(Just want to add a site note that I am cautious that this post may be triggering for some people so please bear that in mind before continuing to read)
Happy New Year everyone! 🙂
Checking in once again after a rather stagnant period of (in)activity on my blog…but better late than never as I like to say!
Today, I want to share my experiences with exercise- specifically how my attitude towards it has developed, why it’s so darn important for me in keeping those pesky mental demons in check, and how I’ve found exercise that truly benefits me.
Let me break it down:
How my Attitude towards exercised developed for the worse and then for the better and then some…
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with exercise (as I’m sure many of us do). Growing up in a beautiful tropical country where the sun was always shining, getting exercise wasn’t difficult per say- you’d naturally feel inclined to do outdoors activity. Even me, the girl who spent much of her time fixated on her fave TV shows while slumped on the couch found a lot of happiness in basking in the sun’s glory.
Some of most nostalgic memories of growing up in my hometown go back to going to the beach with my family and dogs, throwing a frisbee around and racing the dog to see who’d get it first, and swimming in the ocean. It never felt like work- it felt like happiness. Moreover, I’d often be enrolled in dance classes or swimming classes, both activities I enjoyed. And what I’m about to say is in no way to toot my own horn, but I was quite physically fit (no I don’t mean ‘hot’) growing up. There was a time not too long ago (in fact as short back to the that post I previously mentioned) where I’d love to put it down to age and metabolism, which I’m sure plays a factor, but the real determining factor was that I was very physically active. And it wasn’t hard because I enjoyed all the physical activities that I was doing (with the exception of mandated P.E. class in school which as beneficial as it was to my health, brings back a whole lot of insecurities to not being ‘good enough’, but that’ll have to be for another post).
One thing that I still stand by since my original post is that growing up, I had the motivation from my mom and dad. Yes- I loved dancing, I loved swimming in the ocean and in the pool (I could do so for hours), but really my mom and dad were the ones who gave me the nudge to do it. After all, I was the anxiety ridden girl who spent the majority of her time wanting to become lost in her TV programs.
Once mom and dad weren’t there, so were the sun and ocean, and shortly thereafter the motivation. I was in London, starting university with plenty to look forward to, and exercise never seemed like a motivation or a necessity. I was ‘in shape’ after all, and that didn’t seem to be changing, so what did it matter? Sure, you may rationally think: but there’s so many dance classes in London, why wouldn’t you sign up for one of those? Well, as much as I loved dance, the motivation just wasn’t there for me. So unless I was shaking my booty on the dance floor during freshers (something I did find great happiness in), I’d end up watching loads of dance videos on YouTube in bed.
Then, queue in about a year and a half later, and suddenly I wasn’t in shape anymore (a combination that was clearly led by no exercise and very unhealthy eating). The first obvious telling sign was when I got weighed by the GP and I was up about 10 kilos. But when it really hit me was when I was sitting in bed with a big mirror in front of me, and I suddenly noticed the size of my thighs. I remember being horrified- where did this come from? Suddenly, I had motivation to exercise again- but all the wrong sort of motivation. You see, I have learned that exercise is good and necessary for you but dangerous for mind when you are doing it for all the wrong reasons.
So what’s wrong about finding motivation in wanting to be fit? None. What’s wrong with finding motivation in wanting to be skinny? Everything. I am of course speaking from personal experience, but for me, being skinny is about acceptance of others, an image perpetrated by the mainstream media that I spent so much of my life obsessing over. So I wasn’t exercising for me, I was exercising for who I thought everyone else wanted me to be. Moreover from that, I then eventually hit myself with the realisation that I am not exercising when I’m skinny because my mind thinks what’s the point? I am what everyone else wants me to be.
So I exercised, along with attempting to calorie count between 1500-2000 calories a day according to the first online calorie calculator I found on Google, and I lost the weight. What transcended towards losing the weight was a lot of self-loathing and doing exercise that I simply did not enjoy. Sure, I did Zumba, which has a lot of dance involved which I found fun but the motivation was all wrong at that point and the enjoyment wasn’t really there. I also did a lot of spin and running on a treadmill which I despise, but I thought, if it means I’ll lose the weight then I’ll do it.
