Trout live in beautiful places. They like cold water, preferably flowing over the rocky riverbed. To catch them you must wade into running river, one uncertain step at a time over very slippery rocks with a fly rod in one hand and the other jerking and waving to counterbalance what seems like a certain plunge into frigid water.
Fly fishing a form of ballet. Your rod is like a conductor’s baton. If your cues and gestures are precise, the line floats in the air above the water, forming fluid arcs until the fly gently lands in the water. You slowly strip the line in and cast again, waiting for the trout to strike. The scenery is breathtaking and there is no sound but for birds and the whoosh of the rapids in the river.
For me to accomplish this without falling or snagging my hook on my hat requires complete focus. If I think of anything else but the task at hand, I will fail. I have found several other activities that require this kind of razor focus. Snow skiing hard and fast, sculling – rowing a 27-foot pencil thin boat with long oars as fast as you can – and CrossFit – an extreme boot camp exercise program that demands I push my strength, flexibility and endurance to the limit at every workout.
Some people think I am too serious and obsessed with these kinds of activities. What they do not realize is that for those of us who are bipolar, these activities silence our racing thoughts and focus our mania into something good and healthy.
I used to swim and run a lot. Running and swimming exhausted me and helped burn-off the excess energy. But I could still think while I ran or swam. I would think about work, what I needed to pick up at the grocery store, bills and what I would have or should-have said to someone who had pissed me off.
One day, I took a class at a gym and we used this weird thing called a Bosu. It is round, about 2-feet in diameter, and flat on one side and the other side is rounded and squishy, like a partially deflated ball. The goal is to stand on the damn thing, either the flat or rounded side. First time I tried it I wobbled and shook so violently that I needed to hold someone’s hand.
I eventually learned to focus on a spot on the wall and repeat over and over in my head – “Your body knows what to do. Your body knows what to do.” When I cleared my mind and let my body take over, I stood effortlessly. After several months I could stand on the Bosu with my eyes closed and perform calisthenics.
Sculling require the same razor focus. There are more than 30 hand movements involved in rowing. Screw one up badly enough and you’re in the water trying to figure out how to right a capsized boat.
A CrossFit workout requires so many different skills, usually performed as quickly as possible, that to think about a grocery list or a grudge can end with a strained back or nasty fall from a rope suspended from the ceiling.
These activities – which require both balance and physical exertion – slow my mind and channel my manic energy. I just got back from a week of fly-fishing in northern New Hampshire. I caught a few trout but more importantly, I got some balance. For me, quieting the voices and being present – living in the now – is the ultimate vacation.
You can have your theme parks and crowded beaches. I need a snowy mountain, a frigid river and a couple of oars to really relax.
And now, it’s time to go to CrossFit.
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Last reviewed: 26 Jun 2012