My Overly Honest Opinion on Fitness

**Disclaimer: this is my honest truth and is written to be melodramatic and satirical. Don’t like it? Go away. Do like it? Awesome, share it and make me internet famous so I can quit my job and adopt more cats.**

People frequently ask me about fitness; as if me going to the gym three times a week somehow makes me as knowledgeable as someone who dedicated years of their life to learning the science behind it (I’m not, sorry). I’m very fortunate to have some incredible Personal Trainers as friends who have taught me from the outset about correct form, tolerance, muscle performance, recovery, strengthening techniques, and various other important aspects of weight-loss and weight training. I also read stuff, sometimes, maybe.

But guess what… I HATE THE GYM. I hate it. Hate. Now, this may surprise most people because I went for a solid two years, before taking a 6+ month hiatus due to lack of funds and motivation, and I’ve been back to my training routine since October. Spoiler alert, my attitude towards it really hasn’t improved. I’ve tried everything (swimming, cardio classes, yoga, training with friends, a Personal Trainer, goal setting, etc.) to motivate myself into loving fitness and being active – but nope, still not for me.

“Why?” you may ask. My honest answer is because I feel worse about myself now than I did when I was at my heaviest; wearing baggy clothes, and feeling like a cartoon sloth trying to get my fat head out of clothes that no longer fit. My diet isn’t terrible, I train frequently and I’m STILL not happy with my body or my mindset. Weird, right? For me, I find that I compete too much with myself and with those around me. If I’m not the best then why bother. Dumb? Correct. Especially as the gym is pretty much the only place in my life where I do this (psychology majors eat your heart out).

One of the biggest things for me is watching what I eat. If it’s possible, I hate that more than the gym. Having to watch macros and calories and saturates and polyunsaturates and everything else makes me cry – sometimes literally. I find no enjoyment in measuring how many milliliters of milk I put into my coffee or the weight of dressing on my salad. I DO NOT CARE. All I want is to eat as well as I can, while still eating the things that fill me with happy butterflies and not feel like said butterflies are going to turn into a plague of locusts and burst out of my gut from guilt and shame.

“So why do you bother at all?” This is an easy one, you see, I am vain. Shock! I give a crap what I look like in the mirror, I care what people think about me (everyone loves a genuine compliment about the pertness of their butt or the arrival of their collar bone). I am also convinced that maybe one day I’ll become one of those gym obsessed people who actually enjoys going and smelling like a laundry hamper and feeling like they’ve walked through a torrential downpour of their own H2O excretion. I wish I was one of those body positive gals who was absolutely fine with the fact that my jeans don’t fit and I can’t raise my arms in a shirt out of fear of ripping the thin seam holding my dignity together. That would be fab.

Also, for this “weight lifting doesn’t make you bulky” bullshit – IT IS LIES. At least for me (you keep doing your best though because most of my friends are shedding inches and weight while I’ve gained inches, weight, and a dress size). But don’t worry because I can deadlift my body weight so hey-ho, swings and roundabouts.

Now you may be thinking I’m a Negative Nancy over here, and you are absolutely right. But I’ll give you some positives, just to balance the scales. I have made some lasting relationships from bonding with people at the gym and they are one of the main reasons why I continue to put my tight-ass gym clothes on and pretend I know what I’m doing. Hiring a personal trainer was also one of my better ideas, without her I would have quit months ago and continued to eat cake like it was the sole provider of nutrients and life. I also upgraded my gym membership so that I can bring friends to train with me. I like that. That is good. I also enjoy seeing results, even though they are small and only visible for precisely 20 minutes, Monday – Thursday mornings.

As I write this, I am conscious that I may be putting a nasty damper on people who are thinking of joining a gym but aren’t quite sure if it’s for them. Just do it. What do you have to lose (other than weight)? Make up your own mind and, hey, you may agree with me. We may end up walking in and out of the gym like those slower zombies on the hunt for brains – but at least we went (AMIRIGHT?).

I don’t like the gym. Hate it. Working out makes me feel like I am repenting for all of my sins from every previous life. Hell for me would be never-ending circuit training. But nevertheless, I will keep going. I will keep lifting heavier. I will keep running on the treadmill while constantly thinking “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO YOURSELF, YOU SICKO.” I will continue to go to classes that I am not fit enough for. I will continue to compete with complete strangers while envisioning myself running through the bakery section of Waitrose and shoveling muffins into my face. I will continue to look like I’m into fitness and help those around me who seem to be excelling.