And I lost the weight and we’re back at square one. I remember feeling so much joy when my grandma bought me a pair of leggings that were too big for me. The pride I felt when people at work made comments like ‘you’ve lost so much weight’ or ‘you look so skinny’. The superficial feelings of ‘love’ I felt for myself when I crossed my legs in front of the mirror and saw how much skinnier they looked, how I could wrap my hands around the middle of my thigh and how that somehow became an indicator of being ‘in shape’. The real crux of it all was when I came home after a year of not seeing my parents and them seeing so marvelled at how much weight I loss, and how visiting relatives made comments about how skinny I looked. It felt like I had finally found acceptance.
Writing all of this out really puts it all into perspective- I was so completely deluded and led by what others thought of me. The fact is my parents, my family, my friends, my boyfriend…they don’t love me because of how I look. This has been a particularly sensitive topic for me with my parents, something that we always end up arguing about at every family reunion (particularly between myself and my dad). You see, my dad will always make comments when I gain weight. He doesn’t mean them insensitively. and I know that, but it hurts. When someone you loves points out the one thing that you’re insecure about, it ends up twisting the dagger in your heart. When my dad makes comments about my weight, I know he means it out of concern for my health. I take it as my dad sees me as fat and ugly. I then discuss this with my mom and we argue because she defends him and says I’m too sensitive, and I say if something is offending me and hurting me then the approach needs to be more tactful (something I partially still agree with). It’s a vicious cycle.
So what happens after I lose the weight and don’t exercise and eat like crap? Well, the weight comes back. How do I realise this time? I weigh myself at a scale I find at my boyfriends grandma house and panic- all the weight I lost is back. Where does this thought process lead. Maybe the scale’s wrong, it could be an old scale. I must immediately go to Boots and pay 50P to get weighed on their scale that I most definitely know will be accurate. And that I did. The Boots scale was accurate, as was the one at my boyfriends grandma’s house- shit.
So I go into panic mode, I’m not clearly not skinny anymore. I try to clasp my two hands around the middle of my thighs but now they only clasp around my knee- my last glimmer of hope. I find myself constantly clasping my hands above my knee as it’s my weight progress indicator. I decide to go running (another thing I hate) in the local park (think I did that all of once or twice). I then start doing awfully gruelling and joint impacting exercises on YouTube tutorials. I am determined that just like the first time, I’m going to lose the weight, and I’m going to lose the weight bloody fast.
But that didn’t happen. The weight didn’t go away, and I found myself less motivated than ever as I was jobless and in a perpetual state of self-loathing and criticism. Constantly looking at myself in front of the mirror, sideways, and seeing how much my belly fat stuck out. Sitting in front of the mirror on the couch to see how much my thighs would spread out.
I didn’t have a scale, so I’d constantly measure my waist and hips to ensure I wasn’t falling into the obese category.
Then came the ‘self-love’ phase. Yes, I marked self-love in quotations intentionally. Self-love, just like motivation, is important- as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons (sound familiar?). You see there is so much power and beauty in loving yourself, in finding motivation within your self, and more than anything else is making choices for your self. The media started taking a turn into empowering women of all shapes and sizes, it was finally becoming more gorgeous women with curves were being showcased in all their glory.
So I thought, I’m a curvy woman, and I’m going to be proud of it. Except, that’s not really what my mind frame was. I was really telling myself: if everyone else can accept and love my body when it’s not skinny (because the media is saying they will), then why should I have to exercise.
Queue into 25 year old me and let me tell you what self-love really is- it’s accepting and loving every bit and part of yourself while owning every area you want to improve and doing something about it. And do it for yourself and don’t let yourself be fooled by anybody else. When it comes to your body and your mind- you have every darn right to be self-ish (get it?).
If you love yourself, and you care about your health, then you should care about exercise. We need to stop thinking mind over body and start connecting our minds AND bodies.
So why do I want to exercise now? To be strong. To be healthy. To be happy.
And let’s be real, all this self-realisation has been brilliant but the answer to that question can change on any given day dependent on my mood, but deep down I have the real answer and I can now pull myself out of those funks and vicious cycles.
When I say we need to start connecting our minds and bodies, exercise plays a huge role, especially for someone who battles anxiety on a daily basis. So how does exercise keep those pesky thought demons in check?
