When it’s not acting as a stick with which to beat ourselves, the idea of self-care is a lovely one. Taking time out for yourself. Treating yourself.
Minding yourself, it’s a lovely idea.
When you’re in the middle of a crisis, things get pared down to the bare minimum. Work deadlines, child, life admin, trying to see friends. As my marriage fell apart, finding the energy for the gym was out of the question. By the end of the day, hitting the couch and having the second Bounty was about the extent of it.
So exercise wasn’t something that particularly helped me during my marriage break-up. I would love to say a run or a yoga session was what got me through, but really, who has the energy when you’re in the midst of heavy grief?
Sometimes the best you can do is to just sit with it. Try and be brave enough to face and feel the bad stuff. I never expected the teachings of AA to be a cornerstone of my parenting, but the phrase ‘this too shall pass’ is now something I find myself whispering to my daughter when she comes running with an ouchie, a weird sort of helicopter parenting possibly, but I’m hoping it will become for her like it has for me, a reflex way of thinking.
‘Sometimes you can’t fix what is going on in your mind’, the counsellor told me one day when I arrived full of stress. ‘Or rather, your mind cannot fix what it is wrestling with. So look then at what is happening in your body, and try and fix that’.
After the marriage break-up, as things began to settle, exercise became a lifeline, a literal path back to happiness. When my daughter was born I had pretty much abandoned all attempts at exercise in the face of her essentially refusing to sleep for much longer than two hours at a time for the first few years.
Multiple failed attempts to go back to the personal training I had loved pre-child culminated in a text message sent to my trainer at five o’ clock one morning cancelling a seven o’ clock appointment. ‘We have been awake for three hours’, I wrote. ‘I give up’.
So when I felt like exercising again I decided to do it in the most pressure free way. I joined my local gym, took Herself to the pool and play zone, and adopted a pick and mix approach for myself; choosing whatever machine I felt like doing at that moment; zero pressure, no thinking about results. The Work Wife and I began working in the gym reception, making each other start or finish the day with some sort of work out.
Eventually, I was ready to give the personal training another go. Lifting weights takes mental as well as physical energy, and until then I just hadn’t had the brain space for it. But going to a trainer- three times a week at one stage- is still one of the best things I have ever spent money on. It changes you in ways you don’t expect. I am a worrier, I had always thought, and then I lifted weights regularly, pushed beyond what I thought possible by a professional, and I realised no, I can change things like that about myself. Pointless worrying bouts disappeared; as did the weekly headaches I’d had all my life.
I’m nervous about how I’ll feel going back. I last properly trained in the run up to my wedding, now I’m training in the aftermath of my separation. Will the contrast be too upsetting?
The morning of I stop off to get a bottle of water and bump into an old family friend. For some reason I choose to tell her about our separation. She does the head tilt people do and oozes kindness. I bolt, instantly reduced to tears, cursing myself. ‘What was I thinking?’ My number one rule to live by is ‘if in a good mood, never do anything to invite in the bad’. I am a veritable personification of living in the now these days.
Am I going to just cry all over my pt and waste the session I wonder? No, it turns out. I picked my trainer years ago in the gym because he is a very calming person. Is there anything more irritating than being screamed at whilst you’re exercising?
We discuss goals. Just to get here, I say. I’m aiming low- one half hour session a week. For now it is enough to have achieved that. We agree food will not be a part of the plan. I did the stringent eating routing in the pre-wedding training, but that is no way to live on a long term basis, plus I have a daughter now, and so there is no room in my life for that kind of fixation on food. My suggestion of a squat free programme is ignored.
I had forgotten how nice it feels to hand your physical wellbeing over to someone, what a treat it is to be pushed, minded, encouraged. And how it is simply impossible to do proper exercise and not have your mood moved forward into a better place. I walk out of there with awkward roll of a person who hasn’t squatted in a while, a mixture of John Wayne’s stiff legged gait and the knee knocking wobble of Bambi.
My life at the moment I think. One minute almost brought to you knees, the next invincible.