If you see me at the gym: smile at me, give me your sympathy, and for the love of whoever please spot me because I’m clumsy and frequently get myself stuck under heavy things.

See you on the squat rack, bro.

 

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An Open Letter, to my Dearest Mother

On December 10th, 2016 my mother passed away of Pancreatic Cancer. Today marks six months without her. Over these months, through the anger and the tears, I’ve learnt so much about myself and my family. On that day, six months ago, my life changed forever. My views on life and death are permanently altered; my opinion on relationships and love have completely reversed. My mentality towards everything, literally everything, has morphed into something new.

If you’ve ready any of my posts before, you’ll know I suffer from anxiety and depression. It may seem a small feat, but I am immensely proud that through all of the trauma and upheaval that the stability of my mental health has not diminished. I’ll talk about that more on another post but for this post, I want to share something very personal; something that I hesitated even writing, but I’m glad I did.

On the 25th of March, 2017 my family and I held a Memorial service to honour her memory, her spirit, and her life. I decided to write an open letter to her, and place it in the Memory Book that we created for her. It isn’t as raw as it could have been, but I’ve been asked to share it publicly for others who may be in a similar situation.

So here it is, an Open Letter, to my Dearest Mother:

Dearest Lisa,

When I look back at my life, at my upbringing and my teenage years, I have come to realise that my experience was unique. As individuals, Rose and I are night and day; different in almost every way. I’ve always had a feistiness in me that was undoubtedly passed down from you, my 5ft “something” mum, who would argue ‘til the end of time that you were 5ft 5in. You really weren’t.

When I was a kid, even a teen, we didn’t always see eye to eye. But as I grew older, and found my own place in the world, I started to view things through your eyes. And as I grew, we became closer and more open with each other, which followed with laughing at our escapades as rebellious youths and stories that would make us blush.

A couple of years ago I asked you why I was always in trouble as a kid and Rose never was; your response was “Well, you were an experiment,” and with your sweetest smile you added, “and you were a handful, if we didn’t keep you busy then you’d have gotten yourself into something you shouldn’t have.” We all know Rose was the opposite; she would sit quietly in a room and hum to herself as I ran manic circles around you all. The memory of that conversation makes me smile, and will for the rest of my life.

Then and there, I realised how much I appreciate both you and dad. Your decisions sculpted the woman I am today and it’s because of you that I am now able to look at life with a scoop of open-mindedness, a dollop of realistic thought, and a dash of blind hope, which most people don’t understand. You taught me how to step out of my metaphorical shoes and into others because it’s important to understand the situations from all perspectives. You educated me in how to step back and look at the problem from all angles, to assess what is in my control and what isn’t. And, of course, if it isn’t in my control then “forget it and let what happens happen.”

It is because of your strength that I am able to stand strong today, because losing you was nothing less than devastating. But through the pain, and the silence, and the fear – I have not let it destroy me. In the face of adversity you always held your head high and I will do the same. I have remained steadfast in the shadow of the strongest woman I know. I am my mother’s daughter, and proud to be so.

Looking to the future, I’m petrified – a statue of myself, stood still while time moves around me. I’m scared because part of my foundation has faltered and shifted from underneath my feet, but regardless, I will not be stagnant and listless; for you showed me that life isn’t about standing still but instead, pushing forward – even if it feels impossible. I’m more determined than ever to make you proud; to become the woman you always said I would be.

Maybe not this month, this year, or even this decade – but at some point in my life I am going to finish a novel and dedicate it to the woman who gave me the gift of stories, who helped me imagine worlds so far apart from my own, and who taught me to envisage the characters as friends and not just names on a page. Your influence will always be with me, in every poem I write and every prose piece I draft. Your warmth will fill my characters’ personalities and your spark will paint the background, while my mind populates the foreground.

I consider myself incredibly lucky that I had almost 26 years to soak up as much inspiration from such a uniquely talented woman as you.

Here’s to you, Lisa: mother, wife, partner, friend, sister, daughter, author, poet, activist, listener, and spiritualist. May your laughter echo in our lives, may your level-head reflect in our decisions, and may your love surround us in every breath we take.

With more love than I know how to feel,
Phoebe

Everyday is a new day; some are harder than others, some are unbearable, some are joyous. Wake up every day and find the good, even if it is very small. If you can’t find it, then do something kind and be the good thing in someone else’s day.