It’s no secret or big revelation that exercise does wonders for your mental health- there are plenty of articles about it. We’ve all read about the release of endorphins it gives you, and how many people call it life-changing. I write this with slight cynicism because, from my point of view anyways, when you’re so entrapped with mind-gruelling anxiety (the one where you can’t get out of your own head) exercise sounds like an antidote that you’ve tried but never really works. No thanks. I’ll pass on that Dr. Phil. That’s what my automatic response used to be, and sometimes still can be.
I’ve just had the shittiest day of work and I’m filled in a state of existential crisis mode and I’ve made the tiniest mistake and I’m probably going to end up in prison because of it and no one loves me. Oh and remember that time I made that mistake 20 years ago, how could I have done that what is wrong with me I don’t deserve to be happy. Do you think exercise is going to change that? Fuck you!
That my friends is the easiest insight I can give you into my anxiety- to sum it up it is really a constant state of catastrophe and assuming the not even the worst, but the most impossible ridiculous scenarios possible.
I gave the work example above because in 2017, I started a new job- a job that did both wonders and horrors to my mental state. What begun as a job that gave me great confidence and motivation turned towards a lot of stress due to a lot of different factors within the company towards the latter part of the year. While I started exercising again in 2017, it had been very sporadic and on-and-off, more often that not it was determined by my mood from my day of work. If work had been too stressful, then it was automatically let’s go home, binge some telly, and have a series of nightmares that remind you of what you wanted to forget about.
The fact is, as much as I used to hate to admit this, exercise makes all the difference.
Take last week, Tuesday, I went to a barre class after a typically long stressful day at the office (man-oh-man how old do I sound?). The class was difficult, it was gruelling, but it was so therapeutic. When we did the cool down, sat on the mat with the lights dimmed down, it was so incredibly relaxing. In that moment, nothing that had happened on the day or in my life mattered, and nothing that could potentially happen next mattered either. It was just me, in the moment, grounded on the lamp and looking at the ceiling and letting go of those demons.
They don’t go away forever, and they’re going to come back. Anxiety is a constant for me, but I always say that anxiety is not a choice, but I choose how I manage it.
Frankly, I can manage it through exercise.
And while my exercise pattern has been sporadic what I have discovered is that is becoming much more frequent because I am taking classes that I actually enjoy, and I am exercising for myself and nobody else.
As I am all about celebrating life’s small achievements, I want to pat myself on the back as I achieved 5 days of exercise in the past week.
This is huge for me. The last week I was determined to do 4 and only did 2, the other 2 I didn’t attend I tried to justify on tiredness and wanting some time at home after work (both true but for me it just means that I am giving those demons more power to grow). This week I was fuelled with pure self-motivation and I did three classes in a row, and 2 more with one day break each in between.
I feel amazing and I feel strong.
I may not be at my skinniest, I may not be able clasp my hands around my thighs, not even just above my knees- something that I’m still learning to let go of. I still get frustrated at times when I’m naked in the shower and can see the purple thick raised stretch marks encapsulating my thighs and hips. At times I get frustrated as my thighs hit each other as I walk and they start to bleed from so much chaffing.
That hasn’t all gone away, and I’m not sure it will. But like I said, deep down, I know the true meaning of self-love and while my inner demons may want to take over the angel part of me that can look at the mirror and tell myself ‘you look beautiful; those inner demons aren’t winning anymore. They are unwanted visitors that I’m ready to smack away like mosquitos.
And what has made exercising more frequently enjoyable, most importantly, is finding exercise that truly benefits me and my preferences.
I have become quite consistent at reformer pilates- something I find that has really improved my strength and aided my mental health, while remaining low impact and preventing triggers of my migraines (something I regularly endure). I hate treadmills, I hate running, and I hate spinning- and if exercise is meant to aid my mental health and be enjoyable then I now know I’m for sure going to be skipping those. I also still love dancing and occasionally go to beginners hip hop classes.
If I weren’t doing exercise I enjoy, then there is no way I would have ever made it through 5 classes in a week. Whether that will be the case next week? Who knows, but I’m going to keep trying my best and checking in with myself, that’s all I can do.
And throughout this whole journey of self-discovery, I’ll proudly admit that I haven’t weighed myself on a scale in over a year. See the number on a scale was another indicator for me of if I was meeting other people’s expectations. I don’t need a scale to know if I’m healthy or not, I know myself like nobody else.