at Nottingham University. He talks about his experiences using a wheelchair at university, and how exercise has helped him manage his health, physically and mentally, and helped him find a community. 
- Pete Rumble, Nottingham University

The term ‘disabled’ bothers me. I understand the need for a term that defines those with an impairment, however, to me, ‘disabled’ also means deactivated, or put out of action. I prefer to regard myself as ‘inconvenienced’. Fixating on what I can’t do, or what I’ve lost physically, or what I’ve missed out on, wouldn’t get me anywhere. The emphasis needs to be on ability. 

"I think part of what motivates me is a refusal to accept that state of mind"

I was 16 when I began to lose the use of my legs for the second time. None of the family knew how to talk about it, especially me. I tried not to show any weakness. It was exhausting. It wasn’t just the physical effort of trying to walk, and the pain of the tumour in my cervical spine, it was also the anxiety of carrying it all. 

Whilst I’m long past the stage of accepting the cards I’ve been dealt, my condition can still cause me anxiety in other ways. As sociable as university can seem, having a ‘disability’ can be isolating. In a wheelchair, I operate at a lower height. And when my hall-mates were traipsing in groups over the Downs to get to lectures, I was virtually circumnavigating the campus solo because it was a longer, but more accessible route. 

"When you have to get around on a set of wheels, the wold is just bizarre"
I believe that, to come to terms with this isolation, you have to feel as though you still belong in general society. You have to believe you’re still human.

I believe sports centres help. The gym can help with anxiety. It can help with the physical day-to-day tasks. It can help you cultivate the mental strength to deal with pain and depression. All such benefits ultimately make the individual feel more capable, confident, and happier with themselves. It can give anyone a sense of ability and control - perhaps what the inconvenienced lack more than most. Thus, the inconvenienced need sports centres as much as, if not more than, anybody. And thankfully there are a lot of sports staff who seem to share that belief.

The gym in particular is a place where the inconvenienced can experience new, assorted agonies in the company of fellow sufferers, as opposed to just facing their usual challenges in grim isolation. It works best as a place where everyone feels welcome, supported, encouraged, and human. The unifying capacity of health, fitness, and being involved has great significance for the inconvenienced. If it wasn’t for the way the sports staff engage with me, I probably wouldn’t be there at all.

A lot has changed since my first visits to the University gym in 2010. There is a greater awareness and understanding in the Sports Department. I’m seeing the campus Sports Centres become the communities they deserve to be. The help I’ve received has had a hugely positive impact on my life.

Pete's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

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