 

Our Experiences With Mental Illness: My Life on Medication

Part 1: Our Experiences With Mental Illness: Anorexia and Anxiety

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I never knew were to start. So, I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

“I need help.”

Prior to being medicated I was taking St John’s Wort, I had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I was doing Yoga, eating well, and had joined a gym to improve my mental health. Sadly, nothing was able to break through my exterior wall of sheer sadness and anger.

The day I decided to be medicated was the day that I got so angry at my cat (for being his usual pain in the ass) that I genuinely didn’t want him anymore. I thought of every possible way to get rid of him (some were truly unspeakable) and after a few moments of delving into a place I never thought I’d see, I burst into tears and decided enough was enough; I needed help. Now, this may seem like a rather ridiculous breakthrough for some people, but for me it was life changing. My cat, Bruce Wayne, had been by my side for over two years as I had raised him from a kitten and was his sole human. He was (and still is) the most comically moody, hilarious and quirky cat at you’ll ever meet. Everyone loves Bruce, even cat-haters, he is just the weirdest little dude and I couldn’t imagine my life without him – until I did. Strangely, the thoughts I’d previously had about hurting myself didn’t shock or scare me, but the thought of hurting one of the things I love the most did. I needed help, desperately.

Shortly after that, I spoke to some friends at work who had gone through similar experiences and they warned me against going on drugs. Now, I can see the thinking behind this but I can hand-on-heart say that am extremely glad that I didn’t listen to them. Going ahead, I met with a GP that I liked and trusted, she was genuine and I could see the sadness in her eyes when I told her everything that I had tried to do to be happy again. She told me it would be okay, we’d get me better and she started me on a high dose of Sertraline (with hopes of putting it up a few weeks later, but I declined).

“I feel weird.”

The first day I took the medication I felt like I’d just taken some weak acid or other hallucinogenic drug. I felt very aware of my body. Like I could feel each chamber of my heart as each valve opened and closed. I could feel every nerve in my finger tips and each muscle in my face contract and relax. It is truly an indescribable experience, that thankfully only lasted a couple of days.

Before I started taking “happy pills” I was a writer and an artist. I started writing a novel a few years ago and fell in love with the world and my characters;it was an easy escape from my reality – to go into a world that I created, solely for me and my characters.

From when the drugs became part of my routine, I started to feel that the love for my novel began to cease. Every day I loved it a little less. Now, 10 months later, I can barely remember the characters that I was so passionate about. I can’t see their faces in my head anymore, the sound of their voices, the interior of their world. My characters became distant friends, who I still cared about but no longer felt the need to connect with.

It’s as if my medication put my life on hold. Imagine an artist who suddenly goes colourblind, or a singer who gets permanent laryngitis. You can still function as a person but your art-form, your passion, becomes diminished and eventually dies off all together. That’s how I felt.

Without them, without my book and my art, I felt lost. But not wholly lost, like the panic you’d feel if you wandered too deep into a forest or got caught up in a conversation that you know nothing about. It was more like walking into a building that you know, and forgetting which room you needed to go into. You’re there, you have a sense of purpose, but you’re misguided.

“I feel like Me again.”

As the months passed, and taking the medication became ingrained, I acclimatized. The tingling in my fingers had subsided and the strange metaphorical bubble that formed around me, burst. I finally remembered what it felt like to be happy, actually happy. Pre-medication I had some anger issues. Nothing serious but I would basically turn any emotion (whether it be sadness, desire, fear, anything really) into rage. It was easier for me to cope with rage. I understood it. But on the medication I didn’t feel so angry, I didn’t really feel much at all; I found it easier to shrug things off and pretend that it didn’t bother me. I could jump head first into situations, that would have previously made me physically ill with anxiety. For the first time, in a long time, I felt at peace. 

The only way I can describe being on medication is like constantly having something with you that acts like barrier against the world. I call it padding. I hurt a little less, I rarely cried, I always laughed… but I never loved. To me, that padding stopped things from getting to me, it made me more resilient to the horrors of the world and of my own mind. But, it also stopped me from letting things in, people, scenic views, empathy. I struggled to sympathize with people who were having a hard time, as if it was simply programmed out of my head. Some of my nearest and dearest confronted me about it; saying I was cold, robotic, nasty, even selfish. To me, it felt like they were talking to me through a pain of glass in a prison visiting room, I could see their frustration and sadness but I couldn’t “feel” it. They were just words bouncing off my imaginary padding. I heard them though, and I thought about it a lot, but probably not in the way that most people would – through tears and “I can’t believe it”.  It’s hard for me to look back on now, but I was all of those things. The medication made me that. You may think “it’s no excuse” but until you’ve walked around like an emotional zombie for a year – you really have no idea.

