The Gym Diaries

The Gym Diaries

Part 3

Hello hello! Here I am, back again with another long-anticipated installment of my monthly rambling about what it’s like to take on the gym world as a woman with a hankering for cake and absolutely no motivation.

A lot has changed since my last installment, and not really for the better. At the end of last month, I experienced a tragedy in my personal life which has sent me reeling. I lost a close friend of mine and am currently going through what feels like ALL the stages of grief bar acceptance: denial, anger, shock, devastation… You name it, I’m feeling it. So, with my head all over the place, it seems only right that my body has gone AWOL too. I’ve been sleeping too much, eating sporadically and fairly thoughtlessly, and am, as I write this, experiencing a delightful bout of IBS brought on by stress (we’ll pretend it’s that and not the cookie I grabbed for breakfast as I rushed out of the house this morning). How I feel about my body, and myself in general has gone drastically downhill and the only thing I’m finding solace in is my old faithful pal, walking.

Anyone who knows me well will know that my therapy lies in putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes for hours on end in no particular direction. Something about the repetitiveness of it helps me to clear my head in a way I just can’t do inside. When I’m stressed or angry, or just have a busy brain, putting my headphones in and getting out of the house does wonders for me. Giving my body something to focus on allows my mind to work through whatever it is it’s struggling with, and by the time I find myself back home, I’ve normally come to some kind of conclusion, or at least shed some light on how I’m feeling and why.

With the loss of my friend, my head has been a mess. I’m struggling to focus, and I feel dissociated all the time. Dissociation is a common symptom of anxiety and often occurs after a particularly stressful time. It can also occur as a symptom of depression and PTSD, both of which I struggle with from time to time.

The last time I experienced a long-term episode was about four years ago, and its return is about as welcome as Boris Johnson at an NHS appreciation party.

Essentially, I feel disconnected from myself, or ‘not really here.’ To an outsider, it can simply appear as if I’m daydreaming, but the reality is that I really struggle to connect myself with my surroundings and have trouble feeling grounded when an episode strikes. So, getting out and walking, even in the winter, allows me to connect my mind to my body through methodical, repetitive movement without worrying about sets or reps.

Plus, walking allows me to spend time in some seriously beautiful places I might miss otherwise. Dorset is famous for its areas of Natural Beauty, from its rugged coastlines to the endless New Forest, and I don’t take for granted how lucky I am to live here.

One of my favourite places to walk is Hengistbury Head, partly because it’s one of the most gorgeous places to have on your doorstep, and partly because by the time I’ve made it over that hill my legs are screaming so much that my head doesn’t have space for stress anymore. For anyone else who lives near it, I’m sure you’ll understand the pain! That being said, I actually love the feeling when I get to the top, lungs burning and legs aching, because I know I’ve done something good for myself. That temporary discomfort, however hot and sweaty it leaves me, also brings me closer to the strongest version of myself.

Since getting the news, I’ve struggled being in large groups of people. Even with my closest friends, I’ve felt absent and I haven’t wanted to talk or engage like I normally do. Working out in front of people feels impossible, so I’m trying to use the gym on my breaks, when we’re closed. I’m very lucky to be able to do so, because right now the thought of being in a busy gym, worrying about what I look like and what other people are doing, is just not something I can handle without leaving after five minutes. And this girl needs her abs, so solitary gym sessions it is! I’m still packing in those steps, but we’re leaving the balmy glow of summer behind and heading for Autumn, so I need options that don’t involve me stomping home after ten minutes soaked to my core, moody and inhaling bacon straight from the pan.

I’ve written before about how much exercise benefits my mental health, and it’s true! The act of picking up heavy things and putting them back down again does, remarkably, calm me down. When I’m struggling to centre my mind, I centre my body instead. The deliberate act of moving through a planned workout (the only time freestyle works for me is in a bar, and even then the results are mixed) helps me focus everything on just getting through one more rep, then one more set, then one more tantrum until I’m shaky and sore and mentally, clearer and more grounded. I’m also making it my mission this month to try out a Yoga class and see if that helps me find some much-needed ‘zen’ and, more importantly, reunite my runaway mind with my body.

It’s been harder than normal the past few weeks to motivate myself to work out, and with memorials and other events happening my schedule has looked very different, but that’s okay. Sometimes having your ‘normal’ shaken up can give you the chance to reevaluate your routine and check in with yourself, to see if you’re getting everything you need.

The shock of my friend’s passing led me to reevaluate pretty much everything in my life, and my relationship with my body is one of the things that still has a long way to go. I want to be stronger, mentally and physically, and I’m done letting myself lapse. The hard work comes from me, and it starts now. Because life is just too short to sit around making excuses and feeling miserable. Actually, scrap that.

Life’s just too short.