“What now?”

It’s been a hard 9 months, but the 10 before that were unbearable, and I can proudly say that I am off medication and have been for 4 weeks.

Looking back, it’s hard to put a positive spin on medication. It made me numb, hard, thoughtless and unloving. But, and this is a big BUT, it kept me alive. It kept me mentally stable, able to get up in the mornings, able to leave the house, able to enjoy the company of my friends, able to change everything about my life that I had previously hated. I could do it all. No more sickness, no more rage. And for that, I will take the bad; I will take the lectures from friends and the concerned looks from my family.

I think it’s very important to speak candidly about mental health. I could go on for days, telling stories of things that happened to me while I was medicated (some actually rather hilarious) but I won’t. I want the world to know that it’s OK to not want to be medicated, I didn’t want to be for the longest time. But it’s also OK to need to be medicated, which is exactly what happened to me. You aren’t weak, You aren’t pathetic, You aren’t a headcase, you aren’t any of those terrible things that you may have convinced yourself that you are. You’re just in need of a bit of padding. 

It’s been an interesting month, but I’ll detail that in another post, another time. For now, if you’re feeling low and want the truth – I really hope this has helped. And please note: each person is different, and it’s important you take your own journey to find what works best for you.

Sufferers from any illness need love, laughter and support from everyone around them. Be that person for me, for your friend, parent, sibling, co-worker or partner.

Listen, understand, be patient and try to be conscious of the fact that it can’t be controlled and we’re still the same person who you love – in whatever way that is.

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask.

Knowledge is power, after all.

Poetry: Two parts of a Whole

If you’ll be my salt, I’ll be your pepper;
be by my side forever and ever.
I’ll be your fruit, if you’ll be my stem;
keep me held high when times are grim.
If you’re my paper and I’m your pen;
let’s 
doodle hope, again and again.
If you’re the wheel then I’m the car;
we’ll roll around together, near or far.
You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours,
so we can be happy forevermore.

© Phoebe McLaughlin – 2015.

POETRY: A Funny Thing

Life is not a funny thing.
It’s not a thing at all.
It holds us up
and pulls us along,
but it isn’t a thing at all.

The ‘things’ are in life itself:
the places, the people,
the falls.
But if you’re feeling
not so stable,
just remember
that you must be thankful.

So, thank you to my dad,
for showing me what a man should be.
Thank you to my friends,
for always being there for me.
Thank you to my sister,
for continuously being you.
Thank you to my cat,
for predictably being a loon.
Thank you to the man that broke my heart,
for melting the ice once again.
Thank you to my best friend,
for helping me dig deep for my zen.
Thank you to my mom,
for putting up with me.
But most of all:
Thank you to myself,
for finally seeing clearly.

Now I see that life is a funny thing.
It is strange and it is kind
and the past may sting,
but we should always be thankful
for the memories left behind
as they are a gift to mankind.

© Phoebe McLaughlin – 2015.

Poetry: A Nervous Twitch

A nervous twitch syncs with a watchful clock,
minds fading in and out of focus:
tick, tick, tick, tick…
People congeal in thin aisles, waiting
for sliding doors to give relief to strangers
standing too close.
Alone, a bag waits;
abandoned by its owner – a coward
with a cause.

A nervous twitch hides behind shifting eyes
that watch the last few minutes of lives.
The man daydreaming out the window,
his eyes moving
back and forth, back and forth.
The small child poking her reflection
in a shiny red balloon.
Pop.
Red faced, she weeps.

A nervous twitch eased with closing doors.
Proud footsteps leaving unknowing halls,
without a trace.
His eyes flicker passed faces looking
like cars on a midnight motor way.
Dipping in and out of the crowd his watch
tick, tick, ticks.
Light footsteps pad on walked paths;
enough time, enough space.

Tick, tick…

A nervous twitch made from a spark
as a line of zeroes freeze in time.
Thoughts stop dead in their tracks,
clasping hands fall away and
emotions disperse into air.
Faces melt into memories.

Silence
fills passengers’ ears
while deafening those not so near.

© Phoebe McLaughlin – November 2012.